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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Florian Purkarthofer

Florian Purkarthofer

Florian Purkarthofer
Social Sciences, Urban Spaces, Spatial Planning, Critique and Utopia
(PhD Students, July 1, 2018 - February 28, 2019)

Individual Perception and Social Construction of Urban Spaces:
A Multi-Sensory Case Study of Two Urban Neighbourhoods in Western Tokyo regarding the Nexus of Perceived and Mediated Influences on the Process of Spatial Construction.

This thesis aims to shed light on the perception and construction of urban spaces and on how this process is enacted in Japan. Though academic output on urban spaces is flourishing, there is a gap with regard to topics that are located between the canonical disciplines. Within these less researched aspects of space lies the nexus between individual perception and social construction.

Based on the theory and previous studies of socially constructed spaces the following question arises: How are the multiple ways of individual perception and the interpersonal discourses about space interfering with and influencing each other, as mediated through print, social media and institutional settings?

The answer to the research question of how perception, practice and discourse are constituting and constructing space, is to be ascertained by analyzing two urban Tokyo neighborhoods (Shimokitazawa and Meidaimae), which are located close to each other and may seem quite similar on a city map. In both areas, city planning projects as well as the modification of private railway tracks triggered discussions about how existing – and perhaps new – public space should be used, and who is entitled to advocate for it. Inhabitants, shopkeepers and consumers share the streets, but perceive the space from different angles and participate in divergent but overlapping discourses.

While city planners and local administration mostly focus on residents and their opinion as well as business owners and their demands, employees and consumers are ignored or excluded from participative forms of city planning. However, the conducted media analysis demonstrates that consumers are the driving force in shaping the public image of city quarters, and, furthermore, constitute the majority of public space users. This fragmented field of discourses is widely overlooked in the current research, yet it provides key insights into how the discourse of social space is constructed.

As Japanese studies can be defined as area studies, they are not bound to a rigidly de-fined set of methods. An interdisciplinary approach turns this into an advantage by employing a mixed set of methods that includes semi structured interviews, participant observation, discourse analysis and sensory walks. The findings will therefore be applicable in diverse fields, such as theoretical studies in sociology and philosophy, as well as practical approaches and projects in the field of city planning and anthropology.

Tentative analysis of the data gathered during the first fieldwork period reveals that the differences in spatial practices and discourse on space show a clear coherence with the matter of sensuous and mediated perception. Rather than a dispute on space between multiple groups, it is the misunderstanding of space that leads to challenging situations regarding the use of (new) public space.