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journal of urban life ½ – summer 2012

Dear reader, Welcome to the adventure of JUL!

Chief editors Lukas Ley Aina Ratsimbazafy Editors Christine Boucher Martin Lamotte Lukas Ley Aina Ratsimbazafy ˇ da Yıldız Çag Authors Maria Hoffman Martin Lamotte Lukas Ley Maria Anita Palumbo Pantelis Pavlakidis Artists Franziska Kabisch Laura Nitsch Art design Type Neuzeit Grotesk Print Flyeralarm Web design Volkan Flörchinger Thanks to Thomas Pestre Max Fabian Starke

The Journal of Urban Life embarks with you on an exploration of cities, a pleasant and febrile odyssey along their forms, across their borders, and into their souls. In the company of young anthropologists, you will explore a peculiar “jungle”: the contemporary metropolis. JUL was created with the goal of integrating urban situations into general reflections on human behavior, that is to follow anthropology‘s move away from exoticism. In line with the strong curiosity that motivates anthropology, JUL suggests paying close attention to the diversity that characterizes urbanites, as well as the ways in which they enliven the city. This is accomplished through the use of a unique and audacious design. While the journal accounts for urban practices, JUL also makes them accessible to analysis and contributes to their comparative interpretation. On top of the expertise of its editors, JUL aims at revealing to its readers the world of anthropology, granting a look behind the scenes of the “art of estrangement.” The edition that you‘re holding in your hands represents the foundation stone of a collective and independent project that intends to enrich the editorial landscape of the social sciences. In this pilot edition, the Paris-based anthropologists Martin Lamotte and Maria Anita Palumbo outline the distinctiveness of a vibrant subdiscipline: anthropology in/of the city. Drawing on personal experiences, they attempt to describe a special research mode that has to invent itself in trying to keep pace with the city‘s ability to transform, even disappear, always waiting for a new mutation to take place. Moreover, two German researchers will take you on a startling stroll through Berlin‘s “African quarter.” Maria Hoffmann and Pantelis Pavlakidis set out to meet the people who live in this area, which is deeply influenced by (post)colonial history/histories and thus displays various temporalities. Their survey suggests taking a critical stance on urban governance in Berlin. Furthermore, Franziska Kabisch and Laura Nitsch share with you the fruits of their photographic project, “Self & the City”: an optical illusion that actually uncovers the ruses and practices of self-staging used by individuals once a camera is directed at them. JUL‘s editors accept this provocative challenge to raise questions of methodology. This is only the beginning! JUL wishes to embark with you on an enthralling trip through urban life and the modern city. Welcome on board! Chief editors Aina Ratsimbazafy & Lukas Ley

Martin Lamotte & Maria Anita Palumbo

Urban anthropology What? Why? How? Que se passe-t-il. Je n’y comprends rien. Y’avait une ville. Et y’a plus rien. Claude Nougaro

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When JUL asked us to write an introduction to what is often called urban anthropology, we decided to write four-handedly, like the players in a piano duet in which one supports the other. One hand to handle the theoretical background, one that safeguards against the pitfalls of an overly essentialist definition of urban anthropology, one to draw an outline, and one, eventually, to drum a rhythm. Four hands, then, and our reciprocal experiences of several cities helped us to accomplish this preface which aims at putting forth the principles and objectives of an anthropological gaze at the city. But if we wish to respect JUL‘s ambition to open this discipline to an interdisciplinary discourse about the city that clearly transcends the mere analysis of the social sciences, we have to answer some essential questions, the complexity of which increases in proportion to their simplicity. What? It seems inappropriate to draw an exhaustive portrait of urban anthropology in this introduction, knowing that a significant number of other, more experienced and able authors have tried to tackle this challenge (Hannerz 1980, Raulin 2001). Despite such efforts, these definitions neither foreclose each other nor seem exhaustive. A multitude of definitions has been suggested. The practices, scales, and methods simply appear too different. And it is surely the amount of which each of them was able to contribute that makes for the unity of urban anthropology. 1 In the past, certain cities undergoing radical transformation have fueled the development of anthropology‘s concern with the urban environment: Berlin in the 1910s, Chicago in the 1930s, Luanshya in the 1950s. Their respective mutations at particular moments in global history have been the inspiration for numerous approaches and interrogations considering metropolises either as zones where a modern mentality is born; as a microcosm of the world; or as a space where identities and culture are reinvented. Scholars at the School of Chicago were perhaps the first to ask what constitutes the quintessence of the urban phenomenon (what is the core proposition of the city?). And the fact that today, more than 80 years after the publication of The City by Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess, JUL is still raising exactly this question adds interesting dimension to the answer. “Anthropology in the city” and “anthropology of the city” (Hannerz 1983) reflect the many attempts to clarify both object and method that pertain to this branch of an anthropology of the contemporary world (Augé 1994,

