The last few years I have been working on a proposal for a multi-disciplinary research programme, which in our faculty are designated as ‘research hot-spots’. In this research programme we bring together a number of different research threads, which all apply a specific version of a relational approach, in our endeavour to get a grip on the complexity of current societal problems.

this hot spot is driven by two major forces:

  1. Increasing complexity of societal developments, demanding a more inclusive, integrative approach, linking different aspects of the current situation and developments, when addressing current societal problems.
  2. A relational turn in social sciences, suggesting new ways of linking scientific insights from different realms and domains as well as new ontological and epistemological approaches to deal with these complexities and current societal problems.

We therefore put these relational approaches in the broadest sense of the word at the core of our approach, and want to explore a number of these relationships, such as:

  • relationship government/policy-civil society (e.g. in field of Spatial, Urban and Environmental policies) (new forms of governance, and grass-root policy making)
  • relationship science-society (new forms of transdisciplinary knowledge production)
  • relationship democracy-society (new concepts of democratic control and transparency)
  • relationship business-society (responsible organisation, social responsible entrepreneurship)

The initiative for this new hot spot was jointly taken by researchers from the fields of Geography, Spatial Planning and Environment, Political Science, Economics, Public Administration, and Business Administration.

Here you can find the full proposal text.



A research proposal set up in collaboration with:

Prof. Huib Ernste, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Prof. Ben Anderson, Durham University
Prof. Jürgen Hasse, Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main
Prof. Martin Müller, University of Lausanne

Research problem
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 and political integration takes place. If integration in European cities does not work, then also Europe as an integrative framework cannot work.
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 cities in general, and public spaces in particular, as affective and emotional places. In this project we take forward this work by exploring the hidden affective dimensions of cities. 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.

State of the art and objectives
The project therefore complements and extends the ‘material turn’ (Anderson & Tolia-Kelly, 2004) and ‘affective turn’ (Clough, 2007) in the humanities and social sciences in three ways. First, it moves beyond the individualism of some work in the ‘affective turn’ by approaching public spaces as occasions of collective affect (Salmela & Nagatsu, 2017). We understand public spaces as composed of moods and atmospheres. Second, it integrates insights from the material and affective turns, by focusing on how those collective affects are enabled and organised through the material infrastructures that act in the background of public space. Third, we look at public space as a process of continuous change and transformation.Through these three developments, we re-theorise integration as an affective-material process of the temporary coming together, or as we prefer to call it, as a process we would designate as ‘integrative change’ or ‘transformative integration’ of differences in European public space (Rehorick & Bentz, 2009).

Research questions
The overall aim of the project is to understand integration in public urban space as a material-affective process.



  • How can critical phenomenology be developed further and enhanced by the use of visual images as a method for interpretation according to the logic of new phenomenology enabling a phenomenology of transformative processes?


  • How are specific collective affects formed in the midst of transformations in urban space, specifically through migratory changes, events of terror, and political-economic changes?
  • How do specific collective affects support, undermine, enable or otherwise affect transformative integration?

…in situations of

  • Securitised public spaces after terrorist threat
  • Public spaces of refuge and gentrification
  • European sites of cultural encounters (European Capitals of Culture)

Based on this understanding we want to find an answer to the question: How might urban policy and urban design in relation to transformative integration take collective affects into account?

Innovativeness and contribution to the ‘Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe’ There are four main points of innovation: First, we offer a novel retheorisation of transformative integration that understandings it as the coming together of differences in the midst of specific affective-material contexts and processes. Second, we apply our theory of transformative integration to different occasions of urban change, each of which raises questions for how integration can and should happen. Focusing on responses to disruptive events, to neighbourhood change, and to movements of people, we ask how intragation happens in the midst of changes in the ‘feel’ of public space. Third, we offer methodological innovaton by utilising a critical phenomenological approach (Böhme, 2017; Hasse, 2015; Griffero, 2014; Schmitz et al., 2011) to the researching of the affective dimension of space. Specifically, we overcome the methodological individualism of existing approaches by focusing on the ensemble of practices and associated affects and emotions that form public spaces. Furthermore we develop it further by including mediated aesthetical urban practices in form of visual images in response to the current mediatised society in a way hitherto unknown in phenomenological research, which enables us, not just to assess current situations and encounters, but also include the embodied memories, change, and imaginations of possible futures from a non-discursive affective perspective. Fourth: It is, of course, not sufficient to just assess these dimensions, it is as important to use these insights in the field of policy making to make a real difference. In our case the European Capital of Cultural programme is used as an example for how the affective experiential dimension can become part of the equation of urban design and cultural urban policy making.

Following a critical phenomenological approach from a relational (praxeological) perspectice (Schäfer, 2016; Simonsen, 2007), we include the material and embodied affects and emotions in direct and indirect (via means of visual images) relations with urban space, focussing specifically on the integrative aspects of these affects and emotions. Data are collected trough ethnographic means of (participative) observation, in-depth interviews and phenomenological photo elicitation (Hasse, 2017; Seamon, 2014), focussing specifically on the dimensions raised by Böhme and Schmitz (see above), and on the other hand follow the methodological lead of van Manen’s Phenomenology of Practice (2016). Data will be collected and analysed with the help of the Atlas.t 8 software (Friese, 2014) and shared between the consortium partners.

Anderson, B. & Tolia-Kelly, D. (2004) Matter(s) in social and cultural geography. Geoforum. 35, 669–674.
Böhme, G. (2017) The Aesthetics of Atmospheres. Ambiances, Atmospheres and Sensory Experiences of Spaces. Routledge, London.
Brenner, N. & Schmid, C. (2014) The ‘Urban Age’ in Question. International. Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 38, 3, 731-755.
Clough, P. (ed.) (2007) The Affective Turn. Duke UP, Durham.
Friese, S. (2014) Qualitative Data Analysis with ATLAS.ti. Sage, Thousand Oaks.
Griffero, T. (2014) Atmospheres: Aesthetics of Emotional Spaces. Ashgate, Surrey.
Hasse, J. (2015) Was Räume mit uns machen — und wir mit ihnen. Kritische Phänomenologie des Raumes. Alber, Freiburg.
Hasse, J. (2017) Autopsien der Stadt. Fotografische Mikrologien. In: Krusche, J. (ed.) Die ambivalente Stadt. Gegenwart und Zukunft des öffentlichen Raums. JOVIS Verlag. Berlin, 132–157.
Low, S., & Smith, N. (2013) The Politics of Public Space. Routledge, Abingdon.
Manen, M. van (2016) Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning-giving methods in phenomenology research and writing. Routledge, London.
Reckwitz, A. (2012) Affectice spaces: a praxeological outlook. Rethinking History. 16, 2, 241-258.
Rehorick, D.A. & Bentz, V.M. (eds.) (2009) Transformative phenomenology. Lexington books, Plymouth.
Schäfer, H. (ed.) (2016) Praxistheorie. Transcript, Bielefeld.
Schmitz, H. ; Müllan, R.O. & Slaby, J. (2011) Emotions outside the box – the new phenomenology of feeling and corporeality. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 10, 2, 241-259.
Salmela, M. & Nagatsu, M. (2017) How does it really feel to act together? Shared emotions and the phenomenology of we-agency. Phenomenology Cognitive Science. 16, 449-470.
Seamon, D. (2014) Looking at a photograph – André Kertész’s 1928 Meudon. Academic Quarter. 9, 4-18.
Simonsen, K. (2007) Practice, Spatiality and Embodied Emotions: an Outline of a Geography of Practice. Human Affairs. 17, 168-181.