The Tiers Lieux : infrastructures for a “Situated Democracy” ?


  • Marida Borrello Università La Sapienza and AMU


tiers lieux, Urban Innovation, democracy, materiality, City Network




In the face of the climate emergency, the necessity of a systemic transition in lifestyles (Avelino et al., 2015) calls upon national governments to integrate citizens into these processes.

However, the contemporary and escalating crises of representative democratic systems (Lardeux 2019, Bertolone and Winock 2015, Gallo 2021...) demonstrate a globalised issue of detachment of citizens from institutions.

The concept of "Situated Democracy," developed by the AMU-Civis research "Interstice" (1), seeks to highlight the need to return to a physical democratic infrastructure within territories, to a Political Materiality (Pilo 2020) co-constructed between institutions and citizens, which would take place in physical and shared spaces, materialising common desires and objectives capable of organically reaching various institutional levels.

With the Lévy-Waitz report (2021), French institutions have placed high expectations on the capacity of Tiers Lieux to "guide the sustainable transitions of territories." Despite doubts about the institutionalisation of the phenomenon that would affect their true experimental nature (Idelon 2020), these places are considered to be driving the capacity for hybridization of worlds (Gwiazdzinski 2016) and of a highly celebrated new way of being citizens by "doing" (Burret 2013, Bonnot 2019...).

However, the true diversity regarding the typology of citizens taking place here is not clear. Several have discussed their dangerousness in their re-placing gentrification of specific population types (Correia 2018, Watine 2020, among others...).

For Tiers Lieux to truly function as spaces of "Situated Democracy" and bring new substance to democratic and active citizenship, just as it would be risky to burden them with the responsibility for certain fundamental public services (Battesti 2012, Besson 2017, among others), would it also maybe be inappropriate for the institution to delegate to third-party actors the responsibility of ensuring the mixed component of these places ?

We hypothesise that, while remaining spaces for experimenting with alternatives, the democratic character of Tiers Lieux could be ensured by their network dimension within a physical and social infrastructure supported by the institution.

This is presented to be the case with the institutional initiatives of the "Wijkhubs" networks in the city of Rotterdam. These will be examined in comparison with certain French Tiers Lieux (and their networking attempts) to identify the advantages and disadvantages of institutional or hybrid approaches to their spatial and social devices, in order to enable or not the diversity, and thus foster the emergence of a new form of situated citizenship, truly transformative thanks to its multi-scalarity, and accessible to the majority.


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