Georg-Simmel Center for Urban Studies

Programme and four key research areas

The Georg-Simmel Center for Urban Studies (GSZ) is an interdisciplinary platform at the Humboldt University for urban and metropolitan research. The GSZ coordinates activities on investigation and academic formation in three different levels: internally, in the university, locally, in Berlin, and internationally, in cooperation with different stakeholders. Our aim is to contribute the public debates with an interdisciplinary perspective on the future development of Metropolises.


Our Mission


Two intellectual anchors


The GSZ stands for urban research that combines and balances various standpoints on urban phenomena and transformations. In our recent history, the various ways in which gentrification, tourism and urban ecology, heritage industries, housing, urban education, urban poverty, and migrant movements had been of interest to us shared an underlaying sense that claims and rights to the city produced a tension of entitlement.


Urban citizenship as expressing, if not producing, difference, and fragmentation of claims affects rights to the city as universal, all-inclusive ideals (Blokland et al. 2015). We registered a trend towards a diversification of interests, a weakening of movements, and even a competition over rights and resources rather than a development of mutual solidarities among various groups on the pathway to a livable city. Urban citizenship is always relational to modes of governance. Inspired by James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State”, our work aims at studying various modes and scales of governing the urban, paying particular attention to the ‘City’ as a set of local state institutions that imagine, regulate, categorize, classify, and intervene the urban and shape current forms of citizenship and belonging. But the city cannot be made nor planned and will always be, as formulated by Abdu-Maliq Simone, in the making through practices and logics outside of the view of the state which defy standards and categories, city politics must draw boundaries and categorize, as any political decision implies a categorization. The two anchors of the program of the GSZ were developed to address this tension. These anchors – ‘seeing like a city’ and ‘seeing the city through’ – have been developed in our theoretical contributions to the field and inform most of our research in our thematic clusters.

First anchor: Seeing like a City

The ways of developing cities and urban infrastructures have long held a promise of planning and policy as if with ‘right’ planning and ‘right’ policy, the sustainable city, the city of justice, the cohesive city or the resilient city could be planned and implemented. While urban studies critical scholarship has long since put aside this idea, urban governance practices and policy implementations draw strongly on implicit thoughts of the city to be ‘made’. Taking this into account, we are interested in studying how ‘seeing like a city’ not only reduces the complexity of the urban, but also how it creates new complexities and interstices.

Second Anchor: Seeing the City Through

Our work also aims to understand how people’s everyday practices and infrastructures bring the city about as unintended, unplanned, and ordinary forms of the urban. This focus makes apparent the need for de-centralized and de-centered forms of seeing and listening the city through, complementing understandings of cities as made-up of demographics and other forms of number-based knowledge. This studying the resistance, overflows and ungovernability of nonhuman elements of urban assemblages such as materials, animals, and climates. Incremental learning, multiple forms of reading, performativity and non-representational forms of theorizing are all examples of this theoretical lens.


Scott, J. (1999) Seeing like a State. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Simone, A. (2004) For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities. Durham: Duke University Press.

Blokland, T., Hentschel, C., Holm, A., Lebuhn, H. & Margalit, T. (2015) Urban Citizenship and Right to the City: The Fragmentation of Claims: URBAN CITIZENSHIP AND RIGHT TO THE CITY.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39(4):655–65.


Four Key Research Areas

Urban In/equalities: Citizenship, Justice and Equality

Structural inequalities and conceptualizations of urban citizenship, social justice, and
cohesion will continue to shape ethical and political discourses in the years to come. A key
research area of GSZ focuses on the dynamics and mechanisms of (re)production of
inequalities, particularly in public space and citizenship, housing, education, and access to
urban resources. One focus are the impacts of the ruptures of social life in the city after COVID19, especially for women and their care practices to bring into the picture how spatial arrangements of infrastructures matter to durability of inequality.

Urban Un/sustainabilities: Nonhuman Agency and Environmental Justice

Global warming, environmental pollution, and resulting global health concerns have raised
critical questions about the sustainability of cities worldwide, leading to significant
transformations in urban infrastructures and ecologies. The transformations towards
sustainability and unsustainability encompass a wide range of developments. This includes
large-scale infrastructure projects promoting green and smart urbanism for climate
adaptation and mitigation, as well as grassroots experimental practices of climate care and
cohabitation with multiple species. These transformations go beyond traditional elements of
green urbanism, incorporating diverse aspects such as soils, particulate matter, and
micro-organisms. They also entail contested definitions of what counts as sustainable for
whom and according to which knowledges. Studying urban un/sustainabilities thus means
exploring emergent knowledge practices, modes of producing evidence and challenging
institutional expertise.


Public De/mobilisations: Researching alongsides Struggles around Decolonial and Commons-Oriented Urbanism

Cities play a vital role in the formation and mobilisation of "issue publics," self-organised
groups concerned or affected by specific urban transformations. This is particularly relevant
in the context of "right to the city" movements, commons-oriented urbanism, and postmigrant
and decolonial engagements with the urban landscape. The concept of urban public
encompasses various forms of city-making, including protest movements, guerrilla/DIY
urbanism, citizen initiatives, formal participation, activist professionals, and cooperative
urban planning. These mobilizations present challenges to political decision-making, expert
knowledge production, and juridical norms, often facing strategies of questioning, othering,
and policing. Consequently, cities are figured as spaces of political conflicts, knowledge
controversies, and acts of citizenship.

Re/designing the city

Urbanism, as a governmental art of urban design and planning, emerged in the late 19th
century as a response to the challenges posed by capitalist urbanisation and
industrialization. It represents an intervention in the complex process of urbanisation with
specific political, ethical, or ideological goals. Urbanism is a recursive practice that involves
revising, problematizing, and even dismantling previous urban arrangements, as well as
redesigning, and reassembling city life. Understanding the current transformations and
struggles over the forms of life that cities can sustain requires attention to the various ways
in which cities are designed and redesigned, not only by city administrations but also by civil
society initiatives and actors.

However, in the context of ecological and democratic crises, civic design initiatives are
increasingly co-opted and instrumentalized by the state and policymakers to implement
neoliberal and eco-modernist agendas under the guise of participation and democracy. The
transition to climate-neutral societies, for example, is often framed as a problem of
re/designing cities and urban infrastructures within large-scale economic policy frameworks
like the New Green Deal. Design not only plays a crucial role in communicating and
implementing such frameworks but also in formulating critique, resistance, and alternatives
to them. Civil actors view design not just as a means to create more sustainable artefacts,
infrastructures, and urban environments, but as a set of adaptive practices and tactics to
address intractable problems, speculate on urban futures, build resilience, and negotiate
alternative ways of co-creating and co-dwelling in post-anthropocentric environments.