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Le rôle des pratiques culturelles off dans les dynamiques urbaines

Abstract : In this thesis, we consider how underground or alternative cultural activities, which we call off, could work for urban development much as mainstream cultures, or in, do. We propose that underground cultural activities are an important part of the cultural landscape of a city and, in this way, could be considered an important actor of urban development.

As many authors have shown, culture is nowadays a key element of urban development.
First, in the major urban redevelopment projects of the last two decades, there was often a cultural facility flagship, a museum or convention center for example. It is especially true in the case of waterfront or industrial wasteland redevelopments. Second, the artists are often pioneers in the gentrification process. The presence of artists has become meaningful for a neighborhood and has increased the real estate value of a place. Third, cultural and artistic activities are very important factors in building a positive image of a city. It markets the city as an innovative and creative place, two fundamental qualities essential to success in the global inter-city competition. Indeed, it is argued that a strong and dynamic cultural framework provides many leisure opportunities for inhabitants and tourists. Cultural activities are therefore increasingly becoming a marketing strategy to attract firms and people to visit or to settle down in a particular city; and cultural tourism is an engine for urban tourism. And finally, many predict that cultural activities are going to be one of the most important economical activities in the city, both by creating direct value and employment and by developing the tourist industry.

But, most of these authors considered mainstream cultures. Our purpose is to demonstrate how underground cultures could also work with these topics. By underground or alternative culture, we mean all kinds of cultural activities that are not subsidized and that have no commercial value. But, because they are a part of the ‘art world' and should not be considered as separate from the mainstream cultural world, we prefer to use another semantic scheme in our thesis. We are using the concept of ‘in culture / off culture'(which is used to explain what is happening in the major art festivals). The in is organized and planned, while the off is spontaneous and opportunist; the off is free of commercial, academic or trend constraints, so it is a creative and innovative space; the in draws from the off new ideas and new talents; the off needs the in to build its legitimacy; and, little by little, the off becomes the real festival: the place to show and to be, the real engine of the festival which attracts more people and more artists until a new off of the off appears... In much the same way, in our study we consider underground cultures as “off culture”, and mainstream culture as “in culture”.
Our research is focused on the artistic squats as an example and a syncretism of off culture. Indeed, they can be considered both as the space of the off culture and as the off spaces of culture. This is one of the original features of this research: using artistic squats as a comprehensive key to analyze and understand urban changes.

For this reason, we needed to develop an original methodology. We propose to implement three different kinds of methodological research, each focusing on one of the topics already detailed and all based on artistic squats issues. These works will focus on the Parisian case, but also on other European and global metropolis, such as San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Berlin, London,... by our personal experiences or by bibliographic review. Concerning economical issues, we will most likely not implement empirical research, but it undoubtedly would be of some interest to do a bibliographically based comparison with the theory of innovation and creativity. On the other hand, a literature review has been done on the changes in cultural practices and taste and on sociology of art and artists.
We will also consider, as a background theoretical framework, ‘reflexive modernity', ‘aesthetic reflexivity' and ‘hypertext society' theories as well as ‘networks society' and ‘global cities' theories and ‘creative city' and ‘innovative society' theories in our study.

Our three research focuses are the following:
- Could off cultures be flagships for urban development?
According to many authors, one of the key elements for a successful urban redevelopment project is a cultural flagship. We suggest that this flagship could be an off cultural flagship. Off culture spaces are as meaningful as in culture spaces. We argue that urban planners use off places as a flagship in urban redevelopment strategies. So, how could planners integrate these off spaces in urban projects? We study three urban projects, based on interviews and officials materials analyzes. We are considering a case where planners finally decided to integrate a off space in the urban redevelopment project (Les Frigos in the ZAC Paris-Rive Gauche). The second case (La Chapelle-Stalingrad regeneration project) shows how off culture are used as a tool for planning, by cleaning and securing a decaying area. Off artists become planners' pathfinder. They are symbolic shifter from decay to glamour. Then, the real planning project could start. Moreover, this example puts into relief the role of inhabitants organizations in the cultural-led regeneration planning. Indeed, it seems that culture is the unique acceptable feature for urban projects. What does this culture-oriented claim mean? For whose sake are cultural amenities created? The third project is the Newtown cultural precinct that has been created in Johannesburg (South Africa). In this quite unique urban, social, economic and political context, can culture play a similar role? What are the objectives of such an undertaking? Does this project correspond to the lifestyles and behaviours of the inhabitants? As it is shown with the Parisian example, this kind of urban planning practices are more related to a settlement policy than to a cultural one.

- Are off spaces places of gentrification?
Following many authors, we are interested in the aesthetic and consumerist explanations of gentrification processes. We propose that off cultures play a role in the gentrification process, and expect that they work by giving a trendy image to a neighborhood, as a creative and bohemian place. So, off cultures could be a meaningful pathfinder of gentrification.
To prove our purpose, we implement a methodology based on real estate agents interview. We consider real estate agents as good informers about the evolution of real estate markets and neighborhood social changes. They could help us to understand neighborhood and market changes, to explore the potential for gentrification, and to clarify the role of artists and then of off artists and places in gentrification. To do so, we interview several agents in different neighborhoods, all of them located near artistic squats. At the same time, we realize a statistic analysis of real estate market trends. Nevertheless, the results of the researches are mixed. Local real estate agents use artists as a communication tool. They argue that artists and even off artists create a pleasant atmosphere in the neighbourhood, that could attract other populations. But, real estate statistics do not provide convincing results. The only certainty we can propose is that in general, property prices are not influenced by artistic squats.

- Is the off an element of the ‘tourist gaze'?
We argue that off cultural spaces could be tourist places by corresponding to the ‘tourist gaze' expectations. Therefore, we do not analyze the tourist (and then economic) impact of off places, but show that off places are important tourist attractions. To do so, we analyze how tourist guidebooks present a city. Indeed, guidebooks writers give meaning to a place by choosing specific places or things to see, and then by interpreting them for the tourists and sometimes by judging them. In this way, tourist guidebooks could be considered as meaningful pathfinder. Based on a comparison between Paris and Berlin, the analysis of several guidebooks shows main differences between the two cities' tourist image. In the Paris case, artistic squats and other off scenes are almost never described in guidebooks. Off is not a part of the city's experience. On the other hand, according to guidebooks, a tourist in Berlin should not avoid visiting one of the many off places. Off is definitely a local attraction. Moreover, off is the Berlin's taste.

As we have showed, our PhD is quite ambitious. But it must be considered not as an exhaustive exercise but as an understanding of contemporary urban society proposal. This study help us to understand how off cultures are a part of the city imaginary, and so, how they give meaning to the city. But we also expect that our concept could be used by other scholars or planners for example to understand how urbanity occurs, how a place becomes trendy, or to put into relief relationships between in and off in other sphere. We expect to deliver some comprehensive keys for urban planners such as contemporary gazers.
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Contributor : Elsa Vivant <>
Submitted on : Monday, February 18, 2008 - 5:06:41 PM
Last modification on : Monday, October 19, 2020 - 11:04:36 AM
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  • HAL Id : tel-00257227, version 1


Elsa Vivant. Le rôle des pratiques culturelles off dans les dynamiques urbaines. Géographie. Université Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis, 2006. Français. ⟨tel-00257227⟩



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