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Till Grallert (Alumnus BGSMCS)

Till Grallert

To Whom Belong the Streets? Property, Propriety, and Appropriation: The Production of Public Space in Late Ottoman Damascus, 1875-1914

Dissertationsprojekt (2009 - 2014):

To Whom Belong the Streets? Property, Propriety, and Appropriation: The Production of Public Space in Late Ottoman Damascus, 1875-1914

Following the title’s programmatic terminology and Henri Lefebvre’s analytical suggestions the dissertation portrayed an urban society’s production of public places and public spaces during the transition from a pre-national Ottoman ancien régime to the paradigm of modern mono-dimensional identities during the last forty years of Ottoman rule in Damascus from four distinct angles: public discourse and historical semantics; the transformation of the material environment and questions of public property; social norms of propriety and official policies governing access to and movement in public places; and finally, the appropriation of public places through public rituals and contentious performances. In doing so, the dissertation perceives of “the street” as a metaphor, a physical space, and social practices. The leading question, “to whom belong the streets?”, traces an epistemic shift from a multiplicity of overlapping public spaces, in which ever-changing social groups negotiated political claims, to the dominance and, finally, hegemony of the Public, which would limit the sphere of legitimate participation to the male bourgeois compatriot.

The dissertation argues that despite the sweeping success of the reforming state in establishing the new ideas of a and the Public that came to dominate public discourses, in many aspects of everyday life, the ancien régime remained the dominant frame of reference for the population of Damascus until at least the beginning of World War I. The dissertation also argues that women were an integral part of “the street” and the production of public places and public spaces and that female presence and behaviour in public places became the focal point for negotiations of modernity—particularly after the restoration of the constitution in 1908 and within a modernising empire that increasingly sought to political legitimacy as an Islamic state. 

Returning to the initial question of “to whom belong the streets?” the cases depicted in this thesis illustrate the claim that no definite answer can be given; that the urban process cannot be addressed with a one-dimensional and static picture. All townspeople, protesting women, mutinying soldiers, authors and posters of placards, construction workers, passers-by, the idle, local elites, and the authorities, produced the public places and various public spaces of the urban society through their quotidian practices as well as through exceptional performances of affirmation and protest. Some aimed consciously and intentionally at the public sphere, others fought over public places, the third just used certain places for achieving their immediate political aims. Together they produced, appropriated, and re-presented the “street” of Damascus. It is to them—the Damascenes of all times—the streets belong to.

Erstgutachterin: Prof. Dr. Ulrike Freitag

Zweitgutachterin: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gudrun Krämer

Drittgutachter: Prof. Dr. Christoph Herzog