Carrer de l’Hospital - Barcelona

This 3rd workshop was framed around the topic of power and the senses and focused on urban branding, tourism and place attachments. This was in part determined by questions emerging from the discussions in London and Cologne. As in Cologne, the senses strongly frame urban identity of Barcelona, yet for different reasons. Barcelona as a ‘second’ national city, the capital of Catalonia, has been heralded globally as a role model for urban regeneration and urban branding.

The methodological emphasis of the Barcelona fieldwork workshop was on the representation of sensory relationships and how to make these tangible for different audiences. On the second day five inter-disciplinary, cross-professional groups were asked to analyse sensory power relations in the Carrer Hospital with a view to the ‘audience’ they were going to present them to: youth, tourists, policy makers, locals and museum curators.

To see the full report:

Monica Degen, Astrid Swenson & Manuela Barz, ‘AHRC Sensory Cities Network Barcelona Workshop Report, 16th – 17th June 2016, Centro de Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona, []


1. Sensory Hierarchies:

1. Sensory Hierarchies:

To understand, and change how power relations are created through the senses, it is crucial to take into account how sensory hierarchies have been constructed in different cultures and how cultural hierarchies are linked to the senses. Three points in particular invite further reflection: a) Historical, anthropological and philosophical studies have highlighted how, in Western culture, the visual and aural sense have long been identified with knowledge and communication and therefore the intellect and the mind, while smell, taste and touch have placed in a lower order as linked to the bodily. How these hierarchies affect sensing, research and policy in different contexts needs further reflection. b) In the context of Barcelona, the visual sense came up again and again as being reductive, as it simplified the complex identity of the city. Not only is the visual less reliable than we might think, but as can be seen through the false expectations created through urban marketing which relies heavily on visual promotion for example, places are often not experienced as they are seen. Consequently, when a ‘landscape’ turns into a multisensory environment conflict among different groups can emerge. c) Meanwhile, neurological, philosophical and anthropological studies have highlighted that there are many more senses than the conventional five and that we need to reframe how we think of experience and the sensory repertoire. d) Moral codes frame and influence sensory experiences. We learn to evaluate specific stimuli over time and situate them within our social and cultural knowledge. Neuroscientist have shown that sensory disgust and moral outrage are closely connected in the brain: as a result, humans, seem to associate poverty or defilement to particular sensory constellations. Urban planning and its link to social hygienism reflects this point clearly. At the same time work from the social and historical sciences suggests that these associations are cultural and historically constructed. This invites to reflect more on correlation or causation between sensing and judging.

2. Presence and Absence:
3. Decoding and recoding the senses:
4. Communicating the Senses:
5. Citizenship, conviviality and playfulness:

Groups and methods

1. Research and Representing for Children (13-16 year olds):

1. Research and Representing for Children (13-16 year olds):

We began by discussing our individual thoughts, interests and any inspirations or considerations that sprang from the papers delivered the previous day, particularly those directly about el Raval. These and later discussions were considerably enriched by the presence of ‘a Barcelona insider’ – Julia – who could contribute views and information that would not otherwise have been available to the group. How much background ‘scene setting’ a researcher needs in order to capture the full meaning and qualities of the sensory environment is probably a matter for debate, but given the short time available to us, this crash course was invaluable.

The social and intellectual development of this user group is an important factor in structuring the research. Members of this age group start thinking about themselves as part of their surroundings and possible engagements with their environment in the present but also future. They also increasingly start to question the positions offered by adults and develop a conscience of their own actions understanding cause and effect. Peer groups and friendships become very important. There was therefore agreement that for the 13 – 16 age group, participation and direct engagement were key for both the process of research and for communicating the findings in any sort of output: the project had to be designed on their terms.

It was also agreed that 13 – 16 year olds were more likely to be engaged by something about them and their peer group: in Lars’ words, ‘seeing their own position is the best hook for getting them interested’. It appeared also important to consider the cultural and social differences within this group and how those could and should contribute to the research.

> Challenges
We felt we faced many challenges …

  • Too old: Our own experiences of being 13-16 were situated in the past and within different cultural and social surroundings.
  • Wrong time of day: The 13 /16s were all in school so their current use of the street spaces was a matter for imagination rather than observation.
  • Wrong time of year: It was Ramadan – a consideration, given the local demographic
  • Too little time: Even for sensory explorations, researchers need a lot of time to prepare and think before launching into action – and this we didn’t have.


