23. Mai | 2023 - 26. Mai | 2023

IRS Spring Academy 2023

Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches: Spaces of Financialisation and De-Financialisation

The Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS) and the Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) invite doctoral students and junior researchers to submit applications on the topic “Spaces of Financialisation and De-Financialisation”

Join us for a stimulating event in Erkner and Berlin from 23 to 26 May 2023

Part 6 on "Spaces of Financialisation and De-Financialisation"

Since the last decade, the term “financialisation” has become increasingly popular in academic research as well as in public policy debates. By highlighting the role of financial actors and logics in shaping urban development, it depicts how housing, land, and inhabitants are treated as assets. Moreover, it drives attention to emerging social inequalities, urban segregation, and sustainability concerns.

Within the growing body of research on financialisation, the entrance of institutional investors in residential housing markets has gained notable attention. Numerous studies have documented the rise of global corporate landlords in variegated cities and housing markets. At the same time, it has been shown that financialisation is highly path-dependent and materialises itself differently in each socioeconomic context. As a consequence, managing homes as assets deciphers into the development of a variety of strategies that aim at constantly generating novel financial values. Thus, while financialisation may be operationalised via rent increases or diversifying investment portfolios, recent research also points towards different management strategies, as well as a growing importance of digital innovation and accounting techniques. Moreover, investments in green and sustainable real-estate projects increasingly attracts financial attention and is further encouraged by the changing macroeconomic background and the energy crisis.

At the same time, housing expenses are on the up and gentrification, displacement and a lack of housing affordability is witnessed in cities around the globe. This situation has stimulated housing campaigns in numerous agglomerations who claim a right to housing and demand active de-financialisation of the housing sector. Echoing this, housing affordability has climbed at the top of the agenda for numerous municipal governments. A variety of policy responses and initiatives aim at tackling housing affordability and de-financialise housing affairs. However, the potential for housing de-financialisation is yet unclear. As housing financialisation is attached to policies arranged in different state scales, the role of trans-scalar networks in policy making in housing (de-)financialisation still remains under scrutiny.

In other words, while financialisation has fundamentally altered housing in many agglomerations, recent years have also seen initiatives which aim to limit its impact, search for alternative ways of housing production and consumption, or even “de-financialise” housing stocks held by corporate landlords. These initiatives are, however, based on very different policy ideas, they work in variegated institutional environments, and are politically contested. Consequently, the relation between financialisation and de-financialisation emerges as a new field of empirical research and conceptual inquiry.

The Spring Academy will focus on these emerging challenges and contradictions. It is aimed in particular at PhD students and early-career researchers whose work centres on one or more of the following topics:

  • The key characteristics of financial investors as housing landlords, their management practices and business models.
  • The link between platform operations, digitalisation and housing stock restructuring.
  • The link between housing financialisation and short-term rental activities.
  • Real estate projects for the production of ecological, sustainable or the decarbonisation of housing.
  • Financialisation as a “lived” process: personal and household strategies in dealing with financialisation as an embodied process.
  • The implications of financialisation for socio-spatial inequalities (e.g. through gentrification, downgrading, or displacement) and gender inequalities.
  • The role of corporate landlords in influencing housing policies across state scales.
  • The diversity of local policies dealing with the implications of financialisation for local housing markets.
  • Social movement housing mobilisation, challenges to financialisation and strategies for housing de-financialisation.

The Spring Academy at the Leibniz Institute for Research in Society and Space is organised in collaboration with the Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It will create a forum of discussion amongst PhD students and Postdocs as well as housing financialisation researchers. The venue will take place at the Leibniz Institute for Society and Space in Erkner and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 23–26 May 2023. Experts from different scientific backgrounds will offer in-depth theoretical understandings on actors, dynamics, policies and processes of housing financialisation. Moreover, practical knowledge on methods will be offered in dedicated workshops where invited speakers will share empirical experiences and challenges. Participants will develop a thorough and profound understanding of financialisation processes and receive methodological stimuli that will help them decode and defy challenges in individual projects. A triggering Spring Academy programme will be accompanied by field trips, social events, and evening activities in the vibrant city of Berlin.

Key Notes and Panel Discussion

Keynote I

Tuesday, 23 May 2023, 16.00–17.30

IRS conference room + Zoom registration link

Manuel Aalbers, KU Leuven
Professor of Human Geography


The Colonization of Lifeworld and System by Finance

“The Colonization of the Life World by the System” is a key concept in the sociology of Jürgen Habermas. To Habermas the lifeworld refers to informal social interaction and coordination by communicative and strategic action. The ‘modern’ interaction and coordination through bureaucracies and states (a la Weber) as well as through money and markets – together, the system – is, at least to some extent, a necessary response to deal with the surge in complexity in societal development. The process of colonization arises in modern capitalist societies as the instrumental and commodity logic of the capitalist systems comes to dominate relations in the lifeworld. Whereas to Weber, the paradigm of the system was bureaucracy, to Ritzer it was the fast-food restaurant, and to Castells the network. To me, it is finance. But at the same time, finance does not ‘simply’ colonize the life world, it also colonizes the system, the bureaucracy, the fast-food restaurant, the network, and so on.

