Urban Dynamics

Conflicts, Representations, Appropriations and Policies

by Anne-Marie Autissier (Volume editor) Javier Gómez Montero (Volume editor) Anxo Abuín (Volume editor) Victor Andrés Ferretti (Volume editor) Rubén Camilo Lois González (Volume editor) Rainer Wehrhahn (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 356 Pages


This book compiles the proceedings of the International Symposium «Urban Dynamics: Global Perspectives for Socio-Cultural Urban Management», which took place in Paris in March 2016. Professors and (post-)graduate students from a consortium of five universities, together with urban specialists, discussed diverse topics regarding European and Latin American urban societies, their dynamic processes and future challenges from an interdisciplinary perspective.
The selected articles in English, French and Spanish deal with public space, urban heritage production, urban social management, citizen re-appropriation of the city, cultural and artistic practices in urban space, migrations, imaginaries, identities as well as literary cartographies of urban spaces.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Index
  • Preface (Anne-Marie Autissier / Javier Gómez-Montero)
  • Fundamentals
  • Ciudades y espacio público (Rubén C. Lois González)
  • Literatura y ciudad: Imágenes e imaginarios (Javier Gómez-Montero)
  • Interventions culturelles urbaines : des outils adéquats pour réinventer la ville ? (Anne-Marie Autissier)
  • Urban struggles and conflicts
  • Espaces contestés et contestations. La double face de la mondialisation (Agnès Deboulet)
  • Urban Struggles in Buenos Aires. Dynamics of politicization and depoliticization (Corinna Hölzl)
  • Mobile or Immobile? Decision-making processes of African Migrants in Tamanrasset (Algeria) (Zine-Eddine Hathat)
  • Conflictos sociales y nueva gobernanza urbana en España: alternativas a la vulnerabilidad (María José Piñeira Mantiñán / Jesús Manuel González Pérez)
  • Representations of the city in the arts
  • From Flâneurs to Phoneurs: Some Theatrical Implications (Anxo Abuín González)
  • Urbanismo literario: France-Ville, Santa María y la ciudad imaginaria (Victor Andrés Ferretti)
  • Urban Narratives: Identity and Space in Contemporary Novels (Mitzi E. Martínez Guerrero)
  • Desempolvando al franquismo desde las calles de la democracia. Las novelas barcelonesas y la memoria de los espacios (María Patricio Mulero)
  • Trapped in the City. Remembered Urban Spaces in Patrick Modiano’s La ronde de nuit (Chris Ullrich Cochanski)
  • Appropriations of urban spaces 1. Culture
  • Los santos de la intemperie entran en la ciudad: el caso de Antonio Gil (María Rosa Lojo)
  • Local Urban Cultural Policies. Street Art and Graffiti in Vienna and Munich (Thomas Spitzer)
  • Urban Public Space and Culture: The case of Santiago de Compostela (Inês Gusman / Yamilé Pérez Guilarte / Ramón López Rodríguez)
  • 2. Housing
  • La mixité sociale en pratique : l’exemple de la construction de logements sociaux en Seine-Saint-Denis, France (Lara Tobin)
  • Apports et limites d’un projet de relogement après le démantèlement d’un bidonville rom à Saint-Denis, France (Marianne Hérard)
  • Adaptation et rapport de force d’habitants précaires face au renouvellement urbain à Saint-Denis, France (Estelle Gourvennec)

← 6 | 7 →

Anne-Marie Autissier and Javier Gómez-Montero


For a long time, the city has been considered to be a pinnacle of human civilization and it is necessary to see this fact as the result of a dynamic process, historical and social in nature: Cities have always been a primary destination (whether temporary or permanent) for transnational migrants, and are thus invariably a location where different cultures meet, interact, and – at times – incur social conflict. Yet “urban laboratories” have also given rise to creative activity and political reform movements. Currently though, Europe’s urban societies are confronted with massive new challenges: the trend towards urbanization continues unabated; existing infrastructure is in danger of collapsing; economic crises have increased the risk of social dislocation; and political and economic factors have given rise to increasing migratory movements that are generating heterogeneous spaces where social groups with very different identities, memories and languages come together.

