The HERA project “The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor” 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.
The project asks how long the institution of the spa served as such transnational space, where different nationalities, ethnicities, and social classes met. Or conversely, when specific groups of spa visitors were excluded from the resorts, and for what specific reasons. To this end, it analyses historical records, 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.). It works on the hypothesis that there is a distinct, transnational and intermedial spa narrative in European culture, with a set of topical motifs (the taking of the waters; the allegorical meaning of landscapes), discursive elements (the juxtaposition of eros and thanatos, discipline and leisure; individual and collective body) and narrative styles (i.e., multi-layered time). Examples would include formed by travelogues, diaries, novels and films. Think of authors like Thomas Mann, Anton Chekhov, Dubravka Ugrešić and Milan Kundera, or directors like Alain Resnais and Nikita Mikhalkov.
Drawing on Habermas’ ideas on the development of public space / public sphere on the one hand, and Foucault’s concept of heterotopia on the other, the project conceptualizes the spa as a paradigmatic space in European cultural and social history. On the basis of this research, the four principal investigators based in Amsterdam, Lund (Sweden), London and Berlin will, together with partners from resorts across Europe, pave the way for a revalorization of spa culture as a distinctively European phenomenon.
Christian Noack is Associated professor for East European Studies as the Capacity group of European Studies and the Director of the Amsterdam School for Regional, Transnational and European Studies.
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