Middletown Urbanitites – Ethnographic Urban Studies in Wels and HildesheimMiddletown Urbanities started in October 2011 and is located at the Department of European Ethnology, University of Vienna, under the management of Prof. Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber. Over a period of three years the project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): P23390-G17. During the project duration intermediary results will be presented and discussed in workshops, publications, and interdisciplinary exchange. A PhD thesis (by Georg Wolfmayr), several articels in professional journals (by Anna Eckert) and two MA theses (by Katrin Ecker and Lisa Welzel) in European Ethnology will be written within the research project.
Urban studies continue to be a desideratum of interdisciplinary research. They traditionally have concentrated on large cities and metropolises on the one hand, or small towns and rural areas on the other. Medium-sized towns and cities however received little attention in scientific research and debate until today. This is all the more surprising as a large population – especially in Europe – lives in those secondary or third cities. Moreover they are also assumed to become increasingly important in political, economic and societal terms.
Middletown Urbanities aims at closing this gap by contributing to a scientific debate on concepts of urbanity that comprises different dimensions of urban lifestyles – historical, socially structured, spatial and cultural – and everyday environments.
We aim to study two medium-sized towns in Austria and Germany from the perspective of European Ethnology. Through extensive fieldwork we are focusing on the everyday life of the inhabitants in two middle-towns and grasp their perspective of urbanity and city life.
Within the project “middle-towns” will be examined both as a phenomenon and a specific form of urbanity. The project therefore has two major objectives:
One is to broaden urban studies by means of a systematic examination of the category “middle-town”, which traditionally was classified only by population figures, lacking reference to social and spatial dimensions. The project is devoted to this – often neglected – reality of European city-life, grounded in an ethnographic perspective that is anchored in a cultural understanding of daily routines and practices.
The second objective is to broaden existing definitions of “urbanity” which have multiplied since Louis Wirth’s definition in 1938 – that still provides the theoretical basis for many urban studies in different sciences. A detailed comparison of both cases will facilitate this objective. This empirically grounded understanding of urbanity will consider different and variant dimensions and stimulate incentives for further research.
Ethnographic Fieldwork in Wels and Hildesheim
Two towns were chosen as case studies for reasons of subject matter, because “middle-towns” and “middle-town life” can be very different in form and size (most contrastive cases).
The former industrial town Wels in Upper Austria with a population of approximately 60,000 is studied and contrasted with Hildesheim in Lower Saxony / Germany, a town with a strong focus on culture and education. Hildesheim has a population of approximately 100,000.
At the beginning local discourses and representations in public media of each city are surveyed. In a first fieldwork phase a wide variety of everyday life in a “middle-town” and daily urban routines are ethnographically examined and described from an emic perspective. A second fieldwork phase is focussed on one paradigmatic urban field – a venue, a theme, a field of activity, or an event. Both case studies are based on the same research principles and design and are conducted simultaneously.
Finally, the town-specific outcomes are combined and compared to grasp Middletown Urbanities in its different forms. This rigorously requires putting the two towns into contexts of their particular country and region.