Even if the city, ensuing the industrialization in Europe, may have won the economic and cultural battle over the countryside, this process is being relived since decades until today in Latin America, Asia and Africa. From a global perspective, in 30 years from now, two thirds of the population will be living in cities, the majority in big cities where the roots of social conflicts will be more and more of a cultural nature due to migrations of economic character (like the ones we can observe in Paris, London, Madrid, etc.): “Our orbe has become an urbe (…) the internet considers the city as something ubiquitous: the imaginary of the virtual world is urban.”1, remarks Martín Caparrós. And the Argentinian writer continues in the Spanish newspaper El País: “The fact that the city represents the only hope for so many people might explain – or help explain – why we live in a time that does not know what to hope for anymore.”2

The sets of problems set forth in this volume concern both functional and symbolic aspects affecting the city and urban life. In a systematic manner, the studies range from the factual or empirical to the imaginary, from territorial analyses ← 7 | 8 → (geography, urbanism) to literary portrayals or artistic expressions in general. Although in all of these cities, whether real or imagined, common structures of conception, organization and societal management of space in which the social is intrinsically linked to the cultural take shape. In other words, Urban Dynamics regards culture as a basis and stem for reconsidering the city in societal terms and thereby reconstructing it from anthropological perspectives, today and in the future. Accordingly, we understand it to be necessary to jointly apply the suggested approaches in order to explain and reflect on models and use cases of urban construction and representation like the ones addressed in the present volume. In the first section, critical contributions summarizing the premises and the foundations of the works refined by the group Urban Dynamics come together. They relate to aspects of the public space and governance – primarily from the perspective of social geography–, structures of the urban imaginary – dealt with from the vantage point of the humanities–, as well as formulas of intervention in the urban fabric by means of institutional and/or artistic activities, thus, from the view of cultural management. In this same manner, also the use cases or applications focus, on the one hand, on issues and phenomena in these spheres – such as resistance, mobility and housing naturally pointing out the conflicts that they are reflected or generated by between the local and the global level – exemplifying them in cities such as Buenos Aires (Hölzl, chapter 5), in St. Denis in the Parisian periphery or in Tamanrasset in interior Algeria (Hathat, chapter 6) and in the special case of Spain (Piñeira/González, chapter 7). On the other hand, the pivot of the urban representation will be exemplified based on studies focusing on literary urbanism (Ferretti, chapter 9), collective enunciation and artistic portrayals of popular religion (in the cases of large Latin-American cities) (Lojo, chapter 13), as well as on possibilities of subjective appropriation of the urban space in contemporary narratives with regard to Paris, Tokyo, Istanbul, Mexico or Barcelona (Martínez Guerrero, chapter 10).

For major problems of present dynamics in the cultural and social discourses of the city are being addressed in this volume: conflicts, representations, appropriations and policies. At first, the fundamental aspects of this constellation will be outlined in a first structural element intended to give a systematic grounding. This way, the merit of bundling pragmatic and non-pragmatic discourses can prove its prolificacy of perspective and approach and is showcased by reference to exemplary case studies.

Aspects of governance and participation go hand in hand with possibilities of cultural practice while at the same time questions of mobility, urban living and the clash of highly heterogeneous social groups are brought more closely into ← 8 | 9 → line with the distinctness of cultural imaginaries of the social groups and with a problematization of the resulting cityscapes. In short: social evidence and fiction, politics and appropriation, conflict and representation in the public space and individual consciousness set the paradigms that are to be delved into and concentrated using case studies and specific research.

Such individual studies fluctuate between global and local perspectives, mainly using French-speaking, German-speaking, sometimes Spanish-speaking cities (whether located in Europe or in America) yet specific case studies widen the area to North Africa, the Near and Far East. Thus, real and imaginary cities, texts and images succeed each other, whereby frequently cities and metropolitan areas like Paris (St. Denis), Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela come into view, where the authors of these contributions work or where their research groups are represented (for instance in Santiago de Compostela: Gusman/Pérez/López, chapter 15). This is why the emphasis is often placed on research themes addressing a particular issue, as it is the case for example, of the contributions made from Paris:

From the perspective of urban public policies, the question is to know whether they reinforce or contradict the objective of the cohesive living together of all in our cities, this is French notion of “vivre ensemble.” The articles addressing these issues show that competition over urban land (Deboulet, chapter 4) on the one hand, and urban renewal policy, particularly in France on the other (Tobin, chapter 16), call into question this coexistence or struggle to rebalance it between old and new inhabitants. The ineffectiveness or limits of these policies create tensions and as such are contested in urban areas across Europe and more broadly in the world (Deboulet, chapter 4 and Hérard, chapter 17). In addition to housing issues, the question of public transportation is also raised: the priority given to the notion of multimodal interconnection creates physical links between privileged spaces and ruptures for distressed ones. This draws a hierarchy among urban areas and regions producing a territorial asymmetry.3

