The GESTUAL – Group of Socio-Territorial, Urban and Local Action Studies – born informally in October of 1997, aggregating a small group of senior and junior researchers, teachers, students and professionals around a collective research project, financed by the Foundation for Science and Technology and integrated in CIAUD (the Research Centre in Architecture, Urbanism and Design) of the then FAUTL (Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University of Lisbon, current University of Lisbon). This project approached, in a multidisciplinary perspective, the reconversion of the so-called neighborhoods of illegal genesis in Portugal, specifically those of the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, and developed a comparative look with similar situations in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Istanbul and Maputo. Following this project, the GESTUAL was the stage for other collective projects of research and action, as well as individual research projects (at the master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral level); and also hosted a coordination of a European master (Master Erasmus Mundus EURMed; Urban Studies in Mediterranean Regions).
The GESTUAL intended to aggregate the synergies made possible by this novel project, other previous projects, in progress or outlined, and to consolidate a line of research that associates, the matrix of critical thinking of Henri Lefebvre, with the premises of an interventive urbanism. On this path, the GESTUAL constructed itself, attracting new members with similar concerns, urban planners, architects, designers and social scientists. In June of 2013, the GESTUAL was officially recognized as a Research Group of the Faculty of Architecture.
Territory of research and action
The urban edge and the housing areas have become the ground and the privileged themes of research and action of the GESTUAL. The suburbs, the peripheries, the so-called informal, illegal and irregular territories, that we classified as semi-urbanized or self-produced, as well as public housing are the most studied by the group. However, we do not exclude the examination of other territories in transformation, such as historical centers or rural areas, whenever read in the framework of urbanization on a global scale and in a critical and diachronic perspective. The socio-spatial dynamics of the housing territories are the object of particular attention, either at the scale of the city (or of its parts), or at the scale of the neighborhood, the public space, housing and of the street furniture. The places of the “luso-utopia” are a privileged field of study and action, but these intersect with the wider horizons of a world increasingly globalized at the level of the dominant economy, as well as at the level, resultant or resistant, of the socio-spatial dynamics.
The approach is in all cases socio-spatial. Space is understood as a product of the social, following Henri Lefebvre (1974), and as reworked by David Harvey (2001). The GESTUAL aims to understand the spatial transformations, in progress or predicted, consequent of societal structures and conditions, as well as of the actions of a multiplicity of actors, from public powers and private interests to civil society, including local organizations and residents. The identification of tendencies of spatial transformation, of the models and the underlying urbanistic and housing paradigms, as well as the motivations, rationalities and practices that configure them, have, as their ultimate objective, to promote a reflection about how to do it and what to do, paraphrasing José Forjaz (2005), for the concrete case of Mozambique.
It privileges the applied research and the research-action and the action-research. It aims to know to be able to transform, but also to transform or to intervene to be able to know. The action is always the object of reflection and participatory monitoring. Underlying this, is the notion of reflexivity, an interactive process between research and action, between theory and the empirical or the practice, something that is defended special vigorously in the urbanism by authors such as François Ascher and Nuno Portas. This notion is articulated with two other: the social production of knowledge, as has been claimed by Yves Cabannes (2013), and the restitution of the research results, not only to the technical and scientific community, but also to the communities of the studied territories, promoting situations of interaction, as defended by Isabel Raposo (1999 and 2007). The circulation of information and the animation of public debates together with the community, it assumes at the same time an epistemological posture, allowing the verification of research results and the obtain of new data; it also assumes a deontological position of social responsibility, returning the knowledge produced, contributing to the reinforcement of the capacity of local reflection and inserting the research in the local dynamic and in the decision-making process.
The close interaction between the researchers and the agents of the territory, in line with participatory observation and practical involvement, guides group work. At the level of the action and the project (urbanistic, housing, design or sociocultural), the objective is the upgrading of the territory but also local capacity, empowerment and emancipatory transformation.
These concepts are associated with three fundamental rights: the right to housing, the right to place and the right to the city. These rights are understood in the emancipatory and transforming sense that Henry Lefebvre attributed to the right to the city (1974), rethought more recently by David Harvey (2012). We want to clarify these concepts and to operationalize these rights at the level of research and of action. In summary, the GESTUAL aims to identify the trends that are emerging, but also the practices, the policies and the paradigms of urban intervention that are employed in the production of a city with more quality of life for all, more justice and with more spatial justice, citing Edward Soja (2010), among others authors.
The GESTUAL gives special attention to three principal themes: (i) an urbanism of proximity, an alternative to the dominant system, that privileges the socio-territorial cohesion, the reinforcement of identities and local solidarities and the upgrading of the existent city; (ii) a shared urbanism linked to the community practices of the self-production of their habitat and with the movements of citizens in the defense of their rights to housing, to place and to the city; and (iii) an emancipatory urbanism which builds a more inclusive city, revealing, but also inducing, a more democratic and egalitarian society (Raposo, 2013). In short, the political dimension of urbanism, read and developed into models and in the endless social and spatial practices of its multiple actors and agents is privileged.
Who we are and what we do
The GESTUAL brings together a set of researchers, teachers and technicians – urban planners, architects, designers, geographers, sociologists and anthropologists –, who identified with these concepts, principles and rights. Institutionally, the founding members of GESTUAL are part of the CIAUD. Trainees and students of the host institution, as well as other members not linked to FAUL or to CIAUD, for instead case of former students or professionals and researchers from other disciplines or institutions, can join the GESTUAL permanently or temporally.
The GESTUAL invests in an internal dynamic, horizontal and reflexive, giving value to its heritage and enhancing the individual and collective initiatives and the group’s synergies around research, research-action and local intervention, scientific, technical and political, debate, and also technical education. Its members develop research and action projects, collective and individual (master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral). The dimension of technical education has been an integral part of GESTUAL since its genesis, with the offer of optional disciplines in FAUTL/FAUL, at the second and third university level (master and doctoral), as well as of workshops, with objectives and programs about themes and territories covered by the group.
In the framework of its scientific, professional and didactic production, the GESTUAL integrates: the organization and co-organization of various events, workshops and internal or open debates, conferences and national and international seminars and other scientific and cultural events; the organization of expositions and the writing of short reports to foment debate and to disseminate results; and the written dissemination of scientific and practical results, as well as that of didactic texts, through their publication in magazines, books and brochures, national and international, scientific. The GESTUAL is also involved in the networking with entities with similar or complementary approaches.