Subprojects | Project Area A | Knowledge of Space

Geographic Imaginations II: Ontological (In)Securities in Rural Areas

The subproject “Geographic Imaginations II” adopts an international comparative perspective in order to examine the refiguration of rural spaces with regard to its effects on subjective geographical imaginations and related notions of security. We will empirically analyze how spatial conceptions of different population groups (especially in relation to age, gender, and social status) are undergoing significant changes due to processes of globalization, debordering, dis-embedding, re-embedding, and mediatization – leading to existential, subjective insecurities. Building upon our empirical studies of subjective spatial knowledge in the three highly urbanized locations of Vancouver, Berlin, and Singapore, we were able to deepen and expand the concept of ontological security in the first funding period. We were able to show empirically that the experience of security and insecurity is decisively shaped by subjects’ respective urban, geopolitical, social, and cultural contexts. In the second funding period, we will build on these insights and conduct a comparative study of refiguration processes in rural areas: What kind of functions do imagined forms of subjectively experienced spatial knowledge take on in relation to the confidence individuals feel in their own positioning in rural areas? Which spatial figures and spatial orders are perceived as conflicting? And what kind of geographical imaginations come to play important roles in the formation of ontological security – with regard to one’s own identity construction(s) as well as social and material environments?

The second funding period’s focus on rural spaces (in contrast to the globally networked spaces of agglomeration studied previously) appears particularly promising because here questions of power, sovereignty, conflict, and global embeddedness are posed differently in relation to ontological (in)securities, and we can therefore safely assume that different conflicts will emerge in refiguration processes between the spatial figures of territorial space, network space, trajectorial space, and place. Specifically, the subproject continues the focus of the first funding period on case studies in Canada and Germany in order to ensure comparability. The study sites selected in both countries mark a central field of tension in which rural areas are constituted in terms of ontological (in)securities: the distinction between prosperous and peripheralized rural areas. First, using the examples of Powell River (British Columbia, Canada) and Bad Urach (Baden-Württemberg, Germany), the project analyzes the geographical imaginations embedded in the everyday life of prosperous rural spaces, which are often negotiated as aestheticized places of longing and retreat for people looking to escape globalized everyday life in big cities. Second, using Burns Lake (British Columbia, Canada) and the Seeland (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) as examples, we examine the subjective geographical imaginations connoted with feelings of security in rural areas that are considered peripheralized and whose perceptions are dominated by a lack of perspective, images of failure, and flight (to the city). Empirically, the project pursues a multi-methods approach and combines different techniques including document and media analysis, photo elicitation, reflexive photography, and joint mapping.


Phase 1 (2018-2021)

Geographical Imaginations: People’s Sense of Security and Insecurity in a Cross-Generational Comparison

The project “Geographical Imaginations: People’s Sense of Security and Insecurity in a Cross-Generational Comparison” focuses on the extent in which the increase in complexity and re-figuration of spaces is expressed in security-related geographical imaginations. We proceed from the assumption that perceptions of space have changed dramatically among all social groups due to processes of globalisation, shifting borders, demarcation, de-anchoring, re-embedding and mediatisation. These processes give rise to great uncertainties, as current public debates on the Brexit referendum in the UK or the election results in the USA show. At the same time, identities and group affiliations are almost always established with reference to space, for example by symbolically contrasting “our space” to “the space of others”. The social and cultural contexts of individuals also significantly influence their subjective knowledge of space, specifically in relation to their experience of security and insecurity. Against this background, the project looks at the following research questions: Which geographical imaginations are relevant for subjects’ sense of security? What role do ideas of “home” play in contrast to perceptions of “the foreign”, of “what is distant”, or even in contrast to ideas of the city, the nation and globality altogether? How are these ideas connected? And how do such geographical imaginations differ across different age groups and in different national and cultural contexts? Subjective spatial knowledge will be empirically examined by conducting group discussions and problem-oriented interviews (both based on photo-elicitation) at three different places (Vancouver, Berlin, Singapore). We will analyse the geographical imaginations of 15-30 year-olds, 35-50 year-olds and 55-70 year-olds. The aim is to derive ideal-typical geographical imaginations according to age, social background and geographical positioning. Using the visual methodology of photo-elicitation, we want to particularly shed light on the emotional and affective dimension of security-related spatial knowledge. It is for the first time that a research project investigates the subjective spatial knowledge of different age groups in a polycontextural way at three different study sites, thus allowing for a comprehensive analysis of the contours of a global re-figuration of spaces.