Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Urban Sociology

Henrik Schultze


Academic Experience:

  • Diplom, Social Sciences, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
  • research assistant at the Institute for Sport Science/Sport Sociology, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
  • PhD. Candidate at the Department of Urban and Regional Sociology, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin


Research Interests

  • social segregation
  • gentrification
  • elite theory
  • social inequality
  • social mechanisms



The Borders of Social Relationships. The mechanisms of status struggles in urban space. 

Collective memories tend to possess a sticking power in the face of social upheaval, especially concerning the assessment of contemporary circumstances. When applied to urban proximity, collective memory may aid in the consolidation of varied place-related identities in competition with the interpretative power of such places. The needs of a place are thus assigned by those interests that, via implementation, exclude less dominant interests. This inability to equally distribute and promote interests may increase social inequality and lead to conflict. The dissertation intends to analyse such social conflicts with regards to rival interpretations of a place’s history, using the example of two neighborhoods located in the Berlin borough Prenzlauer Berg. The aims of the work are, on the one hand, the identification of robust perceptual and action patterns within the various status groups (taking collective memory processes into consideration) and, on the other hand, the evaluation of the consequences of these patterns for cohabitation in urban neighborhoods. The intention applies ethnographic methods including in-depth interviews and participatory observation in combination with the analytical instruments associated with grounded-theory.    

Research question and aims of the dissertation
Redeveloped, historical inner city areas are often places of change and transformation. In the course of transformation individuals and groups with drastically different socio-economic backgrounds come into contact, sometimes leading to conflictual boundary-making. Socio-economic disparity however, is not the only factor that leads to conflict. In fact, in the context of building renovation and social renewal, individual and group-specific questions such as: “To whom does the neighborhood belong?” “Who belongs in the neighborhood (and who doesn’t)?” are closely related to: “To whom does the history of the neighborhood belong?” Such questions may receive very different answers, for which individual and collective memory plays an important role. If interpreting the history of a place with the help of memory affects identity-formation, it also accentuates social boundary-making. This is even more so the case when history is collectively – remembered from one or more groups – interpreted and told anew: this is the manner in which the community is symbolically constructed. Doreen Massey refers to this process as the “invention of history.” Due to this symbolic construction the interpretations and history of a place inhabited by various social groups may vary considerably. Important here is not only actual interpretative dissent but rather the consequences: competing interpretations and narratives of the history of a place may dominate differently within public discourse. Dominant interests determine the needs of the neighborhood. Less dominant interests are excluded. Subsequently, social inequalities may be bred and consolidated via interpretations of the space, in turn spurring social conflict. 

The historical inner city districts of East Berlin have undergone massive and rapid changes over the past 20 years. The system transformation that occurred after 1990 and the urban development and social renewal that came with it were assuredly double challenges for long-time residents to deal with. Since the end of the 1990s, people from other parts of Berlin, Germany or the world have begun to move in and place specific demands on their newly chosen neighborhood.

The connections between collective memory, social conflict and urban space outlined above may be further simplified into the following research questions:

  • What social conflicts are occurring in the two research areas of Prenzlauer Berg? How are these conflicts reproduced in urban space and what role do collective memories of the status groups play in this process?

The goals of the dissertation are 1) the identification of the perceptual and identity patters as well as the social practices resulting from such patterns, especially respective of the space and for the various status groups, 2) an analysis of the role of collective memory in the production of local perceptual and identity patterns, 3) an analysis of the consequences of social conflicts along the dimensions exclusion and exclusion and 4) the treatment of various conflicts, based on the differing forms and contents of collective memory


henrik.schultze (at)