Actor-Network Theory, Gabriel Tarde and the Studyof an Urban Social Movement: The Case of CanRicart, Barcelona
Published online: 6 October 2013# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
Abstract This article explores the possibilities that a deeper engagement with the work ofGabriel Tarde opens for Actor-Network Theory (ANT). It argues that the combination of ANTsmethodological and analytical orientation and Tardes neo-monadology offers a useful frame-work for the study of new forms of political activism. Findings from an ethnographic project onthe conflict surrounding the eviction and demolition of the Can Ricart factory in Barcelona areused to discuss: a) how ANT transforms the objects of inquiry into performative, relationalentanglements (or monads); and b) how Tardes neo-monadology helps to re-imagine thepolitical in ANT, moving away from the design of new parliamentary forms and towards apolitics of invention. Three key moments of invention in the conflict of Can Ricart areexamined: the assemblage of a new activist collective, the fabrication of the very factory themovement was trying to save, and the generation of a bifurcation in the conditions of possibilityin which the conflict was taking place.
Keywords Barcelona . Urban sociology . Social movements . Ontology . Ethnography .
SAVECANRICART, DEFEND POBLENOU. Black uppercase letters printed on white vinyl;6 meters wide and almost 1 meters high. The banner, carried by ten men and women, led thedemonstration, and between six hundred and a thousand people, depending on the source,marched behind it. They were singing, chatting, blowing whistles, carrying placards, and playingwith beach balls that read Save Can Ricart. It was April 28th, 2005, 7:30 in the evening, at theRambla del Poble Nou in Barcelona. Among the demonstrators were workers, businessmen,neighbors, squatters, academics, children, senior citizens, politicians, and activists. Many ofthem carried their own banners: Property speculationbusiness as usual, 34 Families and250 workers drowned by Plan 22@, Fairer compensation payments for everyone. Severaljournalists and photographers walked around interviewing people and looking for favorableshooting positions. It was the largest demonstration the neighborhood had seen in three years.
Qual Sociol (2013) 36:403421DOI 10.1007/s11133-013-9259-3
I. Marrero-Guillamn (*)Department of Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, UKe-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The protest had been organized by the newly born Save Can Ricart Platform.1 They weredemonstrating against the eviction and demolition of the Can Ricart factory complex,planned as part of the City Councils Plan 22@ for the renewal of Barcelonas oldindustrial quarter, Poble Nou. As the demonstration crossed the Gran Via Avenue, trafficwas blocked for about twenty minutes and a large banner was hung from a scaffoldingstructure. It read Stop Plan 22@, Save Can Ricart.
The march ended outside the Districts Office2, where the Manifesto for Can Ricart(Plataforma Salvem Can Ricart 2005) was read by respected writer and journalist JosepMaria Huertas. The text denounced the violence that urban policy was exerting on the socialfabric, the historical heritage and the identity of the neighborhood. Real estate developers, withthe support of the local government, are planning our future according exclusively to theireconomic interests, while ignoring the opinions and the needs of the neighborhood and thecity, said Huertas. The City Councils plan to demolish Can Ricarthe continuednot onlyposed a risk to the survival of 34 companies and 240 workers that could play an important rolein the future of the neighborhood, but also threatened the loss of the most important example of19th century industrial architecture still standing. Huertas talked about the gentrification of thearea, the loss of its industrial landscape and identity, and the City Councils broken promiseswith regards to new jobs, affordable housing and public facilities. Before reading a 10-point listof demands, he concluded: We [neighbors] want to be actors in the economic, social, andcultural future of the neighborhood and the city. People applauded and cheered.
When the Can Ricart conflict exploded, I was convinced I had found the perfect case study for myPhD. My project sought to establish a link between the post-Fordist turn (Amin 1994) and thetransformation of Barcelonas Poble Nou neighborhood. Plan 22@, explicitly aimed at turningthis industrial area into a digital economy district, provided the spatio-temporal framework. Ithought Can Ricart would be the ideal site to illustrate the effects of post-Fordism on both theeveryday life of industrial workers and the areas built environment. And so, from 2005 to 2007 Iconducted an ethnographic study of the conflict based on a combination of participant observa-tion, archival research, an analysis of media coverage and semi-structured interviews.