In this context, the role of artistic and cultural activities remains ambiguous: large events and renowned festivals in cities showcase in them a privileged space, internationally open and guardian of the legitimacy of hosting cities in need of global attractiveness. At the same time, these artistic and cultural events display the historical downtowns of cities in Europe as the windows of a European and international image, a sort of brand. In parallel, the evolution of the European Capitals of Culture since the 1990s, has shown that the welcoming of these artistic ← 9 | 10 → and cultural activities depended more and more on their acceptability by residents, their own proposals and participation. As a counterpoint, alternative proposals have been introduced in several of them (Autissier, chapter 3). What are these proposals worth in light of the issues posed by the current dominant urbanization as they also concern places and spaces? The examination of these questions (Bruxelles4, Paris, Saint-Denis5) suggests that it is difficult to link urban mobilizations with political ones. Would this be a new role for future urban mediators, recruited as we hope, within the framework of the “Urban Dynamics” program?

To make this hope a reality, our constant aim was not only to establish a transdisciplinary conjunction, but also transversal tracks that are meant to foster the multi-perspectival approach and plural methodology.

With the purpose of legitimizing the transversal view on the city as recommended in the following and implying the convergence of per se distinct academic disciplines (humanities, geography, sociology, urbanism) with professional representatives of the social management we shall briefly dwell upon one aspect of the anthropological consideration of the city, also in order to illustrate the necessity of a transdisciplinary approach for considering the urban dynamics of our concern just as it is systematically reflected by the neither additive nor convergent structure of this book.

To this end, we have permitted ourselves to illustratively and very briefly set forth the following questions: What do literature and cinema contribute to urban studies? Which are the distinctive features of writers’ and poets’ notions of the urban? Which images of the city do arts and mainly the literature create? These questions are expedient since other disciplines exist which primarily center their attention on the city using specific methods, as for instance urbanism and urban geography, well-covered during the past century, originally by sociologists and more recently by urban anthropologists.

Urban literature, urban imaginaries, symbolical order or representations of the city and subconscious urban are some of the useful concepts for analyzing these issues that are partially categorized in the classic volume compiled by G. Bridge and S. Watson whose first section “Imagining Cities” is opened with an article (“City imaginaries”) that underlines the fact that real and imaginary cities ← 10 | 11 → complement each other, they interact until creating a common fabric of living and thinking in which the creative potential of the imagination intertwines with the limitations of the factual. It is this point of intersection between the factual and the fictional that more than justifies the transdisciplinary focus of the Urban Dynamics project, approaching the city in all its complexity of a territory as real as it is imaginary, marked just as much by the pragmatic as by the symbolic. Nevertheless, it is not enough to distinguish between “pro-urban and anti-urban imaginaries or representations”, the former “tend to the utopian-cities as sites of desire, others to the dystopian-cities as sites of fear”, often mean topics of literary and film texts which present on the one hand “spaces of opportunity, of the comingly of strangers”, cities “as spaces of excitement, differences, cosmopolitanism and interconnection; and as spaces of culture, engagement, enchantment, fluidity, and vibrancy”, but on the other hand anti-urban imaginaries present “the city as a site of anomie, alienation, corruption, ill health, immorality, chaos, pollution, congestion, and a threat to social order” (p. 15). These images might be either expression of dreams and desire or expression of nightmares and anxiety, but the real question in this point to deal on it is about the discourses of representation and the structures of imagining cities in literary and film texts, i.e. in fictions as we will see in the respective articles of the section “representations”.

In the splendid Dictionary of Urbanism6 though, methodologically useful expressions such as urban cartography, image of the city or urban landscape do crop up. The university handbook compiled by Rubén Lois7 which dedicates four pages to “urbanism, utopia and futurism in literature and cinematics” outlining an entire visionary paradigm from Tomás Moro’s Utopia to Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili as well as a more analytical nineteenth-century keynote on Charles Dickens (additionally with Balzac and Zola with regard to France) and finally another course of cinematic urban imaginary between Fritz Lang and Ridley Scott, Sam Mendes and Peter Greenaway8. The list could be extended significantly, for example with films based on novels focusing on Las Vegas (example for a papier mâché-city conceived as a spectacle and at the same time as stage-facade of cities in Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brian/Mike Figgis, in accordance with the essay Zéropolis. L’expérience de Las Vegas by Bruce Bégout. And there still are the virtual cities of ← 11 | 12 → videogames, like the ones studied by the team of Anxo Abuin and Teresa Vilariño from Santiago de Compostela9.

