04. Juni | 2019 - 07. Juni | 2019

IRS Spring Academy 2019

Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches: Topologies

In the past two decades the interdisciplinary field between spatial and social sciences has undergone an extraordinarily dynamic development with a high potential for innovation. On the one hand, many social-scientific disciplines performed a “spatial turn” and became more interested in integrating spatial concepts and terminology. On the other hand, disciplines like human geography or spatial planning, understand space less as an exclusive object of analysis and instead emphasize a “spatial perspective” as a shared ontological ground. This has opened up a broad “trading zone” within which novel conceptualizations of space and spatiality are negotiated in an inter-disciplinary field. Against this background, the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS) together with different academic partners and supported by the Volkswagen Foundation organizes a series of three successive Spring Academies entitled “Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches”.

Each event focused on different aspects of the emergent thriving field. All three events took place – 2017 on “Temporality and Procedurality”; 2018 on “Virtuality and Socio-Materiality”; and 2019 on “Topologies”.

Part 3 on “Topologies”

Focus and Topic

The envisaged event is wrapped around the observation that, for many years, social-scientific spatial research has hardly made use of the classical geographic distinction between “space” and “place”. The majority of human geographers and representatives from adjacent social sciences prefer spatial analyses (around concepts like territory, scale or relational approaches) while the term place is much less employed. Place is a cumbersome concept for scientific analysis as it highlights idiosyncratic qualities, rather than general features, subjective experiences rather than objective truths. Yet, place was never completely dismissed as a concept and has experienced several revivals. More recently, for instance, practices of scientific knowledge creation have received enhanced attention in how they are performed in particular local contexts. Paradoxically, practices that constitute the core of globalization can best be accessed empirically, if they are observed on the site where they are performed. Not only the individual places (or: topoi) have been of interest but increasingly also constellations of places (or: topologies), be it virtually inter-connected places of shared practices, social innovations that are more or less readily adopted by local stakeholders or mobile policies that are or are not transferred from place to place.

Places, or topoi, can be described in terms of their internal temporality, historical roots, symbolic representations or experiential qualities. Webs of interrelated places, or topologies, pose questions of dis-/similarities, accessibility and connectivity. The objective of this year’s IRS Spring Academy is to explore the most recent revival of places, to discuss new conceptualizations of place and to develop further research methods for empirical studies of both, topoi and topologies.

Keynote Speakers

(in alphabetical order)

Prof Dr Merje Kuus | Department of Geography, The University of British Columbia, Canada
Merje Kuus is Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia. She holds a PhD from Syracuse University. Prof Dr Kuus is a political geographer whose research investigates geopolitical imaginaries, qualitative research methods, and policy processes in national and transnational regulatory institutions. She is the author of Geopolitics and Expertise: Knowledge and Authority in European Diplomacy (Wiley Blackwell, 2014), and Geopolitics Reframed: Security and Identity in Europe’s Eastern Enlargement (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), and a co-editor of the Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics (Ashgate, 2013), in addition to articles in geographic, international relations, and European studies journals.

Prof Richard Rodger | School of History, Classics & Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Great Britain
Richard Rodger is Professor of Economic and Social History at Edinburgh University. He holds a PhD in Economics and Economic History from the University of Edinburgh. He has published widely on the economic, business and urban history of Britain since 1800. His book The Transformation of Edinburgh: Land, Property and Trust in the Nineteenth Century was awarded the Frank Watson Prize for works on Scottish history. Since 2004 he has been a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in the UK.

Roel Rutten, PhD | Department of Organization Studies, Tilburg University, The Netherlands
Roel Rutten is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Organization Studies at Tilburg University. He holds a PhD from Tilburg University. His disciplinary background is organization sociology and economic geography. His research focuses on knowledge creation and is applied in the context of networks, proximities and regional economic development. He investigates how characteristics of networks such as organizational structure, governance mechanisms, network composition, trust, communication, etc. affect the knowledge creation process in networks.


(in alphabetical order)

Dr Harald Engler | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Erkner
Harald Engler is a Senior Researcher at the IRS and deputy head of the department for Historical Research. He is a member of the European Association for Urban History (EUAH), the European Architectural History Network (EAHN), of the Historische Kommission zu Berlin, the Brandenburgische Historische Kommission as well as the Gesellschaft für Stadtgeschichte und Urbanisierungsforschung (GSU). He has published and edited books, articles and special issues to urban and planning history.

