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Reviewed by:
  • Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City by Edgar Illas
  • William Viestenz

1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona, Cosmopolitanism, Mediterraneanism, Global Capitalism, Post-Marxism

edgar illas. Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City: Liverpool UP, 2012. 244 pp.

The title of Edgar Illas’s Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City asserts a double epistemology; namely, Barcelona is at once a contemplative subject whose urban model elicits transformations as well as a concept, to be thought through critically, containing various ideological foreclosures. The argument of Thinking Barcelona begins with the latter and ends with the former—in a very convincing fashion that will be welcomed by scholars of Barcelona’s urban transformation of the 1980s to the present day. Illas proposes to analyze the ideologies fabricated within the political and social imaginary in Barcelona in the lead up to, and aftermath of, the 1992 Olympic Games, a time period that produced a “euphoric politics” that bore a spectral relationship with the past and crafted various systems of thought to be applied to the articulation and retrofitting of public space. Politically, Barcelona’s evolution also unleashed cosmopolitan forms of citizenship and national identity, but Illas is careful to stress that such movements are effects of the structural forces that modes of production exert on given historical circumstances. Thinking Barcelona comprises a wide spectrum of cultural critique, including analyses of novels, urban master plans, public speeches, and political declarations. Illas trenchantly deploys an array of critical theories, generally from the Marxist and deconstructionist schools of thought, which provide a sociohistorical framework that slots the study of post-Olympic Barcelona into more expansive discussions related to urban planning and postmodern globalization. Illas’s frequent incorporation of critical theory never feels gratuitous. Even more remarkably, Thinking Barcelona’s theoretical maneuvers never hurtle the book’s primary object of study into the aporetic, irreducible paradoxes that tend to accompany poststructuralist analysis. This is evidenced in [End Page 240] Illas’s productive fourth chapter and conclusion: that critically thinking through Barcelona teaches key lessons regarding the way urban planning can limit the capitalist logic of suburban expansion and, secondly, that the radical openness of public spaces can predicate an emancipatory politics that uproots ideology from the collective perception of civic space and historical time.

On this latter point, Illas argues very rightfully that open public spaces in the postmodern megalopolis suffer an “open indeterminacy,” as they are both condemned to rapid obsolescence and deprived of being spaces for the “living together of people” (214). The target of Illas’s critique is the tourist economy of Barcelona and the vast commodification of its spaces, which were meant to project to the global economy the city’s distinctiveness. This analysis of public space, coming at the conclusion of the book, tempts the reader to return to a contradiction that Illas outlines in the introduction. To wit, “urban public spaces stand for the constitutive but unavailable essence of the city” (21). The city’s openness to a heterogeneous occupation of public spaces also establishes the consumer market that enables the privatization and commodification of the polis, often through the marriage of political and economic agents, ultimately defusing the original openness to all. Illas thinks through this paradox in relation to the urban cosmopolitanist discourse of Barcelona’s Ajuntament (city council) that gained considerable traction throughout Pasqual Maragall’s tenure as mayor. The phenomenon, of course, exceeds Barcelona and touches all postmodern megalopolises—one thinks in particular of the 2013 renaming of the Plaza del Sol metro station in Madrid ‘Vodafone Sol’—, which reveals the utility of Thinking Barcelona’s critique for other spaces beset by the same contradiction.

At the book’s conclusion, Illas cogently outlines how public occupation of these spaces undermines corporate proprietorial belongings and can seek to expose political agendas tied to commodification The pending question for this reader is whether such an emancipatory politics can endure and supersede the contradiction outlined in Thinking Barcelona’s introduction, based on the sole questioning of paradox and “ideological vigilance” (77). Such vigilance, of course, may resist the commodification of public space by political and economic agents at the service of the tourist industry in Barcelona. But without...


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pp. 240-243
Launched on MUSE
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