"Beacon by the Sea?": The Tourist-Neoliberal Complex in Barcelona, Anti-Tourism, and Nationalist Insurgency

Joe Hinton | Geopolitics | Analysis | June 3rd, 2019

The Catalan capital of Barcelona has received a substantial amount of deserved attention from urban social scientists over the past quarter century. From a variety of theoretical lenses, scholars have analyzed the interplay between governance networks and distributive conflicts within the city, mostly centering around the nuanced effects and origins of the city's urban regeneration plan, the Barcelona model. The model has bolstered Barcelona's global economic competitiveness and revived its urban culture while compromising the city's public spaces, social cohesion, housing market, neighborhood authenticity, and low-income residents. Regime theorists recognize the dynamic nature of these governance networks, refuting their classification as binarily or reductively neoliberal or participatory, while social historians also emphasize the how Barcelona's once decentralized, anti-capitalist political economy was indelibly compromised by Francoism and Olympic regeneration, profitable but superficial and unsustainable place branding, and its subsequent cultural decay: key dimensions of the current distributive conflict. But, at the same time, Barcelona's pride in its progressive cultural history has been a key element of the Barcelona model, one that is somewhat antithetical to the goals of tourist-oriented growth.

My paper seeks to unpack this tension. This paper first seeks to synthesize existing literature regarding the politics and economics of the Barcelona model of urban regeneration to paint a complete picture of who governs who and what in the city, particularly with regard to housing, the one urban sector that has been thoroughly analyzed in the context of tourism-oriented regeneration in this Catalan conflict. I differentiate between two periods of the Barcelona model of urban public policy, the first (1986-2015) primarily driven by mixed-public companies with neoliberal leanings, and the second (2015-present) and the second more driven by anti-tourist activists with progressive Catalanist leanings. Secondly, it will connect the anti-capitalist, anti-tourist, and pro-immigrant Barcelona political regime to the politics of Catalan nationalism, seeking to set a framework for analyzing the politics of anti-tourismification in "successfully" regenerated cities while pushing a more sociological understanding of Catalonia's controversial nationalism. I explain a series of successive outcomes, firstly the housing conflict that resulted from tourist-driven regeneration, and secondly, the unique relationship between nationalism and anti-tourism that has resulted from the both the model and the conflict and is a legacy of Barcelona's deep politico-cultural history of leftism and rebelliousness.


Distributive inequities and socio-spatial hierarchies and conflicts are nothing new to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and Spain's second largest city, the 11th largest in the European Union. An early industrializer with rich medieval history and one of the Mediterranean's most geographically advantageous and trafficked ports, Barcelona has served as a crossroads for a diverse population of inhabitants that has always created unique socio-political divisions and coalitions. These governance networks have been eagerly analyzed by a number of scholars in the social sciences, many of whom cite various versions of the "Barcelona model", describing the political economy of the city as both idiosyncratic and trendsetting.

I have provided a brief history of Barcelona's political economy in the footnotes. [1] Regeneration in Spain, as in other Western nations, began to become relevant as cities deindustrialized during the mid-20th century. Desarrollismo, the early form of Spanish boosterism, a term referring to postindustrial urban renaissance in the city center, spurred a new era of tourist-led construction and regeneration in the city partly due to military agreements with the US exemplified in the US Navy's sleazy 1951 visit to Barcelona (Russo and Scarnato, 2018, McNeill, 1999). The city was seen as a gateway to the Balearic islands, however, its own tourist infrastructure relatively overlooked. Resistance to Franco's fascism and Barcelona's Americanization was present in the form of student protests and oppositional organization in the 1960s and 70s (McNeill, X). Franco saw the anti-hierarchical, pro-worker Barcelona as heretical and the capital of the anti-Spain. Even as he suppressed Catalan culture through simultaneous Americanization and Hispanicization, institutions like FC Barcelona and a working class mostly composed of immigrants from southern Spain also bolstered organized resistance and Catalan identity. Although the Assembly of Catalonia (1971) set precedent for democratic collaboration, it was not until after the dictator's death in 1976 that a more dynamic urban regeneration coalition would form, and as McNeill emphasizes, instead of abandoning the globalization-friendly economic planning priorities of the Franco regime, it co-opted them and expanded them, rapidly transforming Barcelona into a "city of tourisms" rather than the nominal "city of neighborhoods" its government proposes of itself (Russo and Scarnato, 2018). At the same time, the Barcelona of the 80s was authentically closer to being a "city of neighborhoods" than anti-neoliberal critics would likely believe; the entire process of building government in the city post-Franco actively incorporated neighborhoods into policy and created legitimate pathways for citizen engagement and social cohesion.

