Research Culture Seminar: Awakening in ruins

Join us for a presentation by Dr Emma Fraser examining urban destruction in the virtual sphere. This event is part of our Wednesday lunchtime Research Culture Seminar Series, open to all.

This event was originally scheduled for 6th February but had to be postponed; we hope you can join us for this seminar, now rescheduled for 20th March. 

Speaker: Dr Emma Fraser, Teaching Fellow


Awakening in ruins: the virtual spectacle of the end of the city in video games

With reference to Walter Benjamin’s work on nineteenth century Paris, and Debord’s work on the spectacle, this paper argues that the depiction of ruined cities in video games – as virtual ruins of the present – simultaneously generates the empty novelty of the commodity (the reproduced spectacle); and a vision of failed progress (a stilled moment in the perpetual catastrophe of history).

Despite his departure from Marx’s historical materialism, marked most clearly in Convolute N of The Arcades Project, Benjamin frequently returned to the notion of phantasmagoria in an attempt to reach a critical understanding of the commodification of everyday life and experience as a kind of illusory capitalist dreamworld.

One means of understanding Benjamin’s dreamworld of modernity is through ruins and rubble - not only as material remnants (obsolete arcades), but in other visual or artistic forms that might reveal the illusion of progress as a fallacy, and invite a destructive gaze to combat the powerful reduction of experience brought about by the emergence of an urban-focused commodity capitalism. This paper argues that, if cities can be read as dreamworlds, and films, art and ruination as the means for awakening; urban destruction in the virtual sphere can provide a counter to the collective dream of eternal progress.

This paper expands urban and screen-oriented readings of Walter Benjamin’s writing, and imaginaries of the urban, to contrast the shallow commodification of urban decay in video games against the productive, critical potential of ruins as they appear in virtual renderings of the end of the city.

Speaker biography


Emma Fraser is a Teaching Fellow in Sociology at the University of Leeds. Emma completed her PhD at the University of Manchester in 2018, and her research is focused on the depiction and navigation of ruined cities, real and imagined, alongside theories of urban experience and space, and the writings of Walter Benjamin. Emma’s published work includes studies of urban regeneration, urban exploration, and modern ruins in Detroit, Chernobyl, Berlin, Paris, New York, Sydney, and elsewhere. She works collaboratively with Practising Place and The Arca Project, and is a member of the Playful Mapping Collective.


There is no need to register for this event; all are welcome - please just turn up on the day. Please note there is limited capacity in the seminar room and spaces will be available on a first-come first-served basis.

Research Culture Seminar Series

These seminars, organised by the School of Sociology and Social Policy (SSP), generally take place every Wednesday in term time, from 12 - 1.30pm in Room 12.21/12.25 on Level 12 of the Social Sciences Building. Please check back on the website event listings for details of future seminars. Details are also emailed out to current students and staff.

If you have any enquiries about this seminar series, please contact Tanisa at with the subject "Enquiry: Research Culture Seminar Series".