Agier 1999), a branch that posits the city as the center and prism of an analysis of humanity and the world of today. Why? An anthropological concern with the urban seems even more plausible, given that more than half of the planet‘s population is now living in cities. The city, the urban, and urbanity are turning into increasingly urgent and transversal subjects: the global process of urbanization does not occur without producing fractures or selection between accepted forms of urban habitats and inhabiting and those forms that will fall prey to this process, which results in a reconfiguration of what it means to produce ties and places of belonging today. A role for anthropology can be outlined: first of all, this role consists in asking continuously what escapes our gaze, such as things so ordinary that they become invisible. This equals a work of deconstruction as well as methodological and epistemological doubt that is along the lines of anthropology‘s working style. Furthermore, anthropology requires a process of destabilization of normative definitions, consolidated notions, consensuses, and hard cores of sense-making, in order to suggest a different perspective of the city. One could therefore say that anthropology examines transparencies and opacities at the same time. How? Depending on the viewpoint, the moment, or the anchorage point, the city is interspersed with multiple dimensions, interpretations, and representations. Urban anthropology attempts to read, describe, and trace out the city belonging to all these “others” who coexist within it; acknowledging at the same time the radical otherness and the intrinsic communality that characterize an urban society. The discipline strives to name the challenges and stakes of contemporary cities, such as their ability to create spaces that, instead of being simply defined as “public space,” rather undergo a reinterpretation of what the function of “common spaces” (De Biase/Coralli 2009) might appear to be. Thus, it is important to question the ability of any city to be a place available to its subjects, that is, its ability to include without crushing. Studying the city requires the anthropologist to establish an understanding of the production of meaning that pertains to the production of space (Lefebvre 1974) as well as of the spatial dimension of symbolic patterns. The work consists then of showing the many ways in which an urban logic is created

(Agier 1999, 2009), and it involves an analysis of the city‘s fluent, moving, and sometimes fictional character that stands at the beginning of the city. Thus, if anthropologists describe fragments of cities, it is because social reality is made of these very fragments. In a public talk, the Nigerian author Chris Abani (2007) underlined the power of stories, and in equal measure the fragility of social reality. This of course reveals a political argument that the Nigerian author poses skillfully. To desacralize a story and to align it within the multiplicity of other stories that shape reality amounts to stressing its relativity, which is in itself a political act. If, for instance, cities are constituted of multiple realities and each one is as productive, real, and imaginary as all the others, the simple act of describing them credits them with new mightiness. Thus is the central work of the writer, the story-teller, and, probably, even the anthropologist. However, if the reality is intrinsically a story, a tangible fiction alluding to a particular moment in history, how does one account for it? If reality is as uncertain as described by Nougaro in his song, how does one describe it? Just as there is a plethora of ways to “fashion” the city – that is to say, settling in some place and producing material and symbolic urban social relations – there must necessarily also exist countless ways to describe the city. This raises doubts as to the feasibility of anthropology‘s urban agenda. These are constructive doubts, however, that forces anthropologists to mistrust rigid visions of the city and to permanently readjust their methods of observation. Maybe it is best to devote as much space as possible to the vague, to a form of non-reality. Considering that the anthropologist exerts an “art,” H. Wolcott supports embracing uncertainty in research. He also reminds us that intuition is a methodological practice. It remains, however, that an answer has yet to be found to this question: How can we devise a method that wishes on the one hand to account for the social reality and that, on the other hand, leaves considerable space for doubting the foundation of this reality? To quote De Certeau, while also reflecting Sansot‘s opinion, the urban anthropologist proceeds to develop a bricolage and mimics the work of a craftsman in adjusting his instruments progressively to capture these multiple ways of producing the city. It can be maintained that urban anthropology evolves with the cities it takes as its subject. Above all else, the discipline has to listen to the clamors and urban whispers, as if in a dance with the world. For urban anthropology it is crucial to converse – 1 2 3 4 5


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also in the sense of “cum versare.” To be in the city, to merge with its tissue, to speak and interact, to be in it physically, to walk, to listen to people, to be curious: that which defines the approach of the anthropologist, in our opinion, can also be described as an attitude, a physical and mental disposition to defy stereotyping, to change a course, to sneak behind the scenes, to watch patiently by exiting the frenetic rhythm. Thus, to use once again the metaphor of the piano duet‘s four hands - the anthropologist effortlessly follows a given rhythm while also breaking it with a contrasting tempo that allows him to reproduce and undo ordinary life. Tempo and counter - tempo – jazz. We would like to point out that JUL has translated this text from French to English. 1 In fact, throughout the development of urban anthropology, various schools of thought were able to build up within the discipline in spheres where it intersected with related disciplines (in particular, ethnology, sociology, geography, architecture, psychology, and history). Furthermore, the researchers‘ places of investigation presumably played a decisive role. Thus, from these different orientations origin ated urban anthropology, anthropology of the city, and spatial anthropology (the so-called urban studies can be located in between these disciplines). Even though the distinctions between them can never be drawn neatly, these approaches differ regarding their levels of analysis, their more or less strong tendency to “be political,” and different modes of problematization. It is a fascinating story of genealogies, alliances, and separations that we should not discuss in detail here, but which will certainly enliven the interdisciplinary debate that JUL wishes to moderate in its issues.

