Project: The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor

Acronym SPAS
Project Topic This project sets out to rethink the spa as a core concept and object of European debate. It investigates how the European spa, with its characteristic institutions such as the Kurpark, sanatorium, grand hotel and casino, developed into a transnational public space and functioned as a stage for the negotiation of political, social and cultural issues of European relevance. We ask how long the institution of the spa served as such a transnational space, or when, how, why, and to what degree it was nationalized, territorialized, compartmentalized and reconfigured. We analyse textual and visual representations of spa culture from the 19th century to the present day in their contemporary contexts, paying particular attention to the amenability of the spa and its institutions to be co-opted as social metaphors (healthy collective; asylum; refuge; paradise; factory; egalitarian utopia; etc.). We work on the hypothesis that there is a distinct, transnational and intermedial spa narrative in European culture, with a set of topical motifs, discursive elements and narrative styles. Our project is based on the academic expertise of four Principal Investigators, based in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and England, pooling their expertise in social and cultural history and cultural and literary analysis. Drawing on Habermas’ ideas on the development of public space / in the formation of a public sphere on the one hand, and Foucault’s concept of “heterotopia” on the other, we understand the spa as a paradigmatic space in European cultural and social history. On the basis of this research we will, together with our partners from resorts across Europe, pave the way for a revalorization of spa culture as a distinctively European phenomenon.
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Call HERA Joint Research Programme “Public Spaces: Culture and Intergration in Europe”

Project partner

Number Name Role Country
1 Freie Universitaet Berlin Partner Germany
2 University of Amsterdam Coordinator Netherlands
3 Lund University Partner Sweden
4 Queen Mary University of London Partner United Kingdom