The Barcelona City Council (BCC) that came into power after Spanish democratization and developed in the late 70s saw event-based regeneration as key to putting the city on the map, the vocabulary used by PSC (Catalan Socialist Party) Mayor Pasqual Maragall himself (Russo and Scarnato). The BCC received its Olympic bid in 1986 for the summer of 1992, and led by Maragall, the city began to develop consensus around infrastructural regeneration as created through risk-sharing among private-public partnerships. It was not until the mid 90s that tourism would become the central focus of this regeneration, but at the same time, as McNeill repeatedly emphasizes, civic movements and academic dissent against this neoliberal influx of capital resisted the government's flimsy claims that regeneration would spread to all levels of society (Russo and Scarnato, 2018). Although the visions of the city's future of mayor Maragall and Catalan CiU (Convergence and Union) President Jordi Pujol differed in their visions of Catalanism, one urban-centric and cosmopolitan, one regionalist and rural, both agreed upon increasing the city's economic competitiveness through private-public collaboration, and Pujol specifically was noted for promoting the Catalanist emphasis on diversity within this transformation. This section has given a brief history of Barcelona's political economy. The next section will explore debates over the specific nature of the generally praised Barcelona model that contributed to the distributive conflict of the 21st century.

Unpacking the Barcelona Model's Networks of Governance

Degen and García (2012) offer a version of the Barcelona model that is not over-concerned with theory and evaluates the city's governance networks since democratization, noting their origination in and establishment of participatory democracy. Urban regeneration, a primary goal of the BCC, was associated with cultural planning and the resource constraints and deficits inherited from the regime of Franco. Citizens of Barcelona had an active stake in the policies enacted towards urban regeneration in the 80s and 90s. Public spaces were revitalized to restore cultural identity and desegregate the city socioeconomically, creating avenues for both citizen participation and a common municipal citizenship. Barcelona's 1976 Plan General Metropolitano established an urban future of culturally Catalan social cohesion, distributive policy oriented towards quality public spaces, and welfare increases implemented decentrally (Degen and García, 2012). Supported by three levels of governmental and financial institutions, one Catalan, one Spanish, and one European, the city of Barcelona administered a "complex multi-level governance developed to implement programmes in education, health, social integration services"; a decentralized participatory democracy built consensus across neighborhoods while also directly including citizens in a wide range of policies, especially those that regarded the future of the city's urban terrain.

This political model actively sought to redefine the city's architecture to create a stylistic urbanity that would bolster the city before and after the Olympics, open up the city to the sea as done in American waterfront cities, allow non-Catalan architects to design public spaces, and preserve the historic centre; Barcelona's GDP grew on average 2.4% per capita in the 90s as consensus around regeneration with regard to both Catalan culture and tourism increased the city's competitivity after entering the European Union. This is important to recognize; the Barcelona model was both threatened and supported by European integration in that shared markets meant more competition but interdependence bolstered funding of the city's redistributive policies. The Olympic brand approach, labeling Barcelona "a city of production and consumption with a high quality of life based on economic redistribution", is contrary to the neoliberal cities analyzed in the theory of Theodore, Peck, and Brenner and similar to the "egalitarian" housing strategies employed by the government of Amsterdam during the same period (Fainstein, 1997).

Ismael Blanco offers a comprehensive analysis of the Barcelona model that staged the Olympics and subsequent similar events, unleashing tourism on almost all aspects of city lifestyle over the course of the following two decades. Particularly nuanced, Blanco uses Clarence Stone's regime theory to highlight the dynamism of governance networks in Barcelona that created a distributive conflict that could not be analyzed merely through elitist-neoliberal or pluralist-participatory lenses; the city was regenerated neither completely by liberal elites nor did the economic benefits of its regeneration through touristification realistically spread to all levels of society. Engaging directly with McNeill's critical analysis of touristification, Blanco resists the temptation to designate Barcelona as completely overrun by elite-led neoliberalism and privatization given that citizen engagement was widely promoted and instituted. McNeill's perspective sees citizen engagement as a series of frivolous demonstrations that does not actually create redistributive change. Nonetheless, Blanco also denounces saying that the regenerative actions of these networks have been consensual and supported by all community organizations or that they were completely state-executed. Opposed to these binary and reductive analyses, Blanco proposes the acceptance of a complex spatio-temporality of urban governance networks that itself helped create unique distributive conflicts across different urban policy sectors. Although he downplays the extent to which state-led touristification compromised the lifestyles of urban Barceloneses, which will be briefly analyzed in the context of the distributive context below, the nuance in his description of the Barcelona model is instructive in analyzing the trajectory of the distributive conflict from a broader perspective.

