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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Urban Sociology


Here you can find an overview of the best theses papers from our department.

Master Theses

Christine Barwick, Winter term 2010/2011:

Gatekeepers in the Housing Market - How do they allocate housing, and to what extent and in what ways do they contribute to the perpetuation of social exclusion and inequality?

Abstract: Gatekeepers in the housing market are often displayed as being racist, and prefer renting to natives than to ethnic or racial minorities. In my thesis, I will show that this individual-level explanation is insufficient. A discriminatory outcome arises because employees are shaped by the institutions they work in, and these again are shaped by local urban politics. Using municipal housing societies, I examine a resource allocating organization, asking how gatekeepers in the housing market distribute housing, and to what extent the mechanisms through which they do so create or perpetuate inequality by using categories. In order to do this, I did interviews and participant observation in three municipal housing societies in Berlin, Germany. Gatekeepers most often use categories referring to immigrant versus native, and unemployed versus employed person. This results in a practice of allocating housing that discriminates immigrants, particularly with a Turkish, Arab or East-European background, and people receiving welfare. These categories often overlap, and result in a third distinction, namely that of the deserving versus the undeserving poor, whereby the welfare receiving immigrant is ‘most undeserving’. All in all, the practice of allocating housing, shaped by local politics, the working of the housing society, and individual preference, result in the discrimination of immigrants and welfare-receivers.

Contact: cbarwick4 (at) googlemail.com


Georg Große-Löscher, Summer term 2011:

"...at last you want the best for your child." Elementary School choice in Berlin-Kreuzberg

Elementary school enrolment in Berlin, Germany is organized by catchment areas. Recently the trend is observable that middle class families living in mixed neighborhoods tend to avoid catchment area schools with high attendance of socially disadvantaged and immigrant students by choosing a school outside their catchment area or leaving the neighborhood. The public debate emphasizes the chilling effect of high immigrant shares. Following the argument that this kind of selective school choice supports social and ethnic segregation on the neighbourhood and school level and therefore can be understood as a dimension of inner urban inequality, this thesis raises the question of how school choice decisions of parents living in Berlin-Kreuzberg are made and what kind of underlying social mechanisms are working here. In the first place official statistics are used to capture the choice phenomena in numbers. Secondly, drawing on set of qualitative interviews with native German parents, the motives and attitudes towards school choice and the choice process itself are examined in detail. Here, two main mechanisms underlying the choice are found and explained by symbolic boundary theory:  The percentage of immigrant student does indeed matter. Understood as a commonly shared middle class boundary by German parents, it leads to a divided school landscape within Kreuzberg. Moreover, social networks of parents and children emerging from the kindergarten are highly relevant for school choice. Boundary work on a much smaller scale forms in-groups which are harmonizing their choice to keep up relationships and benefit from group decisions. All in all, elementary school choice in Berlin-Kreuzberg appears to be influenced by more than the attempt to avoid schools with high immigrant shares.

Contact: georg.grosseloescher (at) googlemail.com


Bachelor Theses

Moritz Wichmann, Sommersemester 2011:

The social control of public space „Urban revanchism in Berlin‐Wedding?“

With their widely perceived work Georg Simmel and Robert Park as exponents of classical urban sociology have provided a theory of the modern city. In this account towards the city, the city appears to be generally liberal, tolerant and freedom-oriented. But is this account still valid? In post-modern New York of the ninetees the previously dominant liberal city-policy was replaced by a post-liberal revanchist city policy states Neil Smith in his book "The new urban frontier" (Smith 1996). This policy seemed to be an answer to the developing crisis of liberal city-policy says Smith  (Smith 1999: 98). Indifference, informal social control and tolerance of the presence and the influence of minorities and marginal groups was replaced by a reactionary rhetoric of revenge, a moralist discourse about crime and rising importance of formal social control in form of hard police-politics. In my work I asked the question if a crisis of liberal city policy and a revanchist city policy or elements of it that react to, or follow out of a crisis of liberal city policy, can be found in Berlin as well, or if we have to diagnose the unbroken existence of liberal and welfare-oriented city-policy. I focused on the Berlin neighborhood Wedding. On one side, I researched the attitude of inhabitants through the analysis of survey-data including regression-models. On the other, I analyzed the political behaviour of the relevant political actors in a field study of the Leopoldplatz and the conflict with and the treatment of the "drinker-scene" of the place. Central findings are that there was and is a certain support for and an attempt to implement a revanchist city-policy in Wedding. On the same time Berlin is not New York.

