response by Constanze Schmidt


The Fair for Vocational Design – a Heterotopian Zone. Resignification as a Pathway to a new Common Space

Research format Heterotopian Zone, response by Constanze Schmidt

With the First Vocational Orientation Fair in Hamburg’s FUNDUS THEATER/Theatre of Research, the Zentrale für Berufsgestaltung (ZFB) opened a Heterotopian Zone to invent and shape new professions and new forms of vocational orientation. This is where we, young and adult ZFB experts1, together with visitors who were invited to the fair – the employment services’ press officer, delegates from internship programmes, places of work, and the Zentrum für Schule und Wirtschaft (Centre for School and Business), artists, teachers, friends and parents – carried out our research.

Using five different stands, made from large white projection screens on a blue exhibition carpet, the Theatre of Research was converted into an exhibition centre. The three successive rounds of research were conducted at all stands simultaneously, which required the visitors to make rapid decisions, dynamically change the stand and adjust to the new research subject there. For the ZFB, research on the design of professions was combined with research on the ‘working citizen’. For us, the concept of a ‘working citizen’ basically describes a person who acts in a socially, ecologically and economically fair manner and, within these activities, finds, invents and designs their own profession.2 In connection with this idea, the guests of the fair for example compared the time constraints in caring professions with their own perceptions of time at the stand Zeit für mich, Zeit für andere (Time for me, Time for Others). The aim was to correctly estimate the duration of the specified three minutes spent caring for a patient, while the visitors carried out nursing tasks, hummed a song for a patient or listened to an elderly woman speaking. At the stand Visions – Plain and Simple, graphic recording was used to enable guests to find out in which way they themselves were already acting as ‘working citizens’. At another stand, together with the young ZFB experts, they researched the idea of a ‘socially-minded boss’ based on a visitor’s performance. We rounded off the fair together by reenacting a dance event performed in an architect’s office, watching the film Glück, Geld und Wünsche an die SPD (Happiness, Money and Wishes to the SPD) and eating dinner provided by the Hamburger Tafel (a food bank).

In the Heterotopian Zone of the fair, vocational orientation is resignified as vocational design. By adopting the phrase “fake it till you make it“ as a performative approach (Peters 2019: 52), the ZFB formulates both the claim and the demand for vocational orientation as vocational design. Here, students operate within the framework of their vocational orientation as if they already occupied the subject position of creators of the world of work and in this way turn themselves into creators. The Heterotopian Zone of collective vocational research thus responds to the crises of the normative “common spaces” (Peters 2020) surrounding it: to a vocational orientation programme that would like to understand young people as creators of vocations, but is largely guided by norms of efficiency and the fulfilment of competencies (Schmidt 2020), and to a world of work (labelled as ‘new work’) that promises individuals the freedom to shape their work themselves but extends the ideology of efficient performance to all areas of life (McKenzie 2004: 226–228).

The Heterotopian Zone acts as a research format in the performative mode of ‚what if‘ (Peters 2019: 52): What if young people were the creators of their own vocational orientation? This raises a number of other questions: Which artistic processes can address them as creators of their own vocational orientation, and in this way provide a space to experience agency? How can concepts of degrowth be incorporated into vocational orientation? How can adults participate in these processes?

Before the fair, the students had conducted performative artistic research at the companies where they were undertaking their mandatory internships.3 As project manager of the vocational orientation design project, I introduced the young people to a variety of aesthetic practices and artistic processes. Taking cues from instruction-based art, the teenagers assigned playful, performative tasks to themselves and to their classmates (Schmidt 2019: 302–308). We also worked on the appropriation of a ‘performative role’. The performative role differs from a fictional role in the staging of a dramatic text, which is about playing a fictional character. The performative role, in contrast, embodies in reality a field of research that only initially seemed fictional (Peters 2016: 23). The teenagers’ individual performative roles as ‘working citizens’ were shaped by their idealism and an ‘alien perspective’ on their internship place and its unknown structures. As ‘working citizens’ they experienced agency and its limitations.

In order for the ZFB to be able to make their previous studies available to new audiences and continue together with them, the young people developed the stands for the fair as participatory aesthetic settings. The setting of the fair showed which artistic processes the young people had appropriated; instruction-based art strategies, for example, were utilised at the stand Time for Me. It was only in the performance together with the visitors that these settings generated their significance – by prompting participants to develop their attitudes in response to the young people’s ideas and by adding their own ideas (Schmidt 2020). At the stand Social Boss, for instance, they referred to new forms of leadership and collective working structures. The Heterotopian Zone simultaneously represented the postulation that these artistic strategies made sense and functioned as the seismograph that indicated that they actually did: A variety of positions on the design of vocational orientation and the world of work continued to be developed at and in between the stands in all usable spaces in the Theatre of Research – “subspaces” (Peters 2020) that transformed this exhibition centre into a Heterotopian Zone.

