JA Morrow, Dr phil

Instructor, Faculty of Extension - Communications & Design
Research Fellow
Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Arts - Sociology Dept
Research Associate, Faculty of Arts - Wirth Institute


Faculty of Arts - Sociology Dept

Instructor, Faculty of Extension - Communications & Design

Research Fellow

Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Arts - Sociology Dept

Research Associate, Faculty of Arts - Wirth Institute
300 Arts Building (Main & Conv Hall)
113 St and 91 Ave
Edmonton AB
T6G 2E6


Area of Study / Keywords

Ethnography Cultural Studies Austrian and Central European Studies European Studies Urban Studies Adult Education Working Class Studies Service Sociology


JA Morrow is an urban strategy planner and environmental sociologist at the University of Alberta's Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Sociology and a Research Professor at Western Colorado University's Department of Politics and Government.

JA has a Doktor der Philosophie in Soziologie from Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Bavaria. His other degrees include an MA in politics from the University of Victoria and a BA in history from Western Colorado University. And he received additional formation at Nottingham Trent University in England and Linnéuniversitetet in Sweden.

At the Wirth Institute, JA leads the Gemütlichkeit Projekt, which is an ethnographic study of the sense of togetherness in Austrian culture. The Projekt examines the cultural meanings and practises of Gemütlichkeit, and their role in the construction of the Austrian social imaginary.

Prior to his work at the Wirth Institute, JA was a Research Fellow at the University of Alberta's City-Region Studies Centre, where he directed the SSHRC-funded activating_space project.

JA's most recent book, Where the Everyday Begins, is a study of environment's role in everyday life. He has published articles on Zeitdiagnose, urban planning, and cultural studies. And he has worked as a copywriter and editor.

Away from the University, JA is an avid cross-country skier and enjoys hiking throughout Alberta.

Scholarly Activities

Research - activating_space

Cities are growing and changing. But sooner or later, they will run out of space. So governments and residents have to find quick answers to a very difficult question: How can a city use its space more creatively?  

As cities take new shape, the uses of urban space will change. In a few generations, the world has gone from 2% urbanised to over 60%. It is a sudden change that transformed how people live and work. And as growth intensifies, cities will have to make decisions about spaces that are neither public nor private because, as one planner has put it, ‘public space is the new backyard’. 

Most assumptions about the division between public and private are obsolete. The emergence of semi-public or expanded private space is changing how cities administrate issues that are traditionally outside their remit. Likewise, any further changes in the form and function of urban spaces will challenge popular ideas about civic participation and public engagement.  

Some cities are finding new ways to plan for the future and make use of spaces where the division between public and private are no longer fixed. For example, London and Singapore now support temporary public markets and pop-up arts venues that exist on private property, such as underground car parks. Or Barcelona and Munich allow underused public lands and infrastructure, like laneways or bridges, to be used as temporary event spaces. 

A few cities and planners now think about urban spaces as sites that can be activated. Instead of limiting community events to a small number of specific-purpose venues, they are ‘repositioning’ public and private spaces for multiple social uses. And it is through the activation of space, they have begun to diversify the range of cultural programmes and commercial opportunities.

The activating_space project’s researchers will examine how cities and public authorities around the world are using urban spaces more creatively. It is a project that will bring together leading creatives and decision-makers in planning, academia, government, social services, art and the community at large to consider the benefits and challenges of activating space. Then,activating_space, in consultation with practitioners, will create a series of reports and public events that show how cities can be more livable. 

Activating Space Field Guide

Research - Designing the American Salzburg: Habsburg Austrian Culture in Colorado Mountain Communities

Funded by the Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies, Designing the American Salzburg examines how immigrants from Habsburg Austria to Colorado's mountain communities used architecture and design to create a sense of togetherness. The town of Crested Butte was settled by Habsburg Austrian miners who built community halls, lodges and churches that maintained old world traditions. Eleven miles away, on the other side of West Maroon Pass, Aspen’s post-war transformation from an abandoned mining town into ‘an American Salzburg’ was led by Herbert Bayer, who was from Oberösterreich and one of Bauhaus’s last Masters. In both towns, a distinct Hapsburg Austrian cultural vernacular and design typology influenced the development of two very different American mountain cultures.     


Research - Gemütlichkeit Projekt

German-speaking sociologists generally divide social relations between Gemeinschaft [informal communities and sub-cultures] and Gesellschaft [hierarchical rule and norm-based society]. The Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft dichotomy helps make sense of how people live together, but it is also problematic because it reduces everyday life’s complexity to a set of predetermined values. For example, the sense of togetherness, which is a subjective feeling that permeates culture, cannot be accurately categorised as a component of either Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft.

The Gemütlichkeit Projekt examines the cultural meanings and social practises of Austrian Gemütlichkeit [social connection and coziness]. For many Austrians, Gemütlichkeit is a defining characteristic of their culture. Hence a recent Austrian tourism campaign, ‘Gemütlichkeit ist wohl alles zusammen’ [Comfort is being together], is a statement about what makes everyday life in Austria unique. Yet Gemütlichkeit is an abstract relation that cannot be quantified or qualified. So the Projekt will document how Gemütlichkeit exists outside the Gemeinschaft-Gesellschaft dichotomy. And it will explain the ways by which Gemütlichkeit relates to other abstract social practises, such as togetherness, solidarity and community-building. 

We Live In A Society, Not An Economy

Research - Planning for the New Normal

After COVID-19, at least for a while, being with other people will be a luxury. Previously, sitting next to a stranger was taken for granted. Now it is a risk.

There is a possibility that social distance will be created by decreasing the size of public spaces — e.g. restaurants, cinemas, event sites, and even public transport. The drop in people per square metre could be 75%, which is so sparse that the company of others may be a frill. There is another possibility that liberal ideas about the division between public and private may be undone. What then remains is an expanded social space that does not have a lot of precedents. Therefore, design will have to break new ground.

In order to maintain social connections, the future will have to be designed for Gemütlichkeit and neighborship. For example, travel to far-off places may become unaffordable. In turn, local venues might have to adapt their programming so people can find calm and comfort closer to home. Some places, such as cafes, could become even more spaced-out, laid-back and salon-like. Similarly, cinemas and restaurants may occupy sprawling outdoor spaces where people can take life in at their leisure. If so, a model for this adaptation already exists in Vienna, where people spend entire days at wine bars in the vineyards that surround the city.

Some of the biggest social changes, especially in North America, are going to be in the home. New designs will have to allow for two opposing trends. The first is the shut-in economy, where people may never leave the house. The other will have to make sure that isolation is not a way of life. And it will be a challenge to balance the two.

In North America, changes in home design should include front porches that create a social transition between public and private. Likewise, towns can make larger social spaces within neighbourhoods by periodically closing roads so as to make way for cultural programming. Or in Europe, conviviality can be promoted by creating more green spaces that allow neighborship to spill out of the household.

Again, there is no alternative. But quarantines are only a meanwhile strategy, and something like normality will return. The question is whether the future will have more or less neighborship. As Camus (1960) says in The Plague, “It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency” (125).

Planning for the New Normal