Conference Paper: Working Worlds – Exploring Wilhelmsburg. A performative videographic approach.


European worlds of work and labour experience ongoing change at the pace of a time-laps movie.Compared to the digital worlds of today, yesterday’s snapshots of research on this subject seem like historical paintings. Unnoticed by a politics favouring the “knowledge economy”, the less attention grabbing changes in the working worlds seem to have fallen out of the public focus. Yet these unperceived, unattractive or migrant worlds of work are highly embedded in the “urban”. To ensure sustainability and local economic resilience, it would seem crucial for planning and design disciplines to understand the preconditions and effects of their interventions regarding this field. But if the dynamics are mostly unpredictable, and communities are short of money, complex and long lasting qualitative research methods are very unlikely to be applied in the daily research and design practice. This raises the demand for new methods of dealing with participation, research and design in practical terms. Does videography have a specific potential to fulfill aspects of this demand? What is the particular potential of videography as a qualitative research method in the circumstance of a low research budget and high time pressure? Can videography be seen as a performative method of intercultural practice, mutual participation and production of shared meaning? How can we apply its specific capacity to make potentials and conditions more visible and more audible in a public or “expert” sphere? What are the methodical limitations? The proposed paper will focus on videography as a performative method, its intercultural approach and inverse conception of participation. We will reflect on our practical experiences in relation to the theoretical thoughts of Norman K. Denzins “Performative Ethnography”. We will rely on the case studies of “Working Worlds” – a one-week videographic workshop with an interdisciplinary team of 9 urban researchers with backgrounds in architecture, urban design and urban planning, exploring the “Working Worlds” of Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg – a river island inhabited by 158 different nationalities. The micro-cyclical process including the first hands-on, a self-experiment, the first contact with the field, a one day participant observation, and the editing and the public presentation of a 45 minute movie, took exactly 6 days.

The three videographic teams were able to integrate themselves and participate in the local working worlds through their own performative “work” as researchers. Their explorations resulted in deep and multifaceted insights into the working worlds of the island, provoking reflexive expressions on the notion of “work and labour” and making these unperceived, unattractive and often migrant worlds of work visible and audible to an audience of neighbors and municipal officials. Our research on videography as a performative method seems promising to us, regarding its potentials as a practical mode of an inverse conception of participation, the mutual production of shared meaning and trust under short therm aspects.

Keywords: videography, working worlds, performative ethnography, interculturality, participation, everyday practices

Working Worlds – Exploring Wilhelmsburg. A performative videographic approach.
Ben Pohl, M.Sc. Urban Design, Bernd Kniess, Prof. Dipl. Ing.

HCU Hamburg 2013