PhD Defence of Maja Ročak

We often speak of Placemaking in a very positive and future-oriented activity through which we create and build something new, but Placemaking under conditions of shrinkage is a totally other thing. Placemaking then can easily become the cutting down of existing structures. A rather depressing activity. Nevertheless, also under these conditions Placemaking is highly relevant. Placemaking refers to changing places, and certainly, under conditions of shrinkage, places do change, irrespective if we like it or not. Under these difficult conditions, the quality of our Placemaking and the use of all available resources and skills becomes very crucial. This is exactly where the PhD thesis of Maja Ročak, supervised by Prof. Gert-Jan Hospers from our Geography group and Dr. Nol Reverda from Zuyd  University of Applied Science, which she successfully defended on  January 10, 2020, comes in.

Maja Ročak investigated the use of Social Capital by the Civil Society in the context of Urban Shrinkage and how this affects the way they experience the shrinkage. So this clearly also refers to the social theoretic work of Bourdieu. While I was composing this entry, I just happened to come out of the course in which we teach our students the relevance of these social theoretic thinkers for our current research. So this PhD thesis also gives me the satisfaction that indeed, we teach what is needed. The PhD thesis of Maja Ročak not only elaborates on those issues but also recommends how one can better mobilise these civic resources in situations of shrinkage to also make the best out of these places. Placemaking under these difficult conditions instead of Placemaking in already successful places is the real art of Placemaking.


Using photographic essays as didactical tool

After having conducted many many years of urban fieldwork excursions to Berlin for our Master students in Urban and Cultural Geography, in which each student group needs to prepare a tour through one part of the city, based on a specific theoretical perspective, derived from the textbook written by Phil Hubbard withe simple title ‘City’, and in additions students write an individual photographic essay, on their own observations, my co-lecturer in this course, Dr. Rianne van Melik and me decided to investigate and evaluate how this didactical tool, of writing a photographic essay, actually made our students look at the city differently. The results of this research is now published in the Journal of Geography in Higher Education with the title: “Looking with intention”: using photographic essays as didactical tool to explore Berlin. (click on image to see full text)

In addition, a brief Dutch summary has appeared in the Dutch glossy magazine Geografie early 2020. Also one of the students, Karim Johannes Sahhar, involved in the 2018 excursion published a summary of his photographic essay [Berlin: a little nudge in the direction of the waste bin] in the same issue of Geografie. (click on image to see full text)