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Meet researcher Daniela Vicherat Mattar

Scientists of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs research completely different subject, among which terrorism, cybercrime and migration. In the upcoming weeks we will give the floor to several of our very best researchers. In this episode: sociologist Daniela Vicherat Mattar.

What is the topic of your research?

‘Public spaces within democracy. People tend to gather in specific areas, often squares. Intriguing. Take my hometown Santiago de Chile. When something (good or bad) has happened, everyone goes to Plaza Italia. Why there, and not to a bigger, more central location? To understand that better, I studied Plaza Italia and Puerta del Sol, a comparable square in Madrid. ‘

What did you find?

‘These squares had certain features in common. For instance, originally both were located at the edges of the cities. Entry points – their importance grew from their position in the margins. For me, the most important factor, however, is history. Plaza Italia and Puerta del Sol are part of the collective imaginary of Santiago and Madrid: if you live in Madrid, you know the place to gather is Puerta del Sol. That’s just how it is, and how it has always been.’

Why is your research relevant?

‘Democracy is not just a political system, it is also a way of life.  Public spaces facilitate the experience of democracy. In theory, democracy represents the power of the people. However, that power needs to manifest itself. To take place, to become visible. Through the uses people  give to public spaces, I think it is possible to “read” the kind of democracy we have produced , and to understand better the one we want.’


‘Initially, I studied shopping malls as counterexample to the squares. Contrary to what I expected, the malls I studied are also meaningful “public” spaces within democracy. Despite being privately owned, people’s daily interactions afford the malls a public character: people gather there. To buy, but the malls also offer comfort , often have libraries, health centers, and other public facilities. Especially in deprived districts, the malls became the urban center.’

You research public space, but also have quite a strong stand on research itself?

‘I am interested in the connection between research and teaching. The connection is fundamental. Teaching obliges me to constantly reevaluate my research questions –

why are they relevant and for whom? Research, in turn, helps me to think about teaching in terms of how we think about the societies we inhabit, rather than a mere transfer of skills so we can live in them functionally. Take democracy. There’s plenty of “data” about it, “democracy” is broadly defended and promoted. But  in the streets there is a generalized sense of discontent. So, the act of thinking and teaching about democracy cannot be disconnected from the ways in which people experience it.’

Want to read more about this research?

Read the Research booklet of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs for free. In this publication, twelve researchers tell about their research.

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