What Groningen does with us and what we do with Groningen

In 1976 I started studying Geography at the University of Groningen. At that time we did not have a free choice where to study, as geography was a popular study programme, and there were not always sufficient free slots at the university of our preference. An allocation committee decided where you could go. I was sent to Groningen. In hindsight, I did not regret it, as Groningen as one of the more peripheral University Cities, also had a vibrant student life because students could not always afford to go to their parental home in the weekends. The ‘Pakhuis’ (Warehouse) was our favourite student pub for the weekends. Notwithstanding the not so fancy (but cheap) housing accommodation during my studies, we were happy with our newly gained autonomy. My first room somewhere around the Plantsoenstraat, at that time, had rather primitive sanitary facilities, with a separate toilet-building in the back garden. For a shower, we anyhow had to go to the university sports facilities. Soon I moved to downtown, in the red light district. My room was noisy and in the wintertime, I had to go to the university library to keep warm, which by the way, unintendedly was also profitable for my study results. Then we had the opportunity with some extra state subsidies to rent an apartment in a highrise building on the outskirts of the city in Vinkhuizen. For us, this was ‘luxury’, although on the ninth floor when the wind was sweeping over the flat Groninger countryside, the wind howled through the cracks, and the elevator always smelled of piss, and we had to queue up to make a telephone call at the only telephone booth in the street, in these very cheap low-end housing conditions.

Plantsoenstraat                    Lopende Diep                                    Aquamarijnstraat         Barmaheerd

Nevertheless, we had a great time, during which friendships for life were made. And the University also allowed us to discover and develop our interests. Groningen in my experience was and is a great place. A place where our formative years took place became very dear to us, and it still is, although I lived at many other places since then. Not just as a student city, but also in other respects, Groningen can be characterised by its typical atmosphere. It is almost the only bigger urban centre in the whole of the North of the Netherlands, and has the allure of a big city, in a part of the Netherlands, which is rather down to earth, and where people are usually characterised by their no-nonsense attitude. The historic centre with its many street cafés, and markets is iconic. The Grote Markt, where we remember the flower seller, James Squarrosa (Jaap Bloemendaal), nicknamed, ‘the oracle of Andijk’, standing on the back of his truck, yelling that you cannot leave without taking a few of his plants and flowers for almost nothing. And when you believed you were satisfied, he always added another plant to it. He was a weekly returning phenomenon, which you would never again forget. But also the vegetable market where my wife would explore al stands to find where the salad was the cheapest because we had to live with a single student allowance.  And in the city hall on the ‘Grote Markt’ we also married, a bit low profile, in a hippy fashion at those days, having our wedding dinner on the pancake ship in one of the canals of Groningen. Groningen has changed much since then. Many parts of the city have been revitalised and refurbished. Groningen also added to its diverse hipster-like offerings along the Folkingestraat, which in the past had been more or less a  no-go area, and created a totally new atmosphere, which is so nicely described and celebrated in the love song for Groningen by the cabaretier Janneke Jager (click on the picture to hear her song (in Dutch)). And this brings me to the topic I wanted to raise here. Because, what creates an urban atmosphere? What is an urban atmosphere? Is it an attribute of the place or is it an attribute of our subjective experience, infused by our memories, nostalgia and habitus? Who creates or causes these atmospheres?

An urban atmosphere is certainly not just a set of functional properties, which we can rationally appreciate or criticise. An atmosphere is a feeling, an affective aspect of a place. It is the emotion which a place evokes if we think of it or remember it? Or is it the emotion we experience if we immerse in it and are directly encountering it at that moment? Urban atmospheres are a central concept in placemaking and place experience. They refer to ‘a class of experiences that occur before and alongside the formation of subjectivity, across human and non-human materialities, and in-between subject/object distinctions’ (Anderson, 2009, p. 78).

Conceptually and theoretically this concept draws on the new phenomenology of Hermann Schmitz (2019), and on the further development of these ideas by Gernot Böhme (2014), and has been applied also to the city of Groningen by the German Geographer Jürgen Hasse, one of our recent Alexander von Humboldt Lecturers at the Radboud University.

