Exploring Power and Space: A Recap of the CRC 1265 Summer School
How does power manifest itself within the realm of space? How can we recognize spaces as arenas of resistance as well as integral to the (re)production of power relations? In what ways can our practices effectively influence and redefine the dynamics of power in different spatial contexts? While these questions implicitly relate to all projects within the CRC and have as such received attention, questions concerning power and space have not yet been given center stage. The International Participatory Summer School on “Power and Space,” held from September 13th to September 15th, 2023, offered the perfect opportunity to rigorously examine these questions and to inspire further discussions within the CRC and beyond. Organized by doctoral researchers, the school brought together some 25 doctoral and postdoctoral scholars from four continents across a range of disciplines—including sociology, urbanism, architecture, anthropology, geography, and gender studies. Embracing a participatory approach, the school intertwined immersive workshops and fascinating presentations offered by the attendees with those of experienced scholars from the greater Berlin area and beyond. Together, participants spent three days engaging with theoretical approaches to power and space and possibilities for resistance as well as the importance of considering the positionality of the researcher, drawing on insights and perspectives from decolonial and feminist questions.
Day I: Exploring Power and Space in Theory
The first day commenced with an introduction to the larger research program of the CRC, followed by getting to know each other on a personal and academic level. The main program item of the day was a book club on theoretical contributions from various fields relating to power and space. In preparation, attendees read texts by Doreen Massey, Michel Foucault, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Setha Low and the WAI Think Tanks, each providing a different perspective on questions of power and space. In small groups, participants dissected a range of texts, reflecting on the themes of constructing, (re)producing, and sustaining hegemonies and power dynamics within spatial contexts. To make an exciting day even more exciting, it culminated in two public keynotes by two Berlin-based experts in the field of power and space: Prof. Dr. Johanna Hoerning and Dr. Nihad El-Kayed. Their talks eloquently navigated the relationship between power and space in the context of urbanization processes and refugee reception. Following the engaging discussion, participants and guests were able to continue exchanging ideas over drinks at the venue “Südblock”. For those of you who were unable to attend or would like to listen to the talks and discussions again, the link is available here!
Day II: Power and Space in Our Research Practice and in the City
Day two kicked off with a thought-provoking workshop on decolonial research practices and methodologies, facilitated by Dr. Céline Barry from TU Berlin. To set the stage, each participant was invited to introduce themselves and illustrate the relevance of the topic to their research or activism. From the outset, it was clear that the subject held profound meaning for everyone—as evidenced by the range of issues raised and the tangible discomfort in the room. Participants shared stories and experiences that illustrated the enduring influence of neo-colonial imbalances in virtually every facet of their work. Not only are our institutions clearly still reproducing power dynamics, but our field research in the “Global South” too contributes to these dynamics, sparking passionate debates. Dr. Céline Barry challenged participants to reflect further on what we want to achieve by attempting to decolonize research, as at the heart of these concerns is often a desire to be innocent—even though none of us ever truly are. The discussion led to a clear sense that the workshop had merely scratched the surface of a vital conversation that could have easily taken an entire day.
Fortunately, we were able to digest this intense session during a brief coffee break, before diving into a session on “Self-Care and Well-Being during Research” led by our colleague Sampurna Das. This session focused on meeting our own personal needs during fieldwork, which we all too often push aside. Sampurna delved into the vulnerabilities some researchers face, exploring the question of safety, the importance of setting boundaries, and the crippling guilt we sometimes feel while doing so. We collectively realized that this topic is underrepresented and rarely shared among peers. For many of us, the session served as an invaluable icebreaker, fostering an environment where personal stories could be shared, and mutual support could be felt.
Moving beyond the academic space, participants went on to explore both physical and political landscapes within Berlin. Our expedition took us to the “Kiezkantine,” a community kitchen nestled in the vibrant neighborhood of Kreuzberg, near Berlin’s Oranienplatz. Here, we came together to collaboratively prepare a Cameroonian feast, while learning about the “O-Platz movement.” This pivotal social movement first emerged in 2012, when the brewing discontent over the conditions of migrants and refugees in Germany coalesced into a self-organizing social momentum after a migrant took their own life – in no small part due to the deplorable living conditions within refugee camps. For two years, Oranienplatz was a symbol of occupation and protest. Although the camp autonomously set up here by the O-Platz movement was ultimately evicted in 2014, the legacy of the movement endures and is still active in different ways.
Following these conversations at Kiezkantine, we went on a guided walk through Görlitzer Park, a park known for “criminal activities” on the one hand, but also for racial profiling and police brutality on the other. Our guide explained the different dynamics at play and critically reflected on how both aspects are actually two sides of the same coin, highlighting the processes of social construction and meaning making involved in both. We ended our (intense) day at the “We Are Born Free Empowerment Radio”, an initiative that came about during the O-Platz movement. The radio aimed to give a voice to the people involved in the movement in order to counteract the skewed portrayal of their experiences in the media and in academic research. Undoubtedly, this tour left a strong impression on everyone and provoked us to think carefully about questions of representation and the dangerous trap of racial profiling and stigmatization generated by mis-representations.
