On the Significance of Agricultural Movements for the Viennese Urban Area.

Space, as both locality and object, has been and continues to be at the center of the negotiation of sovereignty and of the public sphere in social practice. Various forms of participation and democratic governance are the subject of disputes about access to space; especially when access to material space, i.e. land, is at stake, as debates concerning the "right to the city" as well as on urban commons are pointed out.

"Public space" in the city is very often associated with images of specific places such as squares, parks, or spaces for (political) demonstrations, but rarely with collective means of material production, i.e. Green Urban Commons. Nevertheless, the occupation and use of unsealed urban and peripheral urban areas for agricultural use are quite important: dominant notions of public space are contested by movements that collectively claim and cultivate vacant lots, brownfields, or simply private property. In the process, questions of agriculture, food culture(s), and urban life as a whole are renegotiated. This occurs along three dimensions as argued by Henri Lefebvre: Spatial practice, representation of space, spaces of representation.

The focus of the project is on the (re)negotiation of the public sphere through the self-organized appropriation of land (perceived as public or defined as public through - more or less - collective appropriation and production) by means of agricultural use in urban Vienna.

Building on data from field research, existing literature, and contemporary sources, we will answer three fundamental questions: (1) Which factors condition the emergence of social movements that help shape public spaces by claiming and cultivating land for agricultural purposes and by transforming urban landscapes, (2) which factors condition the success, failure, or decline of such movements and what influence do they have on the production of public space, (3) which (constructions of) significance and subjectivity(ies) are developed or contested by these movements and how do they relate to agricultural production and intervention in urban landscapes?

The historical part of the project will reconstruct the history of movements that claimed or generated Green Urban Commons in urban or peri-urban space, beginning with the 19th century. A second approach within the project will deal with contemporary movements – using qualitative ethnographic methods and quantitative analysis – in order to identify current discourses on public space and its meaning within these movements. The third part of the project will situate the findings within broader theoretical perspectives, combining a theory of public space from a commons perspective and a theory of social innovation in an urban Governance of public spaces to be further developed.

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Collaborators: Ulrich Brand, Stephan Hochleithner, Andreas Exner, Peter Krobath, Sarah Kumnig, Isabelle Schützenberger, Stephanie Arzberger
Funding: The project is financed by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF) and is based at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Vienna.