Diplomseminar – Doktoratsseminar: Ethnographic perspectives in Urban Studies and Planning Theory

SE Seminar / Semesterwochenstunden 2.0 / ECTS 3.0

TISS course: 280.705


After successful completion of the course, students are able to structure their diploma or master thesis in urban research, urban design or urban planning into smaller steps of operationalization.

Students will have gained experience in improving individual writing skills. They have learned how research questions, methods and forms of analysis and interpretation need to be linked together as part of wider research designs. They will have learned to carve out the social relevance of their diploma/master thesis. A special focus will be set on ethnographic research methods and how they can be linked to other research traditions (sociology, political science, architecture, planning, urban design, urban studies, etc.).


The Seminar is offered to doctoral students and advanced master students in urban studies (Internationale Urbanistik) and related disciplines, with the overall aim of providing an opportunity for the students to discuss their thesis projects as additional support in the development of their research cases, theories and methods. Students will read and discuss related literature, attend shor lectures and debates, train creative writing skills and discuss different research designs along the individual thesis projects.

The main part of the course is organized through informal group discussions of the students’ research projects. In particular, the seminar aims to help the students critically review, clarify their research questions, interests and material, and receive constructive feedback on their own research projects, their aims, objectives, concepts and methods; learn about a range of theories and methods in urban research; develop the capacity for and engage in critical assessment of similar research projects; develop a friendly and supportive group of researchers who can benefit from knowing about each other’s work during the seminars. A series of writing tasks will accompany the content-oriented part of the seminar as to create opportunities to establish routines in practicing writing and learning about different writing techniques.

Contemporary urban theory has developed apace over the last decade to consider the complex urban processes and issues that have risen as a result of globalisation, diversification of the economy, socio-demographic shifts, shifting political agendas, migration and growing concerns about the environment amongst many other salient issues. Urban studies now concern themselves also with new theoretical agendas which focus on questions of theorizing everyday life, discussing ethnography also as a set of disciplinary methods to understand urban life and urban institutions, and reflecting on contemporary appropriations of public spaces around the world. The seminar will have a particular emphasis on lived space analysis, but contributions on other subjects are eligible. Master and doctoral students at any stage of their work from architecture, spatial planning, and more widely from social sciences, humanities and the arts, who are researching into urban issues are welcome to attend.


The seminars will be interactive, delivered through several concentrated blocks in the winter semester. At the moment, we plan for presence teaching, but have developed a plan B of distance learning in case the COVID-19 pandemic situation tightens up again. Lecturers will offer short intro lectures á 30min on salient issues of thesis writing, e.g. research design, research strategies, and they will also introduce different strands in urban studies, planning theory, thesis writing, etc. After a general introduction and depending on the number of attending students, each participant will be allocated a 20-minutes slot, in which his/her work is discussed in the group by other students and by lecturers. The students will prepare a text of 4-6 pages about their research and upload it on the course website at least 10days in advance to their presentation slot, so that the teaching team and fellow students can read it in preparation for the session. In addition, each student can propose a reading that speaks to his/her research, whereas teaching team will also propose a second reading.

In their allocated slot, the students first present their work (approx. 10-12 minutes), describing the subject of their research, their aims and objectives, their theoretical framework, their research methodology, and the results of their work so far. Students will be expected also to relate their research to contemporary urban theory through the above-mentioned readings and through the above-mentioned participation in keynote lectures. The group will then engage in a debate about these points with the students, helping to clarify and develop the research design, questions, hypotheses, concepts and methods of the research project. The nature of the seminars is developmental, designed to help the students with constructive feedback. Furthermore, participants will benefit from the range of issues that are covered and discussed. The development of a friendly group atmosphere is an essential part of the course, and so it is important that all participants attend all the sessions and engage in supportive discussion of one another’s work.


The course will benefit from engaged face-to-face feedback methods in urban studies which combine blended learning (e.g. digital lecture inputs) with face-to-face interaction, formal presentation and also informal debating rounds. We follow an interest-based approach to learning and therefore start from individual thesis projects (or first ideas about choosing a theme for diploma or master thesis) and develop teaching along your themes, interests and motivations. By using an international urban studies context to engage with international scholarly debates in urban studies and planning theory, we combine selected readings with international keynote lecturers and the intensive training of interviewing and other research techniques.


Criteria for evaluation: Deepness of analysis, engagement in the debates, reflection and self-reflection, creating an own position, proposing scientific sources, ability to take criticism, ability to carry out research methods, engaged presentation and moderation of successive debate.

  • Individual thesis project preparation, presentation and debate, including exposé of 4-6 pages provided 10 days in advance to the unit when the individual presentation is scheduled, 10-12 minutes formal presentation in the seminar room, and commenting in written on all other exposés (1-2 paragraphs) prior to the slot when they are presented (80%)
  • Participation in course inputs, seminar debates and writing exercises (20%)


The course will be offered in English language to students of planning, architecture, urban design, sociology, political science, geography, urban economics, spatial arts, social design, and further participants with an interest in the field of urban studies. We welcome students from different religions, genders, cultures, professional backgrounds and countries. Students from other universities can register as Mitbeleger*innen for this course.


Students should have ideally started working on their diploma or master thesis project or should have actively engaged with developing a first idea for a thesis project in spatial planning, architecture or urban studies.


Bridge, G and Watson, S (2011) The New Blackwell Companion to the City. Wiley. (Part Introductions)

Bryman, A. (2015) Social Research Methods. Oxford University Press. Section The Research Process, Point 1 (The Nature and Process of Social Research) Point 3 (Research Design) and Point 4 (Planning a research project and formulating research questions), Pp. 2-15, 39-89.

Corner, J. (1999) Recovering Landscape. Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press [pp – Introduction]

Deinet, U. (Ed.) (2009):Methodenbuch Sozialraum. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden.

Deming, M. E.; Swaffield, S. R. (2011): Landscape Architectural Research: Inquiry, Strategy, Design. John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.

Denscombe, M. (2010) The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects. London: The Open University Press.

Groat, L. and Wang, D. (2002): Architectural Research Methods. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Hou, J. (2010) (Not) your everyday public space. In: Hou, J. 2010. Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities. Oxon: Routledge [pp – chapter 1]

Johnson et. al. (2004) The Practice of Cultural Studies. Sage. Section Groundings (Pp. 26-43, on methodological combination) and Section Make Space! Spatial dimensions in cultural research (Pp. 104-118) 

Lassus, B. (1998) The Obligation of Invention. In: Swaffield, S. 2002. Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader.Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press [pp – 64-72]

Peat, J et al (2013) Scientific Writing. Easy when you know how. BMJ Books.

Saukko, P (2003) Doing Research in Cultural Studies. An Introduction to Classical and New Methodological Appraoches. Sage. Pp.1-36 (Thinking Methodologically)

Shane, D. G. (2011) Urban Design Since 1945 – A Global Perspective. Wiley [pp Introduction]

Silverman, D. (2010): Doing Qualitative Research. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.

Verma, N. (2011) Urban design: an incompletely theorized project. In: Banerjee, T. and Loukaitou-Sideris, A. 2011. Companion to Urban Design. Oxon: Routledge [pp – Chapter 4]

Yin, R. K. (2012): Applications of Case Study Research. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.