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Appropriating (Sub)Urban Space: Inhabited Counter-Narratives as Resistant Spatial Intervention in Contemporary American and German Culture


This project is concerned with the concept of urban and suburban space as explored through mediated narratives in film, television, literature, art, and other visual or narrative media. Adopting spatial theorist Henri Lefebvre’s concepts of differential space and the right to the city, this project asserts that the hegemonic dominance of capitalist, neoliberal, and bourgeois ideologies in American and German culture extends to both the material and psychic production of space in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Concentrating on the way American urban and suburban spaces have been portrayed in the media, as well as how artists from a variety of media have critiqued or responded to hegemonic mediated narratives through narratives that center the experience of inhabitance, this project addresses the way space can be appropriated and mutated to potentiate the emergence of differential space, understood as space which differs from the hegemonic norms dictated by the dominated built environment. Using close readings of texts indicative of the kind of inhabited everyday resistance Lefebvre identifies as necessary for venturing the right to the city to all who inhabit space, this project considers the concept of spatial appropriation along multiple planes of resistant spatial intervention. In the process, it articulates an interartistic, transnational, and interdisciplinary methodology for approaching broad spatial questions like that of the planetary right to the city and the way collective practices of spatial appropriation to potentiate the emergence of differential space. The theoretical framework borrows from Lefebvre as well as the likes of theorists like David Harvey, Dolores Hayden, Lynn Mie Itagaki, Tobias Morawski, Jean Baudrillard, and Fredric Jameson. Primary texts investigated in the project include Don DeLillo’s White Noise, the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, the music of Vince Staples, David Wagner’s Mauer Park, Tanja Dücker’s Spielzone, the photo series Berlin Wonder Land, Stih & Schnock’s Orte des Erinnerns, the squatting actions of Refugee Tent Action in Kreuzberg, Berlin, the citizen campaign to maintain Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld, and music videos by Emus Primus featuring Berlin’s ubiquitous graffitial images. The purposes of these and other investigations throughout the project is the illuminate how a collective, planetary form of spatial appropriation might be coupled with individual acts of spatial intervention to slowly mutate the built environment and create counter-narratives about urban and suburban space that potentiate the emergence of a space more conducive to the needs of all who inhabit.

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