Session 12

Methodologies for the Investigation Spatial Transformation Processes

In spatial research, the insight has become a matter of course that spaces (like cities, neighbourhoods or urban places) must be conceived as a “social construct”, i.e. as a socio-spatial fabric. So far, however, insufficient attention has been paid to the fact that socio-spatial fabrics are not static but rather in a process of constant transformation, or in other words: that they are permanently “reconstructed” by social actors. In this context, it is a question by which methodological tools socio-spatial transformation or reconstruction processes can be investigated empirically. Spatial transformation may happen by urban actors who develop a new perspective on some aspects of a particular place and discuss the place in a new way. This may come along with changing patterns of space-related practices, whereas existing social and material arrangements initially remain unchanged. As a consequence of a changing perspective and a different public communication about the place, however, after a period of time some responsible urban actors may decide to redevelop selected run-down buildings, to tear down others or to build new ones, all of which will gradually change even the built structure. This is, of course, only one possibility of spatial transformation. In the session we will focus on the question of how such spatial transformation processes can be explored, or to be more concrete, how the social reconstruction of spaces can be methodologically investigated. We invite papers that – by the example of sustainable urban development processes or other spatial transformations – suggest qualitative, quantitative or mixed-methods approaches, be it in terms of long-term statistical analysis, discourse analyses, participant observation, visual methods, other methods or a combination of different methodological tools.




1.Understanding transformation processes through spatial comparison

Ralph Richter  (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany)

Cities around the world expedite a mobility turnaround (Canzler 2020) towards a more environment friendly and just distribution of scarce traffic space among transport users. The space consuming and emission intense private car traffic is restrained to the benefit of sustainable mobility alternatives such as bike riding, public transport, walking, car sharing or intermodal e-mobility. This aspect of the social-ecological transformation (Brand/Wissen 2017) has the potential to radically change the appearance of the cities and improve the quality of life of their residents. An established methodology to grasp transformation processes are long-term investigations. In contrast to these asynchronous approaches, this presentation will put up for discussion a comparative spatial analysis (Ragin 1989; Long/Robertson 2017) as an inroad to a more space sensitive understanding of transformation processes. Given that spatial entities such as cities, urban districts or towns follow the mobility turnaround movement to varying degrees, a comparison between these spatial entities and the identification and explanation of differences helps to draw a more comprehensive picture of the overall transformation process. The presentation is based on a comparative research of two places, an urban district in Berlin/Germany and a town nearby Berlin. Comparative data have been collected by means of two representative quantitative household surveys and additional qualitative expert interviews and media analysis. The investigation uncovers mobility-related attitudes and behavioral patterns that systematically differ between the urban and the suburban place. It reveals that principles of the mobility turnaround such as the renunciation of car use and car-fixed planning are much more accepted in the urban district than in the suburban place. The comparative spatial analysis enhances the understanding of transformation processes from a one-sided urban view to a more comprehensive perspective and a higher sensitivity for the spatial non-simultaneity of these processes. It suggests considering different socio-spatial realities that require tailored conceptions towards environment friendly traffic solutions in urban, suburban and rural subspaces.


2.Detroit and Spatial Productions of Two-ness

Nicole Trujillo-Pagan  (Wayne State University, United States)

We generally consider space as something that is, rather than an ongoing production. This paper treats conventional assumptions as abstractions that occlude how space is produced through human and non-human action over time. It draws on the case of Detroit (Michigan) to elucidate the ways space is reified as a problem. In the years leading up to and following the Global Recession, federal and state agencies as well as philanthropic organizations engaged in bordering practices that included mapping and surveying land and property in the city. These practices were ostensibly about revitalization and redevelopment, but these groups used the data they collected to engage in a series of border crossings. I define border crossings as a different type of spatial production that involves practices benefitting greater control over property. In the case of Detroit, these border crossing practices included new financial experiments in the city, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. municipal history and what many consider the largest clearance project in the world. I draw from this data to explain how dominant methodological approaches to measuring space produce abstract space that not only obscures difference, but also promotes unequal control over spatial production. In contrast, analysis of bordering and crossing practices identifies the relational practices that produce space. This analysis treats lived experience and labor as superior to the abstract principle of property. An analysis that treats space as a social relationship also identifies the significance of epistemology in the production of space. Detroit always demonstrated a two-ness that was evident with its birth and racial segregation in housing. Media commentators have also observed “two Detroits” in their references to development and decay. My analysis of bordering and crossing practices reveals that twoness is a relation to property and production shaped in and through the spatial productions of racial difference.


3.A Space of Disappearance: Colombia’s rubble heap

Ludmila Ferrari  (University of Michigan, USA)

Since 2001 Medellín has been using architecture to transform its reputation from a violent city into one of Latin America’s “architectural capitals.” A fast-growing metropolis where towers of residential units rise rapidly, and city-parks emerge on the grounds of razed slums, a building hubris that produces unending amounts of rubble. Tonnes of construction debris are hurled to a site known as “La escombrera,” a rubble heap located on the outskirts of the Comuna 13. In the margins of the margins, “La escombrera” extends for 100 hectares and is over 50 meters deep, and under its incalculable weight lay the bodies of 300 people. The Escombrera is Colombia’s largest mass grave. The victims disappeared between 1998 and 2005 during the “pacification” of the Comuna 13 by the State in collaboration with the paramilitaries. Since 2008 the mothers of the victims demand an excavation of the site, but political corruption and technical limitations have made its forensic excavation impossible. Meanwhile, demolition trucks keep dumping rubble. This paper explores a set of inquiries that emerged from my research and fieldwork in Comuna 13 since 2016. At the heart of my research is the methodological question: what categories and conceptual frameworks help us understand a space of active disappearance like The Escombrera? How can we account for the spatial economy between the growing city and its growing mass grave? What is the methodology to study its conflagration of construction and human remains? And, in what ways The Escombrera defies our notions of the polis? My methodological approach combines community-based research, political philosophy, and forensic studies. Through these multifaceted lenses, I seek to shed light on the relationships between space, law, violence, and narco-accumulation. Furthermore, I’ve incorporated artistic methods (video and photomontage) to explore the relationship between violence and language.


