Public Spaces: Searching out the social underpinnings of democracy in everyday life
Title: Public Spaces: Searching out the social underpinnings of democracy in everyday life
Author: VICHERAT MATTAR, Daniela
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of Political and Social Sciences
This work is about the everyday relationship between public spaces and democracy. Based on the comparison of historical and qualitative data, it aim is to discuss the existence of an underpinning social experience of democracy that is the ground for, but also goes beyond, the institutional and political definitions of democracy. The thesis argues that, albeit in different ways, diverse public spaces such as public squares and shopping malls are both platforms for democratic practices in contemporary cities. Taking as a backdrop the relatively recent liberalisation processes carried out in Chile and Spain, the study focus on one central square and one shopping mall in each capital-that is, in Madrid the study concentrates in Puerta del Sol and La Vaguada, whereas in Santiago it is based on Plaza Italia and mall Plaza Vespucio. For each setting a twofold question guided this exploration: what are the social and political elements that characterise the transformation of specific locations into particularly significant public spaces and, in turn, how is democracy experienced daily and made viable through social practices within these settings. In order to answer these questions the analysis is based, on the one hand, on urbanhistorical data and newspaper accounts, while on the other hand it relies on the description of the daily routines of three different set of actors linked to these settings: those who relate to them as 'experts' (urban planners and mall developers), those who experience these places as working area, and those who inhabit them as ordinary visitors and frequenters. In spite of the differences among these set of actors and especially between public squares and shopping malls, the thesis defends that both locations serve as platforms for experiencing democracy. Experiences of access, connection, use, exchange, expression and respect are endowed within public squares and shopping malls, justifying not only the individuals’ appreciation of these locations as valuable public spaces, but also nourishing the idea of what is democracy about and the possibilities one has to experience it directly.
Defense date: 08/05/2010; Examining Board: Donatella Della Porta (EUI) Setha Low (City University of New York) (in absentia), Tracy B. Strong (Univ. California, San Diego), Peter Wagner (Univ. Trento) (Supervisor)
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