Martin Lamotte is pursuing a doctoral degree in anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. For his Master‘s thesis he conducted a study on border-protecting militias in North America. Today, Lamotte‘s ethnographic research addresses issues of empowerment and the privatization of security. He is currently conducting fieldwork on Community Policing programmes in ethnic and working-class neighborhoods in New York and Cape Town. Maria Anita Palumbo studied sociology and anthropology in Paris. She is pursuing a doctoral degree in anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and is a member of the Laboratoire Architecture et Anthropologie at ENSAPLV. She holds teaching assistanceships at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Paris-Belleville as well as at the École Nationale d’Architecture de Paris la Villette. Her research areas include urban and audiovisual anthropology and urban studies. Recent fieldwork, mainly conducted in Paris and Cotonou (Benin), reflects Palumbo‘s interest in the transformation of city space and the investigation of such processes through original qualitative methods.

Maria Hoffmann & Pantelis Pavlakidis

Entangled Histories A postcolonial view on Berlin We (all) live in a postcolonial world, not only those in and of colonised territories Eckert & Randeria

Looking at the ways in which the somewhat abstract term of “Europe” is used in current debates concerning the debt crisis in Greece or a possible accession of Turkey to the European Union, we deal with a Europe that is understood as being Western, progressive, and enlightened. It is a white 1 Europe based on Christian ideas and values. 2 In the quest for a European identity, founding myths of EUrope 3 are needed and freely interpreted in order to establish a consistent narrative. These myths draw upon imaginations of cultural affinity 4 and a symbolic common descent of Europe, which is rooted in (supposedly impressive) stories of success that are composed of key words, such as antiquity and enlightenment, humanistic and Christian virtues, Roman law and Greek democracy, civilisation and rationalism, capitalism and modernity. However, the other side of this shiny coin, namely rape and murder, exploitation and land robbery, are blanked out benevolently, while “European export hits,” like educational institutions, railway lines, and administrative organisations, as well as “European virtues” such as order, punctuality, and cleanliness, continue to be glorified. The allegedly successful European story of civilisation is often understood as an independent develop ment; a development bearing the white man’s moral obligation 5 of bringing Europe’s achievements to supposedly inferior regions of the world – if necessary, violently so. In stark contrast with an emancipated and civilised “West,” these non-European regions were declared to be the “Rest” (cf. Hall 1992). Up until today, the “West” and the “Rest” are connected by an ambivalent relationship, in which the former could advance to its self-declared position of universal supremacy because of the colonial projects of European powers. The “African Quarter” and the African quarter Colonialism is easily perceived as having taken place “out there,” namely in regions labelled as the “Rest,” but definitely not “here” in the “West.” Colonial remnants, however, can be tracked in every European city. Unsurprisingly they are often overlooked, neglected, or – if visible to the average passer-by – positively re-interpreted as part of one’s own local heritage. So, join us now on a stroll through Berlin and let us take a closer look at the ambivalent coexistence of the “African Quarter” and the African Quarter.

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“ The district of Wedding has turned black. Casting off its old red [socialist] colour, the former workers’ area has become more colourful, more international, more African!” wrote the German newspaper “die tageszeitung” euphorically in 2008 6, celebrating notions of harmonious multi-cultural city life while neglecting Berlin’s colonial past that the “African Wedding” is based upon. The “African Quarter” is part of the district of Wedding in the northwest of Germany’s capital city, an area without any slick, glossy sights and unattractive to most tourists. The streets and squares in the “African Quarter” are symbolic remnants of the German Empire and its colonial project, as they refer to: –(Former) German colonies and “protectorates,” such as Cameroon Street, Samoa Street, Togo Street, and Uganda Street –Strategically important locations in the colonised and occupied regions, such as Douala Street, Muhazi Street, Damara Street, Otavi Street, Swakopmund Street, Tanga Street, Usambara Street, and Windhoek Street –White, male personalities who engaged in colonial research, colonial politics, and colonial trade, such as Lüderitz Street, Nachtigal Square, and Peters Avenue (which was re-dedicated in '86) –Politically and strategically important spaces relevant to German colonial politics, such as Zambezi Street, Zanzibar Street, Senegal Street, and Transvaal Street The term “African Quarter” is nowhere to be found on any official city map, yet most Berliners are familiar with this expression. It is used as an allegedly neutral term as most (white) citizens of Berlin are not aware of the current structures of power that derive from colonial constellations. While the “African Quarter” can be understood as a large openair colonial memorial within the architectural makeup of Berlin-Wedding, the widely celebrated multi-cultural urban atmosphere of the African Quarter is based on an increased moving in of Africans and Black Germans, and is not bound by the imagined geographical borders of the “African Quarter.” This ambivalent coexistence of the African Quarter as a somewhat ethnic community and the colonial “African Quarter” is a unique metaphor of postcolonial struggles in Germany and beyond. The naming of the first streets in the newly established residential area in 1899, Togo and Cameroon

