Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Urban Sociology

Christian Haid




(In)Stabilities and Conflicts in Informal Urban Practices

In times of growing inequality and neoliberalization, urban informality is expanding globally. Until recently, informality has been associated mainly with cities located in the so-called Global South. Nevertheless, informalization in urban areas is also proliferating in the Global North. So far, urban informality research has focused mainly on non-Western contexts. With my dissertation, I seek to contribute to a growing body of literature that is engaged with this topic in regard to metropolises of the North-West.

The city of Berlin presents itself as a fertile starting point for undertaking such a study. Historically and until today, the reputation of the city has been very much associated with an “anything goes” attitude. The availability of space and the fragmented urban landscape has left many places unregulated. These grey zones or loopholes have very much contributed to the production of a thriving culture of informal activities, not only on economic, but also on political, spatial, governmental, aesthetic and ethno-cultural levels.

Nevertheless, conflicts over informal activities, especially in public spaces of the city, have augmented recently. Therefore, my research is concerned with the analysis of how modes of informality and informal practices are being negotiated. The focus on conflicts, contests and friction within informal practices addresses the critical points central to the constantly changing dynamics of the informal landscape, the involved instabilities and the incessant remaking of the city through these transient practices. Informality therein is understood as the ever-shifting interrelation of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, licit and illicit, legal and illegal, authorized and unauthorized, accepted and unaccepted, of what is legitimate and what is illegitimate (cf. Roy 2009: 80).

Characteristically, informal activities, such as food hawking, the unauthorized erection of built structures, mobile housing in the parking bay, bottle collecting, garbage recycling, barbecuing, electronic waste picking, cigarette vending, etc., are fluid, temporal, at times unconscious, reflexive, concealed, ordinary and everyday. Therefore, this research studies the stabilities and instabilities of informal social and socio-material formations that come into being in metropolitan public space.

Although the research concentrates on the specific context of Berlin, a comparative perspective will help to gain a broader, more general understanding of urban informality. Therefore, on the one hand, empirical research of informal activities in various other cities will be undertaken. On the other hand, conceptual knowledge emanating mainly from Global South contexts will inform the research in Berlin through a “thinking cities through elsewhere” approach.


Curriculum Vitae




2010-2011 MSc with distinction in Urban Studies

University College London (UCL), Department for Geography.


2001-2007 Magister architecturae (Mag. arch.) with distinction in Architecture

Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.


2005 Exchange student at the École Spéciale d'Architecture, Paris.


2004 Exchange student at master class Wolf D. Prix. University of Applied Arts, Vienna.



Professional Experience


2007-2010 Architect and urban planner at 3:0 Landschaftsarchitektur, Vienna.


since 2009 Co-Director of FABRIC – Atelier for Architecture Urbanism Research.


2006-2007 Student assistant at University of Fine Arts Vienna, Institute for Art and Architecture.


2001-2006 Various internships and work experience in offices for architecture and urbanism in Austria, Germany and France.





Since 05.2012 DFG Scholarship International Graduate Program Berlin – New York – Toronto, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University Berlin.


2012 START Scholarship of Federal Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture Austria.


2011 Scholarship Landesgedächtnisstiftung Tirol, Austria.


2010 Prize winner Europan 10.


2008 TISCHE Scholarship of Federal Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture Austria.


2006 Studio Award, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.





Haid, C., 2013. Contentious Informalities - The Narratives of Picnicking at Berlin’s Thai Park.  dérive - Zeitschrift für Stadtforschung, (51), pp. 43–48. 


Haid, C., Schröder, J., (eds.), forthcoming. “Catering the City” (working title).


Haid, C., Staudinger, L., 2012 “CO-OP – on the redevelopment of Tabakfabrik Linz” in: L. Streeruwitz & B. Vlay, eds. Europan 11 - Results from Austria, Hungary and Kosovo: eUropean Urbanity - Identity, Uses, Connectivity. Graz: Kada/Vlay.


Haid, C., Staudinger, L., 2010 “To be continued… Reaktivierung der Schleppbahn in Graz” in: D. Rebois, ed. Europan 10: Inventing Urbanity - Regeneration Revitalisation, Colonisation. Paris: Europan Europe.



conference PAPERS


2013 Legitimate or not  - Tracing Informal Spatial Practices in Berlin. IGK Annual Conference Toronto “Empire, City, Nature”. Paper presentation.


2013 Anything goes? – Informality and Conflict in Diasporic Practices in Berlin. AAG Annual Meeting Los Angeles. Paper presentation.


2013 Rethinking Hannover’s Food System – The Potential of a Regional Foodshed. XVI National Conference of SIU, 
The Italian Society of Urban Planners.
”Urbanism for a different kind of growth”. Naples, Italy. Paper presentation together with Emanuele Sommariva.


2011 Landscapes of Wilderness - Heterotopias of the Post-Industrial City. CRESC annual conference: Framing the City. University of Manchester. Paper Presentation.


2010 To be continued…Process Oriented and Adaptive Planning Strategies. EUROPAN 10 Congress: European Urbanity- Regeneration Revitalisation Colonisation. Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Project presentation.



Conference Participation


2012 New Post-Migrant Socialities -  Rethinking Urban Leisure Publics in the Context of Diversity and Dominance. Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany.


2011 International research conference: planning/conflict: critical perspectives on contentious urban developments. Technical University Berlin, Germany.





2013 Lecturer and organizer of “Interferenz – Strategies of the temporal” Urban Design Project. Leibniz University Hannover.


2012-2013 Lecturer and organizer of “FatC – Food and the City” Urban Design Project. Leibniz University Hannover.


2012 Lecturer for “Alpen Nord” Urban Design Project. Leibniz University Hannover.


2012-2013 Lecturing on Informal Markets, Research Methodology, Mapping, Architectural Theory. Leibniz University Hannover.


2011-2012 Invited design critic at various schools of architecture such as BTU Cottbus, Department of Architecture, Germany and School for Architecture and Construction at University of Greenwich London, UK.


12.2011 Design for Social Sustainability – Workshop. University of the Arts, UDK Berlin - Design Research Lab: Neighbourhoodlabs. Invited participant.