To further ground the Barcelona model in the theory of Theodore, Brenner, and Peck, the city's policy is not as dramatically focused on dismantling of welfare and austerity measures but is rather focused on a "gradual dilution of bottom-up participatory democracy in governance" (Vegen and Garcia, 2012); Barcelona certainly employed neoliberal doctrine originated from the right wing Partido Popular (PP) that ruled the Spanish government during the 90s and supported by its own city council, especially during the 2000s and during the mayorship of Joan Clos beginning in 1997, as zoning restrictions against growth were relaxed, planning was devolved to neighborhoods, and housing speculation increased. Even as public services were privatized (Blanco) and regeneration served as an example of the imposition of market rule, Barcelona was not neoliberal in that the state and the market were not diametrically opposed and worked together, albeit to achieve a neoliberalizing goal, to make the city competitive and globally, culturally relevant. The Barcelona model was also not one size fits all; it is inherently idiosyncratic to one of the most unique politico-economic situations in the West during the late 20th century, and was established around Catalan identity and political philosophy that promoted citizen inclusion in promoting regeneration, unlike in American contexts where local governments are essentially controlled by corporations and cases of progressive, culturally vibrant urban regimes are rare and the market runs wild, and unlike other immediate Spanish contexts like Madrid and Valencia in which neoliberal imposition has been described as less participatory and more conservative (Romero, 2015).

To return to the importance of the Olympics as a sports-mega-event and inducer of growth, Russo and Scarnato argue that the governance networks (like those led by the privately-controlled Turisme de Barcelona, the main institution organizing neoliberal urban tourist development) that planned the Olympics originally intended to simply build consensus around collaborative regeneration across private and public institutions and between citizens, but eventually turned into "collaboration and risk-sharing between institutional, social, and economic stakeholders for a regenerated and beautified city, competing in the big league of successful post-industrial cities and bringing benefits to all sectors of society" (Russo and Scarnato, 2018). They also note how the Cultural Forum of 2004 that was to succeed the Olympics failed to attract an expected number of visitors but still was a success in that low-cost airlines, the Internet, and the "declaration of 2002 as the "Year of Gaudí" and of 2003 as the "Year of Design" (Russo and Scarnato) had come to solidify Barcelona as a global tourist destination. Ulldemolins describes how cultural branding has been the basis of this model's economic success as an "entrepreneurial city", imitating the pioneering branding of New York in the 1970s, but has also contributed to cultural erasure, and thus, unsustainable tourism; given how the city has historically sought to attract tourists and investors from the US, Britain, and continental Europe, it has downplayed its "industrial economy and history of political rebelliousness" in favor of a facade of "Mediterranean Temperament and the figure of Gaudí and his creative character" while also successfully branding the city as a "high technology city, a conference location, and a city of trade fairs and arts festivals" (Ulldemolins, 2014).

Blanco offers the most intentionally objective take on how the Barcelona model developed over the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, noting that mixed-public companies were the actors directly responsible for the Olympics and that they created opportunities for citizen engagement and neighborhood self-government even as they neoliberalized many parts of the urban economy and power dynamics in mixed-public companies shifted to the private sector. McNeill found that neighborhood leftist movements were overlooked by the Barcelona model's emphasis on culture and tourism. Edgar Illas' take on the Barcelona model is that the touristification of the city is not a side effect of its urban transformation or of the Olympics, but is rather the cause of its excessive success. Noting that Barcelona, like Las Vegas and Disneyworld, was drastically transformed to fit the needs of postmodernist consumerism, Illas finds that the historic Barcelona has began to imitate American cities (which themselves imitate European cities) and that the Barcelona model, for him, "emerges as an adjustment of the city's fabric and architectural heritage to the new marketing needs".

These analyses all seem to agree that the quasi-public planning strategies, grounded in infrastructural re-development around tourism, cultural cohesion, and the inclusion of grassroots organizations in planning, did succeed in bringing economic prosperity to the city through cultural branding and modernizing, touristified urban regeneration. Barcelona has been widely accepted as a successful response to European integration and the need for post-industrial, post-dictatorial urban regeneration, even with its negative externalities. We've answered the question of who governs what in a general sense: mixed-public companies mostly controlled by the private sector have governed and planned urban regeneration through attracting tourism and investing in events and technological infrastructure since Barcelona's turn to democracy and city-state led planning in the 1970s and 1980s, while also stressing local autonomy, redistribution, and socio-cultural cohesion. Now I seek to answer the question of who wins and loses as a result of this framework and analytically apply it to a specific sector. The housing-tourist conflict that has resulted from the Barcelona model will offer some answers. But first, I must turn to a brief analysis of those sources that have more fruitfully dealt with the ideologies of Catalanism and radical anti-corporatism during the era of Olympic regeneration.

Anti-Corporate and Catalanist Elements of the Barcelona Model

Even as touristified regeneration swept up Barcelona during the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, building consensus around Olympic transformation across state, market, and society, oppositional strains of politics, most notably those of the anti-corporate movement and the Catalan nationalist movement, were present and sought to uproot the city's status quo. Jeffery Juris' discussion of anti-globalization activists in the early 2000s and Edgar Illas' analysis of Catalanism within Olympic regeneration are specific texts that speak to these roots of opposition. Such an analysis will be key to my later discussion of the political formalization of these two strains of opposition during the 2010s in response to the distributive housing conflict.

