Urban transformations

From the Paris Commune to the Madrid Commune

2013 Course program

Directed by: Observatorio Metropolitano de Madrid
Teaching team: Observatorio Metropolitano de Madrid, Peter Linebaugh and Laurent Bonelli


Map of Haussmann's interventions in Paris, 1852-1870
Map of Haussmann's interventions in Paris, 1852-1870

In the jargon of the hygiene-focused urban planning style of the 19th century, never totally abandoned, the aim of this seminar would be urban infection and social pathology. From the leisure activities of the popular classes to the immorality of the tavern culture, from back street hovels to the working-class political societies and social uprisings, the same "vicious" circle has preoccupied those in charge of urban governing: the connection between the autonomy of the imaginaries and ways of life with the possibility of a revolutionary change. But, how is the city, as a space of multiplicities, to be governed without freezing it in a time that would do nothing for its permanently revolutionized functions within the framework of capitalist accumulation?

The present course poses this question in a matrix of three elements: urban transformation guided and governed by the rapid process of capitalist urbanization or, in other words, the continual reinvention of the city (of its morphologies, economic specializations, social subjects, etc.); the threat and the reality of revolt and of insurrection by a wide variety of subaltern subjects; and, the constitution of political, cultural and aesthetic imaginaries that have put forth formulations of the urban sphere (of urban society) that are totally different from the hegemonic ones in their respective times.

The proposed itinerary is both historical and prospective, by means of the analysis of four exemplary cities, each in their own way, of urban planning, social convulsions and the most significant cultural expressions of their times: 17th century London, the city of the first bourgeois revolution, Puritanism and political theatre; the Paris Commune of 1871, post-Haussmann Paris and the First International; the Berlin of the1910s, Dada, the war and the revolutionary cycle of 1918-1921; and finally the anarchist Barcelona of the 1930s.

The course is conceived from the vantage point of activist research, a theoretical and methodological approach in which students are urged to view knowledge not as something neutral and objective, but rather to understand that the researcher's point of departure and his or her interests are what determine, to a large extent, the results of the study. Activist research does not hesitate to take sides in response to the inequality and dispossession found in contemporary cities, with the presupposition of the importance of research in the processes of social self-organization.

Objective of the course

The objective of this course is primarily to develop a question, a hypothesis, as well as a close approximation of the investigation of the political, social and urban future of a large city such as Madrid; a city in the process of intense urban transformation (during the glorious period of the real estate bubble) and simultaneously, criss-crossed by major political tensions, the result of the 15M social movements and the so-called "austerity measures". This examination is accompanied by a historical look at other European cities that also underwent major social uprisings and, at times, significant urban mutations.

Course calendar

The course will take place between the first week of March and the first week of June 2013. The research process in which students will engage, however, lasts until September 2013.
The course sessions will combine public presentations with reading seminars prepared by the students themselves, workshops in which students will learn about different cartographies, excursions—research-related outings and fieldwork. Between June and September 2013, participants must complete a small research project under the guidance of the Observatorio Metropolitano. The subject matter, objectives and characteristics of this project will be determined during the course. Completion of the research project is essential in order to obtain the certificate.
The study and research process includes seminars, lectures, workshops and tutorials.
Total hours of coursework: 150
75 hours of workshops, tutorials and seminars
75 hours of research
The course schedule will be: Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, as well as two full Saturdays in March and April.

Students and admission

This course is designed for activists involved in urban movements, as well as students, professors and professionals who work in urban planning, the production and management of the city and its history, and urban sociology, geography and anthropology. Course attendance is required, as is designing and conducting a research project.

The applications submitted will be evaluated according to the interest of the applicants as expressed in the letter of motivation. The program requires regular attendance (please check calendar) and a theoretical-practical research project.
Number of students: Minimum of 20 and maximum of 25 participants
Registration period: January 2 - 31, 2013 (registration is now closed).
Registration method: download and complete the following application (solicitud) (including a letter of motivation) and send it to the following e-mail address: centrodeestudios@museoreinasofia.es (you will receive an email acknowledging receipt of the application).
The list of admitted applicants will be posted on the Museum's web page on February 15, 2013.
Participants must have at least an intermediate level of English, in order to understand the sessions given by guest speakers. A command of other languages will also be taken into consideration.

A Study Centre program sponsored by Fundación Banco Santander.