Atmospheres of (Counter) Terror in European Cities

Katharina Ciax | PhD Researcher and Research Assistant, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany


The War on Terror and the securitization of urban spaces have become the focus of national and international politics with high symbolic power in the last decades and have recently experienced an intensification of the biopolitical security project through the Covid-19 pandemic. (In)security, surveillance and control have formed strong hegemonic discourses that affect (urban) everyday life and touch it on multiple levels. While scholarly debates on counterterrorism and military urbanism have focused primarily on technology-centered approaches, the research project “Atmospheres of (Counter) Terrorism in European Cities” aims to follow up on this by broadening the perspective and including the emotional dimension of counterterrorism measures, perceived threats of terrorism, and associated feelings of safety and insecurity in urban space (Low & Maguire 2019, Graham 2010). A particular focus will also be placed on the divergent consequences and impacts of counterterrorism measures and perceived security on different urban communities. Going further than only addressing state practices of security and insecurity through infrastructural-material changes to space, such as the erection of anti-terrorist bollards or the increasing technological surveillance of public space, the project particularly aims to focus on affective and felt perceptions of anti-terrorist measures and examine practices of coping with changing urban conditions by citizens and city dwellers (Coaffee et al. 2009 & Yorke 2020). In doing so, atmospheres, as a spatialized, dynamic dimension of emotional mood and contagion, will act as a theoretical lens that looks at the in-between—specific material as well as immaterial, human as well as non-human, real as well as imagined connections, mediations, and mediators (Anderson 2014 & Latour 2007) alongside techno-spatial and socio-spatial elements.

This paper wants to broadly introduce the research project to then, on the one hand, discuss the importance of atmospheric theory in public and urban space research and, on the other hand, present interim results of the ethnographic field work in Berlin, which, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and in response to the 2016 Christmas market attack, will shed more light on the transformation of the material and immaterial urban structure, technologies of surveillance, and hegemonic as well as counter-hegemonic strategies and practices of fear and security as well as commemoration in and around Breitscheidplatz in Berlin and elsewhere.