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Prostituting the Global City: The Case of Twenty-First Century Barcelona


My dissertation argues that contemporary urban spaces such as the city of Barcelona are metaphorically being prostituted. To understand this approach I propose a concept that is new to the fields that I am investigating: the prostitution of urban space. The prostitution of urban space is a global phenomenon developing in the twenty-first century, in which local governments in alliance with powerful financial companies invest in cities and convert them into consumable products.

The totality of the city (streets, monuments, buildings, culture, identity) is converted into an easily consumable product directed at the global economic system and the foreign visitor, eager customers that desire to consume the metropolis rapidly, as a luxurious, pleasant, and fun commodity. This often results in violent gentrification practices that evict residents from their homes, erasing multicultural histories of communities and peoples. The foreign visitor or tourist then enjoys the services that the metropolis offers, pays his dues, and consumes the exotic, seductive, and clean city, a product especially designed for him. In this scheme, governmental officials and financial and real estate groups act as pimps, or procurers of the prostituted metropolises.

My dissertation examines how authors negotiate with the prostitution of urban space developing in Barcelona through movies, documentaries, theater plays, short stories, graphic novels, and art exhibits. Documentaries like La extranjera (2015) by Miguel Ángel Blanca, theater plays like Barcelona, mapa de sombras (2004) by Lluïsa Cunillé, and short stories such as “La ofrenda” (2013) by Teresa Solana create alternative urban visions for the city of Barcelona, which defend strategies to control tourism, give public space back to citizens, and strengthen the historical and cultural characteristics of the city.

I have discovered that the materials advocate for the necessity of change, and indicate the direction and the values that the city should follow in the future. They defend the idea of a democratic, historically and culturally rich city, with regulatory policies to control tourism, and the development of strategies to give public space back to residents. Tourism, then, is not categorically opposed in their works. In fact, in most of the cases these authors understand it as a part of the identity of current Barcelona, but they nonetheless emphasize the need for control and regulation of the industry. They also endorse an economic system that, instead of focusing on the interests of global financial corporations, supports working-class, low-income inhabitants.

I propose that these artistic and cultural reactions have been successful in raising awareness on the prostitution of urban space in Barcelona; however, I have found that the city continues to relentlessly promote her global image. While still dependent on tourism, the current local government is marketing the metropolis under a new narrative, which promotes the city as a multi-cultural, feminist and democratic space. This implies that the prostitution of urban space will continue in the city albeit the critiques and social responses analyzed in this dissertation, especially under a neoliberal economic system that perpetuates all forms of consumption and commodification.

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