Historical Social Research

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Gabriela B. Christmann: Investigating Spatial Transformation Processes. An Ethnographic Discourse Analysis in Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods [Abstract]

This contribution focuses on the question of how spatial transformation processes, or to be more concrete, the social reconstruction of places can be methodologically investigated. On the basis of a micro-perspective, I will argue that it is communicative action that plays a crucial role in spatial transformation processes. Taking this into account, the main question is how the structures and dynamics of space-related communicative action in actor constellations as well as in discourses can be empirically explored. Such a dynamic and broad object of research in methodological terms requires a complex research design, and I suggest that it is an “ethnographic discourse analysis” which can meet these requirements. In the following, I will start with basic theoretical considerations, to then outline the research question of a project that, by the example of ‘urban pioneers’, investigates bottom-up initiatives aiming to achieve more quality of life in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. First of all, I will describe the significant properties of the selected neighbourhoods of Berlin-Moabit and Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg in Germany as well as the characteristics of the urban actors under analysis. Subsequently, I will explain the way in which (focused) ethnography and (the sociology of knowledge approach to) discourse analysis were combined, particularly how the methods involved – such as the problem-centred interview, ego-centred network analysis, participant observation as well as discourse analytical procedures – were applied and how the collected data were analysed. The contribution concludes with the presentation of selected results and a discussion on how far the methodological proceeding proved to be adequate in order to investigate spatial transformation processes on a “microscopic level”.

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