> Methods
How were the 13/16s to collect the data? There was some discussion about what degree of structure should frame the project’s ‘task’. For example:

  • More unstructured / observing task: give them a camera / recorder and tell them to move around capturing whatever interests them personally. The data comes from their current physical use of the space and their movement through it.
  • More structured / game playing task: give them an imagined scenario, e.g. a global fashion brand wants to create a new perfume based on the ‘authentic’ smells and feel of el Raval: the task is to analyse the smells and pitch the results to the client. The data comes from their take on what the smells of the space mean to them.
  • More structured / analytical task: Analysing and marking pleasant and unpleasant sensory experiences in space using different coloured chalk – e.g. circling areas of particular smells or obstacles to or assets for use.

The project task we settled on incorporated everything (!) The 13/16s would be tasked with observing and analysing the sensory qualities of the space as it is now, but with a view to communicating to their peers their ideas for interventions that would make the space better for them. We assumed that the 13 /16s currently do not use the C. Hospital and its neighbouring public spaces very much – this was somewhere to go through, rather than hang out. The resulting data would be twofold – their analyses of the space’s current sensory qualities: plus their feelings about what it meant – as expressed through what changes, if any, they would like. Ideas around power would be brought into how the young people were briefed on the task, for example through prompt questions which focus on the source of smells / noise etc and who is allowed or not allowed to occupy or use the space in this way:

  • what / who is preventing you from sitting or hanging out here?
  • who / what has the right to make loud noises here?
  • Are the smells here made by ‘approved (by the Council)’ groups or individuals? Etc

A. Draft project scheme/ timetable:

  • Stage 1 – Explore and analyse: Young people divide up into groups to analyse the sensory qualities of C. Hospital. Different groups might go to different spaces along the street – Rambla del Raval /Pl. St Augusti etc.
  • Stage 2 – Mark up the space: Using coloured chalks, the groups mark up the space in an agreed way (eg the boundaries of a particular smell). The aim of this to try and capture the ephemeral, and it might be fun… We also considered that some agreement with local stakeholders might be necessary/ethically advisable before the chalking takes place.
  • Stage 3 – Compare and consult: Groups compare their findings with others. In order to bring a sense of wider community, the 13 / 16s would also be asked to test their ideas on groups or individuals beyond their age group – local residents, older people etc.
  • Stage 4 – Design an intervention: Decide on what intervention would be beneficial for their 13 / 16 age group – in the sense of making the space more habitable for them and their friends.
  • Stage 5 – Communicate to their peers
    social media / instagraming etc: an obvious way of communicating to their peer group, friendship or school networks, and 13 /16s in other cities. A Festival – embodying their findings in an event: possibly building something into the traditional Sant Ponc (?) celebrations that fill the street every May.

B. FURTHER observations
After these discussions, we walked the territory as a group, and then split up to reflect and observe on our own. This was intended to test out some of the ideas about 13 / 16s discussed above, and also to gather data generally with the overall requirements of the Sensory Cities network in mind.

The observations / findings included:
The marked difference between street space and plaza space and how to capture and evoke this difference in a productive way. One important aspect of street space is bodily movement and negotiation of distance with other (differently abled, smelling, noisy, decorated) bodies in movement.

The cultural and social differences of young people using the area – which groups can be found where and when (e.g. Jardins de Rubio i Lluch and hotels).
A mapping of what we perceived of as sensory obstacles for the specific age group that might provide some ideas of how they use space or what might prevent their use of space (e.g. physical barriers demarcation lines created by restaurants and cafes – tables, planting pots but also economic barriers – being able to afford a place in a cafe, and relationships/spatial sharing with other actors – e.g. homeless people and pigeons)

Mapping traces in space (physical and virtual) we perceived of might provide clues of the spatial use by the age group but also specific cultural and social groups – graffiti, instagram images (teenage tourists/students).

2. Research and Representing for tourists:
3. Research and Representation for Museum Curators:
4. Research and Representation for Policy Makers:
5. Research and Representation for Locals: