For the first day of the Workshop we had three speakers for inspiration, sharing thoughts, discussions, and experience on the urban ethnographic methods in the interdisciplinary intersections of Urban Anthropology, Design and Geography. The three different presentations aimed to generate new ideas and visions to develop our understanding of urban settings and their social, spatial and cultural context.

The speakers for the first day were Carolin Genz, Kanishka Goonewardena and Aylin B. Yildirim Tschoepe.

(1) KEYNOTE | New Ethnographic Perspectives in Urban Settings
Can new methods be developed to capture urban dynamics and transformation processes? How can an interdisciplinary perspective between ethnography and geography help us?
by Carolin Genz | M.A. Urban Cultures and European Ethnology, PhD Candidate, Social and Cultural Geography,  Humboldt-University of Berlin

ABSTRACT | As an urban ethnographer doing research in the field of human geography, Carolin Genz was speaking about new crossroads when it comes to research methods in the urban field – this is to be understood as an interdisciplinary approach on both sides: Geographers doing Ethnography to capture everyday urban life; and Ethnographers doing Geography during the rise of Big Data and urban analysis. Finding tools to structure and materialize our own sensing through creative ways of visualization is one approach to find the blind spots and culturally meaningful spaces and places in urban context. How can we uncover the knowledge people already incorporate and their perceptions of the city? One can write field notes as densely and reflexively as possible, following the influence of Geertz’ (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.” Another approach would be to map it. Mapping (Cognitive Mapping) helps in getting access to interpretations of symbolic structures of the city (Greverus 1972, 1994). A map can be understood as “legible notes.” Mapping helps to enter spatial and social structures of the urban fabric and figure the meaningful spaces and places of districts and neighborhoods as well as our own blind spots. During the talk, Carolin Genz gave insights into the various forms and different types of mapping approaches.

For the upcoming workshop day, Carolin Genz created the “Fold-Up Mapping Booklet” to achieve the scale of tangible materialization. Next to Cognitive Mapping the urban ethnographic data only becomes “thick” in the following three layers: (1) Mapping by drawing spatial observations; (2) Writing by structured field notes; and (3) Walking & Talking by using words and language to explain the collected data e.g. Go-Along Method (Kusenbach 2003). Only in the three layers of this methodological research approach can the urban ethnographic data become “thick.” At the end of her talk, Carolin Genz was pointing out the interdisciplinary research gaps in the intersection of Urban Anthropology and Geography. 

ABOUT | Carolin Genz holds a master degree in European Ethnology and Urban Cultures from Humboldt-University of Berlin (2009- 2013) and is currently doing research at the Department for Cultural and Social Geography at the Humboldt-University since 2015. Her PhD topic is: “Urban Protest: Upheaval of Civil Society? Ethnographical perspectives on the transformation of urban everyday life“. Specifically, her research focuses on practices of production and appropriation of space, urban governance and digital tools of urban resistance. Furthermore, she is an academic consultant and member of the advisory board for Gender Mainstreaming and Diversity for the Senate Department of Housing and Urban Development in Berlin. She is one of the co-founders of the Urban Ethnography Lab.

Bildschirmfoto 2017-09-20 um 17.39.21

(2) KEYNOTE | A Brief History of Cognitive Mapping: Method, Theory, Politics
by Kanishka Goonewardena│Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, Centre for South Asian Studies at the Asian Institute

ABSTRACT | Kanishka’s Goonewardena’s presentation ‘A Brief History of Cognitive Mapping’ began with a recap of Kevin Lynch’s pioneering book, The Image of the City (1960), and then offered a snapshot of the many ways in which the concept of cognitive mapping has been since appropriated by urbanists and critical theorists. Singled out for special attention here was Fredric Jameson’s invocation of the notion of cognitive mapping in books ranging from The Political Unconscious (1981) to Postmodernism (1991) to The Geopolitical Aesthetic (1992), which offered a novel combination of Lynch’s urban research and Louis Althusser’s conception of ideology for the purpose of intervening in the aestheticized political relationship between everyday life urban experiences and forms of consciousness of the global social totality. In this context, the work of Henri Lefebvre was also introduced, as an essential resource to think about how and why space matters for radical politics.

