Academic journal article The Geographical Review

"Galicia's Hurricane": Actor Networks and Iconic Constructions

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

"Galicia's Hurricane": Actor Networks and Iconic Constructions

Article excerpt

In 1999 Manuel Fraga Iribarne, president of the autonomous Spanish region of Galicia, ordered the construction of the Cidade da Cultura (CdC), an emblematic, six-building complex dedicated to the preservation, celebration, and production of Galician culture and identity. In Fragas own words, the project was to be a "beacon for culture ... [,] the greatest effort in the last centuries ... [, and] conceived with greatness, representative of all Galicia" (GCXG n.d.).

Not all Galicians, however, shared this vision. Despite Fragas claims regarding the numerous benefits for the region, the grandiose project has generated much controversy. Although many Galicians anxiously await its completion, local opposition to the CdC has ranged from verbal discontent to attempted arson. Among the more critical local media it rapidly acquired the name "Fraga City," suggesting that Fragas personal agendas, such as the encouragement of tourism or the construction of a grandiose monument to himself, influenced his political strategy to manipulate Galicia's image (Seoane 2001). This, in addition to accusations of government graft, cronyism, and nepotism, fueled controversies surrounding the building that coalesced to form what became known colloquially as "Galicias Hurricane," a tumultuous mix of political, cultural, and national sentiments encapsulated within an unfinished structure that purportedly represents the region.

Confident in his vision and authority, Fraga never anticipated that the complex network of human and nonhuman actors that came to surround it would erode his control of the project. Political tensions within and across party lines also plagued its timely advancement. Not only did the CdC project greatly exceed its initial projected completion date and triple in cost during its first years of construction, it also generated an international controversy.

In a globalizing world, iconic monuments can be drivers of economic development and are increasingly employed in symbolic efforts to assert or "reimagine" places. Urban regeneration projects that incorporate emblematic buildings are often closely linked to highly debated visions of cultural representation that negotiate a historic past with progressive development (Bianchini 1993). Although examinations of the outcome of competing interests and visions for such structures are critical, these studies often focus only on comparing the relative success or failure of projects involved with local cultural investments (van Aalst and Boogaarts 2002). The role of cultural architectural projects in urban redevelopment plans can also have influences that extend far beyond city limits to affect regional, national, and even global discourses (De Frantz 2005).

The controversy surrounding the construction of the CdC therefore is seen best as emblematic of an ongoing struggle among divergent interests over how Galicia should be represented on an international scale as well as a reflection of the various levels of political distrust within the region. In order to bring these divergent interests and the involved actors to the forefront of the discussion, I employ actor-network theory (ant) as an analytical lens for investigating the layered meanings, unintended consequences, and turmoil generated by the CdC project.

An ANT approach is useful in this investigation because it can elucidate the network of relationships among the many subsidiary individuals and nonhuman actors involved in the CdC project and how the dynamism of these networked assemblages worked to undermine Fragas initial plans (Bingham 1996). As Ted Rutland and Alex Aylett attest, ant "supplies a complementary set of tools to help reveal how political priorities and the capacity emerge over lime" due to the influence of humans and nonhumans alike (2008, 633; italics in the original). Following Murdoch (2006, 56-77), I focus on the "translation" of events, or the negotiations and alterations among actors that occurred throughout the mobilizations of networks pertaining to the planning and construction of the CdC over time. …

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