Architecture + Philosophy research seminar, ResArc, Sweden: Dr Hélène Frichot, Critical Studies in Architecture, KTH Stockholm


Isabelle arrives late; the south lawn beckons; the unbearable lightness of the ecology of practices is discussed.

by helenjrr

Isabelle is late, and I nurse my coffee in an offhand manner. This feels contrived, I’m not relaxed at all; the café is busy, the table I’m sitting at is tightly wedged into a corner, and I’m decidedly nervous. I didn’t like the text. And now I have to talk about why, and to do so with its author, a highly esteemed feminist, philosopher, and professor about whom I know very little and whose work I have read embarrassingly little of.

I test pushing back my chair, rehearsing the moves required to make a run for it, to escape to the south lawn and join the other students sprawled there, in the bright sunshine, discussing tv shows and politics. Lost in this thought, I fail to notice her enter and then suddenly she is at the table, smiling; caught off guard, I freeze, deer-like. Too late.

Isabelle sits down, signals to a waiter, orders a double espresso and introduces herself all in one, extended, movement. She’s just escaped a long and caffeine-deprived meeting in the physics department where – she brushes her grey hair out of one eye, exasperated as she unloads on me, a complete stranger – her suggestion that “physics needs a new habitat” was apparently met with some misgivings. “I have many friends, physicists, who get this, but here, at this school, it seems impossible for them to imagine that by defining a physical reality – a reality beyond fiction – that they claim a very exclusive position of judgement over other realities. In this way, they are both the addicts and the dealers of the strong drug of Truth, with all of its attendant power to judge, to deconstruct, and to criticize.”

Oh God, I think, immediately despondent, we’re getting straight to the bit that I like the least. Like jumping straight into a cold bath. I take a deep breath, turn on the voice memo function on my phone, and try not to speak too quickly (a nervous habit). “And this – Isabelle – is why I wanted to talk to you. As I understand it,’” I pull out a text marked ‘Introductory notes on an ecology of practices’, photocopied from a 2005 issue of Cultural Studies Review, “this text effectively poses critical theory as inoperable, possibly unethical, destructive even.”

“I mean,” I continue, “I guess that I’ve taken a lot from Raymond Guess’ definition of critical theory,” here switching tone a little, aware that she knows the territory better than I do, but at the same time determined to be clear, “and have been very interested in the production of theory that produces enlightenment in the agents who hold it (enabling those agents to determine what their true interests are); and then that (secondly) aspires to be emancipatory, freeing agents from (largely self-imposed) coercion. That definition has been really valuable to me” – here, I start to sound defensive – “yet it’s exactly that kind of theory that you describe as ‘ethics in a major key.’ You pretty much reject it outright.”

I pause to draw breath, and then continue, words crashing into each other now in an effort to get to the end of what I needed to say. “But without ‘grounding definitions or an ideal horizon’ (your words) and without an ‘if… then’ – without ‘cause’ that exceeds the specificity of ‘case’ – and ultimately without justifying our proposals in terms of reasons that can be accepted in spite of borders, how can we change the world for the better? I know it sounds ridiculously naïve, but how can an ecology of practices actually change anything? It seems that as a theoretical position, it can only celebrate that which already exists, by describing it. At best, it can affect people in a way that they change themselves. But,” I falter, feeling like a child, “what if that’s not enough?”

“Change the world? No.” She looks at me directly. “Absolutely not. Individual practices? Maybe. At least to the extent that the habitat of a practice, its surroundings, can affect its ethos. Through description theory produces, reinforces, and in some case solidifies those surroundings, the connections that form that network. Here is where we can work. This has to be enough.”

“Like architects?” I ask.

“Like diplomats.”

She goes on to expand on her choice of figuration, switching terminology and situation several times, rapidly, in her advocacy for the deployment of this metaphor. She talks me though the idea of a model of change based on the reformulation of “obligations” associated with certain “attachments”, through the production of “belongings” (a quality that, as I understand it, informs obligations) – both one’s own and others. I get a sense of a kind of performed change, that is embodied, enacted, and (she was very clear about this) definitively non-discursive. This is an immanent and performative model of the social world, then, whereby the effect and the cause present themselves simultaneously (in what she calls “the case”). A world without policy horizons, without The Future, without Utopia, and without critique. A world without urban planning, I surmise; or perhaps a planning of affect and experience, rather like the one of today – a planning that persuades, that seduces, that negotiates amongst actors, but that lacks a cause, an ideology, a doing that is for and on behalf of its diverse “publics”. Impressed though I am by the wide and simultaneously radically limited scope of her proposition, its shiny lightness, and its sense of generosity, my head is spinning trying to think it through in planning terms.