Prof. Jürgen Hasse develops a methodology to investigate urban atmospheres, which he describes as ‘micrology’ but which is sometimes also denoted as ‘phenomenography’ (De Matteis, Bille, Griffero & Jelić, 2019). In a nutshell, Hasse (2012) describes urban atmospheres as belonging ‘to the life of the city like its traffic flows, they come and go with the situational change of the urban. They are different in this location than in any other, they spontaneously emerge out of the presence of things and the dynamics of life or are the object of deliberate production. They have their own significance in the lives of people as well as in the unique character and history of a place. Where they are produced according to a systemic calculation and interest, they fulfil functions as affective dispositions in an ideological, economic or political context’ (pp. 11-12).

Urban atmospheres, therefore, are emotional experiences of the human surroundings; are dependent on how we live these places, and how we actively perform these places. They do not just have passive semiotic meanings which just need to be discovered or ‘read’, but are continuously creating meanings through the performative stream of human dynamics. Urban Atmospheres can not be reduced to specific aspects, but need to be seen as wholes in between subject and object, as ‘in-between spaces’.

Urban Atmospheres are situations, which consist of the things that are, of problematisations of what is, and of programmes for realising what is not yet. In this respect, one can also distinguish between individual personal situations and more collectively shared situations. Atmospheres are not just created by human interventions but as well by the emerging phenomena of nature. Atmospheres have the power of indentedly or unintendedly affecting what happens and what takes place. Atmospheres are not just things, which are there and which might be transformed but cannot really disappear, but are ‘half-things’, which might be linked to things, but which are much more volatile in their performance and in the way they are experienced. Atmospheres are communicated and experiences through our different bodily senses, which then are re-combined into a ‘synesthetic’ holistic impression. The concept of Urban Atmospheres also re-covers the importance of emotions and affects, which in the course of the modernistic and rational project, seems to have gone lost and in this way also allows a critique of one-dimensional economics of aesthetics but also allows access to the constructive dimension of atmospheres.

Usually, Atmospheres are distinguished from Moods. Atmospheres are seen as a-specific and a-personal reality, while moods are seen as personal and individual and therefore also more specific feelings of being in this world, and of being related to this world. Moods create a disposition of the self and create the sensibility for the experience of urban atmospheres. ‘Whether we can and want to feel at home in the urban space of a city is never solely dependent on the urban atmospheres of that city, but also on personal moods, i.e. the affective relationship to living in the city in general and to living in that specific city at that moment in time, in particular’ (Hasse, 2012, p. 20).

In this respect, I see some similarities between the concept of an Urban Atmosphere, and what one could describe with Piere Bourdieu as the affective dimension of a “Field”, while the concept of a Mood could then be parallelled with the affective dimension of our ‘Habitus’, although one might object that Bourdieu sees Habitus as a much more structural personal disposition, while Hasse sees Mood as a much more volatile and momentary personal disposition. But for understanding the difference between Mood and Atmosphere this might nevertheless be helpful, in my view.

Furthermore, Hasse pragmatically describes Urban Atmospheres along several sensible dimensions, like:

  • The built infrastructure
  • The smell
  • The light and shade
  • The soundscape
  • The feeling of the ‘air’
  • The rhythms and movements
  • The looks and sights
  • The habitus and the way people dress
  • The presence of nature and other life forms (animals)
  • The ‘family of things’ as media for distinctions

In this way, he comes up with a lively and very detailed scientific, analytic and synesthetic description of the places Janneke Jager sings about in her above-mentioned love song for Groningen. It shows what geographical science can contribute to understanding the role of the affective dimensions of places in our daily lives.

If you click on the image below, the original text (in German) will appear. In you prefer a (quick and dirty) translation in English, click here.