Dr Bianca Herlo | Berlin University of the Arts, Design Research Lab
Bianca Herlo is a postdoctoral researcher at the Design Research Lab of the Berlin University of the Arts. Over the last years, she has been working on participatory design projects, transdisciplinary and collaborative settings and on the conceptualization of socially oriented living labs, at the intersection of the three dimensions local actors, urban narratives and transformative tools. She is head of the research group Civic Infrastructures, where she experiments with design’s agencies at the intersection of bottom up processes, public institutions and formalized politics. She studied communication in social and economic contexts, with focus on audio-visual communication, and experimental media design and did her PhD on the representation and aesthetic negotiations of memory in biographical documentaries. Since 2013, Bianca has been a lecturer in design research and theory at various universities, including the Design Department at Anhalt University Dessau, the Berlin University of the Arts and Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin. Since 2014, she has been a board member of the German Society for Design Theory and Research (DGTF).

Prof Dr Oliver Ibert | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Erkner
Oliver Ibert is head of the IRS research department “Dynamics of Economic Spaces“ at the IRS and Professor for Economic Geography at the Freie Universität Berlin. In 2014 Oliver Ibert was a visiting professor at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Toronto. He is a member of the editorial board of Palgrave Communications and acts as a spokesperson of the project group “Experts in Crises” as a part of the Leibniz Research Alliance “Crises in a Globalized World”.

Prof Dr Gesche Joost | Berlin University of the Arts, Design Research Lab
Gesche Joost is Professor for Design Research at the Berlin University of the Arts and since 2005 heading the Design Research Lab. With international partners, she conducts research and development projects in the areas of human-computer-interaction, wearable computing, as well as user-centered design and participation. 2007 – 2010 she was Assistant Professor for Interaction Design & Media at the Technical University of Berlin building up the Design & Usability group at Telekom Innovation Laboratories. In 2009, she received the young talent award for science from the mayor of Berlin. In 2014, she was a distinguished research fellow at UTS Sydney. Since 2016, she is Research Director for Interactive Textiles at DFKI, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence. She acts in various committees, amongst them on the board of the German Society for Design Theory and Research (DGTF) and on the board of the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes). She is a co-founder of the non-for-profit company Calliope engaging in digital education for school children in Germany. From 2014 to 2018, she was appointed by the Federal Government of Germany as Digital Champion for the EU commission. She acts as an expert advisor for the Federal Government of Germany, e.g. in the Advisory Council for Consumer Affairs (2015 – 2018). Since 2015, she has been a member of the Supervisory Board of SAP SE. Since 2018, she also has been a member of the Supervisory board of ING DiBa AG and Ottobock SE & Co. KGaA.

Dr Jana M. Kleibert | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Erkner
Jana Kleibert is junior research group leader at the IRS and at the Humboldt-University of Berlin, where she heads the "Constructing Transnational Spaces of Higher Education" (TRANSEDU) research group. She holds a PhD in human geography from the University of Amsterdam and has worked as postdoctoral researcher in the research department “Dynamics of Economic Spaces” since July 2015. Her research interests connect economic, urban and development geography and focus on contemporary processes of globalization, global production networks and their socio-spatial expressions.

Dr Monika Motylinska | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Erkner
Monika Motylinska is an architectural historian and a postdoctoral research fellow at IRS’ department for Historical Research. Her ongoing research project investigates the GDR architecture abroad in the context of transnational networks and cultural transfer. In December 2016, she defended her PhD thesis at Technische Universität Berlin on handling the post-war heritage in Germany. Her main research interests lie in the field of architectural and urban history of the postwar period as well as in heritage protection of modern architecture.

Prof Dr Jörg Niewöhner | IRI THESys, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Jörg Niewöhner is professor for the ethnology of urban spaces and cultures at the Department of European Ethnology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the deputy director of the integrative research institute THESys (Transformations of Human-Environment Systems). He holds a PhD from the University of East Anglia. His research is primarily concerned with developing long-term social-ecological research from an anthropological perspective. He employs ethnographic and qualitative methods and works actively on comparative and inter/trans-disciplinary approaches. His main field of research is socio-ecological change in Berlin-Brandenburg, Germany. He is editor of the book series matterRealities/VerKörperungen and co-editor of the Journals Science and Technology studies and BioSocieties.

