ParCITYpate! or the politics of cultural intervention — a new means to update political participation?

Paula Marie Hildebrandt

A mountain bike competition in a staircase of a vacant panel construction in Halle, a black market for alternative knowledge in Leipzig, a stand-in class performed on the street with pedestrians passing-by in Munich or a bazar on a rooftop parking for founders of micro-business in Berlin-Kreuzberg — just to name a few of the plethora of small-scale interventions and experiments that shape the urban landscape by temporary often playful and performative practices.

The future of urbanism no longer holds a universally applicable image, neither for a cultural vision or a method of intervention for artists, architects or planners. Changing modes of communication and participation open up new opportunities to (re)invent the political space and urban citizenship - or what John Dewey called „creative democracy“. It‘s mostly small and informal groups that experiment with new contemporary forms of communication and encounter, of representation and situative participation. Because of their hybrid and mercury structure, their peripatetic practice and fluid aesthetic, their activities are only occasionally being perceived within in the broader public and academic discourse.
The PhD thesis deals with the question in which way and to which extent cultural interventions can contribute to update political participation: What are the politics of cultural intervention with which art collectives/project groups such as DIE KULTURMASSNAHMEN (‘the cultural measures‘), PONY PEDRO, the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT (‘the Cleaning Company‘) or the COMPLIZEN (‘the accomplices‘) stage sociopolitical issues such as unemployment, homelessness, and cultural identity? Working at the interface between cultural production and social activism, city development, symbolic performance and art in public space these groups have been working long enough to develop their own distinct language. Empirical research hence focuses on their specific practices, methods of interaction and communication, aesthetics, and strategies. What are their motives and which goals they pursue? In which way can their projects inspire, influence, complement and/or transform traditional forms of political expression, instigate democratic participation and civic engagement? How can cities mobilise creativity and knowledge to tackle social challenges, and what are the preconditions for a productive collaboration with public authorities, urban planners and cultural commissions? Last but not least: How do they collaborate/network on a European level and can experiences, approaches and strategies be applied to other urban contexts?