Navigation auf


Department of Geography Social Geography and Urban Studies


Using a variety of methodological perspectives, the work of the Social and Cultural Geography team centers around three entangled urban research strands concerned with:

(1) Marginality and exclusion in housing and urban development;

(2) Processes of financialization and their socio-spatial effects, particularly in the context of Global Climate Finance;

(3) Southern theories, comparative urban methods and related questions of Eurocentrism in academic knowledge production.

We incorporate different regional foci (including Basel, Athens, Mexico City, Taipei, Dakar, Zurich and Berlin) and employ a variety of  approaches (including postcolonial, feminist, and critical urban theories).

Current research projects

The Responsible City: Swiss Responses to Housing in Socio-ecological Crises

Funding: SNSF, 01.03.2024 – 29.02.2028
Hanna Hilbrandt and Ifigeneia Dimitrakou with Hugues Jeannerat, David Kaufmann Christen, Vincent Kaufmann and Luca Pattaroni.
This project aims to understand how cities respond to socio-ecological controversies in housing. In the opening decades of the 21st century, cities have increasingly been threatened by perpetual global crises, including climate change, pandemics, financial speculation, and economic restructuring. As the resulting processes of precarization, inequality, and climate vulnerability manifest in cities, they have triggered increasing controversies around how to respond to these socio-ecological crises and negotiate the trade-offs between environmental goals and questions of social justice. “The Responsible City” breaks new ground by placing the concept of responsibility at the centre of these controversies. Empirically, the project focuses on controversies around housing and residential development in two Swiss cities (Zurich and Geneva), where the green transition is entangled with questions of social (in)justice around an acute housing crisis. Emerging controversies about who should deal with, pay the price for, or is liable for socio-ecological crises, as well as to whom responsibility in ongoing transformations is owed, provide an understanding of how urban actors respond to and advance competing moral claims in housing and urban development.
In tracing socio-ecological controversies in Swiss cities, the project pursues three objectives: First, the analysis of housing controversies contributes to a relational understanding of Swiss urban (residential) development. Across six subprojects (SPs), we advance a comparative case-study analysis of prominent socio-ecological housing controversies in Zurich and Geneva. These include controversies around how to maintain, densify, and plan housing. Moreover, in thinking relationally about responsibility, we endeavour to trace global geographies of responsibility. Second, these empirical contributions provide the grounds for developing novel conceptualizations of responsibility and operationalize them for the urban realm. Third, analysis of how to produce responsible innovation translates new responsibility practices into urban policy. A systematic comparative analysis and knowledge transfer strategy serve to gather the emerging insights in agenda-setting publications and practice-oriented outputs that support cities in their responses to socio-ecological threats.

Project Website

Temporalities of housing & home: actors, governance, and experiences of temporary housing in Swiss cities

Ifigeneia Dimitrakou

Over the last decade, European cities face increasing housing affordability problems. These are often assumed to be results of an inefficient management of housing supply and demand. In this context, the temporal fragmentation of housing use is promoted as an innovative real estate practice that can better address this mismatch in the housing market. As recent evidence suggests, these new forms of temporary housing contribute to the growth of flexible tenures. However, to date, the impact of these practices on local housing remains only partly recognized by both research and local policy debates. The major objective of the project is to examine the governance of these temporary housing practices in the rental market and their impacts on urban life.
The project investigates the above processes in the case of the city of Zurich. In this context, temporary housing in the rental market emerges at the intersection of processes of inner-city redevelopment, acute housing scarcity, and housing commodification. The research focuses on three dominant schemes of temporary housing present in this context: 1. interim use managed through fixed-term or loaning contracts; 2. fixed-term rentals or sublets; 3. serviced accommodation. The study builds upon a qualitative methodological framework that involves interviews with experts, tenants and other relevant actors, policy, and legal framework analysis. The objectives of the empirical research are:
•    to produce new knowledge about the heterogeneity of actors and spaces involved in these schemes.
•    to investigate their regulation and governance
•    to explore the lived experiences of people accessing housing through these schemes.

Project funded by the UZH Postdoc Grant.

The urbanization of Global Climate Finance: Power shifts in the municipal restructuring of Mexican and Indian cities

Hanna Hilbrandt, Fritz-Julius Grafe, Erandi Barroso, Christian Jung

Cities in the global South are increasingly tasked to meet the challenges of the climate crisis. Particularly since the 2015 adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have participated in this task through so-called Global Climate Finance (GCF): financing in accordance with the United Nations 48 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In linking ecological sustainability with agendas of financialization and financial market expansion, IFIs and other international agencies have put forth a number of initiatives that support municipalities in fundamental governance reform that aims not only to build an investment-friendly policy regime but also to enhance a city’s own financial performance. The research project investigates these processes of urbanizing GCF and the power shifts these processes entail. It asks how Southern cities are impacted by GCF as these initiatives are translated to the urban scale, how GCF shapes global geographies and modalities of green investment and how it advances municipal reform.

