Appointed As

Institute of Arts and Humanities


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of California, San Diego

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Anthropology, University of California, Irvine

Dissertation Abstract

"Architecting Participation: Making Lived Models for and of Democratic Participation in Barcelona"

Barcelona has become a magnet for tourism and development, but this has gripped the city in an ecologically ruinous cycle of speculation, abandonment, demolition, and renewal. As residents are pushed to the city’s once-industrial periphery by gentrification and urban “upgrading,” they encounter vacant lots, empty buildings, and overgrown river reeds. The dissertation investigates residents’ design experiments with these residues of capitalism and climate change. It explores the relationship between democratic design and community sustainability across three sites: a working-class neighborhood where residents used “auto-construction” to rehabilitate an abandoned factory as a social center; educational eco-architecture workshops where architects train diverse participants in construction techniques for making free-standing buildings with river reeds; and professionally facilitated, government-sponsored participatory planning meetings across Barcelona, where residents, planners, and government officials work out democratic but non-majoritarian visions for urban space.
My dissertation, Architecting Participation: Making Lived Models for and of Democratic Participation in Barcelona, explores how residents of Barcelona use participatory architecture to contest and construct shared experiences of neighborhood-based democracy and sustainability. This dissertation argues that design and construction practices have become techniques for building democracy in Barcelona. The dissertation explores how residents and experts use building practices to intermingle community-making, democratic deliberation, and the production of lay expertise. It draws on 21 months of ethnographic field research with participatory architecture studios and grassroots social movements engaged in urban place-making, including participant-observation, open-ended interviews, and audio and video recordings of participatory design meetings and construction workshops.
While residents’ participation has been a component of urban planning in Barcelona since the 1980s, this dissertation finds that for many of Barcelona’s residents, emergent forms of participatory design and construction that arose in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis offer a means of creating alternative political and economic futures. Through participatory architecture and collective construction, collaborative experiments in making something new from the residues of post-industrial and gentrifying landscapes become exercises in practical democracy. I demonstrate that residents and architects make design processes into spaces of encounter wherein people cultivate new relationships by finding ways to agree on urban futures. As residents build a city that offers different ways of living together, they reanimate both empty urban spaces and design and construction processes as shelters for care work and community-making.
My work unites longstanding academic interest in the relationship between experiences of urban place and the practice of urban politics with recent enthusiasm about design as a world-making practice that might offer different ways for humans to relate to their environments. The dissertation brings anthropological techniques into architecture studios and public planning meetings. In particular, I look beyond participants’ conscious reflections on planning dynamics by using interaction and discourse analysis to trace the production of meaning and built form in participants’ tactile encounters and peripheral conversations. I argue that in between the anti-austerity 15M/indignados movement of 2011 and Catalan nationalist protests demanding a more democratic decision-making system in 2017 and 2019, Barcelona residents’ efforts to remake sociality and urban space at the scale of the neighborhood created a form of everyday democracy that does not depend on elected officials for expertise or authority and a model of urban development that treats existing post-industrial landscapes as resources rather than disposable refuse.