What is the research project SPACE about?

A short summary

The project investigates the impact of an increasingly strong reliance on competition, and particularly “spatial competition”, as a prime mode of social organization and as a core concept for designing social institutions on different ontological levels of social reality. Regarding the latter we cover (1) international and national policies (macro-level), (2) socio-economic institutions and organizations (meso-level) and (3) everyday practices (micro-level). Embedding our transdisciplinary analysis into a micro-meso-macro framework and triangulating theories and methods from the social sciences and the humanities, we will analyze how economic knowledge on competition transgresses from academic debates into political and public discourses, legal regulations, practices of institutions and everyday life. The entire undertaking comprises three consecutive stages.


The first stage lays the foundation for the transdisciplinary analysis by clarifying a common conceptual ground. To this end, we investigate the historical genesis of the economic concept of “competition” and how the dominant view on the concept has changed in the post-WWII-period. Thereby we pay particular attention to the contestedness of the major economic theory of competition and to the differences between distinct research paradigms in economics.

Research questions:

  • How is “competition” defined and conceptualized in economics?
  • How do economic conceptions of competition differ between economic paradigms?
  • Which temporal changes have affected and changed the dominant meaning of the term in the post WWII-period?


The second stage is concerned with the performative implications of the conceptualizations of “competition” hitherto identified. By studying this question we focus on spatial competition and distinguish three ontological levels: On the macro level we investigate how the economic concept of competition has been transmitted into the legal framework of the EU and European nation states, and what the (intended and unintended) socioeconomic consequences of this transmission are. On the meso level we study the relevance of the economic concept of competition for the actions of organizations involved in spatial struggles in the field of the production of housing. On the micro level we examine how the logic of competition is adopted, negotiated and transformed in self-concepts and daily practices of actors involved in spatial struggles in the context of access to housing.

Research questions:

  • To what extent do the conceptualizations of “markets” and “competition” identified in the first stage have a performative impact on various ontological levels?
  • What kind of struggles over the economic logic of competition can be identified and how do they manifest in public and political discourse?
  • Which systematic differences across the ontological levels considered do emerge in our analysis?


In a third and final stage we then synthesize the results and ask how the results can be exploited to critically reflect and deconstruct the dominant conceptualization of competitiveness, and what the societal implications of alternative concepts of competition might be.

What are our goals?

In all, the central aim of the project is to develop a transdisciplinary view on the multi-level impact of the economic concept of “competition”. Our micro-meso-macro-framework and the triangulation of methods and theories from various disciplines allows for a deeper understanding of the economic, social and political transformation processes resulting from the performative impact of the concept of “competition.

Work packages

Embedded into a micro-meso-macro-framework we triangulate theories and methods of the social sciences and humanities for our analysis of the performativity of competition. The following figure provides an overview of our 6 partly overlapping Working Packages (WP).

Follow this link to read more about our interdisciplinary project set-up!

Selected reading:

Bourdieu, P. (2018). Social Space and the Genesis of Appropriated Physical Space. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 42 (1), 106–114.

Callon, M. (2006). What does it mean to say that economics is performative? CSI Working Papers Series (No. 005). Retrieved from Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (CSI), Mines ParisTech website: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:emn:wpaper:005

Granovetter, M. (1985): Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness. American Journal of Sociology, 91 (3), 481-510.

Gräbner, C. & Kapeller, J. (2017): The Micro-Macro Link in Heterodox Economics. In The Routledge Handbook of Heterodox Economics, edited by Jo, T.-H., Chester, L. & and Dippoliti, C., 145–59. Florence: Taylor and Francis.

Hölkeskamp, K.-J. (2014). Konkurrenz als sozialer Handlungsmodus – Positionen und Perspektiven der historischen Forschung. In Konkurrenz in der Geschichte. Praktiken – Werte – lnstitutionalisierungen, edited by Jessen,R., 33-57. Frankfurt am Main, New York: Campus.

Lebaron, F. (2001). Economists and the Economic Order.: The field of economists and the field of power in France. European Societies, 3 (1), 91–110.

McNulty, P. J. (1967). A Note on the History of Perfect Competition. Journal of Political Economy, 75 (4, Part 1), 395–399.

Pühringer, S. (2018). The success story of ordoliberalism as guiding principle of German economic policy. In Ordoliberalism. Law and the rule of economics, edited by Hien, J., & Joerges, C., 134–158. Oxford, Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing.

Tauschek, M. (2014). Konkurrenz: Ein Handlungsmodus und seine kulturellen Effekte. In Konkurrenz in der Geschichte. Praktiken – Werte – Institutionalisierungen, edited by Jessen, R., 95-118. Frankfurt/Main: Campus.