Scientific Project

For an anthropological approach to urban transformation

A debate has been opened during the 1990s through anthropology of the contemporary world around the distinction between an "anthropology of the city" and "anthropology in the city". The latter, in the tradition of the Chicago School, is mainly concerned with social or ethnic groups in the city. Others, however, do not conceive the city as a scientific object itself, but as a specific epistemic context producing scientific objects and concepts. Enriched by the knowledge that these approaches have produced over the city, today we consider important to position ourselves otherwise. We propose to develop an urban anthropology whose purpose is no longer to question the city in its literal conception but to include all that currently exceeds its administrative and historical limits. The effects of the increased urbanization of the world require us to rethink and re-question the old framework in which the city was positioned. The urban is no longer simply the context where group dynamics can be observed, a scenography, or an abstract epistemological object, but a concrete and symbolic process where space and time are continually imagined, narrated, negotiated and organized by the people who live it, by those who design and manage it through a series of situational constraints (physical, political, economic, etc.). .
Being enrooted in a school of architecture and within the anthropology of the space since our laboratory’s birth and in the first two decades of its existence (80-90), allowed us to choose the legacy that gave us the know-how to deal with this "materiality", which is the space, to measure ourselves with the “concrete”, that etymologically bears the idea of growing together (cum-crescere). Thus, our objects of research are considered from the standing point of the materiality of the spaces, of the practices and of the bodies; in their relations with representations, meaning and symbolic values attributed to them individually and collectively.
From the point of view of architecture, as a discipline, we consider urban transformation as a process whose physical production of space is only one component. Therefore detailed observation of this process is associated, in a critical approach, to ethnography and analysis of the stakeholders (inhabitants, urban planners and decision makers) who co-participate in different scales to urban transformation. The legacy that our approach is based on stems not only from the humanities but also from a past urban study tradition, alternative to the modern movement, which sees this complex, interdisciplinary and experimental analysis of the city as a pivotal part of the architectural project.

Materials processes and discourses transforming territories are so intertwined that it is necessary to analyse them together to understand the complexity and interdependencies. To learn how to look at and describe the urban transformation has become one of our major challenges without clinging to our disciplinary habitus (without either, for that, giving up our own methodological tools) so that a new look and a common language can emerge and become operative. Thus, the development of a transdisciplinary approach has become one of our scientific requirements, which resulted in the construction of conceptual and methodological tools to understand dynamically urban transformation in the articulation of its spatial and time scales.
Focus on urban transformation amounts to perceive the world as an uncertain space, revealing the macro and micro processes affecting society "in the making": three moments run into each others, the "city inherited" the "current city” and finally the "projected city" that constantly confront themselves with their horizons. Exploring the city "in the making" means to refrain from choosing one of these three moments, but instead, work them together, recompose them even anachronistically, to understand their connections in the process of material and imaginary construction.

This approach is based on a form of “traditional” intelligence of understanding the world, which relates "little gestures", sewn materials, with the knowledge “in the making”. In our opinion, building a thought also goes through an "impertinent empiricism " as a way of always testing our certainties