I’m shaken out of my reverie when she gets up to go, shaking my hand and encouraging me to continue thinking about this. I finally notice the tattoo on her arm – “Empowerment Not Enlightenment” – and smile. I like Isabelle, but I’m not so sure that I can be in her gang, I decide, as I walk towards the south lawn and finally slump onto the grass in the bright sunshine. I still have too many causes that, no matter how hard I try, fail to transform themselves into cases. I pull a book out of my bag, and decide to give myself up to the strong drug of Truth for the remainder of the afternoon.

Struggle: driving force of extreme..?

by obannova

1st edgeR

What would be or what is a theory and definition of “extreme” or “extreme environment” term means? There are definitions based on variety of personal backgrounds or different perceptions. It turned out that people get confused when hear these terms and many have quite different opinions what they are. Those perceptions usually depend on many factors: social, cultural, behavioral, financial, political, and of course environmental with multiple characteristics included. For example, environmental factors reflect on all life aspects and at the same time depend on them. Misbalance or disturbance in one of these areas can lead to the environment become “extreme” for living or/and to a social or other “struggle” that may also lead to a bigger disturbance and creation of even more extreme conditions than before. It may also lead to deepen disagreements between people and groups of people, affecting political subjects and processes. As Jacques Ranciere says in his “Introducing disagreement”:  “Of course, there is no such thing as the simple management of common interests or the zero symbolization of the community”  – there are no such thing as “common interests” unless those interests refer to simple survival but that also depends on the size of the group and level of severity they are facing.

Understanding of relationships and influences between different facets of human society and architecture can help to find a design approach which would optimize needs and requirements for various types of people living in different environments, societies and cultures. Although most habitat arrangements in extreme environments cannot be considered “cities”, some of urban assets can definitely be applied to their planning and design practices. Social, cultural, and even political aspects have to be addressed in the overall planning and throughout a design process. Such settings present a high degree of design functionality, with a tendency to demand an adaptation from habitants to the technology. These aspects of human being are corresponded to multi facets of sustainability and of course to sustainable design and planning and architectural practices.

Theory Toolbox Semantics

by thierry berlemont


Is theory a tool? Is a collection of different theories a toolbox of theories or is a theory in itself a toolbox containing tools? If a theory is a toolbox, what kind of tools does it contain? Is a tool a part of a theory? How do we recognize or identify the tools in the toolbox? Are the properties of the toolbox representative for the tools in it? Are the tools mingled with other things that don’t fall under the same denominator? What can we do with the tools in the box? Do we have to figure that out or do the tools speak for themselves and their possible usage? Does the manipulation of the tools demand a certain degree of skill and do we have to learn to use them? How do we go about in this process of learning to use theoretical tools (or is it theory tools)? These questions keep puzzling me and I have some difficulty to make sense out of it. It appears to me that the connection of ‘Theory‘ to ‘Toolbox‘ is less straightforward than it appears to be at first sight.

My confusion may have something to do with a personal preconception and the related interpretations about what a tool is, or what I believe(d) it is.
I speculate(d) that a tool is ‘instrumental par nature’, that it is a facilitator, that it allows us to do something that would be more difficult or maybe even impossible to do without. I also reckon(ed) that it is something that lies outside of our body and is an addition, extension, strengthening, magnification or even replacement of it. I don’t believe that it has to be an object, because people and more immaterial things like software can be tools too of course. I understand that in this case ‘Theory Toolbox’ is a metaphor and not a real toolbox, like those we can see in the hands and vans of constructors, plumbers and carpenters. But the metaphor created by juxtaposition constructs a relationship between ‘Theory’ and ‘Toolbox’ that expresses a new significance of both terms together. The meanings of both get mixed and as far as I am concerned they also get muddled, especially for what the term ‘theory’ is concerned.
‘Toolbox’ makes a reference to two things: a ‘container(1)’ – a box, or maybe a bag, a basket or whatever – in which to put things, not just anything, but specific things labeled with the term ‘tools(2)’. A toolbox is a practical device used to store, protect, organize and carry tools and the use of that image as a metaphor will be bound to that meaning, i.e. the practical and instrumental nature, the *usability*. For the term ‘tool’ a similar mechanism applies, as the definition in Wikipedia (accessed 28/03/13) suggests: ‘A tool is any physical item that can be *used to achieve a goal*, especially if the item is not consumed in the process. Informally the word is also used to describe a procedure or process with a specific *purpose*’ . When we combine (1) and (2) the image of *usefulness* and *purposefulness* are added up.
I always thought of ‘Theory’ as being a ‘particular’ way of explaining the world or a part of it. The New Oxford American Dictionary (Version 2.1.3 on Mac) gives the following definition of theory: ‘a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained / a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based / an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action’. These descriptions seem to me to be more about a context or frame of ideas and concepts, their structure and arguments, the discourse. But is this system of ideas per se *useful* and/or *purposeful*? I don’t know the answer to this question, but by connecting theory to toolbox, theory automatically gets connected to those two goal-oriented meanings. Stated in positive terms, we could say that in the metaphor ‘Theory Toolbox’, useful and purposeful action is associated to thinking, the practical to the intellectual and the contemplative, theory to practice.