Juris' "Reinventing the Rose of Fire: Anarchism and Movements Against Corporate Globalization in Barcelona" examines anti-corporate organization in early 2000s Barcelona and connects such politics to the history of communalist anarchism in Barcelona and other similar international movements. Recognizing the decentralized, grassroots, primarily digital manner in which these activists in Barcelona communicated and the principles of self-management and ideological fluidity they adhered to, Juris found that the networking practices of these activists, parallel but not identical to those of the governance networks already mentioned above, were seen as a democratic alternative to legislative politics and their phony methods of civic inclusion that, in line with the claims of McNeill, were perceived as mere empty gestures to create a facade of participation. While he is preoccupied with whether or not these activists should be rigidly defined as anarchists, which is irrelevant to the focus of this paper, his acknowledgement of their broad creation of a libertarian anti-capitalist political network that was directly opposed to hierarchical imposition of touristified regeneration by mixed-public companies is significant for analyzing the politics of the distributive housing conflict that intensified during and after the 2008 financial crisis. Hughes gives an example of one group that has borne the brunt of this oppositional work since from 1992 to 2015, the year that tourism was finally challenged by the city council: The Barceloneta Neighborhood Association, in line with the articles cited above that stress neighborhood agency in the city. Perhaps the most essential piece of information offered by Juris comes in his footnotes: the author briefly offers that historians have connected anarchist-style organization in Barcelona to the politics of Catalan nationalism given that both are distrustful of a centralized state. This point will be of crucial significance for my later analysis of anti-tourist/anti-capitalist institutional and grassroots politics in Barcelona in the 2010s and their connections to Catalan nationalism. I now turn to the role of Catalanism within Olympic regeneration as analyzed by Edgar Illas.

. In Chapter 2 of Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City, Illas uncovers strains of Catalan nationalism within the Olympic transformation. Catalan separatism is a key element of Iberian history; the Catalan desire for self-determination dates back to medieval conflicts. Catalonia has been under the rule of a Bourbon-affiliated central state in Madrid since the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in September of 1714, their language and culture repeatedly suppressed and condemned over these years, most notably during and after the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. The autonomous region, responsible for a fifth of Spain's GDP, unsuccessfully declared independence from Spain in September of 2017. Although only 47.5% of Catalans supports independence, independence parties hold a majority in the Catalan Parliament (Schoen, 2018). While secession is supported primarily by educated elites and rural conservatives, it is opposed by the middle class, especially in the suburbs of Barcelona, many of whom are the children of Spanish migrants. Barcelona is mostly composed of anti-independence constitutionalists; nonetheless, the politics of Catalan nationalism in the city are simultaneously bourgeois and anti-neoliberal, as will be explored later. Catalanism refers to the larger political philosophy of the region that has historically valued diversity and inclusion (Carbonell, 2018). This legacy is present in the region's current approach to immigration policy, one that is "intercultural" where "difference is always recognized but also accompanied by a strong encouragement to unite and to integrate" (Carbonell, 2018).

A desire to secede is still ever present and, as Illas notes, was certainly not absent during the era of Olympic transformation. He stresses a dual purpose to Olympic planning: to build the facilities for the Games themselves and to alter the urban fabric of the city for long-term economic competitiveness. To Illas, the execution of the games is inherently driven by multinational corporations disconnected from local inhabitants; as such, the denationalization of public spaces led many to question who Barcelona really belonged to. Catalan nationalist groups of various political and ideological leanings were skeptical of how Barcelona's designation as Spanish rather than Catalan would threaten their political heritage. Catalan civil society condemned the actions of the Spanish state after Operación Garzón, in which Spanish police in Catalonia persecuted, arrested, and tortured Catalan nationalist terrorist suspects suspected of planting bombs outside Olympic facilities. The tension around this issue however dissipated quickly after the games began and Illas describes a euphoria that overtook the city after the games began. While Conservative Generalitat President Pujol supported promoting the Catalan language throughout the events for nationalist reasons, the Socialist Maragall saw Catalan as a differentiator that would attract affluent travelers from the US and Europe's most prosperous nations. Even despite this marketization of Catalanism from Maragall, and despite the quelling of nationalist tensions during the Olympics, Catalan nationalism was undoubtedly awake throughout Barcelona's Olympic globalizing transformation. Recognizing such a notion is key to analyzing the resurgent nationalism of the 2010s and connecting it to anti-capitalist organization. I will now actually analyze how the Barcelona model has led to a distributive housing conflict and, later, how this conflict has manifested economically, socially, and politically.