Contact: moritzwichmann (at) web.de


Mai Zeidani, Summer term 2010

Open Spaces in Jerusalem: a Realm of Coexistence? The Political Life of Small Urban Spaces

This thesis will discuss the issue of Israelis and Palestinians sharing the city of Jerusalem. It is concentrating on the interaction between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish citizens of Jerusalem and, more specifically, on the kinds of interactions that take place in the open, public spaces of the city —in this case, parks. The observation of these public spaces was done through the specific lens of “inequality” vs. “equality”, namely, observing the “equality” that thrives in open and public spaces in light of the political and social “inequality” that controls the city and the interaction between its residents in general.

Contact: mai.zeidan (at) gmail.com


Julia Nast, Winter term 2009

The Neighborhood as a Stigma in the “Divided City“ designed by the Media? The Images of Disadvantaged Neighborhoods in the Media Using the Example of Berlin-Wedding

In this BA thesis, the popular argument that media is stigmatizing deprived neighborhoods through negative reporting is discussed and challenged. While the idea that media plays a role in the process of neighborhood stigmatization is common within urban studies (and beyond) little empirical evidence or theoretical engagement can be found. This BA thesis thus asks if media does in fact report predominantly negative on disadvantaged neighborhoods which might contribute to processes of stigmatization resulting in additional discrimination of residents. This question is tackled using perspectives from urban sociology, cognitive geography, and media studies. Using the example of Berlin-Wedding, a disadvantage neighborhood with negative image, the thesis looks at a random sample of local reporting on the neighborhood in the most important newspapers in Berlin for the period of one year. In contrast to the common assumption, a standardized content analysis shows that the image constructed in these newspapers is somewhat more differentiated than often expected. While there are articles that construct a negative image, describing Wedding as a “dangerous” place characterized by crime and deviant residents, this type is not dominant and only includes one-third of the articles. Most articles construct a different, more positive or even exclusively positive image of the neighborhood. It thus seems that, at least for Wedding, the assumption of media stigmatization can’t be generally supported. Despite the limitations of a case study, the findings point in the direction that we need to think about media and its role in processes of stigmatization more differentiated. More research is needed to understand the development and perpetuation of negative images of neighborhoods.

Contact: julia.nast (at) staff.hu-berlin.de



Diploma Theses

Regina Breining, Summer term 2009

The Post-Soviet Global City? The Case of Moscow (Thesis was written in german. Original title: „Die post-sowjetische Stadt als Global City? Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel von Moskau“)

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the accompanying transformation processes that followed forced post-Soviet cities to search for a new role in the global economy. This includes Moscow, the former political, ideological and economic center of the socialist Soviet Union. By applying Saskia Sassen’s theory of the Global City this paper examines the extent to which Moscow may be considered a Global City. With the help of six hypotheses, and the operational criteria that result from them, the thesis examines the economic dimension of the city as well as the structural changes occurring at the societal and spatial levels as a result of global economic interdependencies. This process includes the descriptive evaluation of aggregate statistical data and textual analysis. It becomes obvious throughout this analysis that Russian and Moscovian data records are extremely challenging and that there is a need for further research in this area. The interpretation of available data is impossible without historical contextualization. In this sense the paper brings the Global City theory to its borders and reveals the need for theoretical expansion. The criteria examined shows that Moscow is not yet strongly linked with the processes of the global economy. Yet the economic growth of Moscow is worth noting, especially against the background of 70 years of planned economy. Nevertheles – the global economic interdependencies of Moscow are not (yet) sufficient for it to be considered a Global City.

Contact: r_breining (at) yahoo.de