Therefore, the literary and artistic discourses are an essential contribution to the notion of the urban that, nowadays, transversally crosses, both, humanities as well as the technical disciplines (STEM: science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and the so-called life sciences, not forgetting that the city has also gained a privileged position among the arts.

The aforementioned dictionary defines “social urban dynamics” as a “form of sociability (…) that generically refers to the specificity of relations between groups or individuals within the city” and precisely so, the processes of segregation or vicinity, collective marginalization or inclusion are invariably the most crucial object of the urban studies to the detriment of the “development of the cities, understood in its economic sense”10. But what about the cultural dynamics or their literary and artistic expression? Cinema and literature of the city has, in effect, much to say about its social and cultural dynamics. The future and even the status quo of the study of social urban dynamics already consists in the observation of those cultural dynamics that structure, exclude or disintegrate, divide or merge these social groups and their respective interests. Such dynamics are based on a symbolic order expressed in social or individual imaginaries, collective and personal illustrations which specially become visible through fictions and which, at the same time, can be analyzed and even interacted with through literary discourse. For example, topics such as identity and memory, representations of collective projections and phantasms, desires and nightmares, visions and frustrations of social groups and its individuals, the handling of its crises and traumas (its possible overcoming and corporative management), these are all questions in which imagination plays a decisive role.

Perhaps the Mexican author Gonzalo Celorio explained better than anyone else what transformation of the city means from the writer’s view, thereby exemplifying with reference to Mexico City and the D.F. not only the intrinsic relationship between social dynamics and urban transformation but also the impressive scope of his literary depiction. In other words, viewing the Mexican capital as a paper town allows to critically and productively examine the tensions that have ← 12 | 13 → intertwined the civic discourses and the powers that be, the people or citizenry and the administration throughout the history:

Nonetheless, among the city of Mexico’s splendors of old live on the voices of those who have sung of her, with lyrical accentuations, about when it was the region with the cleanest air; of those describing her, with worry, after having arrived from beyond the ocean or who had founded her in the language of Latin to give her consideration in the cities of the world or magnifying her with hyperbolic and stilted words; of those specifying her in scientific terms; of those liberating her with their civic discourses and their militant articles and of those recounting her customs and occurrences; of those recording and defining her, inventing and saving her from destruction by virtue of words. The voices, in sum, that have built her letter by letter in literature’s perseverant reality. Ours is a city of paper.11

From Europe, we look at Latin America as into a mirror or as into a laboratory for approaches and conflicts that we have to, or will have to live with here in Europe and which we will have to solve. Another component of this oblique perspective is to go further from the factuality of the cities and phenomena which are known so well by the geographers, sociologists and anthropologists contributing to this volume. It means the incorporation of fiction, to the capacity of imagination to develop modes of analysis, reflection and urban intervention. Perhaps the novel La Villa written by Argentinian author César Aira helps to understand problems with migration, inclusion/exclusion, social fragmentation and territorial dysfunctionalities, traps of discourse of public or governmental institutions etc. the most. This brief novel published in 2001 tells the story of a young bourgeois man from Plaza Flores in Buenos Aires (who is helping “cartoneros” to carry the garbage they collected to their close by village of the poor - villa miseria - in Bajo Flores), a reality that is still hidden, but excepting radical changes, inevitable in European societies: The derived misery of migration, the violence of profound socio-economical differences, human deterioration, ways of moral and material survival, creation of infraspaces (barely livable spaces) by the homeless as well as fear are its causes. But the novel also gives testimony of the efficiency of personal interventions, many times chances are loaded with sense. Literature – its peculiar cartographies, its social topographies and the artistic discourses in general with their imposing symbolic capital – also provides us with visions of the urban which sometimes even enters into what could be called the urban sub-consciousness, allowing us to understand this passionate phenomenon of contemporary civilization which is the urban life and the interaction – or dynamics – that it implies between nature ← 13 | 14 → and culture, community and person, institution and social groups, between the territory and mankind, the individual and society.