The Distributive Conflict Through Housing

Before getting into housing specifics, I would like to offer some quantitative evidence regarding the extent to which Barcelona was solidly touristified during the 2000s. Russo and Scarnato offer a helpful graph showing tourist arrivals and overnight stays over time. In 1990, Barcelona had around 4 million tourist arrivals; by 2008, at the onset of the financial crisis, that number had tripled to 12 million. As Russo and Scarnato note, low cost travel, the Internet, the success of FC Barcelona, and city policy contributed to this touristification, among other factors. 14% of the city's GDP, this tourism, promoted by the BCC, Turisme de Barcelona, the Spanish Federal Government, and both the CiU and PSC, has bolstered the city's economy through crisis, and its criticism, while present, has been met with fierce opposition despite its glaring adverse effects. A recent article in the New Yorker explained that Spanish and Catalan policymakers saw tourism as an economic survival strategy to the 2008 economic crisis, and to some extent it did serve as a venda for economic wounds: this same article cites Russo as recognizing that Airbnb was originally seen by governments as a key method of staying afloat for Spanish families looking to rent out an extra room (Mead, 2019). As in the case of Barcelona, this liberalization means "centuries-old apartment buildings are hollowed out with ersatz hotel rooms" (Mead), not struggling families getting extra cash. Understanding the magnitude to which touristification developed in Barcelona and such magnitude's relation to the financial crisis is key to delving into finding the winners and losers of supposed tourist prosperity.

Housing is the one public sector in Barcelona in which both touristification and the specific effects of neoliberal policy on citizens can be analyzed. I draw on a lot of my housing analysis from "Barcelona, Housing Rent Bubble in a Tourist City: Social Responses and Local Policies". Its analysis of the housing bubble in Barcelona, along with that of Russo and Scarnato, has effectively dealt with the local political response to touristification in both legislative and grassroots politics. Firstly, Barcelona is one of the most speculated cities by real-estate developers on the entire planet; French, Israeli, and Chinese real-estate development firms place the profitability of Barcelona's housing market as comparable to that of New York, Berlin, and London. As such, the extent to which housing and public spaces have been commodified and transformed for consumerism is drastic. For example, La Rambla, once noted by Orwell as the central avenue of anarchist Barcelona, in 2014 had an estimated 240K-320K daily crossers: only 21% were Barcelonans (Russo and Scarnato). Once a crucial street on the edge of the anarchist Raval district, a continually drug-ridden, working-class district originally known as a Chinatown but rebranded by the city to be a cluster of cultural institutions (Ulldemolins, 2014).

The two aforementioned pieces in this section, especially that of Blanco-Romero et al., emphasize that Barcelona's touristification is unsustainable firstly with regard to space-the city simply cannot house enough tourists-and with regard to gentrification-induced high housing prices-the current average price per month for an apartment in Barcelona in recent years has increased to the similarly high levels witnessed around the crisis of 2008 (800 €). The gentrification of Barcelona since 2005 has been characterized by two related processes: Airbnbification and "double gentrification". Whereas Airbnbinfication refers to the rise of peer to peer housing rental services that aimed at temporary tourist residents typically with more purchasing power than the inhabitants, double gentrification is two-fold in Barcelona because neighborhoods and commercial districts are functionalized for tourism and the city's streets are designed for a floating population. The Gothic Quarter in the Ciutat Vella, the city centre, has had its resident population decrease 45% over the past 12 years (Mead, 2019). Drunken, loud tourists are a commonly berated actor in all three pieces discussing this conflict. These tourists do not come to sample the local culture, but rather to either engage in internationally common party culture or a generic version of Spanish culture, usually unaware of the history of Catalanism (Kingsley, 2017).

Although there is a dearth of open quantitative data that explicitly delineates who lives where and how much their property is worth that would instruct me to finding a definitive answer for who has most benefited from the distributive housing conflict in Barcelona, I can intelligently speculate with the information from the pieces cited above. Those who benefit the most from touristification in Barcelona primarily include the wealthy foreign tourists who temporarily inhabit the city, privileged exchange students from prosperous Western countries, foreign investors who have interests in rising housing prices, p2p platforms themselves like Airbnb, the Spanish federal government that promotes a tourist-neoliberal complex, and a Barcelonan liberal bourgeois that has favored the profitable cultural demolition of the city since planning the Olympics. Those who benefit the least are working class residents of the city displaced by rising housing prices, small business owners once oriented towards a local clientele, and immigrants from the global South: all of whose interests are represented by Barcelona's ABTS: the Neighborhood Assembly for Sustainable Tourism, whose proposed policies and grassroots activism will be further examined below. Although housing is a sector where the distributive conflict has not benefited neighborhoods and residents, in the spirit of Paolo, I am hesitant to generalize that all distributive conflicts in other sectors would look identical, although I would suppose that all would be heavily impacted by the tourist-neoliberal complex and thus would probably look similar. In this section I have laid out Barcelona's distributive housing conflict. As the next section will show, the people and the government have called for a tourism that actually fulfills its promise of spreading benefits to whole entirety of Barcelona's residents, many of whom, since 2000, are immigrants from the global South. Will a redefinition of tourism help bolster a potential secession from the Spanish state?

Analyzing Post-Recession Anti-Tourism: A Participatory Regime Change

Politics opposing the neoliberalization of space, calling back to the spirit of the Barcelonan Castells' critique of excessive collective consumption (Castells, 1978), have been fruitful in Barcelona in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, and especially since 2014, when touristification reached a notable tipping point. Both grassroots organizations and official political mobilization in Barcelona have opposed the Spanish/Anglo-American influenced the functionalized touristification of housing and its associated gentrification and commodification of public spaces and commercial districts, redefining the trajectory of the Barcelona model and its inherent neoliberal consensus.

