Tagung: Exploring Urban Ownership: Practices, Places, and Citizenships in a Global Perspective

Digital Meeting, Centre for Metropolitan Studies, Berlin. 17th-19th June 2021 (in preparation of a conference financed by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Berlin, 24th-25th February 2022)

Organisers: Dorothee Brantz, Technical University Berlin; Joachim C. Häberlen, University of Warwick; Christiane Reinecke, University of Leipzig

In our age of “planetary urbanisation”, unequal access to (and scarcity of) urban spaces and resources is a matter of growing concern. Facing processes of residential segregation and marginalisation, various social movements and political actors seek to redefine what “owning the city” means. Exploring case studies from across the globe, our workshop seeks to contribute to a historically and globally informed understanding of ownership-as-practice and its complex relationship with citizenship and urban belonging. By examining different ways of “owning cities” and “making home”, we aim for a more nuanced understanding of urban inequalities and the question of who and what gets to determine the value and use of places, infrastructures and things. We suggest to conceptualize ownership as situated (social, economic and affective) practice and hope to explore how and where different groups of actors practically claim and create a sense of ownership and how they define or destabilize boundaries between the “private” and the “collective”, “theirs” and “mine”.

Current debates about urban change often circle around notions of “public” and “private space”. Researchers thus draw attention to the enclosure or privatization of formerly public realms and resources in an age of neoliberalism and global hyper-capitalism. Or they contrast the private, exclusive use of objects to the “commoning” of urban resources or to “public” goods and spaces. From this perspective, “the private” is mostly tied to forms of economic ownership and it often appears as clearly defined, given space. Indeed, “the private” is frequently and rather narrowly equated with a bourgeois, primarily Western European and American notion of home as a spatially separate sphere where intimate family life is taking place. However, in these debates, the distinction of the “private” versus the “public” is all too often all too clear: the ambiguities and struggles inherent in both the (condemned) creation of private property and in the (welcomed) sharing of spaces and resources are often neglected.

What is missing is a sense for the porous boundaries between the “private” and the “public”, for the emotions invested in them and for the complicated and multiple ways of “making a home” in different cities. Far from being stable categories, the meanings of “the private” and “the public” are tied to (historically changing and culturally different) notions of the individual, the family and the collective; the very distinction between the “private” and the “public” is the product of on-going struggles. Moreover, the existing literature tends to paint a rather homogenous picture of urban ownership regimes by mostly focusing on cities in advanced capitalism, in an age of “planetary urbanization”. It tends to neglect historical transformations and geographic differences – for example regarding the impact of colonial or authoritarian regimes, post-socialist transformations or the differences between the Global South and Global North.

To truly grasp the intersection of ownership and the ways in which social groups could or could not access urban spaces, resources, and forms of belonging, we propose a comparative, global perspective that takes these different settings into account. We suggest to focus on the concrete practices that urban dwellers employ to “make a home” (in a single family house, informal settlement, street, park, library or neighbourhood). For what constitutes “home”, “ownership”, “the private” and “the public” for different actors in different local and historical contexts seems worth exploring. It points to the multiple experiences, practices and affects that actually shape life in cities and that influence the use of urban spaces and resources. Our workshop will thus inquire about the myriad of ways, depending on historical and geographical contexts, in which urban dwellers make themselves at home in cities and feel entitled to their use or excluded from it.

The presentations and debates at this digital workshop serve as a preparation for a larger international conference to take place at the Centre for Metropolitan Studies in Berlin next February. If you would like to participate, please send us an email before 14th of June 2021.


Joachim C. Häberlen, Associate Professor of Modern Continental European History, University of Warwick. Mail: J.Haeberlen@warwick.ac.uk

Christiane Reinecke, PhD, Research Centre Global Dynamics, University of Leipzig. Mail: christiane.reinecke@uni-leipzig.de


Thursday, 17 June 2021, 14:00 to 17:00 (CEST)

14:00 to 14:30           Welcome & Opening Remarks

14:30 to 16:15            Panel I: (Un)Making Common: Dealing with Changing Ownership Structures (Chair: Dorothee Brantz)

Amelia Thorpe (UNSW Law, Sydney, Australia), Everyday Ownership: PARK(ing) Day and the Practice of Property

Jennifer Mack (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden), Twins in the Funhouse Mirror: Legacies of Ownership in Two Stockholm Suburbs, 1970s to the Present

Sarah Balakrishnan (Harvard University, Cambridge, USA), Public Cemeteries between Colonial Property Policies and Public Dissent in the Gold Coast (Ghana), c. 1807-1957

16:30 to 17:00           Virtual Coffee Meeting

Friday, 18 June 2021, 14:00 to 17:00 (CEST)

14:00 – 15:45            Panel II: Experiencing Cooperative Ownership: Shared Spaces, Collective Housing (Chair: Christiane Reinecke)

Tobias Bernet (Free University Berlin, Germany), “This is Our House!” – But in What Sense? Negotiating Collective Ownership of “Legalized” Squats in 1980s West Berlin

Valeria Procupez/María Carla Rodríguez (John Hopkins University, USA/University of Buenos Aires, Argentina), Ownership in Common: Collective Projects and Individual Aspirations in Low-Income Housing Cooperatives in Buenos Aires

Dana Mazraani/Mona Harb (American University of Beirut, Libanon), Owning Neighbourhoods: Shared Urban Spaces and Real-Estate Speculation in Beirut

16:00 –17:00             Panel III: Making Private: Homemaking in Public Spaces (Chair: Joachim C. Häberlen)

Marco Ciorli (University of Turin, Italy), Inclusive or Unequal Ownership of Public Spaces? The Public Library Between Regulation, Equality and Affects

Abdallah Zouhairi (Université Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco), Precarious Ownership: Material Practices of Homemaking and the Temporary Habitations of Migrant Construction Workers in Morocco

Saturday, 19June 2021, 13:30 to 16:30 (CEST)

13:30 – 14:30:           Panel IV: Negotiating Ownership: Urban Protests and the Real Estate Market (Chair: Joachim C. Häberlen)

Tim Verlaan (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands), Domesticity, Collective Ownership, and Emotional Attachment: The Dutch Conflict over Urban Renewal, 1950-1980

Kaan Kubilay Asar (Central European University, Vienna), Resisting Privatization, Gentrifying Urban Space? The Making of a Republican Enclave in Istanbul in the Wake of the Gezi Park Protests

14:45 – 15:15             Panel IV Experiencing Ownership: Private Homeownership as Social and Economic Practice (Chair: Dorothee Brantz)

Samuel Zipp (Brown University, USA), Expressive Property: Homeownership and the Challenge of Social Selfhood in the Early Twentieth Century United States

15:15 – 16:00             Concluding Round (Chair: Christiane Reinecke)