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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.

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.

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

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.

View from a condominium in Gurgaon, National Capital Region, 2011. 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.

Who we are

Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius

Christiane Brosius is professor of Visual and Media Anthropology at the Karl Jaspers Centre for Transcultural Studies and speaker of Research Area B "Public Spheres" at the cluster "Asia and Europe in a Global Context". She has researched on processes of social spatialisation in New Delhi since 2000 and currently works on two projects related to urban spaces: 1) the emergence of new art practices and events in New Delhi and Kathmandu, and 2) notions of autonomy and risk for single women in urban India (part of the HERA project). Brosius teaches classes on Cities of the Global South, a class on 'Mapping the Urban Everyday' - co-taught with colleagues from geography at Heidelberg and the UK is in the planning. 

Selection of related publications:

2010. India’s Middle Class. New Forms of Urban Leisure, Consumption and Prosperity. New Delhi, London, New York: Routledge (out of print, second and revised edition in preparation for January 2014)

2013. „’Enclave Gaze’: Images and Imaginary of Neoliberal Lifestyle in New Delhi“. In Patsy Spyer and Mary Steedly (eds.). Images that Move. School for Advanced Research Press (SAR). Santa Fe: 73-99.

2013. "Negotiating Belonging in a Megacity. The Spatial Politics of a Public Art Festival". In Ute Hüsken and Axel Michaels (eds.). South Asian Festivals on the Move. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz: 169-192

2013. "Love Attacks: Romance, Media Voyeurism and Activism in the Public Domain". In Sanjay Srivastava (ed.). Sexuality Studies. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 253-283. 


Prof. Dr. Ulrike Gerhard

Ulrike Gerhard is professor for Human Geography of North America at the HCA and the Geography Department. Her major interests are questions of global city research, recent urban developments, planning issues, consumerism and trade. She has researched on urban consumer landscapes in Canada and Germany and analyzed the political geography of US American cities. Gerhard’s most recent research topics deal with urban inequality in the Americas, the discursive structuring of cities as well as consumerism in North American and European cities. Gerhard is striving for an innovative teaching approach and co-teaches interdisciplinary classes on urbanisms with colleagues from Sociology, Literature, and Political Science. She also includes practitioners such as urban planners, consultants, and retail representatives into her classes to connect the University to urban expericences.

Selection of related publications:

2014. With E. Rothfuß. "Urbane Ungleichheit in vergleichender Perspektive – konzeptionelle Überlegungen und empirische Befunde aus den Americas“. Geographica Helvetica 69 (2): 67–78.

2012.  „Reurbanisierung – Die Global City-Perspektive.“ In K. Brake and G. Herfert (eds.): Auf dem Weg zu einer Reurbanisierung. Zwischen Diskurs und Realität. Wiesbaden: Springer, 30-45.

2012. With A. Seckelmann. „Kopf oder Zahl? Vermittlung qualitativer Methoden in der humangeographischen Hochschullehre.“ In T. Dörfler and E. Rothfuss (eds.): Raumbezogene qualitative Sozialforschung – Perspektiven der Humangeographie. Wiesbaden, 255-273.

2011. With Ingo Warnke. “From Dreamland to Wasteland? The Discursive Structuring of Cities.” In H. Schmid, W.-D. Sahr, and J. Urry (eds.): Cities and Fascination: Beyond the Surplus of Meaning. London (=Re-Materialising Cultural Geography), 129-146.

2007. Global City Washington, D.C. Eine politische Stadtgeographie. Bielefeld: Transcript.


Dr. Editha Marquardt

Editha Marquardt is senior researcher and lecturer at the Institute of Geography. She is interested in research questions concerning the (visual) perception of as well as identification with regions and cities. In her current projects she investigates urban changes in the knowledge society.


Roberta Mandoki, M.A.