ABOUT | Kanishka Goonewardena is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Directory, Program in Planning. He received his Ph.D. in city and regional planning from Cornell in 1998. His research interests include critical theory and Marxist philosophy, architecture and urban planning, and colonialism, imperialism, nationalism.


(3) KEYNOTESpatializing Ethnographic Research: Cognitive Mapping beyond Lynch. How can we go beyond “traditional” cognitive mapping to a culture and site-specific approach? How can we make use of quantitative tools such as GIS to represent qualitative fieldwork findings and, thereby, make our research more widely accessible?
by Aylin B. Yildirim Tschoepe | Doctor of Design, Harvard GSD, PhD Candidate Anthropology/MES, Harvard GSAS

ABSTRACT | The general focus of Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe’s presentation was on spatializing ethnographic research, divided into two parts: In the first part on Spaces and Maps, she explained theories regarding the perception and production of space and modes of mapping (Lefebvre, Soja, de Certeau, Ingold among others) on which she based her methodological explorations. She presented examples of mental map-making beyond Lynch and Debord, using Geertz’ “thick description” toward a sensory approach to mapping the environment. She ended this first part with a group exercise on scent maps, offering a variety of scents to the participants, from environment and consumption goods (dirt, grass, dust, pipe tobacco, rye bread). Thereby, it was not important to guess the scent, but to access the memory work of spaces and moments the respective scent summoned for the participants. This experiment showed that the olfactory as one type of  embodied experiences lends a richness to mapping which visual-based artifacts alone do not convey.

In the second part of her presentation on Spaces and Apps, she focused on geo-locating research and digital mapping in preparation of the explorations of Day 2. Aylin offered various options of open source apps for easy tracking of field routes and imagery for Android and IOS (track export through kml, use with Google Earth) as a means to document fieldwork. She discussed possibilities for research in the context of issues and traps (big data, privacy etc). Through her ethnographic research in Boston and Istanbul, she introduced ways to re-appropriate quantitative tools such as GIS to document qualitative fieldwork findings, and to develop new methods to visualize thick description (as a “thick mapping”). Among different history design apps, she showed Time Layers, a mobile and web-based app she currently develops as a platform to synchronize different attempts of memory work, toward digital democratization and making ethnographic research more widely accessible. She ended her presentation, arguing for a critical reflection on knowledges and practices from the field and the communities we work with, and invited to reconsider constructions of research that presents itself  as “counter-.” Counter-mapping, -history, -practice, – knowledge, etc. implies a hierarchy against a normative “original.” Rather, they can be rethought as emancipatory forms of research that speaks to the existence of various realities (histories, mappings, knowledges, etc), not to be misunderstood as alternatives to the ‘real thing.’

ABOUT | Dr. Aylin Yıldırım Tschoepe is an architect, anthropologist, researcher and instructor. Her research deals with cultural and spatial practices around urban transformation, transnational migration, biopolitics, homescapes and dirtscapes. She graduated as Doctor of Design in 2012 and expands her transdisciplinary experience in the PhD program in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University (2011-2018). In “TimeLayers”; her multimedia project on the spatial palimpsest, she spatializes ethnographic information to create digital urban layers of memory and future of residents and neighborhoods.


Posted by:Dr. Carolin Genz

Dr. Carolin Genz is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Department for Cultural and Social Geography at the Humboldt-University and Research Associate in the Collaborative Research Centre 1265 "Re-Figuration of Spaces" in the project area "Knowledge of Space" at Technische Universtität Berlin. As an urban anthropologist in the intersecting fields of social anthropology, human geography, and urban studies, she constantly develops ethnographic methods to capture the socio-spatial constitution of urban practices. Her research focuses on spatial theory and practices of resistance, housing, and gender.

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