The social factory: Social movements from autonomy to precarity

Enrica Mannelli

Supervisors: Pier Vittorio Aureli, Maria Giudici

The thesis studies the evolution of the “social factory” and the related social movements that tackled this evolution. The concept of the social factory rises from a theory developed by Mario Tronti in early 1960 who claimed that in a Fordist society “the whole of society lives as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination to the whole of society”. Therefore, the history of the social factory is the evolution of an exploitative system, marked and challenged by a series of struggles led by the working class, the subject exploited. From an urban perspective, the Fordist social factory is the first moment that every single element of the city (such as factories, housing projects, and parks) and urban activity (working, dwelling, and leisure) is commodified and planned according to the main production system in order to fulfil the main goal of reproducing the labour force, i.e. making people productive. The urban history of the social factory – which this thesis sets out to trace – is the evolution of the city structure in relation to the evolution of the system. 

In the last 60 years, the working world has moved from a production system based on the factory assembly line to the contemporary “creative factory” that exploits not only intellectual labour but also the workers’ life as such; from zoning policies to a condition where we are unable to mark the spatial boundaries of the work field. As an illustration of this shift in the nature of work, Italy represents an exemplary and fast-paced case study while at the same time, Italian thinkers and practitioners of the 1960s and 1970s produced extensive theoretical and political contributions on this precise topic. Among them, the rejection of the system expressed by the Italian theories of autonomy and the Autonomia movement is the most interesting. 

Therefore, this research will analyse the structure of several Italian cities in relation to a particular shift within the evolution of the system: Turin, the factory; Bologna, the creative city; Rome, the autonomous social centre; and Milan, the cooptation of the autonomous social centre. In doing so, it questions the urban form in two ways: as an outcome of the capitalist system, reading urban planning as a means of capitalism itself; and as a contested spatiality in which the struggles of workers and citizens occur. Ultimately, this project questions the opportunity to tackle the contemporary Roman social factory through an urban policy to enable a system of social factory workshops. The latter is imagined as a critique of the Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito (Self-managed occupied social centre; CSOA) that represent an important moment and space within the evolution of Italian theories of autonomy, and an opportunity to challenge the relentless nature of capitalism.

Image: Tano D’Amico, Girl and Guards, Rome (1977)

Biography: Enrica Mannelli is an architect. She graduated in Architecture in Rome (2008) and holds a Master of Arts in Housing and Urbanism from the Architectural Association (2017). As a firm believer in the importance of acquiring hands-on experience alongside academic study, she worked in a number of firms of different sizes, methods, and ambitions: among them, she collaborated with Cino Zucchi Architetti in Milan and Lynch Architects in London. She is currently working between Rome and London while pursuing her PhD by Design.