4.Spatial mapping of interactional narratives and socio-semiotic environment (sociolinguistics)

William Kelleher  (University of Pretoria, South Africa)

This paper concerns the field of sociolinguistics and seeks to understand postcolonial states from the perspective of language and spatiality, particularly with respect to the historiographies of contemporary movements of people from peri-urban areas to urban areas. The language use it is concerned with is narrative activity in the context of interactional conversation. The methodological problem the paper addresses is how to take account of participant variation in interactional positioning that is spatially sensitive. This is to say that as participants move through the racially, socio-economically, and socio-historically marked landscapes of postcolonial states (in this case Johannesburg, in South Africa) their narrative activity takes account of this movement and can be studied for spatially-dependant variation that is relevant to understanding both individual biographic trajectory and broader societal processes and discourses. Narrative activity consists of stories told in the context of interactional speech or mediated exchanges between people. There are several layers of analysis that are applicable to narrative. At the micro level participants employ marked lexical, prosodic, and syntactic forms. At the meso level the story is interactionally achieved with marked structural forms to achieve story entry, delivery, and exit. The meso level refers, additionally, to the manner in which participants iteratively produce roles, plots and embedded figures or scenes. At the macro level participants align, misalign or omit societal processes and discourses. All three of these levels, the micro, the meso and the macro, can adapt and adjust to movement through space. Spatiality can be analysed from several different points of departure. Its sensorial materiality gives rise to analyses that concern the interactional order, the haptic and the affective attachment to place. Material circulations of discourses through space also imprint themselves on bodies. Socio-historic processes of exclusion, inclusion and border maintenance take place through the artefacts and semiotic ensembles that participate in spatial regimes. Spatial frames dispose participants, allowing or disallowing different participation configurations. In sociolinguistics, a particularly fruitful avenue for investigation of spatiality in urban and peri-urban areas concerns the semiotic landscape and the textual/visual artefacts that construct discursive and linguistic regimes. The methodological contribution that this paper will present to the problem of spatially sensitive interactional narrative positioning is the GIS-facilitated mapping of participant location, artefacts of the semiotic landscape and audio recordings of participant interactions. This gives rise to a multi-layered cartographic reading of personal, social, material, and discursive space.


5.Social Sustainability in Urban Neighbourhoods. Investigating Spatial Transformation Processes in Berlin-Moabit and Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg in Germany by an Ethnographic Discourse Analysis

Gabriela Christmann  (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany)

The presentation will focus on the question of how spatial transformation processes or, more concretely, how the social reconstruction of socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods for more social sustainability, which takes place over time, can be methodically investigated. The methodological problem is how to study socio-spatial micro-processes in time. On the basis of a micro-perspective, it will be argued that it is new forms of communicative action of local actors that play a crucial role in spatial transformation processes. The contribution will start with theoretical considerations on the communicative reconstruction of spaces. It will then outline the research question of a project that, by the example of ‘urban pioneers’, investigated bottom-up initiatives aiming to achieve more quality of life in the disadvantaged neighbourhoods. First of all, the significant properties of the selected neighbourhoods of Berlin-Moabit and Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg (Germany) as well as characteristics of the urban actors under analysis are outlined. Next, the methodological approach of the study will be described, which we have called ethnographic discourse analysis. The author will explain the way in which (focused) ethnography and (the sociology of knowledge approach to) discourse analysis was combined, and how the methods involved were applied. The contribution concludes with a discussion on how far the methodological proceeding proves to be adequate in order to investigate spatial transformation processes on a “microscopic level”.


6.Spatial Transformation Processes as Sustained Multi-level and Cross-scalar Processes of Social Innovation: An appeal for Linking Discourses and Dispositifs in Investigations of Local Development

Sune Stoustrup  (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space e.V. (IRS), Germany)

In the recent reframing of local spatial development within ‘social innovation’ terminology, especially highlighted is the need for new forms of attitudes, behaviours, or perceptions to develop and establish new perspectives on spatial transformation and local development possibilities. These are discursive processes, and to investigate them, we need to ask how they (re-)construct and bind together new ideas, local and regional territorial identities, social innovation ecosystems and infrastructures, tangible as well as non-tangible spaces. The paper furthermore argues that we need to approach local development processes in their situatedness within local and multi-level governance structures and cross-scalar arrangements and as long-term processes spanning more than the singular transformative projects. The need for this type of research question is illustrated with an example of transformative change in the face of territorial decline from a local community in rural Austria. Here the local perception of crisis, for example, initiated the (re-)construction of local ideas about responsibility, redevelopment of physical infrastructure and partnerships locally and with external actors. Within a discourse-theoretical approach, the paper argues that we need to connect 1)’ discourses’, i.e., systems of common or social meanings and the related social practices, with 2) ‘dispositifs’, i.e., the material, institutional and ideational infrastructure, e.g., as they are constructed by social actors, institutions and collectivities to solve a particular situation, in the presented example, rural decline. The paper proposes we need a processual-concerned multi-method approach to investigate spatial transformations. Methodologically this would entail reconstructing these processes by combining, e.g., interviews and document with social sequence analysis or more recent developments in mapping approaches.