The Social Factory. Architecture and Social Movements from Autonomy to Precarity, Italy 196X-202X

Mannelli, Enrica Maria (2024). The Social Factory. Architecture and Social Movements from Autonomy to Precarity, Italy 196X-202X. PhD thesis The Open University.



Focusing on the Italian case study in particular, this research examines the evolution of the city as a “social factory” and the social movements’ protests related to this evolution. Herewith, the city as a social factory is understood as a system undergirded and propelled by capital and profit whereby production is unlimited to the workplace but extends to society more generally. This extension is enabled through the commodification of those spaces in which urban life transpires, thereby fulfilling the primary objective of reproducing the labour force – that is, of making people productive.

This thesis argues that, in order to understand the social factory, it is important to focus on the passage from Fordism – when the city was produced according to the factory – to Post-Fordism, when that same city became the space of production, resulting in the social factory. Within this shift, creativity played a pivotal role: during the 1970s, creativity was the way that workers reclaimed their autonomy; later, it was co-opted by a system that gladly dismissed Fordism and embraced all those values that were propounded by the creative subjects. This resulted in spaces dedicated to its production playing a key role in urban planning as well as in the related exploitation of freelance workers.

Within this framework, Italy represents a fast-paced laboratory, with the Italian Autonomia movement providing extensive theoretical and political discourse on this topic. Over the decades, the pursuit of autonomy – both by capitalism and political organizations – took many forms: the mass-worker strikes in the 1960s; the refusal to work and the project of self-valorization of the 1970s; and, in the 1980s, the act of squatting abandoned buildings and the establishment of the Centri Sociali – the self-managed occupied social centres, in which culture, politics, and creativity found support.

Ultimately, this thesis investigates the role of urban policies in enabling a network of spaces capable of challenging the relentless nature of capitalism and generating a specifically creative form of welfare.

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