Cluster 1.1 My tool box: Questioning the tools*

by kajsakorner


“Bodies are absent in architecture, but they remain architecture’s unspoken condition.” (Grosz, 2001:12-13).

The body is there, but it needs to be affirmed. Grosz (2001) means that the human body is always present in architecture, but its presence is not virtual or outspoken. Architects and architecture refers inexplicitly to the body. The function of a buildings, form and spatiality is discussed in terms of how it is supposed to be used by people. The physical form of architecture will influence how the body can move or inhabit a space. Grosz (2001)states that architecture is by most theorists considered as male dominated, but it is not enough to bring in more women in architecture. Therefore, Grosz argues for that the phallocentric structure of the discipline needs to be questioned, in terms of sexual difference. Further on, architecture has to find concepts and terms to describe this and
“make it profitable for architecture to think its own investments in corporeality.” (Grosz, 2001:14).

I would say that bodies are constantly referred to within architecture, but seldom from a gender and power perspective questioning the terms of normativity.

When reading Jane Rendell’s text “Critical Spatial practices: Setting out a feminist approach to some modes and what matters in architecture” (Rendell in Brown, 2011), I immediately reacted on the use of references for her overall theoretical framework. Her theoretical point of departure, when discussing critical spatial practice, consists of e.g. Foucault, Deleuze, Kristeva, Lefebvre, de Certeau. This canon of mainly male references is not questioned or positioned. Grosz (2001), in “Embodying spaces: An interview”, warns for an automatic use of certain theories. At the time for the interview, 2001, Deleuze is on the rising within the discipline, and she warns for his theories and others to be applied in a routine way.

This makes me think of Audre Lorde and her text ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’. She comments on the fact that she is one of the few black and lesbian women who has been invited to take part in a conference dealing with “existentialism, the erotic, women’s culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power.”, and this in a country (USA) where racism is closely linked to homophobia and sexism (Lorde in Rendell et al., 2000:53). Lorde states: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” , i.e. how can these issues be discussed by applying theories which do not acknowledge the problems of racisms, homophobia and sexism? So, how can we discuss feminism, gender and architecture if we do not apply theories acknowledging gender and power from a feministic standpoint?

Rendell uses feminist and gender theories further on in her text, but it is still a question how and where they are being presented in the argumentation of her chapter. The intent to make an overview of critical spatial practice with a feminist approach fails on the lack of an overall theoretical framework clarifying what the feministic approach is. Reading the text leaves me with a set of questions: What to do with these categories? How can we use these categories of feministic approaches within architecture? What kind of knowledge do they produce?

If the purpose of anthologies, like this one, is to strengthen women’s position at all levels in the discipline of architecture, then the work of these women have to be made visible: not because of their gender, but because of their achievements. The routine-like use of theoretical references has to be questioned and revised, in order to acknowledge the work of gender theories and feminist, who have developed the ideas within other disciplines, e.g. philosophy, sociology, theory of science. We do not have to go back to Plato to understand the world. Several great thinkers have continued and improved his ideas. Instead, I want to claim the right to take a feministic stance in my research, without legitimizing it in a universal male discourse of power.

“Women of today is still being called upon to stretch the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressed occupied with the master’s concern. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women – in fact of tremendous resistance – as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.” (Lorde in Rendell et al., 2000)

Brown, L. A. 2011. Feminist practices : interdisciplinary approaches to women in architecture, Ashgate:.
Grosz, E. 2001. Architecture from the outside : essays on virtual and real space, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
Lorde, A. 1979, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ in Rendell, J., Penner, B. & Borden, I. 2000. Gender, space, architecture : an interdisciplinary introduction, London, Routledge.

* I have edited the reading list of cluster 1 and substituted the texts of Eyal Weizman, with a conference paper by Audre Lorde from 1979, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ Rendell, J., Penner, B. & Borden, I. 2000. Gender, space, architecture : an interdisciplinary introduction, London, Routledge. Deleuze and Michel Foucault’s conversation is replaced with an interview with Elizabeth Grosz, “Embodying spaces: An interview” in Architecture from the outside Grosz, E. 2001. Architecture from the outside : essays on virtual and real space, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press., in order to get a philosopher’s input on architecture, power and gender. Here, specified in the subject of body and space.