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Alba Colombo: "We must encourage inclusion and integration in public events"

The researcher is participating in a European project that will analyse the festivities and emblematic activities of five large cities

Are the popular festivities in Barcelona inclusive enough? These is just some of the questions that will be addressed by the new European research project, in which the UOC is participating, led by Alba Colombo, researcher with Language, Culture and Identity in the Global Era (IdentiCat) group. Colombo, who holds a bachelor's degree in Art History, a master's degree in Sociology and a doctoral degree in Social Sciences, will analyse the social impact of Barcelona events like the popular festivities of La Mercè or the Sala Montjuïc open-air cinema sessions. Her project is one of twenty proposals selected from the over one hundred and seventy submitted to the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) European consortium. The University of the West of Scotland is heading the project, with the University of Westminster, Technological University Dublin and the University of Gothenburg also taking part, in addition to the UOC.

What does your research activity consist of?

We analyse events from a dual perspective. On the one hand, from the structural point of view, seeing how they are organized, which stakeholders are involved, from public administrations to large corporations or communities, observing their impact and goals. And, on the other hand, we carry out intangible analyses regarding the social effects that these events have on the community, the feeling of belonging, their social and symbolic capital and the sense of integration. In recent years, I have dedicated my time to critical event studies.

What is the focus of the IdentiCat group's area of research?

It is a recognized research group in which we make multidisciplinary observations on the relationship between language, culture and identity in the global era. We do it from very different perspectives. The team consists of sociologists, sociolinguists, humanists and historians who approach the study of the relationship between identity and language from the particular perspective of their respective disciplines.

What kind of events do you analyse?

They can be corporate, cultural or sports-related. The ones I have dealt with most are those of the cultural industries, so, music, cinema or performing arts, and those of traditional and popular culture, which is my main focus.

You're participating in a new European project. What's it about?

HERA is the acronym for Humanities in the European Research Area, a consortium between the European Commission and different state funding agencies for research, including those of Spain. The consortium publishes calls every three years on specific topics, and we are very happy to finally be part of this "Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe" call. It was a very long process – we were up against more than two hundred projects, only twenty of which, including ours, have finally been funded. Ours is called "Festival Events and Inclusive Public Spaces in Europe". We want to see what role festivals and events held in public spaces play in integration and social inclusion in Europe. We have three basic questions: the first focuses on the types of events that are held in public spaces and how those environments, which have effects on the economy and tourism, are used. The second big question is how they affect the people that normally use spaces such as city parks. And the third is what long-term social effects they have. We will try to do all of this with our five partner institutions in Barcelona, Dublin, Glasgow, Gothenburg and London.

Which Barcelona events will you study?

In public spaces in cities we experience a multitude of events that produce social problems. We want to observe the structural duality, that is, what and how events develop, who their users are and what their objectives are. And the less tangible part, its social aspects. Do they promote inclusion and integration? Are there any social barriers to participating in them? We have proposed two types of events, one of which involves traditional and popular culture. This type of event is generally organized by the government and with a significant level of citizen participation, such as La Mercè in Barcelona, but there are also events organized from the bottom up, driven by associations and social groups, well-structured and based on a collaborative network, such as neighbourhood festivals. The other type of event we want to study are those of the cultural industry, and for this we have selected the open-air cinema, Sala Montjuïc, held every summer in a highly symbolic place in Barcelona, the moat of Montjuïc Castle.

We want to see the ability that events have to bring different people, with different profiles, cultures and backgrounds, together in a diverse and egalitarian way, which is how we understand integration and inclusion in this area. It is also very important to identify what we mean by "public space", to which every citizen should have access, and look at what barriers or difficulties are problematic, such as accessibility for certain communities or groups. There is also a difference between active participant and user, someone who simply attends an event, since the social effects that are generated in one type or the other are different.

Which books would you recommend about events analysis?

The first is The Value of Events, by Erik Lundberg, John Armbrecht, Tommy D. Andersson and Donald Getz, written from the point of view of economics, tourism and marketing, which falls into the more structural context referred to earlier. The work deals with the capacity events have to generate value and how it can be measured. A good example is the Sónar festival in Barcelona and the different hubs it promotes that create value. The book is about how to improve the value, the economic impact, generated when promoting a brand or place as a tourist destination.

A second recommendation would be a less tangible analysis, Tristes espectaculos: las mujeres y los alardes de Irún y Hondarribia [Sad scenes: women and the Alardes processions of Irún and Hondarribia], by Margaret Bullen and José Antonio Egido. It is essentially a social critique of the social structure, difficulties and inequalities of a community in relation to a traditional local cultural event in Hondarribia and Irún – the 'Alardes' military procession, which women play a very marked role in. For a long time, a group of women has been asking to participate as an association, and this has been and continues to be a source of conflict. The book explains the internal debates and the difficulties in conceiving these events of traditional culture, understanding what tradition is and how it has to evolve and adapt to new realities and social needs.



This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration and the Sixth Framework Programme for research and technological development.