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TU Berlin

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Hanna Hilbrandt (Associate Fellow)


Postgraduate Researcher, the Open University, Department of Geography


Negotiating Formalities: Everyday Rule in Berlin’s Allotment Colonies

This project is concerned with questions of planning, informality and urban change. In particular, it seeks to explore how urban transformations are shaped through the interaction of informal and regulatory practices in the everyday politics of inhabiting, planning and governing Berlin. Empirically, this study proposes to investigate how Berliners breach planning bylaws and thereby enter into a relationship with the state that is commonly considered as ‘informal’. To explore this relationship, it considers different practices of dwelling in sites in which permanent residency does not fit neatly into the logics of formal planning processes. Three urban typologies provide entry points to examine informal practices of inhabiting space as well as their regulation: ‘Schrebergärten’ (allotment gardens), camp sites and ‘Wagenburgen’ (circles of wagons).

While research on informality has long been guided by a rigid dividing line between ‘formality’ and ‘informality’ (e.g. Hart 1973), a post-colonial critique of these accounts has shown how informality works as an ‘idiom of urbanization’ (Roy 2009) to blur such binary definitions. This recent engagement with informality as a flexible practice of negotiating with the law (McFarlane 2012) or as a means of exercising control (Ong 2006; Yiftachel 2009a, b) provides a starting point to interrogate and understand the workings of informality in Berlin. Seeing how informal and regulatory mechanisms relate to one another forges an analysis that is distinct from conventional planning theory, where planning is mainly studied though a coherent, state-led planning framework. Instead, focusing on the social and legal practices through which regulations are enacted in everyday life, this project aims to illustrate how planning works through and with informality. Bringing a focus on informality together with the study of regulatory practices, this project attempts to understand how the planned (regulated) and the unplanned (unregulated) city interlink in practice, i.e. how regulations are made, encountered or negotiated, as people informally inhabit space.

Methodologically, this research is designed to capture, on the one hand, the lived experience of people in inhabiting, planning or regulating space. On the other hand, it pays attention to the regulatory frameworks within which these practices are embedded. In order to embrace these perspectives, this project adopts a multi-method approach combining semi-structured interviews with residents, as well as city officials, with participant observation and an analysis of planning documents.



Since 10/2012
Postgraduate Researcher, the Open University, Department of Geography

08/2011 – 09/2012
MSc Urban Studies, University Collage London (UCL)

04/2011 – 11/2011
Research Assistant at the Chair for Fine Arts (Prof. Dr. Stefanie Bürkle), Technical University Berlin (TU Berlin)

10/2008 – 04/2011
Architect, SEHW Architektur, Berlin.

10/2002 – 10/2008
BA and MSc Architecture, Technical University Berlin (TU Berlin)

09/2006 – 09/2007
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico City, full year university exchange.


‘Housing Constellations. Some Reflections on three Fault Lines of Informality Research’, in: Theune, G. and Quadflieg, S. (eds.), Nadogradnje. Urban Self-regulation in Post-Yoguslav Cities. M-Books, Weimar.

February 2015
‘Reassembling Austerity Research’  with A. Richter, Ephemera (15) 1, 163 –180.

June 2014
'Negotiating the Urban Gaze', conference presentation at the Seeing Like a City Symposium, Queen Mary University, London

May 2014
'The Challenges of Researching Allotment Dwelling', paper at the ethnographic methods and writing workshop, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Berlin.

November 2013
'On informal infrastructures: A quest for political agency', conference presentation at the Annual meeting of the Association of Urban and Regional Sociology of the German Sociological Association (GSA), Berlin.

August 2013
‘Writing across diverse urban contexts: Informality in Tallinn, Bafatá and Berlin’, conference presentation at the RC21 Conference Resourceful Cities, Berlin.

April 2013
'Insurgent Participation', conference presentation at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Los Angeles

April 2013
'The gutters are filled with gold', workshop presentation at the 4th annual Stadtkolloquium workshop, UCL, London

July 2012
'Domopoly', presentation and exhibit at Cities Methodologies, UCL, Slade Research Centre, London


Member of the Open Space Research Centre, Open University

Steering committee member of Stadtkolloquium, an interdisciplinary research forum for doctoral students doing urban-related work at the Urban Lab, University College London

Zusatzinformationen / Extras


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