Flânerie as a way to explore urban space. Dilemmas and perspectives
Dept. of Sociology and Social Research University of Milan Bicocca Italy,
The notion of flâneur - employed since the late 19th century to designate poets and intellectuals that critically observed people's behavior while strolling among the crowd, and codified in the Walter Benjamin's influential work on the Passages of Paris - is once again of central interest (in sociology, philosophy, architecture, literature, and cinema) as a tool for identifying a specific mode of travel and exploration of places, a particular type of reflective relationship with people and spaces. Anthony Giddens, Zygmunt Bauman, Mike Featherstone, Keith Tester, Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift are only some of the contemporary thinkers who, from startlingly different vantage points, have addressed the topic of flâneurs. The paper tries to define the main characteristics of the flâneur/flâneuse (as artists or writers vagabonding and describing the urban life) in the past as well in the contemporary societies and to investigate his/her potential role in the social sciences. Although, starting from the School of Chicago, there are strong links between the city as a concrete spatial and social milieu and as a narrative context, the connections between sociology and flânerie have often been obscured by the desire of sociology itself to claim its credentials as a scientific discipline. Today, the post-modern crisis of scientific rationality, ideology and metanarratives makes stories increasingly important in order to properly interpret society, reinforcing the links between sociology and the narrative approach. Therefore the paper deals with some dilemmas and perspectives for developing a more general approach oriented to discover the concrete usefulness of flânerie in the sociological field. In the paper an ongoing didactic experience finalized to improve students? flânerie for interpreting the urban life in the metropolitan area of Milan will be presented.