“My City is a Battleground – Intersectionality and Urban Violence” | The CRC 1265’s 4th international conference

2. Dezember 2022

On 20th-21st of October the CRC 1265 held its fourth international conference, this year titled “My City is a Battleground – Intersectionality and Urban Violence”. After two years of COVID restrictions, we could finally meet in person again, which in itself provided a cause for celebration as participants pleased to mingle with new as well as familiar faces.

This year’s theme followed up on the CRC’s interest in socio-spatial conflicts, looking at the way intersectional tensions accompany processes of urban spatial refiguration. Taking its inspiration from decades of research on social inequality, class struggles, migration, violence as well as from intersectional feminist work, the conference turned its attention to intersectional experiences of violence and the way conflicts manifest intersectionally in and through urban space. The location chosen for the conference also reflected its theme: The cultural center Oyoun “conceives, develops and implements artistic-cultural projects through decolonial, queer* feminist and migrant perspectives.”[1]

The relief of being able to meet again in person rather than digitally was evident in the program. The conference followed a somewhat new format, enabling participants to stay together within the main lecture hall, rather than splitting up into smaller parallel session streams: The two days were filled with a series of lectures followed by questions and answer sessions throughout the day, with only one slot of parallel workshops midday splitting the attendants into smaller groups. Finally, each day was rounded off with a panel discussion.

The CRC’s spokesperson Martina Löw provided the conference’s introductory talk, highlighting the way the CRC’s guiding concept of “the refiguration of spaces” conceives of spatial figures in corporeal terms, thereby embracing the importance of body-bound lived experiences and embodied agency. The  relationship between embodied intersectionality and (urban) space is therefore a fundamental question for the CRC and interdisciplinary spatial research on the whole. Löw’s main theme of racialized and gendered bodies as targets of various forms of exclusion, victimization and violence accompanied us throughout the conference, with other multiple and overlaying dimensions of inequality, exclusion and violence spotlighted by the different talks. Featured speakers included Heidi Mirza, Carla Shedd, Nikki Jones, Ben Campkin, Shilpa Phadke, Edlyne Anugwom, Pierrette Hodagneu-Sotelo and Christy Kulz. Their themes covered various forms of violence affecting bodies carrying intersectional marks of the social world – ranging from police violence, to symbolic forms of violence inherent in discrimination, stereotyping and invisibilization, to violence implicated in processes of urban redevelopment. CRC principal investigators Angela Million and Ilse Helbrecht, speaking about youth people’s spatial knowledge and ageing in the city respectively, highlighted some of intersectional work done in the CRC 1265’s subprojects.  

The first day’s panel discussion brought different scholarly perspectives and research contexts engaging with intersectionality into conversation with each other. The CRC’s PI Jörg Stollmann led the discussion with panelists René Tuma (sociology), Beate Binder (anthropology and gender studies), Himmat Zoubi (Zu’bi) (sociology) and Maureen Maisha Auma (gender/diversity studies and education studies).

The second panel brought the conference to a close with local activists and practitioners speaking of their personal experiences of engaging in intersectional initiatives in Berlin. Stella (queer trans liberation network), arjunraj (Oyoun) and Océane Vé-Réveillac for fem_arc spoke about their experience working towards non-violent and anti-discriminatory spaces in Berlin with Anna Steigemann moderating the discussion.

The lectures and panels produced animated debates. Indeed, the topics covered, at times speaking of violent exclusion, bodily harm, and even death, as well as expressions of resistance and hope, drove the emotional charge (and vital importance) of these debates to the forefront, even as the task of listening to such accounts could be taxing, puncturing, as they sometimes did, the comfortable space of the conference hall with palpable experiences of dread. These discussions then aptly reminded us of the embodied character of intersectional violence as well as the experiential chasms that can lie between everyday experiences of victimization and the familiar platforms of academic engagement. They also called on us to evolve our vocabularies, maybe even find new forms of practice in order to render intersectional vulnerabilities in contemporary societies more visible and to acknowledge, more acutely, the way all acts of violence have a bearing on the body. One way of approaching this tension was touched upon in many of the discussions during the conference: Thinking about the relationship between science and political discussion spaces – between scientific understanding, reflexivity and political commitment – emerged as a particularly pertinent question when talking about current social and spatial conflicts, especially with regard to lives marked by profound precarity. Hopefully, these discussions will have planted a seed, though much work still needs to be done in order to build transdisciplinary alliances and design more collaborative models to address the multiple battlegrounds produced by intersectional violence in and beyond the city.