Matters of Fact vs. Matters of Concern in relation to Biopolitics/Biopower

by Jesper Magnusson


Matters of Fact vs. Matters of Concern in relation to Biopolitics/Biopower

“The question was never to get away from facts but closer to them, not fighting empiricism but, on the contrary, renewing empiricism. (…) … the critical mind, if it is to renew itself and be relevant again, is to be found in the cultivation of a stubbornly realist attitude—to speak like William James—but a realism dealing with what I will call matters of concern, not matters of fact.” (Latour 2004)

If we translate “matter” into “architecture” the concept gets more specific and situated. Architecture of fact would then stand for context-less, prefabricated buildings with no site-specific qualities. Architecture of concern, however, would be the opposite: situated, social and the result of craftsmanship. What would this mean regarding the spatial quality, adaptability and complexity?

Can Architecture of fact metamorphose into architecture of concern through a process of successively becoming relevant as social space? Probably. Because architecture, I would claim, is always a matter of concern, it cannot be mastered instrumentally or without the collaboration of many actors and forces. Architectural space is always networked and always social, always connected. Even the most objectified architectural spaces have the intrinsic capacity to become situated, social and significant, regardless of manufacturing processes? (But, that is no excuse for architects and planners not to try their best to design in collaboration and with great social concern!)

Latour use Whitehead to undermine the existence of matters of fact: “The solution or, rather, the adventure, according to Whitehead, is to dig much further into the realist attitude and to realize that matters of fact are totally implausible, unrealistic, unjustified definitions of what it is to deal with things” (Whitehead in Latour 2004)

“…’biopolitics’ and ‘biopower’, that is, those mechanisms and forms of power that invest the human body as a locus of productivity and action, and in this sense also situate the subject as free, or at least endowed with a certain agency.” (Wallenstein 2010, p.47)

Foucault´s concept of biopolitics/biopower can go well together with Latours material and spatial agency. Latour draws on Heidegger´s connotation of material entities as being gatherings – relational implications of networks, if you wish. With some inspiration from Whitehead and Tarde, Latour associate matters of concern to the concept society (Latour 2004). So, if we merge these concepts we will have humans and objects/things, equipped with agency and thus with power, producing situated networks. To me that makes a relevant and most promising image, or conception, of a populated space or a city! And an interesting set of conceptual tools to research it!

Vitruvian space as matters of fact

”… architectural implications, for instance in the sustained discussion on the role of the hospital and the medicalization of urban space, where the Vitruvian paradigm comes to an end and architecture begins to be understood as an ordering and production of space instead of a representation of a pre-existing order.” (Wallenstein 2010)

Wallenstein presents an interesting point here! When architecture in part is taking another route, towards a social and truly collective space-making activity, the role of architecture and space, as well as the production of it, become increasingly relevant for people outside the traditional practise of building/architecture. You could say that architecture returns to its origins, before the emergence of complex cities and the division of labour etc., when those who should use the space produced it.

Most architecture produced today seems to be true to the Vitruvian paradigm, resting on a pre-existing order, or tool box, in its making. In its purest form, Vitruvian architecture can be depicted as matters of fact (Latour) and objects (Heidegger). A space-making process built around material and human agency and considering social aspects then can be referred to matters of concern and Heidegger´s thing.


Bruno Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’ in Critical Inquiry, 30, Winter 2004

Sven-Olov Wallenstein, ‘Noopolitics, Life and Architecture’ in Deborah Hauptman and Warren Neidlich, eds, Cognitive Architecture. From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010