So far so good, but nevertheless my doubt remains, because in the associative metaphor the connotation of theory being instrumental in achieving goals is made quite explicit and easy. Too easy I believe.

In Eyal Weizman’s Lethal Theory (LT), the story is narrated in such a way that a certain theory of architecture and urbanism is used as a catalyst that generates new strategic concepts and subsequent practice, and it is suggested that the theory was an effective means to an unfortunately ‘lethal’ end.
It seems to be a confirmation of the metaphor and I have no reason, nor information that allows me to question the truth or fact about this version of the story.
However, the story could be told in another way as well. For I am sure that creative (architectural) minds don’t need to know any of the theories the military refer to in order to be able to develop that specific (lethal) spatial strategy. We could as easily state that it is the result of acute spatial imagination and re-interpretation, containing a high degree of creativity and speculation, regardless of theory: ‘This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation, … the question is, how do you interpret the alley? Do you interpret the alley as a place to walk through or as a place forbidden to walk through? This depends only on interpretation…’ (quotation from LT). A blogpost on the subject bearing the title ‘Alice’s Wonderland Battle Space’ (, viewed on 10/03/2013) even makes an overly explicit reference to those aspects of creativity and interpretation by making a far-fetched connection with Lewis Caroll’s beautiful story, simply by seizure of it’s name.
In this context it seems fair to ask whether theory is a part of a referential context that serves as a justification for completely crazy and amoral, though extremely fascinating spatial ideas? In this B-version of the story, the IDF’s practices can certainly be regarded as an audacious appropriation of architecture’s spatial mechanisms but not necessarily as the use of architectural theories as purposeful and useful tools that enable to construct a strategy. Does the metaphor allow for this B-version to be considered? The relational space that is created in the juxtaposition/combination – or should I use agency? – of words is not neutral, not merely a code or tool for identification, but also a conveyor of meanings and a catalyst for interpretations. I understand the problem as being not merely one of representation, but also one of orientation and maybe even guidance. Metaphors contain assumptions – with varying degrees of visibility – and implicitly privilege certain perspectives over others. In so doing they subtly invite us to orient our view in particular directions. It reminds me of the relevance to take good care of words and their precious relations.

Cluster 5: Conceptual Crisis: Architectural alienation in the South

by ivettearroyo

Skyscrapers-slums-caracas 1

Wallenstein (2010) text highlights that “modern capatalism works by creating a consent through images, sound bites, brands, and various visual technologies that impact directly on our brain, bypassing the censorships and reflective mechanisms of consciousness”; and this alienation includes architecture in developing countries. The skyscraper is associated with ideas of modernity or development even in contexts with high levels of poverty, segregation and inequality. Conversely, Wallenstein argues the capacity of architecture to open a space of freedom to question formal contradictions of society. In developing countries, the duality of the city –coexistence of skyscrapers and slums – are part of these contradictions of contemporary society. This duality is the physical expression of modern capitalist inequality. Architecture has surrendered to the forces of the market instead of activating our reflective mechanisms of consciousness. How can architecture move away from the current mode of production of the built environment as material good and address the housing needs of around 1 bilion people worldwide? What can be the role of architectural critique in developing countries today?