Many of the individuals who are today either members of the ABTS, CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), or BeC (Barcelona en Comú) that promote a redefinition of the limits of tourist functionalization have their roots as activists in the larger Spanish 15M movement that was critical of the recklessness of the states and the banks that brought about the 2008 economic crisis, cousins of the Occupy Wall Street movement (Russo and Scarnato). Whereas some Barcelonans saw the crisis as a need to intensify tourism as a last leg, like Turisme de Barcelona and the BCC, others saw it as an impetus to restructure the tourist-neoliberal complex in the city more around the interests of the city's residents.

ABTS calls for a redistribution of the wealth that has been built off of tourism in addition to proposing alternatives to such a limited style of development. Mead mentions that an activist she talked to in Barcelona would have imagined such anti-tourist politics as unimaginable in 2008, but a 2016 BCC survey discussed by Russo and Scarnato and Blanco-Romero et al proved growing dissatisfaction with tourism was common. 2014 saw the first grassroots anti-tourist demonstrations in the Airbnbified Barceloneta district (Hughes, 2018). Once only promoted by leftist academics like McNeill and anti-corporate neighborhood groups, anti-tourist sentiment has become common in the city. Another activist group, the Platform of the Affected by the Mortgage Crisis, PAH, effectively intervened in evictions, providing legal and personal support to the victims of eviction. This social movement was the one that birthed Ada Colau, the city's current mayor, to mobilize a participatory anti-tourist framework to challenge neoliberal urban development for tourism. The connection between grassroots political organization and the BCC has intensified since 2014. Colau's BeC party has been the majority party in the BCC since 2015, initiating a key shift in the city's urban public policy, preventing evictions and promoting feminism and environmentally sustainable policy, all while promoting direct citizen engagement and avoiding discussing nationalism.

BeC's participatory framework is key to its origins and its political efficacy. To call on Juris' anti-corporate globalization networks characterized by their flexibility and dynamism, Colau's coalition benefits from highly-developed digital networking platforms and is disproportionately composed of academic-activists, many of whom are social scientists themselves. Coined as "radical democracy", characterized by a prioritization of people and political "feminization", the broad process of building deeper connections for citizens across public and private life, Colau's government has been a progressive check on the city's other political institutions, the Catalan regional government and the Spanish federal government. Russo and Scarnato note that is not only the academic intuitions of the BeC coalition that render it as anti-tourist, but also that the truly democratic nature of the framework itself, unlike the more conservative examples of citizen engagement offered by Paolo, actually allow for those residents and neighborhoods whose lifestyles have been touristified to have a stake in policy decisions. Colau sanctioned Airbnb and other similar platforms in 2015 while also ending the issuance of additional accommodation licenses, some of the first city policies directly challenging the neoliberal consensus. These types of policies have contradictory effects and, as Blanco-Romero et al note, can sometimes create more opportunities for gentrification. Even so, Colau has clearly made an effort to set out a plan for limiting tourism in the city with the BCC's Special Urban Plan for Tourist Accommodation, or PEUAT in Spanish. PEAUT seeks to limit tourism, promote "urban balance", and "guaranteeing the right to housing". The plan's specified zones have sought to curtail growth in the city's most touristified regions. The hotel industry, historically an ally of the BCC, opposes the PEAUT, as does the ABTS, who sees it as insufficiently redistributive. The path to determining the specifics of sustainable tourism will be difficult, but taking the steps to challenge the private sector's historic amount of power in the BCC is essential to returning Barcelona to the people, the central rallying cry of the BeC.

This section has explained the politics of anti-tourism with regard to the distributive housing conflict in Barcelona. It will now turn to the final questions of this paper, utilizing the example of the left-wing, nationalist CUP and the rising centre-left ERC to help me answer them: are there nationalist elements to these anti-tourist politics? Are the almost simultaneous resurgence of anti-tourism and nationalism in Barcelona coincidental? How can we characterize the political visions of this nationalism in the context of anti-tourism and the distributive housing conflict?

