Exploring Theory through Practice
University of Cologne, Germany
Since 2017 I have been working with Dr. Monica van der Haagen-Wulff on "global Cities - Exploring Theory through Practice", a unique course concentrated over four days that combines urban theory with hands-on, practical experience in the city of Cologne.
Throughout the course, students have a chance to examine the rapid and massive transformations that major cities have undergone (and are continuing to undergo) in the advent of globalization. In the past the exchange of capital, goods and labor took place primarily in within ‘inter-state-systems’. In the last decades this has radically changed due to deregulation, privatization and a growing participation in global markets. With the rapid development of new digital developments, the establishment of world-wide networks with centralized steering/management functions this process has undergone a vast acceleration. The changes caused by these rapid changes in global and major cities continues to leave traces and impacts on all forms of life in the cities. This global/large city context and its internal manifestations are the subject of examination in this course that and is explored both theoretically and practically.
What defines a global city? How does it transport and sell its self-image to the world? What struggles are there between corporate players and marginalized people who raise their voices to articulate their demands on the city? Who owns the city – public space? How is diversity, culture, social belonging, economic and social inequality negotiated between the poles of local and global spaces within the city? How can we think about these issues and inhabiting cities when we are sensitive to issues of mobility, violence, threat, responsibility and citizenship? What traces can be found, and connections be made to the history of colonialism and imperialism in the city? These and many other questions are explored referencing Saskia Sassen, Jane Jacobs, Zygmunt Bauman and Stuart Hall among others as well as engaging in practical, embodied, creative work and performative interventions in the city of Cologne to test out the theory and our hypotheses. The idea is get the students out of the classroom and into the city to experience it through different eyes. As such, they are asked to move though the urban space while adopting two different persona - that of a privileged person and that as an outcast. At the end, they come together to present their work, which often takes the form of an artistic installation, song, dance, etc.