Imagining the urban other: Place, abjection, and public views of risk


  • Haley Pauls University of Winnipeg
  • Kevin Walby University of Winnipeg


Risk, Cities, Abjection, Emotions, Self, Place attachment


This paper examines the relationship between individual feelings of aversion, fear, and disgust of city spaces and broader systems of cognitive urban zoning. We analyze interviews conducted in four distinct urban areas of Ottawa, Canada, working with an open-ended method to learn about how urban individuals understand the concept of “risk.” We identify fear of crime as a central risk perceived by the respondents and observe how they construct boundaries between themselves and perceived “risky” zones, occurrences, and bodies. Drawing from Kristeva’s theory of abjection, we trace a semiotic system of Othering in the respondents’ narratives, examining the symbolic cleansing that occurs when respondents attempt to differentiate themselves from what they perceive as encroaching Otherness. With focus on claims about four distinct neighbourhoods, we argue that risk in the city is configured through physical and imaginative mobilities, through which inhabitants construct boundaries and attempts to cleanse or purify “risky” spaces. We conclude that the sense of abjection and/or the experience of aversion is a way that fear is mapped onto cities. This research shows how city spaces are zoned through fear-based semiotic systems. We also raise questions about the relationship between these semiotic systems and actual tangible threats in these spaces.