Anti-Tourist Nationalism? The Future of Barcelona's Global Brand

The aforementioned CUP, characterized by "anti-capitalism, Catalan nationalism and libertarian localism" (Hughes, 2018) has been a key link between anti-tourist, anti-capitalist politics and Catalan nationalism in the last few years. While 2017 saw the controversial independence referendum that ended with a swift response from the Spanish state that made Catalan independence seem unlikely to happen in the near future, it also saw a rise in the political relevance of the CUP (Hughes, 2018). The CUP was essential, firstly, to getting this referendum to happen in the first place after their rise to relative prominence in Catalan and Barcelonan politics after 2015. Nationalism is so important that BeC is now "amidst sharp political polarization [that] seem(s) to have wounded its electoral prospects" (Bazurli and Castaño Tierno, 2018). Their 2017 Els Mites de Turisme (The Lies of Tourism) decried the maleffects of the tourist-neoliberal complex as conducive to barricidio (the death of the neighborhood). For these actors, the politics of touristification and Airbnbification are directly linked to nationalism in that the Spanish federal government, as mentioned above, has supported liberalizing policies that promote tourism; thus, the CUP sees fighting tourism as a part of a larger fight for Catalan autonomy and self-determination. While their critiques of tourism are similar to those of Colau, their methods are much more radical; while Colau does not explicitly support secession nor engages in violence, these two things are central to the CUP platform. Known for their slogans like "why do we call it tourist season if we can't shoot them", the CUP in the summer of 2017 participated in what they perceive as "self-defense" but what is criticized as violent turismofobia, paint bombing hotels and restaurants, slashing touristy for-hire bike tires, and staging YouTube demonstrations that were pro-neighborhood and anti-tourist. The first seats they won in the 2015 city council election were a sign that their nationalist anti-tourism was being more widely accepted; early polls for the 2019 elections estimate that the CUP will gain a seat in the BCC's 41-person legislature.

The issue of nationalism is especially difficult for incumbent mayor Ada Colau. She has denounced secessionist politics as antithetical to the feminization of the world, and she has a point: building a new Catalan state would not necessarily end the problems that Catalanist secessionists seek to fix. But her take on nationalism has left her party vulnerable to opposition parties with more open separatist leanings. The centre-left nationalist Catalan Republican Left (ERC) is up big in preliminary 2019 polls, and they have adopted the sustainable tourism rhetoric of BeC (ERC, 2019), even the calls for tourism profit redistribution. Even as the future of nationalism in Cataluña will likely end in amplified autonomy (Schoen, 2018), and even as Catalan parties may have success in framing themselves as victims of a far-right political attack given the recent rise of Vox (Encarnación, 2019), regulation of tourist growth, once vilified, has now become a widely accepted policy in Barcelona.

This brings me to a final sociological conclusion on Catalan nationalism that can offer a more complete analysis of the issue's relationship to tourism. Barcelona is a crossroads of migratory populations from the global north and the global south. The sea on which the city is located is etymologically designated as in the "middle of the land", and as such, the city has always been a crossroads. While many European cities have had nationalist, right-wing, and reactionary responses to increased non-European immigration in the 2000s and 2010s (Adler, 2019) Barcelona's political take on migration in recent years has been more focused on limiting migration from the north than the south even as xenophobia exists. Although the foreign population almost quintupled from 2000 to 2016 according to a 2018 OECD report on immigrants in Barcelona, and although poor migrants have been disproportionately affected by the housing crisis, tourism, not immigration, is a primary concern (Russo and Scarnato, 2018). "Tourists go home, refugees welcome" is not a radical ideology only espoused by the CUP, but is rather a widely shared political sentiment throughout the city (Burgen, 2018). As such, although claims labeling Catalan nationalism as xenophobic and ethnically-based are legitimate (Clua i Fainé, 2012), and although the main objectives of resurgent Catalanism are bourgeois and elitist, the anti-tourist Barcelona model of 2019 combines a intercultural-nationalist, almost secessionist politic with a deep skepticism of the Spanish federal government and the private companies it allies with that promote the functionalized touristification of cities and is the most leftist governance network the city has seen since before Franco. The speculative profitization of spaces in Barcelona, as Illas alluded to, has made Barcelonans wonder who their city really belongs to, and helped to reinvigorate nationalist politics. While private interests are still extremely powerful, the nature of tourism in Barcelona is sure to change in coming years, as the nationalist conflict continues to unravel and government plans to protect neighborhood identity on the rise. Unable to continue hiding its rich history of anti-capitalist, grassroots activism and political rebelliousness to attract wealthy consumers looking for vapid culture, Barcelona now looks to figure out how to get the benefits of Olympic transformation to the most disadvantaged members of its society and to protect the neoliberal destruction of its culture. Many see amplified autonomy as a way to do just that, to expel the Spanish government's hold on touristification and regain the city's egalitarian identity.

Conclusion: Implications and Comparisons

This paper has drawn on a number of academic and journalistic sources to analyze the politics of Barcelona's housing conflict. It has answered the question of who governs what with regard to housing over two distinct political eras: the first from 1986-2015, in which mayors from both the PSC and CiU supported public-private partnerships as the leaders of a tourist-neoliberal conflict, even as they supported cultural, nationalist, and participatory planning strategies, and the second from 2015-present that has challenged unfettered capitalism for the first time in the city since before Franco, in which a left-wing coalition of parties in the BCC have fought in the legislature and on the streets against barriocidio. It has effectively explained how these two eras had distinct versions of the Barcelona model. It has analyzed the effects of the first model on the housing market and discussed the politics of the distributive conflict that has resulted from the model, with specific strength of detail regarding housing, describing the various anti-tourist groups that have been a check on private power. It has concluded by connecting these politics to Catalan nationalism and Barcelona's pro-immigrant politics, revealing that Barcelona's tourist image from the days of the Olympics has been compromised, and, thus, that the city sees a drastically different future for itself than do the foreign companies that have been investing in its cultural decay for the last 25 years, one that should increasingly be determined by the people.