The horizon of the symbolic portrayal is precisely where the urban imaginaries express themselves in the proposed sense and which is split into two dimensions: the first one affects the definition and creative or analytical conception of the city in itself on the part of the writers (or artists with their interventions in urban spaces [Spitzer, chapter 15]) in its anthropological order, in its condition of space for human beings, while the second refers to the perception on the part of the habitants of a particular city, thus being guided much more by pragmatic and essential considerations. In sociological terms, referring to Henri Lefebvre12 we could say that the city of the writers and artists is part of the espace conçu (conceived space) whereas the city of the habitants and readers of an urban text – or spectators of a film or a videogame and the participants in a role-play game with an urban setting (Abuín, chapter 9) – recommits in a much better way to the l’espace perçu (perceived space), and tends to be preconditioned or transmitted many times in the communication media; in both cases imagination plays a considerable role as a matrix in the constructing of the city, be it as an analytic of its discourses (conceived space) or as perception (perceived space) linked to the actual lived-in space which in the first case of the literary depictions in the same socio-anthropological sense as applied by Néstor García Canclini in Imaginarios urbanos13. This very dynamic point of the convergence of the espace véçu in the imagination (of the artist or the habitant of a given city) justifies in each case the imagined order of the urban construction, the condition of imagined cities in which the respective urban reference is transformed.

We present in this book the basic intellectual output of several discussions in the context of the European network Urban Dynamics. Our subject now is to show and to develop global perspectives for sociocultural urban management as well as perspectives of creative urban planning and design. Urban Dynamics caters to two basic aspects: to the socio-cultural perspective of the respective dynamics and to the aspect of mediation between the disciplines of the urban domain as well as between institutions, administrations and other actors intervening in the continuous process of the reinvention of cities in order for them not to cease being human spaces or, in this case, in order for the entire urban territory to regain an anthropological order. Clearly, an increased emphasis must be placed on ← 14 | 15 → conducting interdisciplinary work at the interface between social sciences and humanities. Yet to this end, networking between institutions on a European level is not the only thing required; transcontinental ties need to be leveraged if sustainable solutions are to be developed. Within this frame for our research and study14 proposal we choose seven main topics and the outlines of the future program of Urban Dynamics: cities and public spaces, urban heritage production, social management, citizen re-appropriation of the city, cultural and artistic practices in urban spaces, migrations and diasporas, cultural imaginaries, identities and literary cartographies of urban spaces. The following chapters of this book will be dealing with these subjects in order to think of an open city. Trying to break the frontier of social segregation, attempting to overcome the territorial and cultural fragmentation we imagine a city that aspires to provide to all its inhabitants a dignified life and institutions to guarantee it. To dynamise this city for women and men is the task which we have imposed on ourselves writing this book. ← 15 | 16 →

1 “[…] nuestro orbe se ha vuelto una urbe […] Internet, postula una ciudad ubicua, infinita: el imaginario del mundo virtual es ciudadano”. Caparrós, M.: “El orbe es una urbe (y desespera)” [electronic version]. El país 10.03.2017, retrieved 03.07.2017, from http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2017/03/09/babelia/1489086691_419487.html.

2 “Que la ciudad sea para tantos la única esperanza quizás explique —o ayude a explicar— por qué vivimos en una época que ya no sabe qué esperar.” (loc. cit.).

3 Mongin, O. (2007) [2005]. La condition urbaine, la ville à l’heure de la mondialisation, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, reissue coll. poche Points Seuil.

4 Carlier Louise, «De la contestation au compromis : quelle critique sociale dans les mobilisations urbaines à Bruxelles ?», revue Mouvements (65), 2011/1.

5 Cousin S., Diament-Tran G., Gravani-Barbas M. & Jacquot S. (2015). «Contre la métropole créative… Tout contre. Les politiques patrimoniales et touristiques de Plaine Commune, Saint-Denis», revue Métropoles 17/2015, Dossier Politiques urbaines alternatives (2).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (September)
Urban Studies Public Space Literary Urbanism Identities Urban Imaginaries Migrations
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 356 pp., 5 fig. col., 19 fig. b/w, 7 tables, 1 graphs

Biographical notes

Anne-Marie Autissier (Volume editor) Javier Gómez Montero (Volume editor) Anxo Abuín (Volume editor) Victor Andrés Ferretti (Volume editor) Rubén Camilo Lois González (Volume editor) Rainer Wehrhahn (Volume editor)

Anne-Marie Autissier is Head of the Institute for European Studies (IEE) at the University of Paris 8. Javier Gómez-Montero is Head of the Institute of Romance Studies at Kiel University. Anxo Abuín is Professor of Literary Theory at the University of Santiago de Compostela. Victor A. Ferretti is Assistant Professor of Romance Studies at Kiel University. Rubén Lois González is Head of the Department of Geography at the University of Santiago de Compostela. Rainer Wehrhahn holds the Chair of Human Geography (Urban and Population Geography) at Kiel University.


Title: Urban Dynamics
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358 pages