Concepts and critique of the production of space: Spaces of Research, Analyses and Discourse

Link: TISS 280.483

SE Seminar / Semester hours: 2.0 / ECTS 4.0

**This course will be offered by City of Vienna Visiting Professor 2017 Prof. Ed Wall (University of Greenwich) and by Ass. Prof. Sabine Knierbein**

i. Aim of the course

During this seminar course students will present and discuss theories and methods that facilitate explorations and engagements with urban public places. Group and plenary discussions will focus on related theoretical texts and research/design approaches that the students have employed. In particular, the course will explore the relation between methods of generating knowledge and approaches to urban interventions (across a range of scales), the techniques necessary to research and design and the theories related to specific approaches.

ii. Contents of the course

The main theme will focus on the contested ways that cities are made, from everyday uses of public spaces to urban redevelopments directed by global economic forces. During the lectures, seminars and exercises, relations between scales of global national policies, metropolitan agendas, urban designs, public spaces, activities and lives will be discussed. New urban developments are refashioning public spaces as tightly managed architectural landmarks and aestheticized forms. Additionally, competition between cities is intensely expressed in global, regional, city and neighbourhood geographies through planning, design and spatial actions. How are architectural masterplans (for redevelopment), political strategies (of metropolitan and national governments) and economic agendas (of global organisations such as the UN) interacting with smaller-scale actions that unfold in and reconstitute urban spaces daily is of particular interest and how do these result in the unequal distribution of spaces and resources, less inclusive practices of making cities and greater needs for spatial justice?

Planning programs, draft plans, and the everyday cultural evidence of future cities and districts seen within projects will be discussed. Considering the spaces and relations of how public spaces are made and remade will expose what is at stake for different organisations, governments, community groups and individuals involved. Issues of urban equity, in regards to access to space and resources, opportunities to participate and rights to the city, will be discussed. When critical issues such as climate change, resource distribution, and migration increasingly shape urban agendas, wide-reaching urban action is needed to develop cross-border professional approaches. These include methods of worlded, inclusive and democratic urban design and open-ended planning processes that are increasingly relevant as local sites of action are increasingly globalized. How planners, builders, and designers are able to adapt working methods to communicate considerations of urban equity and human rights will be considered, while relations between traditional urban development approaches and less-planned urban transformations will be discussed as they relate to cases across the globe.

„Seminar introduction“ (Seminar Unit 0, Ed Wall and Sabine Knierbein)

After students have been volunteering for topics in groups of two or three (depending on number of participants) already before the obligatory module kick-off/doodle registration for course topics (1st March, 11am IFIP/SKuOR Seminar Room), this first seminar unit serves as an introduction to the seminar work and an explanation about the team-based dialogical way to organize a seminar in a different format. Each group will choose a seminar unit topic and prepare a 20minutes presentation on selected texts, resulting in three questions for further discussion. While students have already started to snooze into these documents before this seminar kick-off meeting, instructors will offer help and supportive questions to those groups that will present in one of the next units.


  1. Krister Olsson & Tigran Haas (2013) Emergent Urbanism: structural change and urban planning and design.  Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 6:2, 95-112, DOI: 10.1080/17549175.2013.763622
  2. Soja, E.W., 2010. Seeking spatial justice. University of Minnesota Press. [pp 31-66]

„Urban publicness“ (Seminar Unit 1, Ed Wall)

This seminar unit focuses on site-specific conditions of public space and the conditions of urban change from which terms of publicness can be understood. Contrasting conceptual frames of public space are discussed with a specific focus afforded to the contexts and the urban conditions from which they are produced.


  1. Low, S. 1996. Spatializing Culture: The Social Production and the Social Construction of Public Space in Costa Rica. In: American Ethnologist. 23:4, 861-879
  2. Madden, D. 2010. Revisiting the End of Public Space: Assembling the Public in an Urban Park. In: City and Community. 9:2, [pp 265-284]

„Genealogy of urban planning and design“ (Seminar Unit 2, Sabine Knierbein)

This unit connects to the lecture unit (I) on urban restructuring, public space and the contemporary city. It will offer an introduction into different lenses of how the emergence of post-positivist planning can be understood when focussing on its genealogy.


