On experiencing Berlin and Interdisciplinarity. An Interview with Letteria G. Fassari

19. März 2020

Letteria (Lia.) G.  Fassari is an Associate Professor at the Department of Economical and Sociological Science (specialized in Sociology of Cultural Processes and Contemporary Cultures) of Sapienza, Universitá di Roma. From October 2019 till February 2020 she was Visiting Fellow at the Collaborative Research Centre 1265. In this interview conducted at the end of her stay, she gives insights into her time at the CRC and her impressions of the city of Berlin. 

Nina Meier: Hello Lia, in the beginning it would be great if you could tell our future readers a little bit about yourself and your research in general. What are your main research interests?

Lia Fassari: I am a cultural sociologist and I had a long, rather interdisciplinary course of studying Analytical Psychology, Sociology of Organization and Education. At the moment I am very interested in sociological aesthetics. Two years ago, I founded a research unit in Sapienza, in which I try to reflect on the relationship between the sociological and aesthetic spheres and thereby embracing a sociological tradition originating from the works of Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin. Aesthetics holds significant and profound heuristic power. It allows us to understand what kind of world our actions have set up, how we live in it and how we could transform it. At the moment, within this frame, I’m working on the concept of performance and thanks to my visit here in CRC 1265 I’m focusing now on Space through Performance.

Nina: In your previous work, you were already focusing on art as social performance, and on its effects on the city, also taking the body itself into account. Where do you see the connection between your work and the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC)?

Lia Fassari: I think spatialization and affection converge in the concept of performance. The performance, which is a bodily expression, activates an interconnected symbolic space. There is no performance that does not involve the body, there is no performance that does not involve space. And there is no performance without the Other (or the encounter with the Other). Here, at the CRC, I found not only the fertile ground to deepen these connections but brilliant interlocutors at all levels to debate.

Nina: You said before you had a long way to go to become a cultural sociologist. As I know, you therefore have a lot of experience with interdisciplinarity. At the CRC 1265, we work with architects, geographers and sociologists, among others. So, how did you perceive working at the CRC especially in regard to interdisciplinarity?

Lia Fassari: From an interdisciplinary point of view, my visit here was an enriching experience. Quite often, interdisciplinarity is more of a rhetoric phrase. But here, I observed, that a new generation of scholars is evolving who have an interdisciplinary mindset and attitude. At the CRC interconnection and interdependence are fundamental lenses of interpretation. So the concept of Re-figuration is an interdisciplinary concept intrinsically.

Nina: What are the highlights of your working experience here? Can you tell us about one thing that is sticking to your mind, which you enjoyed a lot?

Lia Fassari: I enjoyed a lot of things. First, when I just had arrived, there was a small group (Johanna and Paul from C02 “Non-governmental organisations: Strategies of spatial order formation” as well as the visiting scholar from Cambridge Ash Amin) directly working on interviews, and it was very interesting to get involved in this early stage of research. And of course, the workshop on “Digital Economies and Spatial Refiguration” was very inspiring. There was a kind of synchronicity in our inputs and we learned from each other, even in terms of epistemic positionality. So now, I am looking forward to the next event, the international conference on Polycontextural Spatial Arrangements.
Apart from this more event-like experiences, I had a very satisfying and enriching exchange with Martina Löw as well as with Hubert Knoblauch and I take this opportunity to profoundly thank them. I also liked very much to share thoughts with brilliant and young researchers like you, Sarah Etz and Sylvana Jahre. Those daily conversations showed me that there is a new generation of researchers who are very engaged in what they do. 

Nina: Our CRC is centred around space, so we would very much like to know how you perceive the city of Berlin. And, since you are a researcher working on art, performance and cities, it would be really nice as well, if you could recommend any exhibition, or a theatre play to our readers.

Lia Fassari: I have to admit that I had hardly any ties to Germany before coming here. Of course, everybody knows about Berlin – Georg Simmel grew up with this Berlin mindset, for example.[1] So, I had this idea to go to this city one day. The CRC was a very good occasion for me to stay for a longer period, and I felt the city coming into my body day by day, so to speak. I was so excited. 
Berlin is not a beautiful city – I live in Rome, you know, and Rome has this beauty that just astonishes you. But here, life astonishes you. It feels very open-minded, giving you the time to experiment. Berlin is full of bars, cafes, little spots, where you can see people learn to play music, meet each other, dance – I had this wonderful experience with Tango. Tango in Berlin is very different from other places. There is this kind of freshness and vitality, but they take it very seriously at the same time. So, I am in love with this city right now and I am going to miss it.

If you want me to recommend any exhibition, I would tell you to see a wonderful exhibition on Love and Ethnology in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). It was the first thing I visited just after I arrived. That was my welcome to Berlin and it was very interesting for me. Last Friday, I went to “Pesticide Pop”, which is an interesting exhibition about Monsanto. Of course, I visited the tourist spots, because what made me feel so unbelievably involved in the city was that you just stumble into history. It is a bodily encounter with history, you can see the places, you can feel the energy of all these unbelievable events. Even the dramatic ones, the tragic ones – I was of course speechless, sometimes. For me, Berlin is a city that takes your breath away, sometimes. 

Nina: As we both know, sadly, you are going to go back to Rome, and your time here is about to come to an end, at least for now. As you already said before, you are going to take those one-to-one conversations with all our colleagues back to Italy with you. But before you leave us, we are very interested in hearing from you, what you personally perceive as the biggest challenges for the research centre, as well as for the concept of Re-Figuration. Where do you see upcoming problems or things, we should focus on more in the future?

Lia Fassari: I think that theoretically, it is very clear what Re-Figuration of Space is. It is, like Martina Löw says, not a diagnostic concept, but an interpretative tool to deeply understand contemporary complexities. Currently, there are many interesting projects carried out by the CRC. In the future it will be very important not only to understand the results of each individual project but to be attentive to their interdependencies and to merge them into an empirical based framework. If this is mastered an innovative general theory can be developed.

I hope that the CRC will maintain this vitality, strength and commitment over time. I’m already very excited to read the results of the projects.

So, long life to CRC! And…I’m waiting for you all in Rome.

Nina: Lia, thank you so much for your time.

[1] Simmel 1903:  Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben/The Metropolis and Mental Life.