PhD Thesis proposal

INTERMEDIA - Cultural intermediaries in urban regeneration in small cities

Supervisor/s: Paula Abreu and Nancy Duxbury

Doctoral Programme: Cities and Urban Cultures

Funding: FCT


The central role of culture in the regeneration of cities has resulted in the increased importance of cultural intermediaries/mediators in urban development. However, there are few studies that prove this relationship outside large cities, where most of the critical cultural mass and urban revitalization actions are concentrated.

The objective of INTERMEDIA is to study the role of cultural intermediaries in the dynamics of urban regeneration in small cities in Portugal, between 2000 and 2020, - Who are they? What moves them? How do they work? How do they relate to other institutions and communities? - starting from the cases of Abrantes, Caldas da Rainha and Covilhã.

This research is based on a methodological strategy that combines document analysis, interviews, and ethnography, to operationalize an analysis model that will combine urban regeneration and culture, at a macro level, and cultural intermediaries, aiming to contribute to better urban policies. and integrated cultures.


Since its introduction by Bourdieu (1979), the concept of «cultural intermediary» has been the subject of study and theoretical reflection, in different ways in the sociological literature, leading to an ambiguity in the notions of intermediation and cultural intermediary, making it difficult to define their fields of action (Ferreira, 2009).

For Matthews and Smith (2012), the debate diverged between a new middle class, involved in the mediation of production and consumption, along the lines of Bourdieu (1984, 1996), and actors in the market, in a network, mediating between economy and culture (Callon et al., 2002; Muniesa et al., 2007; Jakob and Van Heur, 2014). In turn, Russell Prince (2010) considers them «a small group of professionals from the cultural sector, municipal councilors, researchers and entrepreneurs».

The development of cities and their urban systems reveals processes of concentration and polarization, both in the field of cultural production and in political, economic, and administrative terms (Santos and Abreu, 2000). Thus, the role played by cultural mediators can take various forms through their positioning in society (Ginzburg, 1989), namely, acting as "gatekeepers" (Becker, 1984), in a cross-sectoral professional articulation between the various spheres (Madeira, 1999). Eventually, at the level of participatory cultural practices that, in the long term, generate and feed participatory dynamics and governance in the city, fostering intersectoral articulations and cooperation between actors, and forming an inclusive framework for sustainable development (Ferreira and Duxbury, 2017), benefiting from the collaborative and sharing basis, among multiple agents, inherent to cultural activity embodied in formal and informal cooperation networks (Correia, Ferreira and Abreu, 2017).

In the last 30 years, culture has assumed a central role in urban regeneration, defining a new paradigm of urban (Bianchini, 1995; Landry, 2001; Scott, 2001) and economic (Howkins, 2001; Florida, 2002) development associated with cultural and urban planning, attraction and retention of creative human capital in cities. Although research is mostly focused on large cities, studies have corroborated the positive impacts of culture on small and medium-sized cities (Bianchini, 1995; Bradley & Hall, 2006; Breitbart & Stanton, 2007; Evans and Foord, 2006; Miles, 2006).

Indeed, culture can be a decisive element in a city's urban development strategy whose small scale allows flexible and agile informal networks, facilitating decision-making processes and contact between cultural agents, making their work more collective (Lopes, 2003). However, to Ferreira (2013), there is a lack of new theoretical bodies focused on the geography of the urban economy of small cities (Bell and Jayne, 2009; Jayne, Gibson, Waitt and Bell, 2010; Lorentzen and Van Heur, 2012), as well as the cultural economy (Scott, 1997, 2000). There is, in fact, a need for consistent and continuous research and production of knowledge, which supports the definition of development policies suited to the specificities of each city (Jayne, Gibson, Waitt and Bell, 2010). In this sense, the role cultural intermediaries have or may have in local urban development is, among others, an essential aspect to consider.


The study of cultural intermediaries that has been carried out and is reflected in the heart of sociological literature and research has focused, fundamentally, on the traditional cultural and artistic sphere of large urban centers. In this sense, it is essential to deepen the discussion on cultural intermediaries, considering the way in which, through their action, and in the context of small cities, they articulate different fields, namely the field of culture, the economic field and that of political action. in the field of urban regeneration.

The main goal is to understand the role and positioning of cultural intermediaries, as well as the resonances of their performance in the dynamics of culture-led urban regeneration in small cities in Portugal. For this, it is assumed the understanding of their social profile and their positioning in the local cultural scene, in terms of the forms of action, motivations and social ethos, but also the relationships with local communities and institutions and the effects on the modeling of ways of life and ways of being.

This research has as case studies the cities of Abrantes, Caldas da Rainha and Covilhã, in the period between 2000 and 2020, considering the following specific analysis objectives:

1. To characterize urban regeneration policies and dynamics, the cultural context and cultural intermediaries, including existing critical mass and relationships between actors and sectors;

2. To analyze the processes of cultural mediation (actors involved, the way they are processed and the way in which other actors perceive them) and their respective effects (tangible and intangible) in the dynamics of urban regeneration, especially in terms of social change.

3. To consubstantiate the results in a set of recommendations for the formulation of integrated urban and cultural policies and for future impact assessment processes, at the level of urban development through culture.