Public assembly is considered a precondition for collective political engagement in and with the city. In its various forms—from the historic Paris Commune 150 years ago to Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens, or the asambleas in Spanish cities, from the global Occupy movement to the refugee camp on Kreuzberg’s Oranienplatz—public gatherings negotiate issues of participation in the city and the broader society.
The act of appropriating streets and squares, of occupying or inhabiting urban spaces and moving bodies through them, questions, subverts, and suspends in equal measure the specific sets of everyday practices and temporary architectures as well as the norms of both the political and urban landscapes. Assemblies can be described as infrastructural materiality, as archives of political positions, and as methods of social organization.
Gatherings in public space transform the streets and squares into stages for demands that are visible to all and “change them into temporary places of urban citizenship” (Lanz 2015). An assembly represents a transitory space in which the right to speak and be heard is negotiated. These everyday performative actions and the collective appropriation of public urban spaces can be described, in the words of Engin Isin, as an “act of citizenship.”
Questions about Urban Practice are intertwined with debates about assembly: What are the preconditions for public gatherings? What are the locations, the rules, and the impacts? What are the cultural and physical practices of assembly? Who is seen and listened to, and who is not? How are decisions made? How does the political realm manifest itself? Who represents whom? How can these gatherings be configured and orchestrated? And finally: What role do urban institutions play, under what conditions and in what forms do assemblies in public space develop into political acts that change the city?
Kathrin Wildner is an urban anthropologist researching theories of public space, ethnographic methods, and transnational aspects of urbanism. From 2012 to 2021 she was a professor in the Department of Metropolitan Culture at HafenCity University Hamburg, where her responsibilities included serving on the leadership team of the postgraduate program Performing Citizenship. She is a founding member of the group metroZones – Center for Urban Affairs and co-curator of the exhibition Mapping Along. Recording Margins of Conflict (Berlin 2021).