Urban exploration: Performing and representing an urban potential

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ʻI never get tired of this place. The view of the city from up here is amazingʼ, says the research participant while placing the digital reflex camera in the tripod. Weʼre sitting on the roof of the now shut down Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen. Itʼs late at night. Before climbing out on to the rooftop, the female “urban explorer” and I have been exploring the factory, photographing its enormous brewery halls and dirty below ground tunnel systems. Briefly put, “urban exploration” is a subculture whose members locate and photograph derelict and abandoned places. The strange beauty of these places becomes infused with issues of ownership and reclaiming as the explorers share their photos on social media sites as Facebook and Instagram. Through social media the urban explorers offer online followers an opportunity to distinguish themselves as supporters hereby becoming “urban explorers by proxy”. The online sharing of photos enables, at least to some extent, a wider public participation in the critical practice of reclaiming tied to urban exploration. I follow McGuigan (2005) in his definition of the cultural public sphere as containing aspects of everyday life, affect and pleasure. This notion of the public sphere frames a practice as urban exploration – including the by proxy-explorers - as a critical participatory engagement with a discourse of urban politics. However, what could be conceived as a devaluation of the subcultural capital entailed in urban exploration is being brought about by an “in-house” commercialization: The urban explorers sell their prints online, publish coffee-table books and exhibit their photos at town halls and lawyer offices. This poses the question of whether this peculiar joint venture between public authorities and urban explorers is to be seen as an opportunity for profound citizen empowerment or in fact heralds a decline of the movementʼs
subversive and critical potential.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventRethink participatory cultural citizenship - Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 14. Nov 201316. Nov 2013


ConferenceRethink participatory cultural citizenship
LocationAarhus Universitet

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