  1. Allmendinger, Philipp (2002) The Post-Positivist Landscape of Planning Theory. IN: Allmendinger, Philipp and Marc Tewdwr Jones (eds) Planning Futures. New Directions for Planning Theory. London/New York: Routledge. Pp. 3-17
  2. Huxley, Margo (2011) Governmentality, Gender, Planning: A Foucauldian Perspective 

„Large and small urban practices“ (Seminar Unit 3, Ed Wall)

This seminar unit focuses on the relations between large and small urban practices, especially as they relate to changes in urban space. When public spaces are transformed through urban design masterplans and large planned events smaller-scale practices are impacted. The seminar unit explores how the remaking of urban spaces can both cause and address spatial inequalities, as people and activities are displaced while new opportunities to engage in public spaces are formed.


  1. De Certeau, M. 1988. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press [pp 91-110]
  2. Jacobs, J. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House [pp 428-448]

„Social and political theory and urban design“ (Seminar Unit 4, Sabine Knierbein)

This unit connects to the lecture unit (II) on urban restructuring, public space and the contemporary city. It will offer an introduction into different lenses of how specific types of postmodern urbanisms can be understood from feminist and political theorists background.


  1. Day, Kristen (2014) Feminist approaches to urban design. In: Banerjee, T, Loukaitou-Sideris, A (eds) Companion to Urban Design. London/New York. Routledge. Pp.150-161.
  2. Kohn, Margaret (2014) Political theory and urban design. In: Banerjee, T, Loukaitou-Sideris, A (eds) Companion to Urban Design. London/New York. Routledge. Pp.186-197.


„Cultures of public spaces“ (Seminar Unit 5, Ed Wall)

This seminar unit discusses how urban change, specifically through urban design and development, is bound up with cultural practices and expectations. Focusing on the transformations of public spaces the seminar unit explores how notions of culture and public space are contested from international competition between cities to the sharing of photographs of urban spaces on social media.


  1. Zukin, S. 1995. The Cultures of Cities. Cambridge MA: Blackwell [pp1-47]
  2. Amin, A., 2008. Collective culture and urban public space. City12(1), [pp5-24]


„Embodied Space“ (Seminar Unit 6, Sabine Knierbein)

While much of urban writing on the public and private space has been influenced by conceptions of space that built especially on the discursive construction of space, this unit will offer an entry perspective into conceptions of space that discuss social relations through aspects of body, performance and action. Recalling on Lefebvre’s urge to centre praxis as any point of departure for further theoretical reflection, public space is thereby reconstituted as a sphere where praxis and theory meet, and where old fashioned trenches in architecture and planning that seek to isolate practical from theoretical forms of generating knowledge shall be overcome.


  1. Dirksmeier, P./ I. Helbrecht 2010: Intercultural interaction and ‚situational places’: A perspective from urban cultural geography within and beyond the performative turn. In: Social Geography 5, S. 39-48
  2. Low, Setha Embodied Space(s) Anthropological Theories of Body, Space, and Culture (2003) Space and Culture February 2003 vol. 6 no. 1 9-18

„Using urban design“ (Seminar Unit 7, Ed Wall)

This seminar unit explores how urban design as a socio-spatial practice is used and appropriated by people and organisations with power. Urban design practices are on the one hand informed by global agendas and government policies while they are also made operational through regulations and bylaws dictating how spaces are inhabited and used. This seminar unit examines how politicians, developers and architects use a range of urban design mechanisms to fulfil social, economic and spatial ambitions for cities.


