Duisburg, Germany, October 2018 — (Co)Action Lab contributor Dr. Glaucia Peres da Silva and Laurens Lauer, M.A., her co-worker in the Chair for Comparative Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, have won the University of Duisburg-Essen Award for Innovation in Teaching Practices 2018.
From April 2017 to March 2018, Peres da Silva and Lauer coordinated a Lehrforschungsprojekt (teaching research project) for master’s students in sociology called “Wedding shops in Marxloh.” Peres da Silva, Lauer, and the students presented the results in a public event, as part of the Sociological Colloquium in the Institute of Sociology of the University of Duisburg-Essen. Dr. Uwe Neumann (RWI-Leibniz Institute) made the keynote speech in honor of the students. Neumann presentation of his research findings on Duisburg’s local economy framed the students’ project. This event drew attention from local media, which reported on the about students’ research findings. (See examples of local coverage here and here.)
“Wedding Shops in Marxloh” convinced a jury of professors and students from the University of Duisburg-Essen to select Peres da Silva and Lauer for the award.
The project is part of a required course in which master’s students learn how to conduct sociological research by taking responsibility for collecting the data they then analyze. In this specific project, students researched the wedding district in Marxloh, a neighborhood in the city of Duisburg, Germany. Known for its high migrant rates and negative media reports, Marxloh hosts in its city center around 112 shops specialized in wedding products: dresses, hairdressers, photo studios, decoration, etc. Particularly interesting is that almost all the shops are run by Turkish migrants.
In this project, Peres da Silva and Lauer pursued multiple objectives. Concerning the students, they intended to demonstrate the relevance of comparative and transnational sociology in students’ daily and professional lives after completing their master’s degrees. Another objective was the development of students’ confidence and independence in conducting research. Concerning their teaching practices, the coordinators sought to develop a sustainable project model through their teaching methods, meaning that the project could continue as a research lab which would run parallel to required courses. Also, they designed the project to support the relationship between the university and the city of Duisburg.
The Marxloh wedding district seemed well-suited to all these objectives. Its shops and consumers revealed a transnational character that enabled the students to grasp complex global relationships in a very local form. The research put students in contact with a series of actors who were unexpected or would not likely be accessed outside the research context. Furthermore, students pursued their own research interests and were responsible for the whole project, from research questions to conclusions. Students received sufficient support from the coordinators to make mistakes and learn with them, with regular feedback rounds that encompassed coordinators’ different backgrounds and expertise areas.
The project developed as follows. Students first researched available information on the Marxloh wedding district in the media, in scientific journals, and produced by the city. Then, they discussed theoretical approaches to markets, urban areas, and migration in order to choose their research focus from three categories. Working in groups, they focused on the relationship between the city hall and the wedding district (city group); in the organization of the shops (shop group); and in the characterization of consumers (consumer group).
The city group conducted interviews with different stakeholders and analyzed historical documents to frame the district as a cluster. The shop group concentrated on making an inventory of the district, counting its shops and categorizing them, and interviewing shop owners. The consumer group created a survey with questionnaires translated in English, Turkish, and Arabic, which they used to gather data from 102 consumers. This positive experience with “Wedding Shops in Marxloh” has motivated the coordinators to continue the project with further student research on Marxloh in the Lab Marxloh. Two research projects are in progress in the Lab: one investigating the problem of garbage in Marxloh streets and the other exploring the relationship between the Catholic church and the mosque in Marxloh. We are looking forward to the results!