Pol Fité Matamoros

I am an architect and urbanist from Barcelona, Spain. My project interrogates fascism as a spatial question—i.e. as deploying not only on certain spatial tactics, but also as premised on certain spatial imaginaries—and the links this illuminates with colonialism through the case of Spain at the turn of the 20th century.

During my architecture and urbanism studies, I became interested in the transformations of the Spanish landscape under Francoism (the Spanish fascist regime between 1939 and 1975) and during the country’s transition to democracy (1975–81). I was first interested in studying the form and dynamics of its contemporary landscapes through a morphological lens, and later in paying unpacking the political economy of its urbanization processes in such a key moment of political reorganization in Europe (namely the creation of the EU).

Once at UC Berkeley I was able to broaden my interrogation of Spain’s 40-year-long dictatorship through different disciplinary lenses, from anthropology to cultural studies. And, before the rise of ethno-nationalisms across the globe, my interest began shifting from interrogating the Spanish transition to democracy and the legacies left by the Francoist regime, to exploring its coming to be in the early 20th century. Which conditions, types of subjectivities, imaginations, etc., allowed for fascism to emerge in Spain? My hypothesis here was that there was something very spatial to fascism—not only in the way they organized their regime, but in the very thinking that allowed it to emerge and gain traction amongst significant sectors of the population. And that ‘that spatial something’ was tightly intertwined with Spanish colonialism.

Already in 1950, the renowned Martinican thinker Aimé Césaire argued that fascism was the boomerang effect of colonialism. That it was its unintended consequence, the turning of colonial violence to the metropolis. And yet, this proposition has remained largely unexplored.

Spain offers an ideal scenario to explore this argument. Towards the end of the 19th century Spain “lost” its last colonies in the Americas and turned its gaze to northwest Africa to make up for its lost territories and markets, and ultimately to its own landscapes to undertake modernization and increase production. That sense of loss and its new colonial imaginations for regeneration entailed the circulation of plenty of images about Spain’s lost empire in the Americas and its rebirth in northwest Africa, catalogues of colonized peoples, metaphors for the geographic unity between Spain and Morocco, and the like. In other words, it entailed the naturalization of certain spatial imaginations of what constituted Spain’s decadence and how to bring about its rebirth. Unsurprisingly, then, the fascist movement built on these very colonial spatial imaginations when articulating their vision for a renewed Spanish Empire.

In turn, Spain was a marginal European power that strongly felt the anxieties of Europe’s imperial race: Its colonial territories of the Moroccan Rif, Western Sahara, and Equatorial Guinea were much smaller than those of any other European power (reason why they have remained largely understudied). And the country’s historical ties to northwest Africa meant that in terms of architecture, urbanism, landscape features, and racial appearance, colonizer and colonized were often indistinguishable. In this context, the Spanish colonial administration had to develop an array of spatial techniques to leverage that similarity as a sign of their ‘rightful role’ as the colonizer while still asserting their colonial superiority—a marked departure from their European colonial counterparts, who relied upon difference to enact claims of colonial rule. Some years later, the colonial military that spearheaded the Spanish fascist coup drew on that same shared Iberian-Moorish heritage to justify their regime in historical terms and frame it as a revolution against European powers in the eyes of the colonized. And they deployed the same array of techniques developed in northwest Africa to, essentially, turn the Iberian Peninsula itself into a colony and undertake modernization by force.

Thus, this research project explores the role that colonial spatial imaginations played in setting the stage for fascist arguments to be conceivable and take root. And how the enactment of those spatial imaginations in the colonies birthed an array of spatial techniques to produce both social and racial difference and similarity that the fascist regime would then apply to Peninsular Spaniards.

This research grant helped fund my accommodation in Madrid for several months to go to many of Spain’s national and municipal archives (including the Military Archives, its General Administration Archives, the National LibraryMadrid’s Municipal Hemeroteca, the Filmoteca, etc.). It also allowed me to pay shorter visits to Salamanca and Seville, where other relevant archives are located (such as the Archive for the Recuperation of Historical Memory and the Archive of the Indies); and, in the case of Seville, where the important colonial-themed Ibero-American Exhibition took place in the 1920s (still visitable today).

The research grant also helped me fund my trip across the Moroccan Rif, both to try to access the remaining documents of Spain’s colonial administration in Tétouan and to drive across the Riffian landscapes, experiencing firsthand the landscapes portrayed in the archival materials I was consulting. My stay in Morocco also allowed visiting all the rural colonization towns that, from the evidence I found so far, were founded by the Spanish colonial administration at the turn of the century and set a way of organizing both city blocks, water infrastructures, and agricultural activities that still shapes the Rif’s landscapes today.