Actor-Network Theory, Gabriel Tarde and the Study of an Urban Social Movement: The Case of Can Ricart, Barcelona

Abstract

This article explores the possibilities that a deeper engagement with the work of Gabriel Tarde opens for Actor-Network Theory (ANT). It argues that the combination of ANT’s methodological and analytical orientation and Tarde’s neo-monadology offers a useful framework for the study of new forms of political activism. Findings from an ethnographic project on the conflict surrounding the eviction and demolition of the Can Ricart factory in Barcelona are used to discuss: a) how ANT transforms the objects of inquiry into performative, relational entanglements (or monads); and b) how Tarde’s neo-monadology helps to re-imagine the political in ANT, moving away from the design of new parliamentary forms and towards a politics of invention. Three key moments of invention in the conflict of Can Ricart are examined: the assemblage of a new activist collective, the fabrication of the very factory the movement was trying to save, and the generation of a bifurcation in the conditions of possibility in which the conflict was taking place.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    “Plataforma Salvem Can Ricart” in its original Catalan name.

  2. 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). Poble Nou falls within the Sant Marí District.

  3. 3.

    Latour’s involvement with Tarde is part of a wider wave of interest triggered by the re-edition of the latter’s complete works from 1999 onwards. Within sociology it has unfolded mostly by way of revisiting his controversy with Durkheim (see Candea 2010; Vargas et al. 2008).

  4. 4.

    It could certainly be argued that Lazzarato’s rather monolithic description of Marxism does no justice to Marx’s own theory. Nonetheless, the “straw enemy” he is confronting may be useful in elucidating the limitations of the Hegelian current in Marxist thought. Lazzarato’s position in this regard is similar to that of other post-structuralist Marxists, such as Ernesto Laclau (2005), who has discussed at length the “need to extract Marx from Hegel,” i.e. to escape the latter’s closed system of relations and its teleological underpinnings. There are further points of convergence between these authors, such as the key role they attribute to heterogeneity in the articulation of antagonism—although there are also substantial differences between the Lacanian tradition Laclau embodies and the Deleuzian lineage of which Lazzarato is part. It falls outside the scope of this article to delve into the different paths produced by the influence of post-structuralism in radical Marxist thought, but it is worth making explicit the connection between Lazzarato’s position and a wider debate at the heart of Marxist theory.

  5. 5.

    Federico Ricart was a finance director turned real estate developer. His great-great-great grandfather, Jaume Ricart i Guitart (1801–1872), started the family’s successful textile business and married a noblewoman. Her family’s title would eventually find its way to Federico Ricart, who since 2004 has been Marquis of Saint Elizabeth. (For a brief reconstruction of the family history, see Marrero-Guillamón 2008, 61–62).

  6. 6.

    I have translated the names of all these organizations to facilitate the flow of the text (except La Makabra, which is a made-up word). Their original names are: Associació de Veïns i Veines del Poblenou, Grup de Patrimoni Industrial del Fòrum de la Ribera del Besòs, Arxiu Històric del Poblenou, Coordinadora Contra el 22@ and Assemblea de Joves del Poble Nou.

  7. 7.

    The factory walls were a testament to this. In late 2004 graffiti read things like: “Ricart-22@ Bloodsuckers!!!” or “You little Marquis, you won’t get away with this.” When the owner painted over the walls in black, new slogans were written that read: “Doing it well—evicting everyone,” and “Clean Barcelona…of left-wing politicians” (these are all détournements of the City Council’s PR campaigns).

  8. 8.

    Secrecy was one of the City Council’s conditions for initiating the negotiation, but it was not achieved. The first meeting was already leaked to the press (Cia 2005) and, later on, when the new plan was passed in 2009, it included in its introduction a description of the negotiation process.

  9. 9.

    “Bé Cultural d’Interès Nacional” or “BCIN” in Catalan.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Rafa Reina (www.rafaelreina.es) for granting me permission to use his images. I am also grateful to the guest editors and the anonymous reviewers for their detailed feedback on previous versions of the article. Last but not least, I would like to thank Theo Lorenc, with whom I have been fortunate to discuss the work of Gabriel Tarde at length.

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Correspondence to Isaac Marrero-Guillamón.

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Marrero-Guillamón, I. Actor-Network Theory, Gabriel Tarde and the Study of an Urban Social Movement: The Case of Can Ricart, Barcelona. Qual Sociol 36, 403–421 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-013-9259-3

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Keywords

  • Barcelona
  • Urban sociology
  • Social movements
  • Ontology
  • Ethnography
  • Monadology