Streets  7, bears witness to the colonial fantasies of German omnipotence (cf. Honold 2003). The practice of naming streets and squares after colonial contexts could – and still can – be found in other colonial metropolises, such as Paris, London, and Brussels. In Germany, this custom should be understood as an expression of a policy of expansion and annexation which began in the days of the German Empire, continued in the Weimar Republic, and climaxed in national-socialist Germany. In 1939, during Nazi rule, Peters Avenue was named after the German colonial politician, so-called discoverer, and explorer of Africa, Carl Peters. Due to his brutal actions in the occupied territories in East Africa, Kaiser Wilhelm II had discharged Peters dishonourably in 1896. It was not until 1986 that residents protested publicly against the street name. However, the street was not re-named but rededicated. Today, a small plaque explains that this street is dedicated to Professor Hans Peters, resistance fighter against the Nazi regime, later politician of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and, until 1948, member of Berlin’s state parliament. 8 However, a few steps away, there is no information plate to comment on Nachtigal Square. We look in vain for a sign explaining that the square was named in 1910, referring to Gustav Hermann Nachtigal. Today, Nachtigal is regarded as one of the pioneers of German colonialism. Looking at nearby Möwe Lake (Seagull Lake), one is inclined to think of a singing bird rather than a colonial politician who was in charge of establishing German protectorates in present-day Togo and Cameroon. Nachtigal can be – and in fact often is – mistaken for the differently spelt Nachtigall, meaning nightingale in German. The first time that we encountered the “African Quarter” and its awkward background was through the NGO Berlin Postkolonial. As Aretha Schwarzenbach-Apithy (cf. 2005) claims, we had previously been in a privileged, white position, allowing us not to need to know – what is more, allowing us to claim not to want to know – about postcolonial issues. The NGO’s critical guided tours of the “African Quarter” aim both at raising awareness in the general population of colonial and postcolonial references in the urban landscape and at emphasising that German colonial history is still present in Berlin – so far without any critical, contextualising commentary. The density of colonial symbols comes to a peak in 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


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the Dauerkolonie Togo e.V., which is an allotment in the very centre of the quarter. Translated literally, Dauerkolonie means “permanent colony.” Revisiting German colonial history, this name turns out to be highly problematic since Togo was a German colony from 1884 to 1916. Moreover, it is important to know that the Dauerkolonie Togo e.V. was established by the Nazis in 1939, serving as a means of propaganda to reassure the public that the “Shame of Versailles” of yielding control of Germany’s colonies would be redeemed. Even if most gardeners today deny that the allotment’s name expresses a politico–ideological statement and only refers to the intersecting Togo Street, one can see hoisted flags of the imperial war navy, the Knights Templar, and pirates from afar. Since these flags do point at specific historical power relations of conquest and subjugation, their political statement cannot be overlooked. What is more, being hoisted in a place whose name is a postcolonial provocation in itself, one can hardly dispute a political message, as the gardeners do. Accordingly, the “African Quarter” cannot and should not be understood as an innocent, neutral remnant of the colonial endeavours of the German Empire and Nazi Germany. A further example of this appropriation of urban space through the use of colonial–historical symbols is a pharmacy on Otavi Street. Otavi Street is named after a town in the Northern Hereroland in the former colony “German South-West Africa” (present-day Namibia), which, despite its small size, was strategically important for colonial politics. It was in Otavi that copper, lead, and zinc were loaded onto railway vehicles and then sent towards the sea to be shipped to Germany. In the eyes of the pharmacy’s owner, colonial history is part of the local history and hence crucial to a local identity. The shop windows are decorated elaborately with apparently African fabrics and masks, old maps, and figurines of giraffes. “The treasures of Otavi” are introduced proudly on a banner: diamonds, copper, peanuts, and other “exotic African” products, all packed together in an old suitcase and ready for transportation. Fetching an old colonial atlas, the pharmacist talked willingly about Otavi’s history, in which he took a keen interest. Peeking at the masks behind the sales counter, he acknowledged ironically that they were “from China anyway.” In the pharmacist’s opinion, colonialism is a constitutive part of local history; accordingly, using this history as a marketing strategy and a means of distinction from competitors is completely unproblematic. This

