ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Urban Pioneers in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Analysing spatial transformation processes with a multi-method approach

Gabriela Brigitte Christmann

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 9 - Law Building, Room 102
Date: 2012-07-11 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-12-19


The author will discuss the empirical research design of a project about “urban pioneers”. The investigation pursues the question how far these activists contribute to the development of disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Under empirical analysis are quarters in Berlin and Hamburg. They are characterised by manifold social problems, by public discourses addressing the neighbourhoods negatively and in this way constructing negative images. Negative images, however, cement the social problems insofar as they suppress other ways of thinking about the neighbourhoods and ignore positive developments. This may not blind us to the fact that nevertheless there are potentials of development in these urban quarters. We understand urban pioneers as an important factor in this context. One essential feature of urban pioneers is that they introduce something new to the neighbourhoods, that they use or imagine space in a new way, develop visions, communicate them or stimulate communication among other citizens and this way influence or provoke other people´s interpretations of space. Thus, they may support alternative interpretations of the quarter and in the best case – as far as they are able to introduce their activities into public discourses – they may also positively influence the images of the respective quarters as a whole. Not at least urban pioneers drive on social, organisational or infrastructural innovations at the local level and thus at the same time develop solutions for social-spatial problems.
It will be outlined that in the empirical proceeding of the project three social aggregation levels are tackled: Firstly, at the level of individual actors urban pioneers are interviewed by way of qualitative interviews. Here, their socio-cultural backgrounds and particularly their motives, aims, strategies, social networks and running projects are of interest. Secondly, at the level of social groups and networks, by way of a focused ethnography, group meetings are analysed. In this context, it is asked how quarters are negotiated. The most abstract level is that of the public with the discourses happening there. This field is analysed by way of the research programme of the Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD). It is asked what urban pioneers communicate to the outside and how the local mass media report on the quarters, and particularly on the activities of urban pioneers.
Starting from this example it will be discussed how the relation between ideational and material (re)constructions of space can be methodically conceptualised, how discursive and non-discursive, communicative and physical/material practices can be observed and analysed and how they can be related to each other. It will be argued that discourse analytical approaches can be helpful in this endeavour, particularly when they take in consideration “dispositives” such as non-discursive practices, institutional structures and material objectivations.