Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Urban Sociology

Lisa Vollmer

About the Dissertation:

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. The current tenant protests will be analyzed against the backdrop of historically changing forms of collectivization since the labor movement.

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.


Academic Experience:

Since 05/2012

DFG Fellow at the International Graduate Research Program,
Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin, Germany



Master Degree in Historical Urban Studies, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technische Universität Berlin

Master Thesis: Social Movements as new Political Actors. The Berlin Tenant Movement 1872-1932


Summer Semester 2012

Fellow of the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (German National Academic Foundation)


January 2011 – May 2012

Student research assistant, Prof. Dr. Georg Wagner-Kyora, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technische Universität Berlin



Bachelor Degree in Art Theory and Cultural Theory, Universität Bremen

Bachelor Thesis: Public Urban Space in the Migration Society


Summer Semester 2009+2010

Student research assistant, Prof. Dr. Irene Nierhaus, Institut für Kunstwissenschaft, Universität Bremen


Fall Semester 2009/2010

Erasmus Schoolarship, Middle East Technical University, Department of Architecture, Ankara


Conferences, Presentations:

What does it mean to act 'political'? The Tenant Movement in Berlin 1872-1932, presented at the First Annual Conference of the International Graduate Research Program "Urban–Activism–Scholarship: Global Discourses in Local, Historical and Contemporary Contexts", Berlin, November 2nd and 3rd, 2012

Mieterstadt New York, presented in the lecture series “Wohnen in der Krise. Neoliberalismus – Kämpfe – Perspektiven“, February 7th 2013

Tenant Mobilization and the Left – Berlin 1872-1932, presented at the conference “Crisis and Mobilization since 1789”, Amsterdam, February 22nd-24th 2013



Mieterstadt New York, in: Mieterecho 359, April 2013


in: Dagmar Thorau/Gernot Schaulinski (Hrsg.):Geschichtsspeicher Fichtebunker, Berliner Unterwelten, Berlin 2011

  • Auf der Überholspur. Berlin im 19.Jahrhundert, S.24-27
  • Im Bunker der Hoffnungslosen. Zwischennutzungen 1945-1963, S.50-57
  • Denkmal und Erbe. Gespräch mit Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper und Dietmar Arnold, S.88- 91