Flânerie: A post -reflexive mode of urban research inquiry

Ronald Lee Stubbs, Florida International University


Urban ethnographic studies in social science usually proceed from within a pre-figured research framework that guides field activity and filters what is considered see-worthy and study-worthy to those phenomena which are in some way necessary for the fulfillment of specific research agendas. Reliance on formalized ethnographic research methods to explore the city, and the reflex to intellectualize that which is observed by using them, frequently leads to the neglect of much of what comprises the ethnographic richness of city-life through an overly-contemplative intellectuocentrism. Flânerie, an avocational, proto-sociological ethnographic mode of urban exploration and observation originating in early-nineteenth-century Paris, is representative of an alternate approach to exploration and study of the city—one less subject to a compressed horizon of ethnographic experience. It affords insight into a broad range of phenomena taking place in interstitial urban space and time which often escape the instrumentally overly-determined gaze of professionalist research inquiry. The present work addressed the fact that the concept of flânerie , though occasionally invoked in discussions of methodology in urban sociology and cultural studies, had not been subjected to a systematic attempt to relate it to the research methods of these disciplines. Though as a typological figure the flâneur is thought to have disappeared long ago, practices represented by the concept continue to be engaged in by persons inside and outside of academia who approach city life and social science with a perspective somewhat transcending the reified dichotomies of private-professional and art-and-science. This study transferred aspects of the experience of the city embodied in the flâneur to the realm of ethnographic urban studies and the building of grounded social theory, finding flânerie to be crucial to the development of a refined knowledge of urban life, and an important means by which previously overlooked social phenomena and silenced avenues of research inquiry might be exposed. The conclusions reached found a “flâneuristic” approach to the city as being beneficial to research practice and the vitalization of urban ethnographic inquiry, by affording opportunities for exposure to, and immersion within, an expanded range of quotidian social phenomena that have frequently escaped the academicist gaze.

Subject Area

Social research

Recommended Citation

Stubbs, Ronald Lee, "Flânerie: A post -reflexive mode of urban research inquiry" (2002). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3059790.