Urban Studies Foundation Seminar Series: Decentering urban climate finance: relational comparison in theory and practice

Host institution: University of Zurich, Durham University, University of Sheffield (UK)

Hanna Hilbrandt, Sarah Knuth, Enora Robin, Fritz Julius Grafe, Zac Taylor, Emma Colven, and Sage Ponder

Within the context of the unfolding ecological crisis, financial agendas centering on the ‘global fight against climate change’ have increasingly turned to cities and urban re/development projects as ideal candidates for investment. This turn has generated a proliferation of finance-driven resilience, retrofitting and decarbonisation projects around the world. Yet research documenting the resulting financialisation of urban climate and nature remains primarily concerned with cities in which consolidated financial markets are already the norm, or with case studies that conceptualise ‘climate finance’ in relatively narrow terms (frequently, financial instruments created by market actors for the express purpose of ‘impact’ investing). This seminar series proposes both to provincialise these imagined geographies of climate finance and to decenter notions of the ‘financial’, advancing a theorisation of ‘ordinary’ urban climate finance: the heterogeneous financial practices and articulations that are coming to characterise climate finance (Robin and Castán Broto, 2021) in ordinary cities (Robinson 2006). Bringing debates on urban climate finance and more expansive lenses into urban financing and provisioning together will allow us to read the impacts of climate finance on cities more relationally and engage in comparative theory-building across varying geographical foci. This collective discussion will push beyond ‘smart’ techno-capitalist and financialised urban fantasies to develop a more nuanced understanding of climate-adapted urban futures.

Scrutinizing Crisis: The Fraught Significations of Contemporary Biennials

Julie Ren, Charlotte Matter, Ifigeneia Dimitrakou

The symposium on “Scrutinizing Crisis: The Fraught Significations of Contemporary Biennials” proposes an intensive exchange about how to understand crisis through a reading of the art and architecture biennials across contexts and disciplines. We scrutinize crisis in multiple senses, in terms of the biennial in crisis, its crisis of meaning and the crises of representation (Cf. Verhagen, 2012; Oguibe, 2004; Dimitrikaki, 2012) as well as the context of crises, the distances that crisis creates in terms of the translation of reality in creative production (Cramerotti and Mele, 2021) or the normalization of crisis as an unending precariousness haunting everyday life (Battacharyya, 2015; Hall, 2019). As a field-configuring event, proliferating in cities around the world from Kampala to Kobe, the biennial offers a particular lens through which to analyze these different senses of crisis. Biennials often represent a cultural frontier, featuring work not yet acquired by any museum, often specially commissioned and curated for each setting with intensive scrutiny. At times, they champion socio-political issues like indigenous rights, climate change, and economic and political crises, and increasingly they are eagerly redressing problems of cultural representation (Filipovic, Ovstebo and Van Hal, 2010). Nonetheless, the attempt to inspire political debate is coupled with the struggle to reconcile political aims of these events with the political economy of elite circuits of curators, artists/architects, and writers that in turn breed the creative and financial capital necessary to sustain their cultural value. These events inspire anticipation, speculation and disdain, and new actors must constantly pursue questions of their own relevance (Wah, 2021). The inflation of capital involved in these markets is also coupled with exploitative practices employing precarious labor, and often form convenient alliances with tourism and real estate industries.

Funded by the Graduate Research Campus, University of Zurich

New Perspectives on Housing Dispossession: Introducing Political Alienation in Housing Dispossession

Luisa Gehriger

The research project would like to understand displacement processes in swiss core cities, focusing on mass terminations of rental contracts in Basel. Goal is not only to gain knowledge of the extent and different forms of such mass terminations, but to understand and theoretically frame the variety of experiences of displacement from the perspective of the tenants affected. Of interest are associated processes of subjectivation, as well as the extent to which these translate into group perceptions and group affiliations. The proposed project introduces the reinterpretation of alienation theory by Rahel Jaeggi (2016) and Paul Sörensen (2016) to urban studies by framing political alienation as an entry point to think about our understanding of housing dispossession. It is the inability of residents to relate to others in similar positions and not merely the destruction of original identities or habitat, which adds to our understanding of housing dispossession in the field of urban studies.

Past Research

Hannibal II: legal and material geographies of forced eviction

Hanna Hilbrandt, Ifigeneia Dimitrakou

From spectacular housing catastrophes to the hidden everyday precarity tenants’ experience globally, the post-2008 financial crisis years have brought housing dispossession and its politics into the spotlight of urban research and policy debates. In European rental systems, property speculation, divestment, material neglect and displacement shape the lived realities of housing financialization and jeopardize tenants’ rights and housing security. These developments raise questions about how local governance deals with the effects of housing financialization on the life and livelihood of vulnerable communities.

The research project explores processes and modalities of housing dispossession involved in the governance of property neglect and forced eviction at the lower end of the financialized rental sector. To understand these dynamics of domestic injustice, it brings legal geographies of property, theories of responsibility and material geographies of home under a common framework. Our case study draws on the eviction of  Hannibal II (Germany, Dortmund), a housing complex “evacuated” due to serious fire concerns after two decades of speculative disinvestment. The project examines the relations of (ir)responsibility governing rental and property regimes and how these shape tenants’ experiences of home (un)making.

Weiterführende Informationen


Züri Urban

Collaborative Teaching and Research Projects in Zurich


City Collaboratory

Network of urban researchers across Switzerland


Urban Publics Zurich (upZ)

Forum for transdisciplinary Seminars and Events in and on Zurich


Athens Social Atlas