From April 2016 onward, Roberta Mandoki coordinates the Forum 'Urban Spaces'. She also is a member of the interdisciplinary research project 'Ageing in a Transcultural Perspective' (B19). She joined the Cluster of Excellence 'Asia and Europe in a Global Context' in 2013 as a PhD candidate and stipend. Her PhD project "Ageing in Urban Nepal – Perspectives of Senior Citizens on Migration, Urbanization and Social Change" (working title) looks at contemporary dynamics in the Kathmandu Valley regarding suburbanization and migrant mobility from the perspective of older middle-class people, and seeks to explain how they come to terms and engage with their changing social and spatial environments. Her general research interests comprise changing notions of age and intergenerativity in South Asia, urban cultural dynamics and diversity, particularly in 2nd tier and 'out-of-the-way' cities of the Global South, as well as questions of migration, identity and multi-locality. Her current regional foci are Nepal and India with their diasporas.


Prof. Dr. Hans Harder

Hans Harder is Professor of Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg. He is particularly interested in South Asian representations of the city beyond the English-speaking sphere. Discourses on the city have been part of regional literatures for centuries and accompanied ongoing internal migration into the cities. Literary and filmic "city talk" in these languages offer an important clue to alternative notions of urbanity on the subcontinent.


Karl Beelen

Karl Beelen is a researcher and urban designer by training, who's worked in Amsterdam and Chennai, India. He completed a PhD in urbanism at Eindhoven University of Technology (Of sand, fill and water. Urbanisms of erasure and fabricated ground), which examines the implicit, erasive urbanisms emerging in the margin of infrastructural logistics and urban planning in Holland. His current research engages with the Indian city of Chennai and carries a particular interest in grassroots urbanisms and everyday notions of 'design'. He is currently a part-time educator at Karlsruhe University of Technology.

Nina Nessel, M.A., M.A.

Nina Nessel is the coordinator of the Forum Urban Spaces (ForUS) Nina holds an MA in South Asian Studies as well as an MA in Education and Sociology with a specialization in international education. As coordinator, Nina is responsible for communications and outreach activities of the Forum Urban Spaces and supports the development of new initiatives. Further, she will focus on the dissemination and promotion of research-based teaching and research in ForUS.

Daniela Vertzman Bagdadi, B.A.

In 2016, Daniela Bagdadi worked as research assistant at the EU-funded HERA SINGLE project where she performed several activities including social media management, online campaign development, visual production, creative writing, among others. Currently, she assists Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius and Dr.des. Laila Abu-Er-Rub at the chair of Visual and Media Anthropology as well as at the Forum Urban Spaces



Dr. des. Laila Abu-Er-Rub

Laila Abu-Er-Rub was the coordinator of Forum´Urban Spaces´ (ForUS), and aditionally the coordinator of Cluster's Research Areas "Governance and Administration”, “Public Spheres”, “Knowledge Systems” and “Historicities and Heritage”, as well as of the HERA Joint Research Programme "Cultural Encounters" entitled "Creating the 'New' Asian Woman: Entanglements of Urban Space, Cultural Encounters and Gendered Identities in Shanghai and Delhi."

Abu-Er-Rub taught classes on Gender, Media and Urban Space, and currently teaches a class ´Cultural Heritage ´from below´. Migration and material culture in action - co-taught with Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius.


Dr. Marie Sander

Marie Sander was coordinator of the Forum 'Urban Spaces' and member of the research project 'Mobile Spaces' from September 2013 to December 2014. She joined the cluster "Asia and Europe" in 2009 as a stipend in the graduate programme for transcultural studies and completed her dissertation "Passing Shanghai: Ethnographic Insights into Expatriate Youths' Mobile Lives" in 2013. Her general research interests include questions of identity, migration, urban culture and youth. While Shanghai is Marie’s main regional focus, she is generally deeply interested in migrants’ experiences of cities and the role urban spaces play in processes of arrival and ‘emplacement’ but also in feelings of difference and alienation.