is, however, only possible due to his white, selective perception of colonial history. Entanglements “Traditional Berlin goes multi-cultural.” 9 Thus confidently promises a Berlin image campaign. But what or who is this traditional Berlin? And who is multi-cultural? Maybe the postcolonial migrants, who seem to be patron saints of the “African Quarter.” “Why we call this quarter African? Perhaps because of the Africans, who live here?” – this is what we were told a few times during our street poll, which we conducted in January 2011 as our first approach to the field. Are these people, who have been symbolically present in Berlin since 1899, coming home? Born in the former British colony of Jamaica, the co-founder of British Cultural Studies Stuart Hall reflects on his own experiences moving to England in 1951: “People like me who came to England in the 1950s have been there for centuries; symbolically, we have been there for centuries. I was coming home. I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea. I am the sweet tooth, the sugar plantations that rotted generations of English children’s teeth. There are thousands of others beside me that are, you know, the cup of tea itself. Because they don’t grow it in Lancashire, you know. Not a single tea plantation exists within the United Kingdom. This is the symbolization of English identity– I mean, what does anybody in the world know about an English person except that they can’t get through the day without a cup of tea? Where does it come from? Ceylon – Sri Lanka, India. That is the outside history that is inside the history of the English. There is no English history without that other history (Hall 1991: 48).” This shared, complexly entangled history is commonly perceived as divided history; colonial history is – especially in German discourse – far removed from the centre of historical attention. Regions outside a geographically defined Europe become the sociocultural non-Europe, something other, something alien. Looking at the historical entanglements of Berlin and its “Other” reveals imperialism as their commonframe of reciprocal constitution (cf. Conrad & Randeria 2002), as a connecting element of a shared history. For up until today, colonial encounters retroact on the colonisers, on Germany and on Europe (cf. Comaroff & Comaroff 1992 10). They especially shaped Berlin, the former capital of a colonial empire.

Just as Stuart Hall can be seen as a personified example of the reality of entangled worlds, of entangled histories of Europe and non-Europe, there are numerous places in Berlin, the “African Quarter” just being one of them, that are the legacy of their colonial and postcolonial connections, for example: The Old Reich Chancellery on Wilhelm Street, a stone’s throw away from the famous Brandenburg Gate and today’s British Embassy, which hugely intensified the “Scramble for Africa.” It was here that the first Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, invited the European colonial powers, the USA, and the Ottoman Empire to negotiate their colonial interests on the African continent in 1884. 11 The Herero Memorial, a monument to commemorate the German occupiers of German South-West Africa who were killed during the colonial war that culminated in the first genocide of the 20th century. This genocide resulted in the killing of 80% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama populations (cf. Aikins 2004). The so-called “Sarotti Moor,” used as the popular logo of Berlin-based chocolate producer Sarotti from 1918 up until 2004. It was only then that the “moor” was redesigned to become a magician, now gold in colour and juggling stars instead of carrying a tray. 12 A blanked out history The only street with a postcolonial reference in the “African Quarter” is Ghana Street, acknowledging since 1958 the independence of the former British colony Gold Coast, which became independent on March 6, 1957. However, the street’s postcolonial significance is lost amidst the otherwise colonial street ensemble and is only intelligible to those who are familiar with colonial history. Following the rhetoric of “Colonialism? Its consequences? This is something the other European powers have to deal with,” this context seems to be emblematic of the way Germany’s colonial legacy and its resulting responsibility for present-day uneven economic, social, and power structures are commonly perceived. Fearing reparation claims, the legacy is ignored. There are other historical events that are ostensibly important for a German self-conception and Germany’s coming to terms with its history. Especially the disastrous happenings of World War II and the Holocaust constitute the central historical aspects in German discourse. According to Sebastian Conrad and Shalini Randeria (2002), the German colonial past, although usually blanked out, concealed, or simply kept quiet, has

