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Center for Metropolitan StudiesKemmer, Laura

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Laura Kemmer (Associate fellow)


Center for Metropolitan Studies
TU Berlin
Hardenbergstraße 16-18
10623 Berlin    


Bonding: The emergence of urban collectivity around Latin America's oldest electric tramway
Supervisors: Alexa Färber and AbdouMaliq Simone

This PhD project starts and ends with Bonding: In August 2015, when I began fieldwork, the oldest electric tramway of Latin America (port. bonde) had just been partly re-installed after a four years absence from the steep streets of Santa Teresa neighborhood, Rio de Janeiro. Shortly after I left the city in Mai 2016, the bonde was suspended again. At the moment, Brazil was shaken by a deep political and economic crisis and post-olympic Rio turned its attention away from the construction site that had messed things up for a whole neighborhood and kept a highly heterogeneous set of actors in a state of constant preparedness for the street to open up and let streams of water find their way downhill, for spontaneous protest actions, for transport deviation signs, for politicians to pay unexpected visits. While it had never been quite sure whether and how the bonde would come back, the rails seemed to be waiting to vibrate under its weight again, inhabitants followed their track in a yearly march to commemorate the accident that led to its first suspension, and its footboard covered the walls of Santa Teresa to remind of a device that for over a century allowed for “free riding” in a public transport infrastructure.
What connected the very different residents, spaces, desires, and things are no more than promises – of access to the city, of togetherness, of affordable transport – without any guarantee that these promises would be realized. Uncertainty has been identified as central feature of the Urban (Amin and Thrift, 2002; Delgado, 1999) – and this is clearly expressed through the constant breakdowns of its infrastructures, which generate infinite loops of destruction, rebuilding, renovation and repair (Simone, 2015). In contrast to recent efforts to both conceptualize (Brenner and Schmid, 2015) and govern (UN, 2016) urban futures, a research into their “inconsistencies, inconsequences and oscillations” suggests to concentrate more on dissolutions and connections than on structures or representations. Infrastructures in this sense, point to the presence of multiple temporalities, from anticipation and endurance to delay, suspension or abrupt breakdown. Analogous to promises, infrastructures assemble a vast set of actors independent from their realization or functioning/fulfillment. The process of bonding that such (dis-)connecting entails lies at the heart of my project, which draws from the case of a single tramway line to ask which formations of collectivity emerge around urban transport infrastructures.



06/2016 - present
DFG Associate Fellow at the International Graduate Research Program Berlin - New York - Toronto, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin, Germany

01/2015 – 01/2018
Doctoral fellow at the graduate school “Loose Connections: Collectivity in digital and urban space”, University of Hamburg

10/2010 - 04/2014
Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Universität Potsdam, Germany
Master of Arts, International Relations
Concentration: Urban Sociology, Postcolonial Theory, Latin American Studies
Master's Thesis: “The Invention of Diversity. Decolonizing Urban Renewal Strategies from Berlin-Neukölln”

10/2006 - 09/2010
University of Hamburg, Germany / Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
Bachelor of Arts, Political Science
Concentration: Political Theory, International Relations, Latin American Studies
Bachelor’s Thesis: “Democratic Transition and Minority Politics in Chile. The Situation of the Mapuche”


03/2018 – 09/2018
Research stay at Universidade de São Paulo (Fraya Frehse), scholarship from DAAD

03/2014 - 09/2014
DAAD scholarship (Carlo-Schmid Program) for internship with UN-Habitat Regional Office for the Caribbean and Latin America (ROLAC), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Assistance to Director Elkin Velazques, elaboration of concept notes, regional and national reports, roadmaps in preparation of Habitat III.

01/2013 - present
Editorial Board/Peer Reviewer, Critical Reviews on Latin American Studies (CROLAR)

04/2011 – 04/2014
Research assistant, international network on interdependent inequalities in Latin America (desiguALdades.net), Berlin, Germany.
Working Paper Series editorial team, funding-applications assistance, and further scholarly, organizational, administrative work.

