Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by katja2013


Jane Rendell sees the self-reflexive mode of theoretical work (as a tool); as a chance not only to reflect on existing conditions, but also to imagine something different, to transform rather than to describe. Deleuze states theory must be used, and continues that theory is by nature opposed to power. But what about the theory concepts hijacked by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), as Eyal Weizman so thoroughly analyses in Lethal Theory? Taken into the wrong hands, theoretical concepts are transformed not to subvert power but to project it, to improve the ‘art of warfare’ and to project the image of a different, more civilized military force than the Arab militaries and Palestinian guerrilla fighters it opposes (The Least of All Possible Evils). Isabelle Stengers writes (theory as) a tool is never neutral. The director of the Operational Theory Research Institute agrees, but adds ‘(…) theory is not married to its socialist ideals.’

If theory development is to inform practice and even according to Rendell should propose an alternative, through which civic agenda should this be enacted than?

Eyal Weizman in his third roundtable PhD research group[1] developed the idea of Forensic Architecture. Forensic Architecture refers to the presentation of spatial analysis within contemporary legal and political forums. The project undertakes research that maps, images, and models sites of violence within the framework of international humanitarian law and human rights. Through its public activities it also situates forensic architecture within broader historical and theoretical contexts. Forensic Architecture is organised in two distinct ways, Fields where the research takes place, and forums[2] where the research outcomes are presented, discussed and even taken to court with Architecture as witness (Elastic Politics) and to be judged as criminal act. Here critical practice is used, clearly with a civic agenda of justice, to excavate, lay-bare the wrongdoing. But as Tony Judt so well puts: ‘As citizens of a free society, we have a duty to look critically at our world. But if we think we know what is wrong, we must act upon that knowledge. Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.’

Excavating reality is not enough; I believe that architecture should propose, should imagine something different. According to Umberto Eco, in his idea of the Open Work from 1962, just breaking open the cliché, to arrive at a multitude of possibilities, is not enough. Openness, as developed by Eco does not go without directionality. But this openness is not after a sense of truth, we should try to escape the major key, work in minor key, to go ‘through the middle’, which would mean without grounding definitions or an ideal horizon.[3] We have to see, like Leibniz, that we live in the ‘best of possible worlds’ we have to work from within, to identify a micro-politics of change that reinvent the idea of publicness and privacy through an estranging and spatial aesthetic that provide the ground for enactments of new forms of emancipation.

[1] at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University of London

[3] Isabelle Stengers , ‘Introductory Notes on an Ecology of Practices’, in Cultural Studies Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2005.