  1. Gospodini, A. 2002. European Cities in Competition and the New ‚Uses‘ of Urban Design. In: Journal of Urban Design. 7:1, 59-73
  2. Shane, D. G. 2011. Urban Design Since 1945 – A Global Perspective. Wiley [pp 192 – 215]

„De-Everydaying the Lived Space“ (Seminar Unit 8, Sabine Knierbein)

The critique of everyday life conditions, and their spatial linkages, has been the key contribution of neoMarxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre to philosophy, while his works “The Production of Space”, “The Urban Revolution” and “The Right to the City” are much more known among urbanists. This seminar dives into the critical analysis of everyday life routines and shows how researchers can de-everyday what seems normal and familiar, in order to learn to read the reality behind framed realities. A second part of the unit will be dedicated to fusions between (radical) anthropology and urban design, as it is here were an understanding of different everyday cultures is most connected to the practice of building the city.


  1. Highmore, The Everyday Life Reader, Introduction: Questioning Everyday Life, URL
  2. Lawrence-Zúñiga (2011) Influences of anthropology on urban design. In: Banerjee, T, Loukaitou-Sideris, A (eds) Companion to Urban Design. London/New York. Routledge. Pp.137-149

„Spaces of informality“ (Seminar Unit 9, Ed Wall)

This seminar unit explores discourses around issue of informality. Readings critically examine informality in terms of planning and cities. How these conceptions are grounded spatially and addressed in planning practices is discussed. An emphasis is afforded to considering the informal in site-specific terms, formed from the socio-spatial conditions of cases, rather than applying broad and generalising conceptual frameworks.


  1. Roy, A. 2007. Urban Informality: Towards an Epistemology of Planning. In: Journal of the American Planning Association. 71, Issue 2, [pp 147-158]
  2. MacFarlane, C. 2012. Rethinking Informality: Politics, Crisis and the City. In: Journal of the American Planning Association. 13, Issue 1, [pp 89-108]

„Worded resistance“ (Seminar Unit 10, Sabine Knierbein)

While intellectuals on the left are currently heralding a new generation of state critique and the critique of (formal) politics in which ‘resistance’ and ‘dissent’ against the structural conditions are two core concepts of relevance, the empirical evidence of dissent and resistance in public space partly challenges the (sometimes romanticising) arguments of urban scholars promoting ‘agonistic’ proceedings in order to reclaim ‘real’ or ‘true’ democracy. As many countries around the globe are facing a new wave of racist, anti-european and anti-muslim parties and movements, critical scholars still need to come to terms with an analysis how post-political conditions can be further qualified analytically in order to unmask racism and discriminatory action in public space that – in a shortened version – might make use of the plea for dissens and agonism without acknowledging what ‘the post-political and its discontents’ is particularly about. The seminar starts from a consideration of public spaces as sites of (dis)enchanting encounters and links to comments on recent racist movements in Germany, and beyond, that ‘appropriate’ public spaces as places of ‘resistance’ and ‘dissent’. I will overcome such narrow conceptions of space by analysing Train of Hope (2015) as a worlded form of urban resistance catering for human and refugees rights and needs. The unit will offer an opportunity to learn to analytically distinguish between anti-politics and alter-politics, and between reactive protest and resistance that is action-based and creates new alternative presents.


  1. Lamarca, Melissa García (2017) Recuperating the public through housing rights struggles in Spain. In: Hou, Jeff and Knierbein, Sabine (2016/7 forthcoming) City Unsilenced. Public space and urban resistance in the age of shrinking democracy. New York/London, Routledge Pp. xx-xx.
  2. Knierbein, S and Gabauer A (2017) Worlded Resistance as ‘Alter’ Politics: Train of Hope and the Protest against the Akademikerball in Vienna. In: Hou, Jeff and Knierbein, Sabine (2016/7 forthcoming) City Unsilenced. Public space and urban resistance in the age of shrinking democracy. New York/London, xx-xx.

„Research to design“ (Seminar Unit 11, Ed Wall)

This seminar unit discusses approaches to research that can open up the possibility of creating future urban forms and design practices that are formed from critical research of cities and space. Academic research has traditionally focused on exploring past events while architectural and urban design practices emphasise future physical forms. These separations can leave academic research impotent to effectively inform urban change and expose a lack of critical knowledge from which architectural decisions are formed. This seminar unit discusses exceptions to these isolated practices (which also go beyond methods of practice-led research or research-led practice) and the potential for new methods to inform urban change.


