This paper aims to examine the complex relationship between public spaces and the images and meanings created and derived from them, as well as the conflictive relationship between political and economic establishment that appropriates these spaces and meanings and those social agents who resist said appropriation. Recent events that occurred in Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s most central square, will be the background to and focus of this analysis. Since 2011, this square has been reclaimed as a place for political protest and contestation, while at the same time it has also been used for testing new ways to commercialise the public space.
The first part of the proposal deals with these two different ways of appropriating public space; reflecting on the reasons why some uses of it, such as Sol Occupation, has been considered conflictive and problematic, while others, such as the renaming of the place, has been mostly accepted as harmonious and nonexclusive. The second aim is to discuss the role of the geographical space in the social and political contest against the power.
Two main conclusions, each of one related with the issues that have been raised, can be highlighted. The first one denies the idea that these new social movements could be non-spatial. These recent mobilization processes have disproven the apparent lack of connection between the physical and sociopolitical dimensions into which the concept and reality of public space may be divided.
The second conclusion is related with the social images and symbols that are created and projected from public spaces. The relabeling of Puerta del Sol square involves acting upon reality, in as much as access to reality is achieved via words and concepts. With the addition of a commercial name, the traditional denomination of this space is trying to be detached from its political content and connected with another meaning that is associated with the imaginary of a sophisticated, and supposedly aseptic from an ideological perspective, economy.