Within this framework, the demonstration described above played a comforting role. Itprovided a starting point for my ethnographic narrative, complete with a recognizable mise enscne featuring a new social movement, a clear enunciation of the conflict, and an enemy. Ittook me a while to recognize the extent to which my initial formulation had uncriticallydeployed each of its concepts, objects and subjectsfrom post-Fordism to social move-ment and even Can Ricart. A growing engagement with Actor-Network Theory (ANT) andGabriel Tardes monadology made me rethink the conceptual and methodological architectureof my research halfway through it. Rather than theoretically conceptualizing post-Fordism andthen studying empirically its descent upon Poble Nou (and the resistances it generated in thecase of Can Ricart), my PhD became an exercise in studying the conflict in the oppositedirection: by systematically opening up each of its components and delving into their shiftingrelations. Hence, I engaged in detailed descriptions of many of the actors involved: the workers,
1 Plataforma Salvem Can Ricart in its original Catalan name.2 For administrative purposes, Barcelona City Council (Ajuntament de Barcelona) is divided into ten Districts(Districtes). Each District has a small Town Hall, known as the District's Office (Oficina del Districte). PobleNou falls within the Sant Mar District.
404 Qual Sociol (2013) 36:403421
the businesses, the buildings, the urban plan, the activist groups, the objects produced in theworkshops, the owner, the images used in the protest, etc. As soon as I started working in thisfashion, each component became a potentially infinite entanglement of disparate elements inrelationthe very definition of a monad according to Gabriel Tarde (2012). One of the firstconsequences of this methodological shift was that instead of taking for granted, as matters offact, the actors and concepts I would have normally started the analysis from, I learned toapproach them as matters of concern: gatherings rather than objects, real yet fabricated,and certainly subject to disputes and controversies (Latour 2005, 114). Even the solidity thatallowed them to be taken for granted became an object of inquiry in itself.
Instead of a classic introductory scene that frames the narrative and sets it in motion, the April2005 demonstration became a point of entry into many of the monads involved in theconflictthe beginning of an inward and long-winded journey, as it were. The Save CanRicart Platform, for example, went from being the activists group (i.e. an actor in the conflictand an explanatory resource) to a heterogeneous assemblage which itself needed to be explained.This implied studying its members and the relationship between them, the nonhuman devicesthat had allowed forging and sustaining an alliance, the tactics and the materials deployed in theirstruggle, and the discursive and conceptual repository they drew upon. Instead of a stable object-factory, I also started seeing Can Ricart as a material and conceptual accomplishment. Arduouswork (i.e. research, dissemination, lobbying) had been required to transform a collection ofindustrial workshops into a factory with great heritage value. Through this mode of engagement,the Post-Fordist transformation that had interested me from the beginning re-emerged, this timeembedded and embodied in a myriad of places and practices: in the discursive justification of theneed to renew the industrial district provided in urban plans; in the workers own conceptu-alization of how the globalization of the industry had affected their work and their role in the city;in the activists understanding of the City Councils plan as property speculation; and in thefactorys unplanned transformation into a mixed industry-art-culture hub.
This article addresses the central question raised by this special issuethe usefulness of ANTas a method and as a theory to inform qualitative researchby considering three keymoments inthe Can Ricart conflict and discussing the effects of approaching them from an ANT-Tardeperspective. Assemblages looks at the formation and composite nature of the alliance to savethe factory; Fabrications investigates one of the movements most notorious achievements, theconstruction of the very factory they were trying to save; and Bifurcations studies how themovements actions and creations managed to crack and shake up the very order of possibilitiestheywere operating in.My aim is twofold: First, I want to show howANT transforms our objectsof study into performative, relational entanglements or effects. Second, I want to show howTardes neo-monadology helps to re-imagine the political in ANT, moving away from the termsthat have dominated the discussion within the perspective, namely the conceptualization of new,expanded parliamentary