“I Am the Space Where I Am”: Public Spaces and the Quests for Identity in Multicultural Cities

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Daniela Vicherat Mattar, Leiden University College, The Hague


    In “The Poetics of Space”, Gaston Bachelard uses the above line of Noël Arnaud to introduce his description of “corners”. Corners, according to him, are intimate spaces of retreat, silence and imagination, but also points of encounter. Ultimately, any corner is only possible when two sides meet. Like with corners, it is impossible to think about identity, in singular or plural, without the subsequent process of differentiation and (miss)recognition it implies (Connolly, Hall, Sennett, Taylor, among others). Precisely because identity/recognition have a relational character, they are necessarily constructed in and through social space. Spatiality is what appears as the anchor of feelings of belonging and identification. Spatiality is the condition and frame of any relational experience. It is the anchor of the world we have to share. Throughout a process of identification people possess a world and therefore they possess an identity. Nevertheless, traditionally identity formation tends to be attributed to the private sphere, while its correlative recognition is placed in the public domain. Yet, particularly since the 2011 and subsequent outbursts of social movements, it has become clear identities are not pre-given points of departure for politics and collective action, but on the contrary they are formed through experiences among others -particularly those of action and speech- that (wo)men engaged in when joining public spaces. In this paper I explore public spaces as the “corners” were processes of identity formation are produced, anchored, contested and recreated anew. The paper focuses on examining Puerta del Sol in Madrid and Plaza Italia in Santiago, their relevance to their respective identities of their cities and city-dwellers, the mutual determinations and the cultural images that each person project onto others, albeit the representations of these images during the recent social movements experienced in both cities. Eventually, the point of the paper is to propose a way of examining public spaces and identities through the metaphor of the corner, a particularly illustrative allegory to the challenge multicultural experiences pose to contemporary cities.