We sometimes only become aware of the special effects of urban atmospheres, when they abruptly change. Some weeks ago a newspaper article (in Dutch) in NRC-Handelsblad described the Vismarkt in Groningen in Covid-19 lockdown times. This makes us aware of the quality of urban life which is all of the sudden missing, but which we otherwise seemed to take for granted.

The affective and emotional elements of space determine where we feel at home and part of the local community, where we feel attracted and thrilled by the experience of the ‘strange’ places we visit, how we can make places hospitable for ‘strangers’, how places can provoke us to think differently, where ‘diversity’ or an elan for hopeful change is ‘in the air’, what characterises ‘no-go’ places or inspiring and creative places, where we feel the respect for historical and cultural heritage, or where we feel the disgust for evil pasts, and to which places we feel attached, or with which we can identify. These feelings are the hidden but essential drivers of our everyday doings, maybe much more so than our rational thinking.


Anderson, B. (2009) Affective atmospheres. Emotion, Space and Society. Vol 2, No. 2, pp. 77-81.

Böhme, G. (2014) The theory of atmospheres and its applications. Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts. pp. 93-100.

De Matteis, F., Bille, M., Griffero, T. & Jelić, A. (2019) Phenomenographies: Describing the plurality of atmospheric worlds. Ambiances. Vol. 5, pp. 1-22.

Hasse, J. (2018) Märkte und ihre Atmosphären. Micrologien räumlichen Erlebens. [Markets and their Atmospheres. Micrologies of spatial experiencing.] Vol. 2, Karl Alber, Freiburg.

Hasse, J. (2012) Atmosphären der Stadt. Aufgespürte Räume. [Atmospheres of the City. Felt spaces.] Jovis, Berlin.

Schmitz, H. (2019) New Phenomenology: A Brief Introduction. Mimesis, Milano.

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture Series 2019-2020

Integrative Affects of Urban Public Space

Nowadays a growing majority of the world population live in urban environments. Cities in general and the public spaces within cities in particular are the places where human encounters and exchanges take place. The socio-spatial as well as the physical and built shape of urban development affect the chances and quality of life people have (Brenner & Schmid, 2014). Cities are the hotspots and nodes of modern societies, where social, political and economic integration takes place.

Urban studies have increasingly emphasised the socially and politically contested dimensions of public space, and as a consequence focussed on the structural, processual and institutional formations (Low & Smith, 2013), while at the same time neglecting the material and emotional or affective aspects (Reckwitz, 2012). Nevertheless, the challenges of integration, exclusion, disintegration, fragmentation in urban places are more urgent than ever. People living together in cities are more than parts in an urban machine and are more than objects of political regulation. They are deeply cultural and also embodied emotional subjects. Recent work has begun to develop concepts and methods for understanding public spaces as affective and emotional places (Böhme, 2017; Hasse, 2014; Griffero, 2014; Schmitz et al., 2011).

In this Alexander von Humboldt Lecture series we take forward this work by exploring the affective dimensions of urban public spaces. Beginning by reframing the public spaces of cities as spaces of affect and emotion, we will focus on how integration is a matter of how urban experience is patterned, lived and organised. Problems of integration, exclusion, disintegration, fragmentation as played out in the public space of our future cities can only be understood and effectively dealt with if we also take these material and affective aspects into account.


  • How do specific collective affects support, undermine, enable or otherwise affect transformative integration?
  • How might urban policy and urban design in relation to transformative integration take collective affects into account?

Contribution to the debate on Public Spaces: Culture and Integration

There are four main issues we want to raise: First, we address a novel retheorisation of transformative integration that understands it as the coming together of differences in the midst of specific affective-material contexts and processes. Second, by applying this conceptual framework for transformative integration to different occasions of urban integration and change we want to ask how integration can and should happen. Third, we also want to discuss new methodological approaches by utilising a critical phenomenological approach to the affective integrative dimension of space combined with a real transnational approach towards integration. Specifically, we try to overcome the methodological individualism of existing approaches by focusing on the ensemble of practices and associated affects and emotions that form public spaces. Finally: we want to address how these insights inspire and reflect the field of practical policy making so that inclusive public places can be produced through practical placemaking. Together this results in a truly innovative perspective to these debates, which should also spark further research work and publications in this direction.