had enormous effects, not only on those colonised, but also on the colonisers. There are numerous examples of the entanglements – both shared and divided – between these allegedly European and non-European histories. The displaced colonial history is ever-present in Berlin’s urban landscape and has shaped the city substantially. The remnants of this past and its resulting responsibility are scattered all over Berlin and Germany, as Joshua Kwesi Aikins (cf. 2004) states. Take for example the debates around the re-naming of Gröbenufer, a street in the district of Kreuzberg. Formerly commemorating colonialist Otto Friedrich von der Groeben, the street now pays tribute to the late Afro-German poet and activist May Ayim (cf. Bauche 2010); take a look at the fierce fight between the Bavarian State Ministry of Science, Research and Art and Cameroon over the return of the Cameroonian royal insignia; or think about the intense controversies over so-called “Africa Days” in German zoos, evoking images of human beings as animals, just as it happened at the Völkerschauen in the heyday of colonial suppression. 13 A debate that has dominated Berlin’s postcolonial politics for a few years revolves around an information board that is yet to be realised. This contested board, called for by NGOs such as Berlin Postkolonial, is intended to help in contextualising the “African Quarter” in its historical genesis. In/visible connections Stuart Hall speaks of a symbolic genealogy, of a shared history of colonisation that has reproduced uneven economic and political relations between the “West” and the “Rest” ever since. Following Stuart Hall’s arguments, migrants like himself are not strangers, but rather old acquaintances, who have been kept at distance in a colonial world order for a long time. The postcolonial arrival of people like Hall to Europe reveals this entangled and shared history. Which ties are concealed behind the European façade, which seems to help discern that which is familiar from that which is alien, what is genuinely European, and what is something other? Who are the strangers, the excluded ones, really? It is not only since the postcolonial arrival to European metropolises of othered 14 people, lifestyles and products (cf. Ege 2007) that discourses on globalisation, belonging, borders, and the nature of Eu1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11


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rope have been debated on a large scale. Berlin presents itself as the international, multi-cultural flagship of Germany, doing so in order to compete successfully in a globalised, cosmopolitan modernity. Taking a closer look, it quickly becomes obvious that not every “Other” may be part of this multi-cultural project. These thoughts on circulation and discussed imaginations of globalisation, tradition, and diversity – of migration and transnational networks – are reflected in the specific urban area of the “African Quarter.” However, the quarter is more than just a space where migrant networks, cosmopolitan social practices, and political programmes become visible. Beyond that, it is a metaphor, a symbolic area of postcolonial tension between those who are pleading for a critical investigation of German colonial history and those doing their best to cling to the current status quo of common amnesia. The “African Quarter” as an abstract space is home to certain discourses, a field of postcolonial entanglements where different meaningful historical narratives encounter, cross, and compete with each other. Wedding’s status as a rather poor and socially weak Berlin area reveals that the simplified dualistic categories of rich colonisers versus impoverished colonised are not always applicable. If the overlapping of different levels such as social structure, ethnicity, or socio-economic attributions are recognised, it will be possible to overcome old dichotomies in a further step. The “African Quarter” as an abstract but currently contested space of postcolonial entanglements allows us to grasp the manifold tensions, conflicts, and ruptures where different conceptions of the world, of Europe, and of self-images become conspicuous.

1 We do not understand white as a description of skin colour, but as a political category of privileges. These privileges include that being white is seen as the normative standard, while not being white is a matter of problematisation (cf. Dietze 2006, Sow 2011). 2 Current political debates about Islam in Europe often refer to common Jewish-Christian values, so that the long history of Jewish persecution, suppression, and murder in Europe, and in particular in Germany, is completely silenced and ignored. 3 This term refers to a “geographical Europe”, which is currently part of, or in membership negotiations with, the European Union. This spelling indicates the frequently problematic relationship and unclear distinction between the “EU” and “Europe”, which are implicitly, yet often, equated with each other (cf. Poehls 2009: 9). 4 The official EU motto “United in diversity” conceives of Europe as the sum of its various nationally bound communities, which eventually stand together as one. (cf. The EU motto, URL:, last accessed 07.06.2011). 5 Cf. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden”. Kipling wrote the poem in 1899 as an appeal to the United States to go forth and “develop” the Philippines, recently won from Spain in the Spanish-American War. There are different interpretations of the poem, ranging from being seen as a form of satire to being interpreted as racist, popular way of expressing colonialistic views on annexed territories. 6 die tageszeitung: “Das Afrikanische Viertel” published 24.09.2008. URL:!23417/, last accessed: 23.09.2011. 7 Cf. Berliner Straßenlexikon. URL:, last accessed: 10.09.2011. 8 Cf. ibid. 9 Cf. BerlinOnline: “Wedding: Ur-Berlin trifft Multikulti”. URL:, last accessed: 10.09.2011. 10 The anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff have worked extensively on the topic of colonialism. They emphasise that colonialism did not have a one-way-street effect, meaning that it did not only change the lives of the colonised. On the contrary, the Comaroffs describe colonialism as a reflexive process, in which the colonial “Other” had to be created as a mirror image, in order to “civilise” and to “domesticate” the lower classes of the colonising (British) Empire. Hence, colonialism was just as much engaged in shaping the centre as in forming the periphery. 11 Cf. DHM – Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum). URL:, last accessed: 12.09.2011. 12 Cf. Sarotti GmbH. URL: and, last accessed: 12.09.2011. 13 Cf. Deutsche Welle: “Colonial Cliches in a German Zoo?” published 09.06.2005. URL: dw/article/0,,1608969,00.html, last accessed: 12.09.2011. 14 This term was coined by Edward Said and “refers to the act of emphasising the perceived weaknesses of marginalised groups as a way of stressing the alleged strength of those in positions of power” (Jones, Jones & Woods 2004: 174).