Dr Cristina Temenos, PhD | Department of Geography and Manchester Urban Institute, University of Manchester, Great Britain
Cristina Temenos is a Lecturer in Urban Geography. She holds a PhD from Simon Fraser University (Canada). As an urban geographer she studies the relationships between social justice and the mobilization of social, health, and drug policies across cities in the Global North and Global South, as well as urban politics, social policy and economic restructuring under austerity. Cristina Temenos serves as an editorial board member for Environment & Planning C: Politics and Space and Geography Compass.


In order to foster in-depth discussions and reflection as well as extensive opportunities for establishing and consolidating networks, both among each other and with leading international scholars, a maximum of 25 participants will be admitted to the IRS Spring Academy.

Thanks to funding by the Volkswagen Foundation we do not charge any tuition fees and are able to provide cost-free accommodation for all accepted participants. Additionally, travel expenses will be reimbursed (in accordance with the German Travel Expenses Act). Meals, snacks and drinks during the event are also included.

Goal and Program

The overarching goal of the IRS Spring Academy is to enable junior researchers from the social sciences to identify relevant research gaps, to encourage them to use a spatial perspective in their analyses and to learn from leading experts in the field about theoretical approaches and innovative methods for empirical work. Participants will have the opportunity to present their projects in paper pitch formats and to access leading experts for one-on-one consultancies. We therefore cordially invite doctoral and early postdoctoral researchers in the social sciences, geography and history to join us for an interesting program to discuss their own research with internationally leading scholars and their peers.
The IRS Spring Academy combines well-tried and proven formats such as lectures and seminars with less common formats such as doing-research workshops, paper pitches, or academic speed networking. It offers various possibilities to exchange ideas, to discuss current concepts and methodological approaches, as well as to getting feedback on one’s own research projects from leading scholars in the field. A preliminary outline of the program can be found below.

The program of the IRS Spring Academy combines different elements and thereby offers plenty of opportunities to debate issues and methodological challenges as well as to engage in critical, yet constructive and supportive dialogue.

Academic SpeedNetworking | In a series of quick one-on-one meetings participants will introduce themselves and ask each other questions about their backgrounds, research and expectations of the IRS Spring Academy program. This will help the participants with quickly becoming familiar with each other and sets starting points for further exchange.

Paper Pitches | In three paper pitch panels 8-9 participants will be given five minutes to present their essential research questions, the argument and how it is relevant to the topics of the IRS Spring Academy. Each participant will prepare his/her individual pitch beforehand so it will be ready for presentation (max. one PowerPoint slide is allowed). The pitches are followed by a discussion moderated by a senior researcher from the IRS.

Keynote Lectures | Renowned national and international researchers present their current research in a 45-minute lecture. This is followed up by another session containing both a comment from an IRS senior researchers and a round of discussions. The lecture sessions will also be open to external participants.

Co-Teaching Seminars | These seminars scheduled each morning provide the opportunity for in-depth discussions with the lecturers of the previous evening. They will be co-taught by the lecturer and a senior researcher from the IRS. By presenting the experiences of both senior researchers not only the learning effects concerning each topic will be consolidated, but also their different approach regarding methods, theories and the respective institutional preconditions will be highlighted and discussed. 

Doing-Research Workshops | In these workshops facilitators will give frank accounts of finalised or recent empirical research projects and provide practical and methodological insights regarding research designs and the implementation of studies with a spatial perspective. They will demonstrate how to collect and handle data, how to focus on the object of analysis, and how to deal with unexpected outcomes. Participants are encouraged to share the practical challenges in their own research, to reflect upon practical problems while collecting or interpreting data and to give constructive feedback on each other’s research strategies.

Meet the Editors | This format brings together editors and members of the editorial boards of journals in the field of spatial analysis to discuss criteria for selecting and revising manuscripts. To this end, participants are given the opportunity to get insights on working processes of editing. In the course of this session they will be able to discuss and reflect upon their own as well as their colleagues’ publication strategies.

Individual Consultations | In these one-on-one sessions the participants will be given the opportunity of an individual conversation with one of the lecturers or an IRS senior researcher, to discuss issues of their research and receive advice from experienced researchers in a protected space.

Video recording of the event

Richard Rodger: Space, Place and Urban Topologies. Historical Perspectives of Spatial Relationships
Gesche Joost: An Introduction to Berlin Open Lab
Roel Rutten: Knowledge Creation and the Interaction between Social Space and Physical Place

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Leibniz Institute for
Research on Society and Space (IRS)

Flakenstraße 29-31
15537 Erkner

Design Research Lab
der Universität der Künste Berlin

Einsteinufer 43
10587 Berlin

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IRS Spring Academy