Accepted Paper:

Rambla 2.0: continuity and change in a Catalan city  


Francine Barone (HRAF at Yale University)

Paper short abstract:

The digital age has ushered in profound changes in urban environments. However, important continuities with the past remain. This paper contrasts traditional sociality with social media in Spain to highlight how attention to place and locality are essential for a digital anthropology of urban life.

Paper long abstract:

Seemingly detached from physical locales, the Internet, computers and mobile devices offer myriad opportunities for personal and social transformation. Twitter has been overzealously credited with enabling revolution; Facebook has become a household word; YouTube launches nobodies to stardom; and blogs provide soapboxes for any web denizens wishing to vent their frustrations or publish their thoughts.

Given the ubiquity and global reach of new media, it is not surprising that fears surrounding the potential eradication of traditional cultural forms are common and recurring in the digital age. However, in part, this paper suggests that any potentially transformative powers afforded to digital media are actually tied to the socio-cultural contexts of everyday, offline life within specific geographic locales rather than belonging to the technology itself. As such, digital spaces are best understood as local places contiguous with the urban geography.

Derived from 15 months of fieldwork in a Catalan city, the case study in this paper describes a daily social drama emblematic of Spanish culture known as the "paseo" or "passeig". This activity, which takes place on the Rambla - a public square in the city centre - is presently regarded by residents of all ages as threatened by modernity and therefore on the decline. But is it possible that this "endangered" cultural form has found new life online? By drawing parallels between the practice of interactive photo-blogging and the passeig, it becomes possible to obviate notions about the dangers of virtual spaces and, in turn, to situate new media practices as genuinely local.

Panel P121
Global cities: digital urbanisation in the 21st century (Commission on Urban Anthropology)