Cluster 4: The Theory Toolbox

by arlemo

In a conversation with Michel Foucault titled Intellectuals and Power (1977) Gilles Deleuze states that “theory is exactly like a box of tools/…/it has to be useful” (1977:208), but to what ends he think that theory should be used is less clear. What is theory to do? In the text Lethal Theory Eyal Weizman in a disturbing way illustrates the potentiality for theory to be used in a most literal way as a toolbox. By discussing the use of theory by the Israeli army in the development of effective spatial strategies for combat Weizman points to the dark backside of theory. Detached from their original ideological contexts and intentions theoretical concepts can be used for whatever ends deemed aspirational and desirable by their users. Ananya Roy once said that “ideas are also weapons”, a statement which has stayed with me due to its unsettling ambiguity. How then should we as academics practice within a theoretical field shown to be potentially lethal? Jane Rendell in the introduction to her book Art and Architecture (2006) proposes what she denotes as a “critical spatial practice” to be a potentially productive way to practice. More specifically she defines such a practice as one which “works in relation to dominant ideologies yet at the same time questions them” (2006:4). To me such a definition seems to indicate what not only a potentially productive but also an ethical theoretical practice could be, namely one marked of extensive contextualization and clearly stated positionality.