The First International Conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies

23–24 August 2017

University of Tampere, Finland 

In the wake of two successful international conferences under the auspices of the Helsinki Literature and the City Network, we are welcoming scholars interested in urban writing to the first international conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS), to be organized at the University of Tampere, Finland. 

This inaugural conference will be devoted to the theme of possible and impossible cities, the links between them, and the complex relationships between city imaginaries and real-world cities. This topic acknowledges the debt that literary cities owe to real-life city plans, and the similar debt that visions of urban development owe to the imaginary scenarios put forth in fictional narratives. The conference theme straddles a variety of fields, including literary urban studies, urban planning theory, cultural geography, and future studies. The two keynote speakers of the conference are Ayona Datta (King’s College London) and Eric Prieto (University of California, Santa Barbara). 

In the sense that cities are sites for envisioning the future, questions of possibility and potentiality have always been prominent in urban theory. In the last sixty years, such queries have often taken the form of re-imagined political geographies and approaches to what constitutes ‘the good city’, including Henri Lefebvre’s conceptions of the ‘right to the city’ and ‘the urban revolution’, David Harvey’s ‘spaces of hope’, and Jane Jacobs’s call for cities to build on their community assets. But utopian features in imaginations of the city (from Plato onwards), as well as fantastic elements in even the most realistic city literature (in Victor Hugo’s Paris, for example) have not only drawn attention to what life can learn from literature, they have also problematized the relationship between imagined cities and their real-life counterparts. 

In literary history, a long continuum of cities that stretch the limits of the possible runs through the work of writers from Thomas More, Alexander Pushkin, and Italo Calvino to contemporary speculative fiction, including twenty-first-century dystopias and urban climate fiction. Like Calvino’s no-longer-possible miniature versions of the city of Fedora, displayed in crystal globes in a section of Invisible Cities, some fictitious cities represent alternative futures conceivable at a specific moment in time. Other literary cities, such as the London of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, are impossible from the outset but draw attention to everyday urban potentialities in ways that demand attention. Yet others would seem to represent something akin to real-life cities but cannot – due to their very identity as linguistic, imagined constructions – avoid engaging with the (im)possible. The examination of literary cities as impossible (imaginary, non-existent) or possible (future, alternative, desirable) thus also encourages reflections concerning the referentiality of literary cities. The conference ‘(Im)Possible Cities’ seeks new approaches to these intertwinings of possibility and impossibility in cities and texts. 

We invite papers on subjects including, but certainly not limited to, the following themes: 

  • literary expressions of urban utopianism
  • urban utopias and dystopias
  • theories of (im)possibility and cities
  • visionary thinking and literary cities
  • ideal literary cities
  • future studies and literary urban studies
  • (im)possible cities and postcolonialism
  • referentiality and the literary city
  • city imaginaries and urban branding and/or urban planning
  • readerly experiences of (im)possible cities
  • enactivism and the literary city
  • links between literature and the conceptual/imagined cities of architecture and film
  • modernist and postmodernist cities
  • literary cities and the surreal 

The deadline for paper proposals is 31 March 2017. Please submit proposals (approximately 300 words) via the online form at 

Further information will be posted on the conference website at 

The language of the conference will be English, but papers focusing on literature in any language in any part of the world are welcome. In addition to literary scholars, it is very much hoped that researchers from other disciplines will be interested in taking part. These could include, but would not be limited to, the following: cultural and historical geographers; urban sociologists, historians and planners; workers in visual studies, cultural studies and art and architecture studies. The conference will take place in Tampere back to back, and in collaboration, with another urban studies conference, Re-City 2017, with a focus on architecture and planning.

The first HLCN conference resulted in the collection of essays Literature and the Peripheral City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and a comparable volume premised on the theme of the second conference, literary second cities, is in preparation. For more on the previous two conferences, see and The first ALUS conference ‘(Im)Possible Cities’ will continue to develop literary urban studies in a way that crosses borders and challenges traditional divisions within the academy. 

For more information contact:

Markku Salmela, University of Tampere (

Lieven Ameel, University of Tampere (

Jason Finch, Åbo Akademi University (