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Spatial analysis of current transformation processes - What kind of society are we living in today?

Tuesday, 05. December 2017

Media information No 208/2017

The German Research Foundation is funding the new Collaborative Research Center on the ‘Refiguration of Spaces’ in the fields of sociology, architecture and urban planning

Professor Löw is convinced that a better understanding of contemporary conflicts can be achieved by analyzing public spaces.

The Collaborative Research Center on the Refiguration of Spaces (CRC 1265) is one of 15 new collaborative research centers funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) over the next four years. TU Berlin is the host university. The CRC is headed up by Prof. Dr. Martina Löw, Chair of the Sociology of Planning and Architecture, and Prof. Dr. Hubert Knoblauch, Chair of General Sociology. Both teach and conduct research at the Department of Sociology, Faculty VI: Planning Building Environment at TU Berlin.

What is the aim of the Collaborative Research Center?
Current social, political and technological changes, as well as uncertainties and conflict around the world all point to a fundamental issue: the relationship between people and the spaces they live in is being renegotiated and transformed. This involves processes characterized by tension and conflict. The main features of these processes can be captured by the concept of "refiguration of spaces". Refiguration finds its expression both in emerging spatial planning practices and in the fight for the preservation of traditional uses of space. With this in mind, the CRC takes an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing spatial structures and new spatial knowledge, thus offering an integrative perspective on the analysis of the current transformation of the social order. "The traditional, globally dominant model of modernity with its centralized nation states, borders and national economies conflicts with post- and late-modern transnationalization with its polycentrism, globalizing scope and breaking down of barriers. Our hypothesis is that spatial refiguration is a result of this tension," says Professor Löw.

Research questions

It's clear that the organization of the social through space has undergone a fundamental transformation in the last few decades. The question is: what new types of space do these changes give rise to? How are the various spaces brought into relation with one another individually and collectively? And which of them are conceived as conflicting in various social groups?

What is the starting point for the CRC's research?
Currently, a host of dramatic social changes are taking place. These include the interdependencies and interconnectedness summed up under the concept of globalization (increased mobility, forced migration, the circulation of goods, processes and technologies, internationally coordinated management strategies) and their counter-movements (for example, Brexit, the Trump administration's withdrawal from free trade agreements, but also the movement to eat only locally grown foods). Upheavals in the global political geography manifest themselves in conflicting approaches to interpreting spaces, as the Charlottesville protests and the debate about whether nation states should have more (or less) open borders show, and they are articulated in beliefs about security and insecurity, and in processes of closure, such as the rise in initiatives to build new border walls.

Changes inevitably also involve media revolutions and the application of digital technologies in all areas of our daily and professional lives. An obvious example is the radical change in spatial knowledge among children and young adults, who no longer seem to perceive space as territory. Some see this change as the cause of the rise in vandalism and the popularization of extremist movements, but also of the revival of inner-city areas, as young people (and others) now tend to move through the urban space carrying their mobile devices with them instead of remaining fixed in front of their tv sets or computers.

Research aim
Our aim is to use spatial analysis to contribute to a better understanding of the conflicts and uncertainties that threaten to destabilize societies and - by including architectural and planning issues for the first time in a CRC - to advance alternative models for the development of public spaces.

Why this CRC in Berlin?
Berlin offers a unique scientific landscape where spatial theory research links up with research on communicative constructivism, with close collaborations across the fields of architecture, planning and social sciences where experts in geography cooperate closely with specialists in the sociology of space. This diverse landscape affords not only the development of innovative spatial-scientific methods but also transdisciplinary spatial research made possible by the CRC.

"Over the past few decades, we have got used to the idea that time cannot be captured in terms of developmental logic. We no longer talk about developing countries, but rather about the Global South. We know that our lives do not unfold in linear ways as many of us like to think. With this CRC, we can now contribute to a conception of space that is no longer understood as - and simplistically reduced to - a  fixed and homogeneous entity lying about somewhere out there calling for conquest or protection, but rather as a highly complex act of configuration," says Professor Löw. It is through the prism of refiguration that spatial analyses can provide an answer to the question: what kind of society are we living in today?

The teams of expertsheaded by Prof. Dr. Martina Löw and Prof. Dr. Hubert Knoblauch are partnering in the CRC with seven other TU professors from the fields of architecture and urban design, urban and regional planning and art, along with the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin, the University of Münster and the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space in Erkner.

For further information, contact:

Prof. Dr. Martina Löw
TU Berlin
Chair for the Sociology of Planning and Architecture
Tel.: 030 314-25433, Secr.: -22811

Prof. Dr. Hubert Knoblauch
TU Berlin
Chair for General Sociology
Tel.: 030 314-22167

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