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

Exchange and Collaboration

Sound Studies Lab at the University of Copenhagen

Together with Prof. Holger Schulze, Prof. Christiane Brosius and Laila Abu-Er-Rub organised a conference on Sound Studies, Sensory Ethnography & Media Anthropology titled ‘OUT OF SPACE? Erratic, ephemeral & emerging cultural practices in illegal, illegitimate or intangible locations’ (Copenhagen, June 21-22nd 2017)’. The papers presented by the assembled speakers from a range of disciplines and regional expertise highlighted new sensory and gustatorial practices in urban spaces (Food Emplacements); they broadened the realm of aesthetics and their relevance for identities in illegitimate locations (Artistic Spatialities & Identities); they explored contemporary border regimes on the fringes and at the centers of societies (Borders & Mobilities; Subversive and Alternative Urban Spaces) Additionally, the conference promoted alternative presentation formats such as audio papers and performative papers. A special issue in the international transdisciplinary journal of historical anthropology Paragrana will be published as a result of the conference in spring 2018.

CFP and programme

Arunava Dasgupta (SPA, Department Urban Planning, New Delhi) and Sujan Chitrakar (Kathmandu University School of Arts)

Prof. Christiane Brosius is planning to establish a student and faculty exchange with Dr. Arunava Dasgupta from Department Urban Planning at the School for Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, the artist Sujan Chitrakar who teaches for the Kathmandu University School of Arts and Prof. Ulrike Gerhardt from the department of Geography in Heidelberg. Possibilities for the envisaged collaboration were discussed during a one-day workshop titled ‘Open Access? The city as laboratory, studio, archive’ on June 29th 2017 in Heidelberg. The workshop focused on the ways in which research on cities and urban change can facilitate stronger interdisciplinary ties across academic institutions with respect to research-based teaching. It addressed themes such as urban design for ‘open’ and ‘social’ cities of the 21st century, the role of art practice in and about the city, or in/tangible cultural heritage in rapidly changing urban environs. Other themes that were considered were in what way the city can be ‘archived’ and material be produced for open access to generate transdisciplinary discussions, how to study urban responses to natural and man-made crises (e.g., earthquake, climate change), social inequality, migration and cultural diversity.


Max Planck Fellow Group "Connectivity in Motion: Port Cities of the Indian Ocean"

We are very enthusiastic to foster future exchange between urban researchers at Heidelberg University and Prof. Dr. Burkhard Schnepel’s newly established social anthropological and ethnohistorical research project on port cities of the Indian Ocean at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale. In its wider theoretical and methodological aims, the perspective of the Max Planck Fellow Group on port cities is guided by the theorem of “connectivity in motion”. It studies the manifold linkages and networks across the Indian Ocean, focusing on the maritime movements of human beings, animals, diseases, material objects, ideas, religions, technologies, languages, political systems and other “things”, through which alone such connections come to life. In this capacity, port cities are seen less as essentialized and a priori facts or even foundations of the networks, movements, transits and translations; rather they are viewed as their relational effects.

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.


Event Series: Spotlight Urban Research

Recent Events

Symposium "OUT OF SPACE?" in Copenhagen


The symposium "OUT OF SPACE? Erratic, ephemeral & emerging cultural practices in illegal, illegitimate or intangible locations” took place from 21-22 of June in Copenhagen. It is organized by the Chair of Visual and Media Anthropology at the Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies (HCTS) and the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at Copenhagen University.


Arunava Dasgupta´s talk in the class "Cityscapes and Urban Imaginaries in Asia"

On 28th of June, Prof. Dr. Arunava Dasgupta, head of the department for Urban Design at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi gave a talk on "Open City" in the class "Cityscapes and Urban Imaginaries in Asia".



International Workshop: “Open Access? The city as laboratory, studio, archive.

The workshop "Open Access?" that took place on 29th of June was organized by the Chair of Visual and Media Anthropology in cooperation with the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi, the Department of Art and Design at Kathmandu University and the Forum Urban Spaces.


Urban Research


Cityscapes and Urban Imaginaries in Asia

In this years' Master Course `Cityscapes and Urban Imaginaries in Asia´, which started in April 2017, students will explore the concepts of "global city" and "inclusive city" as conceptual and empirical tools for engaging in transcultural studies. South Asia will serve as key focal region but we will also include key texts and examples from Europe, mainly Germany.