An exploration of the ways urban dwellers practise varied forms of individuality and distinctiveness to devise new forms of everyday relationships with which to construct more satisfying lives. These concerns will be examined through ethnographically based research conducted around the world.
Neither individuality nor urbanism have been widely or warmly welcomed as fully appropriate matters for anthropological consideration, despite the insights that some anthropologists have achieved by working with these concepts within their ethnographic studies. Individuality has too often been conflated by its critics with the western ideology of individualism and contrasted with an unquestioned anthropological commitment to holism. Similarly, since urbanism fell beyond the originally designated boundaries of anthropological inquiry, it was notionally consigned to sociology and other disciplinary approaches to urban studies. Both concepts have, in consequence, accumulated decidedly "awkward legacies" within anthropology. Recent anthropological works, however, have demonstrated the ways in which expressions of individuality characteristically embody forms of social action that entail risk. Such endeavours require not only acute readings of social contexts by those who would dare to think, speak, and act in distinctive ways but also a fundamental dependence upon others for their mutual recognition, acceptance or emulation of such ventures. By the same token, the nature and limits of urbanism and the shaping of urban lives has been transformed from an ostensibly 'modern,' western preoccupation into a predominant global concern, and one that anthropologists are especially well equipped to examine. This panel will explore the ways in which individuality and claims of distinctiveness are being employed by urban dwellers as means for devising new forms of everyday relationships with which to construct more satisfying lives. Papers in this panel will examine these concerns through ethnographically based research conducted in cities around the world.