Brussels and the Belgian crisis

Research, Completed

A metonymy of new European challenges

Joint PhD ADESS, CNRS Bordeaux (supervisor Prof. Dr. Guy Di Méo) and the Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research (Prof. Dr. Eric Corijn & Prof. Dr. David Bassens)

To capture contemporary political realities and imaginaries, it has been argued that we need a paradigmatic transition from a pyramidal model of ethno-territorial organization, exemplified in the archetypical Nation-State, towards more networked or flow-based conceptualizations. This PhD project employs the power of such a paradigmatic shift to disclose changes in urban modes of power, identity and citizenship territorialisation. The focal city is Brussels, which sits uncomfortably in the midst of the political and community crisis of the Belgian nation-state. Since the middle of the 20th century, the Belgian nation-state has experienced a process of national deconstruction through ethnicization of its territorial administration. As a corollary, this has produced institutional fragmentation and communitarian strife in its capital city Brussels. At the same time, the paradoxical position of Brussels as a rich and intensely economically and culturally globalized, yet polarized city, raises the important question of whether other modes of social integration and polity formation can emerge in this critical transition space in between nation-state-based imaginaries and realities. Empirically, the project scrutinizes the emergence of new democratic civil society initiatives around issues of identity, citizenship and the actual governance of spaces. Drawing on these cases, the project discloses the growing relevance of power claims based on the networking of cities, with significant cooperation lines between Antwerp, Charleroi, Liege, Ghent, and Brussels, and stretching beyond national borders as well.