Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) – From Commoning to Infrastructuring:

Digital platforms as infrastructures for narrative exchange, empowerment and social integration in the “arrival” neighborhoods of Barcelona

Eleni Oureilidou

Urban narratives in Raval was the main objective of this Short-Term-Scientific Mission that took place in Barcelona from 1st until the 13th of March under the title “From commoning to infrastructuring: Digital platforms as infrastructures for narrative exchange, empowerment and social integration in the “arrival” neighborhoods of Barcelona”.

“El Raval”, one of the most famous central neighborhoods of Barcelona was known since the beginning of the 1920s as “el barrio chino”, or the China Town. Not because of Chinese migrants residing in the area, but because of the aesthetics of everyday life, which resembled to China Towns of big cities, like New York. The aim of the STSM is to collect and present old and new narratives, from the top-down and bottom-up, in order to understand social networks and catalysts that transformed the neighborhood into one of the most important enclaves of migration in the Mediterranean. This narrative exchange methodology, spanning from literature and traditional media to digital story-telling platforms aims to shed light into how the landscape of the “other” is institutionalized through an interplay of formal and informal urban places that accommodate an “accidental” lifestyle.

The theoretical background explores the “collective social imagination”, as defined by Castoriadis (1975) and the evolution of “commons”, from the “tragedy of the commons” until their liminal and rhizomatic character in recent social movements. In addition, urban narratives are examined, like hygiene and porosity and their impact on the neighborhood’s aesthetics from the top-down. These narratives were developed at the end of the 19th century from Cerda’s vision of a socially equal city and culminated shortly after the Olympic Games in the form of social cleansing. Like in most European metropoles, the city center needed regeneration to accommodate new users and touristic flows.  

However, in Raval, the lower social strata and migrants persisted, growing roots and establishing networks of economic, cultural, religious and entertainment nodes, building a multiethnic mosaic. Interviews with local formal and informal actors that sustain this network were conducted. In addition, older and new stories, urban legends and events were identified from the literature and neighborhood’s journals, like “The thief’s journal” from the ‘50s by Jean Genet, the story of “narcopisos” -drug squats, the “Enriquetta del Raval” – the Vampire of Barcelona, “La Monyos” and “Monica del Raval” that depict how the working class and luben proletariat were living together since the beginning of the previous century. New stories of everyday life were extracted from Instagram page, following a plethora of tags, like #ravaleando, #ravalistan, #wondersofraval, #soloenmacba, to understand current urban textures and forms of cohabitation through a freedom of social representation, cultural expression and difference. All the above have catalyzed urban commoning and the emergence of new symbols and urban places that keep the myth of “el barrio Chino” alive. Narratives during COVID-19 emergency has proven that these social networks have established a supportive infrastructure that enables diverse communities and identities to endure in crisis.

Fig.1: From left: Legends of “Barrio Chino” La Monyos” and “Monica del Raval”. Posters from the Olympic Games in Barcelona 1992

Fig.2: Instagram stories that reflect the everyday life in Raval

Fig.3: Instagram stories during COVID-19. From left: “Topmanta” clothes’ brand from African street vendors sewing masks. Neighbourhood’s support group distributing food. “El Gato del Botero”, the new symbol of Raval covered with hygiene mask.

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