Latour (2004) argues the need of “the cultivation of a stubbornly realist attitude dealing with matters of concern, not matters of fact”. Slums should be considered a matter of concern – a thing, an issue, a ‘gathering’ – that has humans and nonhumans ‘participants’ which make this ‘thing’ robust, urgent to address in the South. As Latour pointed out, “it is entirely wrong to divide the collective…into the study matters of fact, on the one hand, and the dispensable crowds, on the other”. This means that we should avoid to break slums in different matters of fact such as infrastructure or public space, on one hand, and the community living in it, on the other. Thus, the importance of understanding the ‘thingness of slums’ to search for ways of doing architecture –slum upgrading – that go beyond contemporary capitalist alieniation. If we look deeper into the ‘thingness of slums’ we will understand rich and sturdy social relationships among slum dwellers and how peple relate to their spaces. Organized self-help housing (OSHH) is among other ways of doing architecture that moves away from the object-building paradigm promoted by the market. OSHH is concerned with the shared process of production of ‘the spatial’[1] by the people themselves with technical assistance of local institutions. The OSHH does not divide ‘the collective’ or ‘the gathering’, but builds up from the capabilies of the community to improve its physical components. In the OSHH process, ‘agency’ is multiple; first, we can refer to the agency of architects that is transferred to the community; but we also can refer to the relevance of ‘dweller-control’– understood  as agency, which means the ability of the individual family to act independently of the market alieniation to address their shelter needs. For the organized self-help housing process ‘collective agency’[2] and ‘collective efficacy’[3] of the community are key issues among the ‘thingness of the thing’.


Awan, N. & Schneider, T. a. T. J., 2011. Introduction. In: N. Awan & T. a. T. J. Schneider, eds. Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture. London: Routledge, pp. 26-34.

Bandura, A., 1998. Personal and collective efficacy in human adaptation and change. Advances in phsychological science, Volume 1, pp. 51-71.

Latour, B., 2004. Why has critique run out of steam?. Critical Inquiry, Issue 30, pp. 225-248.

Turner, J. a. F. R., 1972. Freedom to build. First Edition ed. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Turner, J. F., 1976. Housing by People. Towards autonomy in building environments. First ed. London: Marion Byers.

Wallenstein, S.-O., 2010. Noopolitics, Life and Architecture. In: D. Hauptman, ed. Cognitive Architecture. From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, pp. 47-60.

[1] Here I refer to ‘the spatial’ following Awan & Schneider (2011) explanation regarding why the moved from the limits of the term ‘architectural’ to the more open possibilities of the ‘spatial’: “Clues as to these other ways…[ ]…prioritise values outside the normal terms of reference of the economic market, namely those of the social, environmental and ethical justice….[ ] … these issues that are best addressed within the dynamic context of social space, rather than within the static context of architecture as building.

[2] Bandura (1998) argues that “social cognitive theory extends the analysis of mechanisms of human agency to collective agency.

[3] Collective efficacy refers to people’s belief in their collective power to produce a desired outcome (Bandura, 1998).

Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by asahelenastjerna

Stjerna02 Deleuze, as well as Foucault, departs from a relation between theory and practice, of both as productive creative powers. Concepts, creating theories should operate on a creative level and not as representations of  a reality. ”In this sense theory doesn’t  express, translate, or serve to apply practise: it is practise.” (p. 208) The non-representative approach, the capability to produce, makes theory to one productive force alongside other forces. Different material and non-material forces, ”practise” and ”theory”, ”, intermingle and intertwine into complex systems of ramifications that change direction, always in a flux, always in transformation. ”Practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practise to another (p. 206)  and ”A system of relays within a larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and practical.” (p. 206) The interaction of theory and practise should thus create difference and divergence rather than agreement: ”A theory does not totalize: it is an instrument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself”.

Jane Rendell,  emphasizes the transformative force between ”practise” and ”theory” set up by Deleuze.  She seeks, through an interdisciplinary approach, to transform the classical binary power relations between theory and practise, influenced  by critical theory’s reflective rather then objectifying character: ”I refuse to think of either term in the pair as dominant. ”Inspired by Deleuze’s creative linking between practise and theory however Rendell emphasizes the relation between the two as non symmetrical, ”…for the suggestion that theory needs practise to develop is not accompanied by its reversal.” Rendell thus doesn’t really apply (accept?) the radical potential of Deleuze proposal, in my reading of Deleuze and Rendell. I’m wondering if this is the point where, if Rendell’s approach could be described as interdisciplinary  ”in interdisciplinarity individuals move between and across disciplines and in so doing questioning the ways in which they work” –while Deleuze’s approach, might rather be described as transdisciplinary?

