280.909 VO Theories of Space in Social Sciences and Humanities

VO | Semester Hours 2,0 | Credits 3,0 | English


Sabine Knierbein

Learning Outcomes:

After successful completion of the course, students are able to…

theoretically ground planning approaches within theories of space

establish discursive connections between theories in the fields of planning, urban development, society, everyday life and theories of space

relate theories of space to approaches in the social sciences and humanities

draw linkages between approaches to theorize space, and every life and life words


The lecture units also address methodological orientations from spatial and planning theories, international urban studies, which have founded or predetermined these respective approaches to spatial theory, or which originated in them. Fundamentally, the intersectional relationship between planning and spatial theoretical methods is always reinforced through practices of interweaving and through the elaboration of positionality and points of view. Aspects of the climate crisis and climate change are to be reflected transversally through different units.

Students gain knowledge about possibilities and formats of empowerment and the promotion of social participation in planning theories underpinned by spatial theory, which make it possible to embed cultural, political, ecological, economic and social dimensions of space in concrete planning processes. Students are thus also strengthened in their implementation skills.

Mode of Examination:


  • Subject of Course:

    The lecture provides an overview addressing contemporary theories of space, which are debated in the field of urban studies and sociology of space first and foremost against the background of current discussions in the social sciences and humanities through the lense of everyday life.

    More precisely, social, cultural and politcal theorizations of space will be related to contemporary praxis of urban develpment, to planning approaches in different cities world wide and to planning theories.  These will be addressed by taking different conceptions of the city as a starting point.

    Unit 1: Space, Place and Planning Theory – An Introduction 

    This lecture unit explains how theorizing space has always been central to poststructuralist perspectives that have identified planning as governmentality and which have traced basic shifts in planning theories and how they have addressed space in different eras and areas.

    Unit 2: Urban Public Life + The Public City

    This lecture unit explains how theorizing space as relational public space has been formative for those accounts in the social sciences and humanities interested in the study of everyday life and lived space. It shows, how these thoughts have resonated also partly in planning theories 20 years ago, and states that planning theory is currently very much embracing critiques of everyday life and lived space in a decade of crises, disruption and urban unsettling.

    Unit 3: Urban Everyday Life + The Ordinary City

    This lecture unit emphasizes the ordinary dimension of space characterized by lived difference. It addresses geographical thought focusing on geographies of encounter and connects these to ideas about ordinary cities as sites of ordinary planning.

    Unit 4: Urban Lived Space + The Embodied City

    This lecture unit emphasizes the relational dimension of space as lived space shaped by bodily encounters. It addresses a related body of sociocultural and feminist thought focusing on space, the body and culture, and relates these to ideas to cities as sites of performative planning.

    Unit 5: Urban Restructuring + The Insurgent City

    This lecture unit involves with a body of literature that empirically track down patterns of global (urban) restructuring in different cities and which develop a conceptualization of resistance and insurgencies to add new perspectives into urban studies and planning theory. Conceptualizing space as always emerging and messy, ordinary and contested is at the heart of approaches focusing on insurgents and insurgencies.

    Unit 6: Urban Emancipation + The Post-Political City

    This lecture unit delineates how theorizing space has always been central to the urban study of politics, the political and democracy. Through an exploration of emancipation in recent processes of capitalist urbanization, an argument is portrayed that the political is enacted through the everyday practices of publics producing space. This suggests democracy is a spatial practice as well as an abstract professional field organized by institutions, politicians and movements. The lecture unit examines spaces, conditions and circumstances in which emancipatory practices impact the everyday life of citizens. We ask: How do emancipatory practices relate with public space under ‘post-political conditions’? In a time when democracy, solidarity and utopias are in crisis, we argue that productive emancipatory claims already exist in the lived space of everyday life rather than in the expectation of urban revolution and future progress yet to come.

    Unit 7: Urban Resistance + The Neoliberal City

    This lecture unit examines the spaces, conditions, and processes in which neoliberal practices have profoundly impacted the everyday social, economic, and political life of citizens and communities around the globe. It explores the commonalities and specificities of urban resistance movements that respond to those impacts. It focuses on how such movements make use of and transform the meanings and capacity of public space. It investigates their ramifications in the continued practices of renewing democracies. By better understanding the processes and implications of the recent urban resistances, the lecture unit contributes to the ongoing debates concerning the role and significance of public space in the practice of lived democracy.

    Unit 8: Urban Individualization + The Entrepreneurial City

    This lecture unit highlights a key concept that has emerged in Western cities and that has rendered space as place of individuals, individualism and individualization. Especially market-oriented conceptions to theorize space and planning have highlighted the idea of individual freedom over (individual, collective) equality and have produced new entrepreneurial scripts for urban futures that until today remain highly contested due to their social, political, cultural and ecological shortcomings.

    Unit 9: Urban Difference + The Post-Colonial City

    This lecture unit explores how theorizing space has always been central to postcolonial accounts in the field of urban studies and planning theory. Particularly the way how we make our and ‘other’ worlds, how progress is seen as part of the modern Western city and how Eurocentric and Western Urban Studies Perspectives have become highly criticised in urban studies and planning theory are central to the lecture: We ask, finally, which underlying conceptions of space and place accomply the post-colonial turn in urban studies, and use cultural studies perspectives (e.g.in field of cultural geography, ethnography and cultural geography) to decipher approaches of framing space ‘other’ than expected.

    Unit 10: Urban Crises + The City of Care

    This lecture unit addresses the pros and cons of a strictly crisis-centered reading of urban space and urban care debate particularly during the last decade. It introduces conceptions of space based on affect and opportunities for meaningful human and beyond-human encounters in space and offers some ideas how specific groups, e.g. people living with dementia, use everyday urban spaces, and how planning can learn from their practices and needs.

    Unit 11: Urban Disruption + The Unsettled City

    This lecture introduces social, cultural and political theories that characterize urban space as unsettled. This manifests, e.g., in the break of usual urban routines, in the renewed demand to rethink space in relation to temporalities, and in the way how contestations have been a key aspect of urban life, as e.g. manifest in the increasing social disparities resulting from the social production of uneven space. Especially relevant in this respect is are the idea of innovation as creative destruction and disruption-based spatial strategies which produces manifest social unevenness and literally not just displace but unsettle inhabitants.

    Unit 12: Retrospective and Summary

    This lecture provides a concluding retrospective of all presented theories of space, city conceptions and planning theories. It will offer space for open question and to address new demands for theorizing space, planning and everyday life.