This years programme is conducted in close cooperation with the Cultural Geography Group of Wageningen University

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture
and Opening Lecture of the 2019-2020 Human Geography Master Programme

Wednesday 04.09.2019, 17:30-18:45, Theatre Hall C, on the ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
(free entrance)

Prof. Jürgen Hasse, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany (http://jhasse.com/)

Urbanity – between atmospheres and moods

Abstract: Urbanity has architectural, physical and other structural presuppositions. Above all, it has a performative dimension. This is cognitively dispositioned by what people decide to do and to be. But it is also affectively tuned by what people do practically (often enough against better knowledge). The gestures of symbolic interaction follow the path of bodily communication, just exceptionally in words. So quarters are silently marked as exclusive spaces. Through gestural action (usually not through an action) others are integrated into the common or affectively excluded. The body of the city is formed performatively – and not as a result of intelligent planning – it owes its success to its performativity and will constitute a collage of urban “bodily islands”. The public space of the city is tuned on the background of both stative and actual situations. These tuning powers give rise to atmospheres that give a feeling of urbanity in the form of moods and suggest specific milieu qualities. What happens in the seismic field of the urban is essentially directed d controlled by feelings. What are the media of their communication? With regard to research, finally the question will arise how one can talk about feelings.

Thursday, 05.09.2019, 12:30-14:15, Ulbo de Sitter room, ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Seminar with Prof. Jürgen Hasse about Methods to investigate Atmospheres

Friday, 06.09.2019, 10:30-12:15, Ulbo de Sitter room, ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Research colloquium of researchers of Radboud University, and Wageningen University, presenting their work to Prof. Jürgen Hasse

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture

Monday 30.09.2019, 17:30-18:45, Former Chapel in the Bergmanianum, Houtlaan 4, NL-6525XZ Nijmegen
(free entrance)

Prof. Tonino Griffero, Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”, Italy (http://uniroma2.academia.edu/toninogriffero)

“Genoa for us”: Urban atmospheres and felt-bodily resonances

Abstract: The urban atmosphere is the polysensorial-amodal “skin” of the city. Inspired by a pathic aesthetics and the New Phenomenology, but also freely using here a Paolo Conte’s song (quoted in the title) as an example, my lecture focuses on the aesthetic-phenomenological notion of “atmosphere” and its key-role in architecture and urban life. It aims, first of all, at investigating what the immersive impression of a city consists of, secondly at de-axiologising the notion of urban atmosphere in order to better understand what its “authority” is, thirdly at explaining on which form of felt-bodily communication and resonance it is based. It would be necessary, finally, to criticize the usual idea according to which an urban atmosphere must necessarily mean either an organicistic familiarity or an avant-garde subversion of the social space.

Tuesday, 01.10.2019, 12:30-14:15, Room EOS N 01.740 first floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Seminar with Prof. Tonino Griffero

Wednesday, 02.10.2019, 10:30-12:15, Ulbo de Sitter room, ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Research colloquium of researchers of Radboud University, and Wageningen University, presenting their work to Prof. Tonino Griffero

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture

Monday 14.10.2019, 17:30-18:45, Former Chapel in the Bergmanianum, Houtlaan 4, NL-6525XZ Nijmegen
(free entrance)

Steve Davies, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), New York, USA (www.pps.org/people/sdavies)

Creating “Market Cities”: Leveraging the power of public markets as public spaces