Maria Hoffmann currently lives in Berlin, where she studies European Ethnology at Humboldt-University. After graduating from Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, she participated in a field research project on postApartheid conflicts in history curricula and classrooms in South African high schools. As part of her Master‘s research project “Other Europes/Europe‘s Others: Social Imagination in transnational movements and urban public spheres”, Hoffmann has further conducted research on postcolonial mnemonic struggles in Berlin. In cooperation with SAVVY Contemporary, an art and project space in Berlin-Neukölln, she is currently chairing the academic project “Colonial Neighbours” which allows students to critically investigate and reflect on historical and contemporary structures of power shaped by colonialism.

Pantelis Pavlakidis is currently finishing a Master‘s programme in European Ethnology at Humboldt-University of Berlin. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Cultural and Social Anthropology and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Münster, Germany, and the University of Lund, Sweden. In his Master‘s thesis, Pavlakidis explores postcolonial perspectives in cultural and political practices that shape the city of Berlin. Further research interests include community- and nation-building processes as well as critical Europeanisation studies. He is involved in the academic project “Colonial Neighbours” and volunteers for the transnational NGO “European Alternatives”.

Lukas Ley

Self & the City Editor‘s comment How do I want others to see me? Does this look at all like me? Can you see me?

Portrait photography is intrinsically an act of selfstaging and self-placement; the typical souvenir photograph follows cultural instructions of a wellknown dramaturgy. Meaningful pictures are more likely to be stored in our memory, but which ingredients does a photograph need to make sense? A strong feeling, an extraordinary event or place? All of it? German artists Franziska Kabisch and Laura Nitsch assert that photographs not only serve as archives for emotions and statuses but ultimately prove the existence of the photographed person in a certain place, for posterity, as they contend: “Becoming the image reveals the anthropological desire to materialise.” Being in a picture is not enough, however. According to the artists, souvenir photography strongly reflects conceptions of oneself. The subject can actually discard or embrace impressions of himself or herself and selectively use them to create identity. In their conceptual piece entitled “I will be mostly absent during this exhibition,” Kabisch and Nitsch conjure scenes that characterise souvenir photographs. Inspired by a series of lectures given by Roland Barthes in the late 1970s, “I will be mostly absent during this exhibition” investigates the concept of presence vs. absence; for Kabisch and Nitsch, photography doesn‘t perpetuate time by restoring the present of its objects but rather proves the fugacity of the portrayed. Thus, their photography is supposed to invoke disappearance, irretrievability, and nonexistence in lieu of attributing ultimate truth to a photograph. Sometimes only the artists can be seen, but mostly there are other people involved (see cover poster). The photographs in their piece seem awkwardly normal, even dull, to us. We are bombarded with thousands of such pictures every day — in ads, in the media, and especially in the realms of social networks. By gathering the ingredients of a “normal“ picture, Kabisch and Nitsch reference some components used to express “self” in a snapshot. They stress belonging or boast individuality. Their photographs show moments of familiarity, thoughtfulness, physical closeness, and individual wellbeing. But these are false feelings! The emotions, gestures, and signs of personal involvement are artefacts. The artists do not know a single person posing with them in their photographs. They have no recollection of their names, kept no files of them, and will probably never see them again. The scenes are mere constructions, hoaxes, and, therefore, illusions of reality. Inasmuch as they prove photography to be a treacherous utensil that quickly

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becomes obsolete when a context is missing, the artists also mock its powerful influence on our memory. Far from being cynical, though, they also critically reflect their own identities and selfproducing practices. Although people are key to the artists’ work, places play an important role in it, too. Kabisch and Nitsch do not simply stress the exchangeability of faces and emotions, but also hint at the importance of locality. We cannot determine precisely where the photographs were taken, only that they‘re somehow urban. They retain an urban quality mainly through the display of metropolitan lifestyles and practices, such as consuming art, hanging out, and promenading; or put differently, leisurely living instead of working. Places matter to social memory. Thus, all pictures trace out a notion of urbanity, wherein our imagination takes place. I have been in Berlin. I live in Paris. Here I spend time. Of course, urban anthropology has its own special tête-à-tête with photography. Since city dwellers nowadays naturally use photography and film, to whatever end, visual material of urban life is abundant. Arguably, the language of the “Occupy” protest is best restored in the thousands of videos filmed from the beginning of the occupations to the ultimate evictions. Pictures of events often make for their dramatic character (Nora 1994). If one only had to look at pictures to understand social life, or in this case, historical events, where would the urban ethnographer, then, come into play? As Barthes has argued, pictures show something like reality, not reality itself. Thus, the more they claim authenticity, the more social sense and normative character they contain, and, in consequence, the more the practice of imaging should be relevant for anthropology. This practice seems to be defined both by the instantaneous photographed situation and a complex mix of constraining, inducing, or enabling “structures.” Consider, for example, the public uproar caused by the photograph of a handful of young adults “chatting in the sun” in front of the Twin Towers after the terrorist attack (Hoepker/ Magnum). Or, for that matter, think of the snapshot of three solemn-looking members of an Italian family posing on the shoreline just meters away from the half sunken body of the cruise ship Costa Concordia. These pictures seem to document the ultimate truth of the moment. Accepting this truth is problematic, as it turns out: the situation each time was far different from what is depicted. Seemingly, looking at pictures doesn‘t quite do it. We need to be