Bio-aesthetics (Conceptual cluster 5: Conceptual Crisis)

by fridarosenberg

conceptual cluster 5

Some years ago I took a course called Bio-aesthetics led by art historian David Joselit. It was a great course, simply because David is such an inspirational figure. Beyond reading Deleuze/Guattari Anti-oedipus, Foucault Discipline & Punish, Agamben Homo Sacer, we also watched several Andy Warhol movies, read The Ticket that Exploded (William S. Burroughs) and A Novel by Warhol. After all, it was a course in the art history department. But, how then did Warhol and Burroughs contribute to the discussion in class on bio-politics and bio-aesthetics? It’s hard to remember…yet, Wallenstein’s so informative article (I wish I had read it, when taking the course!) makes me go back to what I do remember…

Well, I think, Warhol’s movies and texts reveal much of the atmosphere and microcosm that existed among the people and within the working environment of the factory. The movie Chelsea Girls, definitely reveals a particular social interaction—a power structure, and exertion of relationships that were constructed through the people that seem to have been drawn to the factory; a great array of insecurity, the necessity to be seen, primadonnas and lost bodies. I think that Warhol’s interest in filming and documenting the interactions was specifically in expressing these relationships, where the body was central. The close-up discussions and action illustrate how the people—the actors—are making use of each other, exerting power, establishing rules, faking laughter’s, playing games. To me, the movie illustrates insecurity—or as by way of how Wallenstein describes Foucault’s concept of ‘security’ “…security can be said to work with a set of fluid conditions, constantly fluctuating quantities, and future probabilities.” P.52.

With the camera Warhol documented a kind of control society within the factory environment where the bodies were expropriated and used. The film Chelsea Girls is an artwork where Warhol captures this specific environment. Warhol’s movies and A Novel provided a setting, but hardly ever the actors were given instructions (as I have understood it) and therefore the action that takes place—the interplay between the people and their environment—fascinates me in relation to understanding how Wallenstein takes apart the concepts biopolitics and biopower.

Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by sepidehkarami

Border Region by Teddy Cruz, Tijana-San Diego

The red line is where Architects should act- Border Region by Teddy Cruz, Tijana-San Diego

New wars need new strategies!

Frantz Kafka writes “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us”, and I would say this is what theory should do with the reality outside, in everyday life, in politics and in history, in time and space. Theory should be the ax to break down the frozen and solidified routines to let the sea overflow, spills and becomes “practice” in each of its stroke. And this is how it becomes revolutionary in its emergence and its action.

When Deleuze defines the operation of theory as to encounter a wall that practice is to pierce it, theory becomes the action of piercing the wall and they can’t be separated anymore. They create the network of ‘relays’, of dependent chain of actions. In this sense by defining theory as action the role of the new intellectual is also becoming significant. As Deleuze puts it intellectual should become the actor not the one being in the margin of the struggle against power. The role of intellectual is not anymore representation but presentation. When it comes to the practices of art and architecture, artist or architect as the “new intellectual” does not any more reside and operate in the safe side of the struggle but she locates her knowledge and action in the middle, in the most conflictual condition where people and power collide; she becomes “the people” to struggle. Hence the process of her action, her role falls into this network of relays.

Teddy Cruz, the architect who builds up his practice in the conflictual borders of urban dynamics like the one between San Diego / Tijuana, deliberates and exemplifies this necessity shift of locating the role of architects within the power struggle. He uses this territory of conflict as a backdrop to critically observe the clash between current top-down discriminating forms of urban economic re-development and planning legislature, on one hand, and the emerging American neighborhoods nationwide made of immigrants, on the other, whose bottom-up spatial tactics of encroachment thrive on informality and alternative social organizational practices. He basically by designing political and economic process act and try to change the legislations through political involvement with decision makers and with those affected by the very legislations. His practice is a sort of activism; a network of actions-theory that makes his machine of activism work. He puts the theory and knowledge in the middle of the interaction. Struggle here goes through the knowledge and theory toolbox to confront power and where he acts is the conflictual borders.