Abstract: There are thousands if not millions of fresh food public markets around the world that link urban and rural communities and economies.  These markets take many forms – from open-air, mobile markets to permanent market halls to entire market districts.  This lecture will focus on the economic and social value these often under-valued markets bring as fulcrum points for fostering active and inclusive public space in cities, while also promoting job creation, economic development, positive social networks, safe and nurturing public spaces, and access to affordable, fresh and healthy foods.  Case studies of market transformations will illustrate the value public markets can bring to communities, using examples from the United States and, by contrast, from Hanoi, Vietnam.
This lecture will also introduce the concept of “Market Cities”, a new vision for public markets at a city-wide scale. Market Cities make holistic assessments of all their market systems to develop supportive policies and leverage market assets to promote job opportunities, economic development, active public spaces, and community health. Urban market systems in the 21st century can be vital centres of exchange connecting rural and urban environments and places that anchor local culture and social life for all residents. Barcelona is perhaps the best example of a modern Market City. They have an incredibly thriving network of around 43 permanent public markets serving 73 neighbourhoods

Monday, 14.10.2019, 08:30-12:00, City Hall, Burgerzaal, Korte Nieuwstraat 6, NL-6511PP Nijmegen on-location seminar in which we, together with Steve Davies, will evaluate the public market as public space.

During this three hour seminar, participants will visit and evaluate an existing market in Nijmegen while it is operating.  Ideally, a location near the market should be identified for this seminary to take place.  There will be a short introductory presentation about how to evaluate public markets as public spaces, followed by a group field trip to the market.  Using the Project for Public Spaces, Market Place Audit, participants will work in small groups of 2 or 3 people to evaluate the market using the audit form.  Returning to the workshop site, they will work in small groups (combining 2 or three teams) to summarise the key results of their findings and then present them to the full group for discussion.  Management of the market can be invited to participate in the seminar as well and can add additional depth of understanding about how it functions.

Tuesday, 15.10.2019, 12:30-14:15, Ulbo de Sitter room, ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Research colloquium of researchers of Radboud University, and Wageningen University, presenting their work to Steve Davies

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture

Monday 11.11.2019, 17:00-18:30, Room Gaia 1+2, Gaia Building Droevendaalsesteeg 3, NL-6708PB Wageningen Campus (Public transport: bus 84 or 88 from Ede-Wageningen station, stop ‘Campus/Atlas’) https://www.wur.nl/en/location/Gaia-building-number-101.htm
(free entrance)

Prof. Janine Dahinden, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland (www.unine.ch/janine.dahinden)

‘De-centring’ research on transnational integration and diversities? Theoretical and methodological explorations of small locations at the ‘outskirts of Europe’

Abstract: Research on the transnationalisation of social realities and the diversification of populations through mobility and migration has mainly focused on global (or smaller) cities embedded in neo-liberal economies. While these studies contribute important insights into the ways diversity is structured, lived and organised in urban spaces, they also have limitations. First, transformations outside urban centres, in places shaped by different scales of local and transnational dynamics remain largely ignored. Second, many of these studies are based on ethnicity- or nation-centred epistemologies. Third, and in line with the theme of this Alexander von Humboldt lecture series, the role of affects in living diversity has been neglected. Consequently, I argue that this field of research would benefit from theoretical and methodological ‘de-centring’. Based on an ongoing research project, I propose to study questions of transnational mobilities and diversification at the scale of small localities – villages, conglomerations of villages, or valleys at the outskirt of Europe. In addition, I apply a ‘de-naturalised’ and ‘de-migranticised’ research design to address the issues at stake. I demonstrate how small localities constitute “micro-laboratories” of human experience. Their limited spatial extension and small populations offer original and in-depth insights to mobility configurations and the ensuing diversification, boundary- and place-making. Exploring how diversity is produced, how it is socially and affectively organised and lived – locally and transnationally – at the outskirt of Europe advances the theorisation of transnational integration and diversities.

