Category: Glossary

The UrbRel glossary recapitulates reflections and theoretical discussions in our group since 2018.

New Glossary Entry: Mercantilisation

The definition of the term “mercantilisation” relates to the “processes of transforming social practices and objects into merchandise” (Ascher 2007, 28). Therefore, mercantilisation describes the basic transformation of human as well as non-human (inter)actions, any kind of artefacts and material residues like natural ressources and energies into services or commodities…


Urbanity is a practice and strategy transforming material and social arrangements into something “urban” amalgamates ideas, narratives and symbols of the urban, including media practices and spatially anchored urban behaviors. It also covers institutions and agents that seek to ensure an urban character. Propelled by these, long-term processes occur which can be summarized as urbanization, the expansion of urban spaces, or as an increasing network of settlements qualified as “cities”.


Religion is the human attribution of capabilities and agency to superhuman actors, which one tries to share with other humans but people also use to gain superiority over other humans and maybe their gods. In this way, in religious action people create a reality that allows for alternative experiences and interpretations of the everyday or even of the extra-ordinary. This opens a unique creativity. Nowhere else but in religion does human action create such different and diverse worlds (notwithstanding all those worlds of fantasy that often build on religious narratives and establish religious figures).


The terms mediatisation and mediation are intertwined but methodologically separate concepts. While sometimes they are used interchangeably (Altheide and Robert, 1988) they have developed into distinctive meanings. They are also very closely bound with the concept of media logic, a process in which “media, information technologies, and communication formats can affect events and social activities” (Altheide, 2016: 1). Mediation is a process in which the communication is influenced by various features of the medium or the genre itself, but it has limited impact on social reality (Hjarvard 2008: 6–7). As such it can also be seen as a way of putting various communication strategies in use.


Co-Temporalities is based on the insight that time is a cultural construction and therefore contingent and dependent on context, as with any social phenomena. When viewed in this way, temporality shifts from a unity to a multiplicity, subject to competing and co-operating factors that determine how co-temporalities interact and coexist. Especially in the urbanized space, temporalities tend to clash and to change, accompanied by alternating rhythms that are experienced differently by state and social actors. Co-Temporalities allows the researcher to grasp these complex temporal dynamics in the city and to better understand the relationship between urbanity and time.


Spatialisation is the process in which actors or groups construct or claim a space for themselves, for instance to perform rituals, hold events or trade. The spatialisation of social, religious or other groups indicates a wish for a more permanent presence, as they constitute the attempt to connect an identifiable space associated with a given group. Groups can indicate a space as theirs through symbols or rituals, for instance by adding objects to a room to indicate that it belongs to them.

Spatial Fix

In the 1980s, the significant paradigm shift in humanities and social sciences, better known as “spatial turn”, opened up discussions connecting geographical space and socio-cultural variables. From now on, space was not only perceived as a given physical and geographical entity, but it gained recognition as an essential social player: space is “produced” (Rau 2019: 2, see Lefebvre’s “production of space” 1974).

Spatial Capital

The notion of ‘spatial capital’ expands on the Bourdieu’s theory of capital, by identifying space as another type of resource that can be mobilised by social actors. The notion finds its roots in social geography and urban studies, and it based on the observation that geographical space, and the ability to master it, is a capital in its own that can be accumulated, exchanged, and transformed into other forms of capital (Lévy 2000, 2014:46–48).


Unlike the other terms in the glossary, the place-space distinction is not a theoretical or analytical concept. Rather, it is a sensitising strategy for spatial terminology in one’s own as well as in historical texts or urban settings. Some social science spatial theorists have recognised the fruitfulness of the place-space distinction and have suggested how space/place can be distinguished in relation to each other. Interestingly, this conceptual pair can be understood quite differently.

Religious and urban ambivalences

The concept of ambivalence – in difference to diffusionism, historical dialectics, development, or progress – takes a synchronic stance and observes tensions and contradictions. It stresses conflict and constitutive ambiguity, bi-polar orders, bi-valence at any given moment. The opposition in a religious or urban ambivalence is neither dissolved in good and bad religion, good and bad urbanity nor are such ambivalences seen as ephemeral and transitory. As a consequence, metamorphosis of such ambivalences is not about gaining in mono-valence, one-to-one, or reduction of complexity.


Citification of religion refers to the processes whereby differently empowered agents from all social stations carry out religious actions that succeed in appropriating city-spaces at least for some time, in relation to a certain audience, and in a manner that engages with the urban quality of their contexts at particular moments in their histories. A scholarly evaluation and decision based on the observation of different instances of citification, urban religion is the name given to the temporal accumulation of such processes that produces, in turn, new urban space.


The concept of co-spatiality, coined by the French geographer Jacques Lévy (2013, 2021), defines one specific type of interspatiality or relation between spaces. Co-spatiality draws on the idea that space, as multi-layered reality, can operate according to different metrics (i.e, strategies of distance management). In addition, each spatial layer drawn by actors through real or imagined spatial actions may – or may not – interact ‘vertically’ with other spatial layers while occupying the same physical extension (Lévy 2003, p. 213). Co-spatiality refers to this ‘vertical’ interconnection between two distinct but overlapping spaces occupying a common extent.



Heterarchy and hierarchy are closely related concepts. The archaeologist Carole Crumley first developed the concept of heterarchy. While hierarchies produce clear rankings and subordinations, Crumley (1995:3) defines heterarchy “as the relation of elements to one another when they are unranked or when they possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways.” According to Crumley (1995:3), complex societies do not have to be organized hierarchically but rather by an interplay of hierarchical and heterarchical characteristics.

Introducing the UrbRel glossary

In January 2022, the UrbRel group was successfully evaluted by the German Research Foundation (DFG). As a result, we will continue to work for a second funding phase. Until 2026, We will further develop and apply the UrbRel research programme, exploring the mutual formation of religion and urbanity as a fruitful perspective for the history of religion and urban history. The UrbRel glossary recapitulates reflections and theoretical tools from our discussions of the past years.

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