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Dissertation Lisa Vollmer, TU Berlin

The Making of Political Subjects: Tenant Protests in Berlin and New York

The housing markets of Berlin and New York consist primarily of tenements. The impacts of the financial crisis, since 2007, on the urban real estate markets of the two cities were quite different. In New York, the bursting of the real estate bubble and the extraction of global capital led to numerous foreclosures, which put additional pressure on the already groaning housing market. In contrast, Berlin has become the haven for global capital investments in real estate since the financial crisis. However, the outcome for the tenants of both cities was similar: sky rocketing rents and worsening living conditions. The crisis made existing inequalities, which derive from years of neoliberal urban politics and the growing wage gap, visible and triggered new forms of activism in regard to housing.

These protests are the focus of my dissertation project. In both cities, a variety of protest groups have emerged during the last years. These groups form new coalitions among individuals, based on their shared interests as tenants. First, my research aims to explore the potential in being ‘a tenant’, for collectivization and processes of group constitution.

Second, the ways in which tenants transcend beyond their personal interests and on to a political understanding of their actions (i.e. theoretically they are revisiting the assumed dichotomy between personal interest and (constructions of) the common good) will be analyzed. On this basis, the subject positions of the activists and groups will be reconstructed to understand how they understand themselves as political subjects. Reactions on the part of the media and political representatives will be analyzed to determine how the activists and groups are recognized as political actors from the outside. 

Subsequently, the comparative case study analysis aims to contribute to concepts of social movements by applying theories of the political and subjectivation.

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