The Urban Environment: Mirror and Mediator of Radicalisation?

INTRODUCTION

Societal polarisation and radicalisation is not only happening in people’s minds. It also “takes place” – in streets, apartments, shops or parks and is materially reflected in fences, curtains, flags, walls, buildings … in short: in the urban environment.

But the urban environment is not just a collection of neutral or silent objects. It can influence people’s perception, behaviour and routines. For example, preferences for a safe playground, commuting patterns, where to hide in the event of trouble and the likeliness of meeting ‘others’.

In a nutshell: Social conditions and urban environments shape each other. This is the underlying assumption of this project and we wanted to compare this dynamic between the social and the material in different cities with different types of polarisation and radicalisation problems.

If it is true that tangible elements of a city can have an influence not only on rather mundane aspects of people’s life but even on the process of polarisation itself, then a better understanding of this process could potentially help prevent a deterioration or achieve an improvement of the situation.

This is not an outgrowth of social engineering or material determinism. Of course, we cannot simply knock down a fence and hope people will automatically start liking each other. But likewise, we cannot simply preach neighbourliness between warring social groups when a wall literally prevents visual and acoustic encounters.


RESEARCH QUESTIONS

How does polarisation become materially imprinted in cities characterised by different patterns of conflict, polarisation,stereotypisation and radicalisation?

Are certain material features of cities (buildings, infrastructures, public spaces, etc.) particularly conducive to the generation / acceleration of polarisation and radicalisation?  

Is it possible to steer the dynamic between social conditions and the urban environment in a way to facilitate friendly encounters between groups that would otherwise diverge?

How transferable are the findings between and beyond the four cities?


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