Walking in Landscapes of Displacement: The Spatiality of Transcultural Activism

Huss, Michal 

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Though forced displacement is prominent within public, political, and media debates, and within academic research, too often the public image of forcibly displaced persons is that of voiceless victims – or, worse, a threat to national sovereignty. The geo-temporal scale of forced displacement research also tends to focus on instances of border-penetration and emergency accommodation - stressing the boundaries of nation states and a perception of an unprecedented crisis. This study contributes a new perspective to research on forced displacement that goes beyond this ‘moment’ to include both the urban every-day and its cross-generational causes and impacts in a post/colonial context. Crucially, it reframes the debate from the perspective of displaced persons as subjects contextualized within history and the city rather than as outsiders. Using city walking tours led by displaced persons as a multiple case study, it examines how they affect the politics and public memory of the cities they inhabit or pass through. The study focuses on walking tours in two sites of analysis - Berlin and the officially named Jaffa-Tel Aviv municipality - which encompass multiple histories of migration, colonialism, and division. By studying these cities together, the thesis highlights the complex and multi-layered entanglement between cities across the global “north” and “south” divide. In both environments, the research adopts a street-level perspective to study the relationship between national and municipal governance, global politics, spatial imagination, architectural intervention, and the agency of displaced persons to navigate these elements. To study this angle, it utilizes a participatory method of ‘walk-along’ ethnography conducted between 2018-2020, which entailed joining dozens of tours and interviewing tour-guides and participants. The thesis makes a methodological contribution by demonstrating the importance of applying participatory and creative approaches to study the politics of prolonged conflicts and forced displacement. Additionally, it expands the possibilities of walk-along ethnography to include spatial artistic mediums such as photography, montage, and drawing. Utilizing this framework, the study maps the political potential of walking as a collaborative pedagogy and performative representational practice to extend the understandings of agency, belonging, and political participation in the city. My PhD research centres on making visible the perspectives of people who are typically marginalized in official planning, public discourse, policy, and in mainstream media. The most significant findings of this study are that histories of wars, divisions, and colonialism continue to shape the ways cities currently deal with forced displacement. Within this context, it provides new empirical understandings of how displaced persons utilize the genre of the city walking tour to auto-narrate their stories and politics. The focus is on how these tours, as situated within deeply divided and politicised urban contexts, re-narrate the meanings and representations of those cities as they are acted out through tourism and heritage industries. The study therefore advances debates about the politics of urban space and heritage sites by illustrating how tours led by forcibly displaced persons offer a significant de-colonial and cosmopolitan understanding of the places, space-times, and geopolitics of the city. Drawing upon Jacques Ranciere’s discussion of the political, the research extends architectural analyses of the built environment by incorporating the walking body in urban space. It argues that architectural theory and memory studies research should include not only the material environment (e.g., buildings, memorials, ruins, infrastructure), but also how marginalised groups can animate those material landscapes, through their bodies, movements, memories, and stories.

Sternberg, Maximilian
Forced Displacement, Migration, Heritage, Urban memory, The built environment, Agency
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
ESRC (1964592)
Economic and Social Research Council (1964592)
ESRC, Girton Collage, Department of Arcthecture