11/2011 – 12/2011
DAAD-PROMOS scholarship for research internship at the Institute for Social Research (IIS), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.
Co-Organization of the Conference “Urban Growth. The Limits to Legality”

04/2010 – 07/2010
Research and teaching assistant at the Political Science Department, University of Hamburg, Germany

12/2009 – 02/2010
DAAD scholarship for research (BA thesis) at the Population Division of the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), Santiago de Chile

04/2008 – 07/2008
Research internship at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IfSH), Hamburg, Germany

Internship at the Liaison-Office of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), Rome, Italy


2018 (forthcoming) “Standby”, forum section editor with Annika Kühn and Vanessa Weber, in: Environment and Planning D, with a comment by Lauren Berlant

2018 (submitted) “Standing by the promise in Rio de Janeiro and Jakarta”, with AbdouMaliq Simone, in: Environment and Planning D (“Standby” forum)

2018 (submitted) “Free Riding Rio: Protest, Public Transport and the Politics of a Footboard”, in: City&Society

2018 “Streetworks. Street Networks and Designing Diversity in Neukölln, Berlin“, with Malte Bergmann, in: Mameli, F. A. et al (eds.) Urban Appropriation Strategies, transcript

2017 Review of “Farías, Ignacio and Blok, Anders (eds.) 2016. Urban Cosmopolitics. Agencements, assemblies, atmospheres”, in: CITY journal 21:5, 685-689, DOI: 10.1080/13604813.2017.1374781

2017 Conference Report: “UrbanTopias. Discussing the Challenges of Changing Cities”, in: HSozKult, with Hannah Schilling and Aljoscha Hofmann

2016 Diversity as a Challenge? Decolonizing Democratization from Latin America”, in: Peters, I. & Wemheuer, W. (eds.) Studying the global discipline: International Relations scholarship amid divides and diversity, Palgrave Macmillan 

2016 “Place-making. Representation and Participation of Diversity in Berlin-Neukölln”, in: Eckard, F. and Seyfarth, R. (eds.) Urban Minorities, Bauhaus Urban Studies

2016 Special Issue Editor: “Science, Technology, Society – and the Americas?”, CROLAR, 5.1, with Raquel Velho

(Please find a full list of my publications on https://hcu-hamburg.academia.edu/LauraKemmer)


Workshop on “The Political Materiality of Cities”, organized by Rivke Jaffe and Francesca Pilo’, University of Amsterdam

Presentation on “The Time_Spaces of Infrastructures”, at Urbanes Labor “Kreuzungen”, with Alexa Färber, Kathrin Wildner and Fraya Frehse, HCU Hamburg

Paper presentation on “Free riding Rio: Protest, political collectives and public transport”, at International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) and Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) conference, Ottawa

Presentation on “Urban Promises: The Power of Loose Connections” (with Alexa Färber) at Graduate School “Loose Connections” Annual Conference “Loose Connections. Modes of Un/Relating”, Hamburg

“CityCultures” Seminar, HafenCity University, Hamburg, Germany
Lecture on “Assemblage Approaches in Urban Studies. Empirical Experiences” (with Alexa Färber)

Summer School in Cultural Transformations, “Affective and Sensory Methodologies in Cultural Studies”, University of Southern Denmark
Paper discussion “Promising Infrastructures: What a tram tells about a city”

AAG Annual Meeting, Panel “The Dark Matter of the Urban: Forces, densities, velocities, affects, and more”, San Francisco, CA, USA
Paper presentation “Bonding. The emergence of new collectivities around an absent tram in Rio de Janeiro”

Co-organization and panel moderation at “Berlin.Global.City” Conference with Saskia Sassen, German Federal Agency for Civic Education, Berlin, Germany

UN-Habitat and Future of Places Conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Paper Presentation on “Streetworks - Street Networks and Designing Diversity in Berlin Neukölln”

ISA Research Committee 21 Conference 2013, Berlin, Germany
Paper Presentation (with Frank Müller) “Diversity as a Resource? Decolonizing urban regeneration programs between Berlin-Neukölln and Mexico City”



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