  1. Lynch, K. 1981. A Theory of Good City Form. Cambridge MA: MIT Press [pp 100-237]
  2. Corner, J. (ed.) 1999. The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention. In: Cosgrove, D. 1999 Mappings. Reaktion [pp 213-300]

„City Unsilenced: Spatial Grounds of Radical Democratisation“ (Seminar Unit 12, Sabine Knierbein)

While rising urban inequality and inequity have characterized cities since the 1970s already, urban scholarship has dealt in different ways with developing analytical tools to unravel patterns of uneven spatial development and social inequality. While class-analysis has been criticised in the course of a growing individualist reorganisation of (not exclusively) Western capitalist societies (e.g. Beck), more recent contributions from cultural sociology have reinstated class analysis and linked it back to the scholarship of (urban) inequality. On the other side, new ways forward have been sketched that heavily build on the notion of resistance for staging equality and egalitarian claims. This seminar unit will dive into these debates.


  1. Tyler, Imogen (2015) Classificatory struggles: class, culture and inequality in neoliberal times. The Sociological Review. Vol. 63, Issue 2, Pp. 493-511
  2. Knierbein, S and Hou, J (2017) City Unsilenced: Spatial Grounds of Radical Democratization. In: Hou, Jeff and Knierbein, Sabine (2016/7 forthcoming) City Unsilenced. Public space and urban resistance in the age of shrinking democracy. New York/London, xx-xx.

Summary of seminar units, debate (Seminar Unit 13, Ed Wall and Sabine)

iii. Assessment of students’ performance

The evaluation of the course will be based upon the following activities:

  • 40% oral presentation of texts, including prepared questions for discussion and moderation of seminar unit
  • 40% position paper (Thesenpapier) that summarizes the lines of argument, theses and conclusions of the presented texts in a brief but structured way, and that presents a well-reasoned own position towards the unit’s theme (open format: text, poster, map, movie, blog, poem…)
  • 20% participation in overall discussions including constructive feedback to one chosen group

Please chose a date on which you will present the texts of the respective seminar unit, prepare questions and moderate the following discussion (in groups of 2 students). At the assigned Feedback-Date you will give feedback to your colleagues‘ presentation (within another ITB). Find the Presentation-Date-Form here.

iv. Further information

The seminar (SE) „Concepts and Critique of the Production of Space: Spaces of Research, Analysis and Discourse“ is part of the module 11 „Urban culture, public space“ (consisting of three courses, VO 280.482, SE 280.483 and UE 280.484) which is offered during three five days intensive teaching blocks (ITB) by the Interdisiciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR). Module 11 compiles a set of integrated courses dealing with „Urban culture and public space“ at the interface of the fields of urban studies and urban design/urban planning. In 2017, the main focus will be on „Urban culture, public space and the present: Urban equity and the global agenda“.

The courses mainly address master students (late Bachelor or early PhD), especially from spatial planning and architecture are invited to take part. Yet we explicitly welcome students coming from other Viennese universities in related disciplines, such as urban studies, urban design, geography, sociology, landscape architecture, cultural studies, … as well as ‚Mitbeleger‘.  The course language is English. We support students‘ active participation in debates and interactive teaching formats, and encourage you to bring in and develop your own ideas and critical perspectives. We seek to create an international level of debate and exchange and welcome students from all countries and cultures. Just contact us (

Students interested in this course have to take part in the lecture (Tiss no 280.482) and are highly recommended to take part in the the exercise (Tiss no 280.484)

To take part in all three courses of the module 11 please register for module 11 until 3rd of March 2017 (14.00 pm) via TISS registration for the course, VO 280.038. Further course registration will be carried out directly at the kick-off meeting on on 1st of March 2017, 11am in Augasse 2-6, 2nd floor, WD02B21.

Dates of the Module 11

The main body of teaching will be delivered during three intensive teaching blocks (ITB), preceded by an organisational kick-off meeting.

ITB 1.  6 – 10 March 2017

ITB 2.  8 – 12 May 2017

ITB 3.  19 – 23 Jun 2017