In this paper, I mobilize Habermas’ concepts of lifeworld and system to shed new light on the process of financialization. Without necessarily providing a full Habermasian theory of financialization – indeed, I selectively borrow from Habermas’s idiom – I aim to use his concepts to come to a fuller understanding of what financialization is, but, by mobilizing the normative theory that Habermas proposes, also why many social scientists outside mainstream economics as well as activists and others see financialization as a problem of, rather than a solution to, the complexity of modern capitalist societies. Habermas argued that money and power – or, markets and states – should be “institutionally and motivationally anchored in the lifeworld” (Habermas, 1981/1987: 342), echoing Polanyi’s idea of the necessary embeddedness of markets in society. Likewise, one could argue that financialization is not only a ‘logical’ response to increased complexity, but also needs to be institutionally and motivationally anchored, or embedded, in both lifeworld and system.



Keynote II

Thursday, 25 May 2023, 11.30–13.00

Humboldt University of Berlin, Department of Social Sciences,
. 3 b, 10117 Berlin, Room 002

Desiree Fields, Associate Professor of Geography and Global Metropolitan Studies at the University of California, Berkeley


Digital experiments with landed property:
The global, the historical, and the geographical

Property plays an enduring role in liberal societies, but the social relations of property and the internal workings of property markets are historically and geographically specific. Across a range of advanced and emerging economies, 21st century digital innovations are catalyzing changes in the politics of property and the operation of land and housing markets. In this talk I discuss the relations of ownership in the U.S. housing market as a site for experimentation by a combination of private equity, venture capital, algorithms, and platform business models. The confluence of Wall Street and Silicon Valley has fostered crucial shifts in the market landscape in the post-2008 era, initially by facilitating the emergence of institutional-scale landlords, then by making thinkable a range of other novel (e.g., algorithm-assisted property acquisition) and resurrected (e.g., rent-to-own) market strategies. Public debate around these developments often considers them in isolation from one another and interprets their technological novelty as a break with longstanding property relations. My intervention focuses on debt and scale as crucial instruments of contemporary housing ‘innovation, situating these instruments in the longer history of how technologies have dynamically shaped the relationship between property, race, and capital accumulation.


Panel Discussion


Wednesday, 24 May 2023, 18.00–20.00

aquarium at Südblock, Skalitzer Str. 6, 10999 Berlin


De-financialisation in practice: learning for and from Berlin

Podium: Manuel Aalbers (KU Leuven), Rabea Berfelde (Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen), Matthias Bernt (IRS), Niklas Schenker (Die Linke), Wibke Werner (Berliner Mieterverein e. V.), Moderation: Georgia Alexandri (IRS)

“De-Financialisation in practice: Learning for and from Berlin” is a roundtable discussion with academics, politicians and housing activists in the city of Berlin. Key focus will be on the historic conditions that led to the formation of grassroot coalitions that claim for housing de-financialisation and revisit the strategies developed to contest the existing legal framework. Additionally, we will interrogate how housing financialisation is actually challenged in practice, the potential of existing strategies, as well as alternatives to the financialisation of housing in Berlin. We also want to discuss whether and how an interplay between critical housing research, progressive political parties and social movements can succeed and how experiences from locally rooted movements can be transferred to other contexts.

Goal and Programme

The overarching goal of the IRS Spring Academy is to enable junior researchers from Political Sciences, Social Sciences, Geography, Planning and Economics 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 consultations. We therefore cordially invite doctoral and early postdoctoral researchers to join us for an interesting programme 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 dating. 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 programme can be found below.

The programme 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 Speed Networking | 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 programme. 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 each 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.

Public Keynote Lectures | Internationally renowned researchers present their current research in a 45-minute lecture. This is followed up by a comment from an IRS senior researcher and a round of Q&A. The lecture sessions are open to external participants.

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 and/or ethical 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 into 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.

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. 


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Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space
Flakenstraße 29-31
15537 Erkner

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Georg Simmel Center for
Metropolitan Studies
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin

Further Information

Programmheft zur Veranstaltung

IRS Spring Academy 2023

Wissenschaftliche Veranstaltungsreihe:
IRS Spring Academy