Claiming Marseille Métropole. A Diachronic Study of Urban Representation during the 1906 Colonial Exposition and the European Capital of Culture »Marseille-Provence 2013«

Doktorandin 2018–2019 am DHIP

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In my dissertation project, I am conducting a diachronic comparative study of the concept the ›metropolis‹ in Marseille. For this purpose, I examine two temporal stages: firstly, at the turn of the 20th century, when Marseille was portrayed as the »colonial metropole« of the French Empire during the era of European Colonialism. Secondly, the contemporary city image of ›Métropole Aix-Marseille-Provence‹ as a regional urban entity in an era of globalization. For this purpose, I investigate two crucial cultural events which, I argue, extensively contribute to carrying and producing the »métropole«: the first French Colonial Exhibition in Marseille in 1906 and the festival as the European Capital of Culture, »Marseille-Provence 2013«.

Here, I do not regard the metropolis primarily as a localized and fixed spatial entity. Rather, I propose a conceptual approach to metropolitanism as a discursive formation. For my analysis, I conduct in-depth interpretation of historical sources, official documents and expert interviews, drawing from discourse analytical methods and critical urban studies.

I propose a conceptual approach to metropolitanism as a discursive formation.

Photo: Marseille, © Anton Bombach

My project addresses the following research questions: Why is metropolitanism constitutive of urban discourses on Marseille throughout history despite deep definitional and functional shifts of that very concept? How do major cultural events, more than a century apart, disseminate and shape the »métropole«? What and who produces these discourses and (how) are they contested? I propose that both during the age of colonialism and in the context of contemporary neo-liberalism, the concept of the metropolis in Marseille represents an ideological definition, and a relational instrument of urban labelling and marketing. Metropolitanism is a crucial factor of urban historicity, which (re)produces and is produced through discursive representational practices according to specific power structures.

The aim of the overall project is to contribute to discussing the theoretical definitional problem of urban typologization and metropolitanism, as well as addressing the lack of diachronic critical research on the history of Marseille’s metropolitan representation and heritage.