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Forum Urban Spaces (ForUS)

The Forum 'Urban Spaces' (ForUS) is an initiative of the chair of Visual and Media Anthropology at Heidelberg University, Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius, and was founded in September 2013.

Joint Fieldwork on mapping and community-based urban design in Old Delhi with Dr. Manu Mahajan (Department of Urban Design, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi). Copyright: Jeroen de Kloet.

Connecting Research

The Forum’s main aim is to connect scholars across various disciplines interested in processes of urbanization. Offering a platform for the exchange on theoretical and methodological trends and concerns in urban studies, the initiative seeks to promote new innovative ways to research city spaces and urban imaginaries –transdisciplinarily and transregionally. The Forum ‘Urban Spaces’ is keen on producing and linking knowledge on cities in the Global South as well as the Global North. Furthermore, we consider it highly important to set focus not only on booming megacities, but to stimulate research on what Robinson (2002) has called “ordinary cities”. The Forum ‘Urban Spaces’ has been initiating several collaborations with partners in and outside of Heidelberg. It was connected to the EU-funded interdisciplinary research project ‘Creating the “new” Asian woman: entanglements of urban space, cultural encounters and gendered identities in Shanghai and Delhi’ which was part of the HERA Joint Research Programme 'Cultural Encounters'  (2013-2016), with partners in Amsterdam and London. It also has an association with the Sound Studies Lab and the University of Copenhagen and to the research group ‘Ageing in a transcultural context' at the Cluster ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’, that studies intergenerational relationships and the institutionalization of ageing in urban settings in India and Nepal. The Forum also aims at facilitating regular teaching of seminars, through individual disciplines and co-teaching. Teaching will be predominantly in English.

Key Interests

We are particularly interested in the everyday practices of all kinds of social groups living in cities, their making, experience and notion of spaces in these settings. Likewise, we want to engage in questions of access and inequality concerning the experience and shaping of public and private spaces, considering their local and global qualities as they change over, and back in time. One central concern in this context is the question of citizens’ access to and participation in public space.

Bremen, August 2013. Photo by M. Sander.

Sharon Zukin’s (1995) discussion of aesthetics as a regulating strategy of social spatialisation features concretely in this image where a German Street artist, as if echoing Zukin, recently sprayed “Whose city is it?” on the sign of a German drugstore chain that went bankrupt in 2012 and left thousands of empty stores in the midst of many German cities. Their question not only criticizes the harsh treatment of former employees who lost their jobs, but also points out the increasing dominance of large chain stores transforming public spaces in cities of all sizes throughout the country.

A central concern of ours is to explore how urban spaces connect and disconnect across, and how this makes us reconsider the urban as an experimental field beyond particular sites. Joining debates on access to the city, we like to bring forward several foci of particular concern to us: migration, gender, and age.

Secondly, the Forum ‘Urban Spaces’ is highly interested in experiences and representations of urbanity in art, film, architecture and literature. Linking such mediatized images of urban spaces to empirical works in the social sciences, but also to historical studies of cities, we aim to foster discussions on tangible and intangible urban heritage and its representations. This field, in particular, will closely collaborate with the Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA) and the importance of Digital Humanities for scholarship and research-based teaching at this university.

A third field of connecting urban research is sustainability. As environmental issues are of utmost concern in many cities across the globe, the Forum considers it vital to work on such issues from a multitude of perspectives, from urban planning to the influence of environmental challenges on social practices.

Schoolgirls on a cycle rickshaw in the streets of Old Delhi, 2005. Photo by C. Brosius.

Finally, working transregionally, we not only strive to engage in comparative work, but also to rethink conceptualizations of ‘global south’ urbanism in general. Recently, scholars have put forward new ideas on understanding these “worlding cities” (Ong 2011) or “other global cities” (Mayaram 2013) that have often simply fallen “off the map” (Robinson 2002). We like to use their critique on the dominance of Euro-American ideas of urbanity as a starting point and ask what  an “alternative” approach (Bharne on YouTube) to cities, an “urban theory beyond the west” (Edensor and Jayne 2012), could look like.

View from a condominium in Gurgaon, National Capital Region, 2011. Photo by C. Brosius.
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Doctoral Projects

Michela Bonato, M.A.

A New Hydraulic Empire “with Chinese Characteristics”? Politics on the
Market of Water in Chongqing, Southwest China

Johanna Hahn, M.A.

Urban Ethos and Images of the Metropolis in Modern Hindi Literature

External Funding

We would like to express our gratitude for the additional funding we received from Heidelberg University within their FOF 3 (2015) and FOF 4 (2016) schemes.