Centre for European and International Studies Research

Supernatural Cities: Exploring the Urban Mindscape

Saturday 30th April 2016, University of Portsmouth

Keynote Speaker

Professor Steve Pile, Open University

About the conference

Supernatural Cities: Exploring the Urban Mindscape

Where do urban supernatural stories and beliefs come from and why do they survive in our modern cities? What is it about the nature of the urban environment that encourages our imaginations to respond in this way? How do supernatural accounts and legends alter urban geographies? What cultural roles have ghosts and other supernatural beliefs and practices played in historical and contemporary cities? How has and does the supernatural articulate the experience of urban living, unequal power relations, and fluid urban identities?

The urban environment, dense, sprawling, and perpetually haunted by multiple histories, has long played upon the mind of its inhabitants. Both the city’s known and unknown spaces and places have been prone to prompting fantasising, storytelling, and a search for influence in or over a powerful environment that is as much psychological as material.

This one-day conference explored the haunted and haunting nature of the urban environment by bringing together scholars, discourses and theoretical approaches from a diverse range of academic disciplines. It also sought to reflect on the way urban supernatural tropes such as ghosts, zombies and other urban bogeymen have been creatively represented in various media. This fusion of approaches and representations broadened our analytical scope, encouraging us to explore how we engage with both the mundanity and strangeness of urban spaces and places on intellectual, imaginative and emotional levels.

The conference’s overall purpose was to draw diverse disciplinary approaches to the urban and the imaginary into conversation with one another, enabling us to advance interdisciplinary discussion and reflection upon the supernatural and the uncanny as means of articulating urban otherness, estrangement and enchantment.


Download the programme: Supernatural Cities 2016

Topics included:

  • Urban supernatural folklore and urban legends
  • Ghost stories and urban temporalities
  • Magic and occult beliefs in the urban context
  • Uncanny architecture and urban heterotopias
  • Hauntology, capitalism, and urban power relations
  • Urban fantasy and urban gothic fictions (literature, art, film, TV, video games, music)
  • Supernatural storytelling as intangible urban heritage
  • Functions of the urban supernatural (communal identity and memory; socio-political and environmental critique)
  • Baudelaire, Simmel, Benjamin and the phantasmagoric urban experience
  • Psychogeography and urban space/place as palimpsest
  • Monstrous urbanisation, urban monstrosity, and environmentalism
  • Affective theory and the emotional urban environment
  • Archaeology, concealed objects and domestic magical thought
  • Urban supernatural, enchantment, and the de-familiarisation of the mundane
  • Re-reading / re-writing the urban – supernatural cartographies; imagination as agency

It is intended that selective conference papers will subsequently form the basis of an edited essay collection that will further advance multidisciplinary reflection upon the urban imaginary.

Further information

If you have any queries please contact Dr Karl Bell at karl.bell@port.ac.uk. The Supernatural Cities project is on Twitter: @imaginetheurban