Day III: Inspecting Power and Space through Activism and Storytelling
The third and final day of the Summer School opened with an engaging panel discussion and workshop centered on the theme of resistance. Activists representing three prominent organizations discussed their experiences. First, we heard from the “International Women* Space”, a safer space created within the O-Platz movement. Next, the “Black Student Union” of Humboldt University shared their vision and mission, outlining their journey as an independent body which aims to guarantee the rights and interests of Black students within the constrained spaces of a university. Lastly, “Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen” detailed their commitment to expropriate thousands of apartments from the clutches of private real-estate conglomerates in Berlin. Throughout the ensuing discussion, the panelists expanded on the essence of their activism and the strategies underpinning their protests. As they exchanged insights and experiences, both the commonalities and the friction points in the strategies of inclusion and privilege within the movements surfaced. For those who would have liked to participate, we have excellent news: Parts of the discussion will soon be released as part of an episode of the CRC1265’s podcast series “Space Oddity”!
In the second half of the morning, Khushboo Jain, a fellow participant of the Summer School, invited us to approach the notion of “home” from a different perspective. In a compelling presentation of her research and activism, she shared her work with street children in India, coupled with a reflective examination of her own work, which resonated profoundly with many of us. This presentation not only challenged the prevailing Eurocentric notion of “homelessness”, based on the assumption that those without conventional housing lack a home, but also contended that the essence of home transcends mere physical shelter. A true sense of home can be the result of various factors, such as the warmth and community provided by family bonds.
Another workshop followed, this time led by the participant Magdalena Moreno. Participants were divided into small groups, with each group exploring distinct intersectional thematic focal points that revolved around the overarching theme of the “right to the city.” These thought-provoking discussions covered a diverse range of topics, including women’s perception of urban spaces at night, the intersection of motherhood and gentrification, the experiences of violence encountered by queer people, and the mobility challenges faced by people with functional diversity. These dialogues raised fundamental questions about who has the ability to navigate cities. Amid these discussions, participants contemplated the essential question of which political demands could foster transformative change within the current urban status quo.
After the intense and emotional sessions of the morning (as well as throughout the entire Summer School), everyone was as inspired by the rich discussions as they were exhausted by the demanding program. The atmosphere was thus quite well suited to the final session of the program. In a multimedia art and investigation workshop, we immersed ourselves in the multivalence of storytelling, by focusing on “other ways of storytelling”. The session commenced with an online presentation by Ghana-based artist Kwame Aidoo, who shared how the ancient practice of weaving can serve as a powerful storytelling medium. Next, we learned about the auditory dimensions of storytelling through an exploration of sonic aspects. The interdisciplinary researcher and filmmaker Melody Howse captivated the audience with their work on the production of sound as a spatial practice, which holds the potential to challenge and invert socio-racial norms. The two sessions prompted participants to reconsider the conventional notion of “data” and to envision alternative forms and media suited to the exploration and investigation of power and space.
Following these stimulating presentations, we were encouraged to unleash our creativity by mapping our emotions and reflections on the Summer School. Initially, there was some hesitation from the participants, who were no longer used to using watercolors and markers to express themselves. Nevertheless, with the encouragement of the artists and after overcoming some awkwardness, the room transformed into a vivid canvas of diverse shapes and colors. We found ourselves fully immersed in a creative process, letting our hands and thoughts flow, and most importantly, having a lot of fun. In this relaxed and harmonious state of mind, we concluded the Summer School by sharing heartfelt feedback with each other and expressing gratitude for the experience we had collectively shared.
We would like to thank all the participants for their immeasurable contributions, the management of the CRC, the heads of the graduate school, and the diligent student assistants for their invaluable support. Lastly, we thank our colleagues on the organizational team.
Francesca Ceola is a PhD candidate and research associate in the subproject C08 “Architectures of Asylum II”. Her research focuses on mapping the intersections between forced displacement, makeshift urbanisms, migrant infrastructures, and socio-ecological urban landscapes through counter and hybrid mapping methodologies. She was part of the Summer School’s organizational team.
Nicole Oetke is a research associate at the Technical University of Berlin and was a part of the Summer School’s organizational team. Within the subproject A06 “Trajectories, Networks and Places of Disparate Infrastructures: Spatial Figures, Attitudes and Social Inequalities” Nicole explores the relationship between space, inequality, attitudes, and beliefs.
Zoé Perko is a research assistant at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She conducts research in the CRC subproject C01 “The Borders of the World II: Conflicts and Tensions in the Formation of Macro-Territorial Borders” on border and migration regimes in regional integration arrangements. She was also part of the organizational team of the Summer School.