Changing tables and changing neighbourhoods

By Jan-Carl Thotze

When you come to think of neighbourhoods, you will find different connotations assigned to it. For instance, there is the neighbourhood of your childhood which reminds you of happy times you have spent with your friends at familiar places. But there might be also a neighbourhood in which you did not feel welcome. And – apart from maybe living as a recluse in a wasteland  – it is hard to think of living without neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhoods and how they can change was the topic of the last WeberWorldCafé. It took place in a very lively neighbourhood in the middle of Berlin-Neukölln. The district itself was, at least for some time, a topic widely discussed even beyond the borders of Berlin when it was known as a “problem district”. In fact, this description dates back to the beginning of the 20th century when it was renamed from Rixdorf to Neukölln due to a “bad reputation” attached to its former name.

Engaging discussions are guaranteed

The eleventh WeberWorldCafé focused on Changing Neighbourhoods.
Photo: Max Weber Stiftung

I had all these thoughts in mind when I visited the WeberWorldCafé on Changing Neighbourhoods. Its tables promised some engaging discussions. All of them were mainly concerned with the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods, but they all had different perspectives on those. It was hard to decide where to start, because all of these aspects seemed very interesting. I started at the table of Derya Özkaya and Kordula Wolf, who had prepared questions on their topic “Neighbourhoods at Times of Conflicts“. Derya is conducting research on “Affective Societies” at the Otto-Suhr-Institut für Politikwissenschaft at the Freie Universität Berlin and Kordula, who is a researcher at the German Historical Institute in Rome, has specialized in Christian-Muslim relations in ninth- and early tenth-century Southern Italy. As I remember the Gezi uprisings in Turkey in 2013 quite vividly from the television news, I was eager to get to know more about the neighbourhood in Istanbul on which Derya is conducting research. She explained how people of very different political views manage to live together in this neighbourhood – or to put it in better words: manage to live their lifes without major points of contact with the other groups inhabiting the district. It was particularly interesting that in this discussion round, two other participants at the table knew the district and could rely on their experiences. Both table hosts had prepared a range of questions that helped to start the conversation albeit all participants in this first round had plenty of own comments, too. Derya and Kordula also gave vivid examples from their research, so that the group at the table could build upon it. That was also what made the discussion so fruitful.

Sharing thoughts on table cloths

Table 1: The Social Production of Neighbourhoods
Photo: Max Weber Stiftung

In the first short break I strolled along the other tables to look at what they had come up with during the first round. That was possible because all participants were encouraged to share their thoughts by writing on the papercloth the tables were covered with. I was especially impressed by the map Elisa Bertuzzo had brought with her. It was a colourful map of a neighbourhood in Dhaka that was designed by 22 of its inhabitants.

The choice for the next table was really hard to make. I decided to spend the second round of discussions at the table of Elena Vacchelli and Hilal Alkan. They focused on “Gendered Use of Spaces at Neighbourhood Levels“. To me it was not that obvious what to imagine for this topic. Everyone lives in a neighbourhood, so why does gender matter in that context? But it became clear very soon. We discussed “no go areas” for women in neighbourhoods and the concept of safety within neighbourhoods. People who identify as female are often told to stay away from certain places or to not go out at night. On the other hand, they are sometimes not easy to reach for local community care as we were informed by a streetworker, who had joined the table for this discussion round. He told us about his work with Turkish immigrant women in Berlin. This was also the table I realized that the format of a WorldCafé is really suitable for me, but also asked myself if I was too talkative as I had the impression that I monopolized the conversation too much and tended to talk about my personal experiences. However, this was very well absorbed by the two table hosts, who included the other participants in the discussion. Time was up quite too early and I wondered if I could stay at the table for the next two rounds, since the conversation there was so interesting.

But it was time for me to change tables. Provided with some orange juice, I sat down at the table of Britta Hecking and Birgit Schäbler who were asking the question “When is a neighbourhood a neighbourhood?” From this table I took a lot of questions for myself. Can neighbourhoods be planned? What does a neighbourhood need to be a “good” neighbourhood? Are there different concepts of neighbourhoods that fit for different stages in life?

Getting a real notion of scientific work

The WeberWorldCafé is a very good way to get a notion of what all the scholars are working on.
Photo: Max Weber Stiftung

In the fourth round I chose not to join another table, but instead I wandered around the room to enjoy the atmosphere and to listen to the discussions at the tables I had not visited before. I also took a look at the beautiful pictures drawn by the sketch recorder Anne Lehmann. They were snap-shots of all discussions going on.

Between the last round and the final presentation of what had been discussed at the tables during the afternoon, I talked to other participants who were really fond of the format. We agreed that it is a very good way to get a notion of what all the scholars are working on. This became also very clear in the final round, when all table hosts presented what they had been talking about. New question arose and when I left, I had a lot of thoughts to think about at home.

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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