School of Geography

Image of Alexander Vasudevan

Alexander Vasudevan

Associate Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences


Research Summary

My research focuses on 4 main lines of enquiry:

1) Alternative Urbanisms and the Right to the City

I'm currently finishing a book for the RGS-IBG book series (Metropolitan Preoccupations: The Spatial Politics of Squatting in Berlin) which seeks to highlight the role and significance of the German Hausbesetzerbewegung (squatter movement) from the 1960s onwards. While there is a growing body of literature on the role of '1968' as a watershed moment in the evolution of new social movements in West Germany, there remains little empirical work on the role of squatter movements within a broader matrix of protest and resistance. A first wave of squatting reached a peak in West German cities (especially Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a second wave briefly moved into abandoned tenement blocks in the eastern half of Berlin. A scholarly recognition of the German Hausbesetzerbewegung shifts some of the attention back to the pivotal role of the built form - and geography more generally - in the creation of alternative lifestyles and new forms of collective empowerment. The perspectives and practices of squatters also offers a critical point of purchase on more recent debates about 'rights to the city' and the pressing need to re-imagine how we think about and inhabit cities.

Ultimately, my main motivation for this book project is to not only offer a thick description of the everyday practices of squatting but to relocate the squatter movement within recent debates surrounding the political geography of the contemporary city. I'm particularly interested here in tracking emergent forms of 'architectural activism' and the fashioning of autonomous spaces as a tactic for the building of new urban 'commons.'

Beyond the forthcoming book on the history of squatting in Berlin, I'm also working on a more popular history of squatting in Europe and North America from the 1960s to the present.

2) Spatial Politics/Artistic Practice

I'm also working on a project which explores the relationship between 'landscape' and photographic representation. I've already written on the work of Jeff Wall, Joan Fontcuberta, and Beate G├╝tshow and I've now begun a much larger programme of research which focuses on the changing status of 'landscape' within a broad range of contemporary work. While there is a emerging body of scholarship on contemporary art photography, I wish to reflect on why a certain understanding of 'landscape' has increasingly come to reside at the very centre of advanced photographic practice. My main aim is to produce a series of publications and exhibitions around such a concern culminating in a major monograph.

3) Spaces of Enclosure

I've also been working with two colleagues, Alex Jeffrey (University of Cambridge) and Colin McFarlane (Durham University) on a longstanding collaborative project which explores the significance of the concept of 'enclosure' as a rubric for making sense of the inter-articulation of neo-liberal norms and a resurgent and violent form of geo-politics. By 'enclosure', we are referring, in particular, to the wholesale transformation of commonable lands into privately owned plots and the simultaneously extinction of long-standing customary common rights to the use of that land. 'Enclosure', we believe, speaks not only to the vagaries of primitive accumulation but also to the recent recrudescence of an aggrandized mode of statist and para-statist violence. Our overarching point of departure is the seizure of the commons by different actors through time, and across a wide range of sites, scales, and territories. We are also in interested in tracking the myriad assemblages of enclosure - the technologies through which material enclosures ('walls' or 'partitions') are stabilised, regulated and policed. Ultimately, we are keen to explore the question of how individuals resist/reformulate practices of enclosure. What forms of insurgent citizenship/subjectivity are prominent in practices of enclosure? To what extent can we identify a recognisable counter measure (a process of 'commonsisation')?

4) Historical Geographies of Performance

I have published extensively on the historical geography of Weimar Germany. In this context, I would like to put together a book manuscript in which I chart the unsettling and reshaping of everyday life in Weimar Berlin between 1919 and 1933. The manuscript is concerned with the multidisciplinary insights of performance studies and recent geographical approaches to the study of the modern city. Berlin's restless relationship with the 'modern' offers, it is argued, an ideal historical milieu in which to test performance theory while at the same time questioning some of its presentist assumptions. Drawing on a variety of archival sources, the study explores the political role of performance - from theatrical representation to modern dance, scientific experimentation to everyday practice - in order to clarify the specific conjunction of representation and theatricality that allied 'Berlin' with 'modernity.'

In a more methodological vein, I'm also interested in pursuing research that attempts to bring performance-based methodologies to the study of cultural and historical geography.

School of Geography

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