there, when the photo is manufactured, just like Kabisch and Nitsch had to squeeze themselves into the moments of the life of others worthy to be photographed, in order to learn the uncanny prescriptions of imaging and merge with the situational ambiance. And even more, we have to be there before and after the picture is taken to understand potential references to similar events that happened previously as well as the consequential reading of the picture. The next question should thus be: if we‘re there, do we really have to be physically “there,” and how close can we get? It is at least assumed that physical presence is helpful. In the past, that is, anthropologists have successfully avoided appearing in images that showed the “people,” “cultural places,” or “rituals” when they used fieldwork photographs for their research documentation. This decision owed to deeply rooted research ethics: interaction with the research object was understood to modify, disturb or even obstruct the untouched beauty of reality staged in the photographed scene, say, the making of rain. Pictures that show the explorer‘s tent, as seen in Malinowski‘s fieldwork snapshots, pitched amidst Trobriand shelters, only served the purpose of providing visual proof and mental aid to map the field (Clifford: 1997). The ethnographer commonly had to disappear from the scenario, although his presence inevitably altered it, as those who have criticized this longstanding ethic have pointed out since the 1990s. In the ethnographic account, the observer actually becomes a writer provided with raw fieldwork data. As a result, the situational character of the researcher‘s findings is almost entirely lost. Can it be said that ethnographers make different use of photography today? The ethnographer today, in fact, is often seen in pictures that show him among the people he studies. Meddling, physical contact, and emotional entanglements are no longer repressed, and can even help cue the ethnographer once he‘s back home. Today, researchers automatically parse the role of the ethnographer in the process of data collection, and this has become standard (Hannertz 2010; exemplary is the doctoral dissertation of Julien Langumier). The ethnographer, the interpreter and the writer have gotten closer to becoming one unity. In today‘s photographs showing research being conducted in the field, the ethnographer‘s persona is not expected to duck away when the camera snaps. He no longer appears as the impartial observer who sits in the back 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15



of a house and watches from afar, keeping his analysing gaze at an “objective” distance. Involvement and entanglement have become a recipe for “good” fieldwork and thus today find a place in the repertoire of legitimate representational methods. This opens up manifold opportunities to place oneself closer to the individual and representational sense-creating practices. For anthropology as much as for photography, posing the question of authenticity and falsity might be misleading. Indeed, a representation has to be real, because otherwise it loses its significance. When it does, it can border on ironic or cynical. But more importantly, imaging through photography can reveal to academic audiences as well as to the ethnographer how social relations relate to space, by helping to interpret postures and acts of selfrepresentation as performative acts on a meaningful stage. In the forthcoming editions, the writers of JUL will regularly discuss the work of an artist engaging in the representation of contemporary urbanity. Please stay with us for more intriguing visual material!

Franziska Kabisch lives in Hamburg where she is a student of professor Michaela Melián (Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg). She has also studied art at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Her work addresses topics related to language and perception, and reflects human constructions of reality. As an artist, Franziska also takes an interest in the Middle East Conflict, and has created conceptual art dealing with the impact of media imaging on social norms. Laura Nitsch studied African studies, anthropology, and fine arts at the University of Hamburg before pursuing a degree in visual arts with Matt Mullican. As a member of the “GuO” collective, Laura has recently been engaged in testing the conventional limits of the artist‘s vocation. Since 2011, she has studied conceptual art with Marina Griznic at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. In 2011, Kabisch and Nitsch jointly founded the collective “N/K.” Lukas Ley holds a Master’s degree in social anthropology from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He lives temporarily in Berlin. In addition to being the co-founder of JUL, he is currently conceptualizing a Ph.D project with the guidance of Michel Agier and the “Decenter Anthropology!” circle. Lukas will start doctoral studies at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto this fall. His current research explores informal urbanization and ecological governance in Indonesian metropoles.

JUL, 1, English version  

Journal of Urban Life, 1, Pilot Edition, summer

JUL, 1, English version  

Journal of Urban Life, 1, Pilot Edition, summer