Constituting the setting for the fair in the “other space” (Foucault 1992: 34), the Theatre of Research, gave rise to the special artistic potential that characterised the “other other space” (geheimagentur/Pilkington 2019) of the fair as a Heterotopian Zone.

As a research format, the Heterotopian Zone facilitated the following moments of knowledge production: The presentations in the fair setting revealed and highlighted the particular performance skills of the young ZFB experts.

At school, many of the young people had learned to perform in a way that, in addition to delivering a particular knowledge, was oriented towards self-promotion and the display of a certain form of presentabilty (appearing present, eloquent, open, convincing). Following Jana Gioia Baumann and Markus Rohwetter, I rate the everyday performance of representing and selling oneself as making little sense in terms of personal development if it only serves to fulfil other people’s expectations and does not support one’s own attitude and agency (Baumann & Rohwetter 2017: 20). The conventional school vocational orientation risks that the students primarily want to meet the normative expectations of their teachers and parents with their performances and, as an exchange value, receive good marks for writing an internship report, for example. In the Heterotopian Zone, in their liminal performances (McKenzie 2013: 143-144), and through the aesthetic means of staging, the young people were invited to devise idiosyncratic „self-designs“ (Matzke 2005: 96). In order to promote their individual self-designs, they also applied the presentation skills from school.4 They reinterpreted a normative ‘selling oneself’ as a liminal ‘presenting oneself’.

In these subspaces of the Heterotopian Zone, the teenagers were able to experience – in a sensory and physical way – how their ideas about vocational orientation and the world of work became reality. In exchange for their self-presentations, they acquired a certain freedom of action within vocational orientation. By exploring the performative role of a ‘working citizen’, many directed the attention in their research to the human needs that are often neglected in the neoliberal world, for example being able to organise one’s time in a healthy way or interact socially with others (Schmidt 2020).

In addition, the setting of the fair provided an opportunity for open debate. Adults spoke about the ways in which they design their own work and young people continued to deal with the idea of a ‘working citizen’:

I think that this ‘working citizenship’, the ‘working citizen’ – [the project] has helped me in this regard. And I think that it is important to know how you can make your contribution to society – whether you act in a socially responsible way or not, or whether you even need to act in a socially responsible way. (Marjan, a teenager, in conversation with a visitor at the fair)

This type of exchange supported the constitution of the alternative reality of the Heterotopian Zone. In its performative mode of the ‘what if’, it reflected how, in a new diversified common space (Peters 2020, Kup 2014: 36), relationships between teenagers and adults and between work and life could be shaped. In the Heterotopian Zone of the Fair for Vocational Design, vocational orientation as a “pre-enactment of a collective reality to come” (Evert et al. 2020) took the form of future research.



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Evert, Kerstin/Gunsilius, Maike/ Matthias, Sebastian/Peters, Sibylle/Wildner, Kathrin (2020): Participatory Art Based Research.

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McKenzie, John (2004): “Performance und Globalisierung”, in: Fischer-Lichte, Erika/Risi, Clemens/Roselt, Jens: Kunst der Aufführung – Aufführung der Kunst. Berlin: Theater der Zeit, pp. 226–244.

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Peters, Sibylle (2020): The Heterotopian Zone.

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Schmidt, Constanze (2020): “I do. Von der Handlungsanweisung zu Agency. Wie Jugendliche mit künstlerischer Praxis ihre Berufsorientierung zum Working Citizen gestalten”, in: Driesel-Lange, Katja/Weyland, Ulrike: Berufsorientierung in Bewegung. Themen, Erkenntnisse und Perspektiven. Tagungsband, Beiheft der ZBW (Zeitschrift für Berufs- und Wirtschaftspädagogik), Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, pp. 137–153.

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1 The Zentrale für Berufsgestaltung (Centre for Vocational Design) is a Try-Out Institution. The Institution is run by the following people: Constanze Schmidt (artistic director); Teresa Lucia Rosenkrantz (artistic assistant); Hinrich Kindler (educational supervisor/teacher) and 23 students (11th grade) at the Goethe Gymnasium (secondary school) in Lurup. The project was carried out in mandatory school lessons.

2 Ulf Schrader suggests the term ‚working citizen‘ as a self-concept within a vocational orientation that follows the principle of sustainability (Schrader 2013: 14).

3 The ZFB’s First Vocational Orientation Fair is one element of the artistic and practice-based research process designed to develop a new form of vocational orientation through performative artistic practice.

4 In reference to Jon McKenzie’s analysis of the relationship between various conceptions of performance, Ute Pinkert points out that these different conceptions of performance can lead to different expectations and to different valuations of their results. Therefore, it is important to negotiate normative and liminal performances in educational projects at the interface between school and art in a differentiated and sensitive manner (2015: 22–23).