Monday, 11.11.2019, 13:00–15:00, Location Wageningen, t.b.a.
Wageningen: workshop on ‘de-migranticizing’ of  our thinking about small international towns with Prof. Janine Dahinden

Wednesday, 13.11.2019, 10:30-12:15, Room EOS N 01.750 first floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Research colloquium of researchers of Radboud University, and Wageningen University, presenting their work to Prof. Janine Dahinden

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture

Monday 09.12.2019, 17:30-18:45, Theatre Hall C, on the ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
(free entrance)

Prof. Sophie Watson, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK (http://www.open.ac.uk/people/sw3625)

City Water matters: Cultures, Practices and Entanglements of Urban Water

Abstract: Public Urban Spaces come in many different forms and modes and perform through many different media as an urban atmosphere. Urban Water, as one aspect of public urban space, is theorised in many different registers and through many different frames:  crisis, infrastructure, symbol, culture, politics, management and delivery, consumption, the economic and the social. Each of these spheres are interconnected and related and not easily disentangled. Water is emblematic of the powerful interconnections between human/non-human, and nature and culture, where these entanglements are in a constant process of transforming cityscapes and landscapes, which in turn produce new waterscapes and manifestations of the ‘natural world’.  Water has the capacity to make things happen, to bring new socialities and publics into being. Water is an intrinsic part of everyday life, often invisible in its workings and taken for granted, only entering public discourse and visibility when it becomes a matter of concern. Water is deeply political, implicated in relations of power and constitutive of social, cultural and spatial differences. Water is highly contested both as a resource and a site of complex meanings. This talk argues for the importance of water as a cultural object, and as a source of complex meanings and practices in everyday life, embedded in the socio-economics of local water provision which has the capacity to assemble publics and constitute multiple differences.

Tuesday, 10.12.2019, 12:30-14:15, Ulbo de Sitter room, ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Seminar with Prof. Sophie Watson

Wednesday, 11.12.2019, 10:30-12:15, Ulbo de Sitter room, ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Research colloquium of researchers of Radboud University, and Wageningen University, presenting their work to Prof. Sophie Watson

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture

Monday 13.01.2020, 16:00-17:30, Room Gaia 1+2, Gaia Building Droevendaalsesteeg 3, NL-6708PB Wageningen Campus (Public transport: bus 84 or 88 from Ede-Wageningen station, stop ‘Campus/Atlas’) https://www.wur.nl/en/location/Gaia-building-number-101.htm
(free entrance)

Prof. Ben Anderson, Durham University, UK (http://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/staff/geogstaffhidden/?id=985)

Capitalism and Affective Change: A Geohistory of Boredom

Abstract: Public Spaces can contribute to affective change, but to understand affective change it is worthwhile to also look at other occasions and contexts, e.g.: What is boredom today? Does the boredom of regimented, linear time, of machine-led factory conditions and administrative procedures and timetables, still exist? Have new boredoms emerged alongside the other public moods which compose a troubled present frequently characterised under the sign of precarity and subject to the emergence of various populisms of the left and right? In this lecture, I offer a geohistory of boredom in the midst of laments and celebrations that in the wake of the collapse of distinctions between work and life, and as life is digitally mediated and, for some, felt in burnout and other affects of frenzy, boredom has disappeared. Through examples of the settling of boredom in relation to punk music, productivity apps, unemployment, Brexit, and the gig economy, amongst others, I stay with boredom to reflect on the challenges of theorising and researching affective change. How to connect changes in what is felt, by whom and how to the dynamics of capitalism and other always-already affective social-spatial formations?

Tuesday, 14.01.2020, 14:00-16:00, Koepelgevangenis ‘De Berg’, Wilhelminastraat 16, NL-6812CW Arnhem
Arnhem former prison seminar. The Arnhem prison, built according to the classic Bentham panopticon design in 1886, had been in operation as a prison until 2016. We will do a guided tour and have a discussion on site with Prof. Ben Anderson, exploring boredom, incarceration and affect. with Prof. Ben Anderson
Participation is free of charge, but please register with clemens.driessen@wur.nl

Wednesday, 15.01.2020, 10:30-12:15, Ulbo de Sitter room, ground floor of the Elinor Ostrom building, Heyendaalseweg 141, NL-6525AJ Nijmegen
Research colloquium of researchers of Radboud University, and Wageningen University, presenting their work to Prof. Ben Anderson