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Writing the (Western) city: An analysis after Derrida

O'Carrell, John Joseph (1994) Writing the (Western) city: An analysis after Derrida. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The subject of this thesis is "the city." "The city" has been studied in many "disciplines." Until recently, it was widely assumed that the city could be defined, either in terms of its empirical features, or in terms of its inherent "realities." However, there has not been, as yet, an adequate theorisation or even definition of what a city might be.

In the following study, as in a number of other works that may loosely be called "poststructural" in their orientation, this fact is treated less as a crisis, than as a glimmer of the limits of a grand theoretical enterprise. This study is therefore enframed by a certain poststructuralism. Indeed, the thesis itself is informed by Jacques Derrida’s "deconstruction" of a determined Western hierarchisation of "speech" and "writing."

But this is also a study of particular "reified cities." While the following thesis does not purport to cover entire "disciplines," the texts it addresses are drawn from the fields of "sociology" (the work of Louis Wirth), "theory" (the work of Jacques Derrida as well as some analysts of writing and the city), "history" (the work of Oswald Spengler), "political philosophy" (the works of John Locke and John Stuart Mill), and "urban phenomenology" (the work of Kevin Lynch). A "case study" of the city of Suva is also presented.

Within this framework, the thesis might be said to develop two inter-related arguments. The first is the claim that there is an important civic nexus between "writing" and "the city." The second emerges from this: it concerns the role of a certain posited "West" in the process of constitution of "the city" as part of a colonising postal economy.

These arguments do not, of course, "solve" the problem of the nondefinability of the city. On the contrary, they explore the way in which the (Western) city is determined as a reified essence, a universal destiny, and a representationist polity made up of individual rational subjects. In so doing, the thesis shifts the terrain of the debate about the city, and ventures the suggestion that the very action of writing (or positing, or otherwise inscribing) the city plays an important part in what the city itself might be said "to be."

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): McHoul, Alec
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