Similar Mediterranean and European situations are present in Venice, Madrid, Valencia, Amsterdam, and Lisbon, to name a few. These cities are questioning the extent to which their cities have been functionalized for external populations, culturally compromised and full of displaced citizens. Venetians have gone far enough to compare the situation to the colonization and cultural/literal genocide of Native Americans of the 19th century US (Ortiz, 2017). While such a comparison is a stretch and de-legitimizes the struggles of the victims of settler colonialism, these global anti-tourism advocates bring about a related point: there is a ominously neocolonial feel to outside developers seeking to profit at the expense of cities that, to many in the global south, are seen as the only spaces in which they can make a living. Their commodification of housing is especially perverse when one considers how many homeless migrants sleep on the streets of Barcelona.

For an experiential and anecdotal analysis of the outcomes and conflicts presented by this paper, see my footnotes. [2] The spirit of academic activism around housing in Barcelona should be replicated to other distributive conflicts within the city and beyond. The role of the illicit economy in Barcelona's tourism is also a repeated topic across authors that warrants more academic attention. Academic research on the nuances of Catalan nationalism are also scarce. The BCC and Turisme de Barcelona should come together to firstly ensure that redistribution of tourist profits is even and that the future of tourism becomes more and more complex, carefully balancing the need for the inflow of capital with the cultural priorities of Barcelonans and their right to affordable, decommodified housing and public spaces. Further immediate research should research the housing conflict in Barcelona with specific regard to women and immigrants, specifically to analyzing Barcelona's unique combination of nationalism and pro-immigrant sentiment.


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[1] Complicit in the Atlantic slave trade as late as the 19th century (Alharilla and Perez, 2017), Barcelona's pre-industrial wealth was partially built off of colonial exploitation. At the same time, Catalonia was the only Mediterranean region to engage with and follow British-style textile manufacturing during the second third of the 19th century (Martinez Galarraga and Sabartes, 2013). The city's affinity for technological modernization is well-documented and reflected over various periods of history, including that of the "model" in the 80s and 90s. Also contributing to this modernist classification is the city's historical implementation of internationally-acclaimed and relevant cultural events attended by tourists, leading all the way back to the 1888 Expo (Russo and Scarnato, 2018). Unlike in Anglo-American contexts where leftist critiques of capitalist industrialization and top-down urban development were present but marginalized, Barcelona's political-economic heritage is undoubtedly pro-worker even as capitalist interests have never disappeared. "The Rose of Fire" was a term used to refer to the anarchist Barcelona of the late 19th and early 20th century (Juris, 143). George Orwell romanticizes the culture of anarchist Barcelona in Homage to Catalonia, a memoir detailing his time as a member of the International Brigades supporting the Catalan Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (McNeill, 1999). Other leftist factions also had political power in pre-civil war Barcelona, but the city was never non-stratified: the elite and bourgeois resisted the politics of the city's working classes and were co-opted by Franco's regime to quell anti-capitalist and anti-statist fervor, complicit in Franco's egregious human rights abuses against the Catalan people. The decentralized political power of neighborhoods and the working class are inherent to Barcelona's distributive conflicts, as are a widespread consensus on modernizing regeneration by a class of elites somewhat partial to external interests, once Franco, now tourists and investors from wealthier countries, and still the central Spanish government.

[2] I participated in Brown University's Consortium for Advanced Studies Abroad in Barcelona last fall. There, I stayed in a clearly gentrified student hotel in what was once the industrial Poblenou, directly adjacent to a number of empty lots that were literally migrant slums. I was part of a community of thousands of American foreign students who come to Barcelona and are the basis of this touristification and the political criticism it has received. I had a friend from high school come stay in an AirBnb in the same district of Barceloneta where the anti-tourist protests erupted in 2014. Although I made an effort to engage with Catalan culture as opposed to the generic version of Spanish culture that most American students engaged with, my view of the city is indelibly touristified. Our program leaders, none of whom were Catalan, offered us a conservative and biased take on Catalan nationalism, reducing it to a racist, bourgeois regionalism that may be present but is not the only element of the movement. After months of reflection and writing this paper, I have realized how the leaders of this program specifically chose to advertise Catalan nationalism as illegitimate for seemingly pro-tourist reasons: recognizing the legitimacy of Catalanism would be to compromise the entire basis of the branding of Barcelona the program benefits and profits from. This, for me, reinforces the notion that the politics of anti-tourism and of Catalan separation are linked. I remember thinking to myself on the subway, as angry Catalans glared at me in my clearly American apparel: am I the target of their political angst, or is it the Spanish people themselves? Even as a Black male member of the American liberal bourgeois, I at first naively saw myself as a neutral actor in the city politics of Barcelona. The research this paper has uncovered has spurred me to conclude the contrary: I am complicit in the touristification of Barcelona that has further degraded Catalanism.