But when one faces the application of theory in warfare systems such as the one by IDF, it becomes curious what is missed that a progressive and utopian theory can be applied by an oppressive and brutal system? What is missed that theory can be hijacked by the most brutal power systems of the world to fuel in the machine of war and genocide? It is absolutely a smart point by Naveh when he interprets theory as “a methodology that wants to disrupt and subvert the existing political, social, cultural, or military order”, which is in a way the task of critical theory. Not only IDF but also many other oppressive systems, totalitarian regimes apply these methodologies and reverse their effects. It is in fact detaching the theory from the ethics that is once built on and adopting it for different and opposite objectives. It becomes a bare methodology naked from its ideals; a utopian toolbox against power that has become a toolbox in hand of power.

The question here is that what we can learn from this reality? Aren’t we thinking and acting at the same time? Are we delayed in taking action? Are we like “French generals”, in Bruno Latour’s term “always one war behind”? Well, perhaps if we add the issue of “time” and “context” to our operation, or in other word, taking theory as practice and make our ideals realized immediately, acting in a more micro forms of action, we’ll be more on time and perhaps taken our step before leaving our theory (or its methodology) left for the oppressing systems to hijack it! New wars need new strategies!

Conceptual Cluster 02

by asahelenastjerna

    Disagreement and Agonism

Chantal Mouffe poses in her paper ”Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces” one of the most crucial issues on the condition of contemporary art practices of today:

”Can artistic practises play a critical role in a society where the difference between art and advertising have become blurred and where artists and cultural workers have become a necessary part of capitalist production.” (Mouffe 2004 p. 01)

The essence of Mouffe’s issues concerns the possibility and capability of revitalizing the political power of contemporary art closely connected to the realm of public space. Instead of artistic practises as part of a capitalistic system, she emphasizes arts role in terms of actively questioning  the prevailing capitalistic value system that controls the society. Mouffe builds on a political ethos rooted in the idea of agonism closely associated with the French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s ideas on disagreement. Disagreement questions the idea of “the common” in terms of consensus as this is based on a political model of representation of political interests (for instance groups of people) in which the political subjects of representation themselves have been excluded. Dissensus thus questions the idea if ​​a society in which democracy is built around a common consensus to even be democratic in its nature. “Consensus means erasing the contestatory conflictual nature of the very givens of common life” (Rancière 2004 p. 07)

As the society’s political ethos is always mediated and materialised through the construction and notion of public space, a fundamental question regarding contemporary art – related to issues of the public space – is thus how art can reformulate our relationship to public space. While the notion of public space according to consensus, operates in terms of the platform where consensus takes place and is manifested, the agonistic approach of the public space is “always plural and the agonistic confrontation takes place in a multiplicity of discursive surfaces” (Mouffe p. 03) Thus an artistic activism according to Mouffe, rooted in agonism “…makes visible what the dominant consensus tends to obscure and obliterate.” (Mouffe p. 04) Art as an opportunity to undermine the present power system through the production of alternatives.

Translated into practice – after having read Mouffe’s text – it however appears obvious that Mouffes spectrum for what could be labelled artistic activism is not just an issue of politics and space but also time. Or maybe better expressed: duration. The situated art Mouffe refers to in terms of artistic activism, refers to the temporary and often volatile, in which political actions in most of the cases become synonymous with the ephemeral and the instantaneous. From this I draw the conclusion that art, according to Mouffe, can not remain agonistic over time without being deterritorialized and decoded by the prevailing power structure(s). That thus public art in terms of permanent art can not be really political. Mouffe’s proposed artistic activism seems to appropriating the epithets “political”.

This is problematic, as according to my opinion, artistic heterogeneity implies an openness towards the fact that different artistic expressions operate differently in terms of levels of speed, intensities (fast or very slow) and duration (temporarily or permanent). The permanent artwork operates within another realm of duration and speed and intensity then the ephemeral, but this, does according to my opinion, does not make the first mentioned per see incapable of acting political.
The discussion on public art including so called permanent art, does for sure, continuously need to revitalize itself and its relation to power structures. How art continuously could remain producing meaningfulness, as an on-going active negotiation with a specific site in question. The critical art has an important role in this visualization of power structures, but I mean that it must be allowed operating from several realms and levels of speed, duration and intensities.

Reflexion based on

Jaques Rancière ‘Introducing Disagreement’, in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2004, p. 3-9.

Chantal Mouffe ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’, in Art and Research, vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 2007.

Claire Bishop ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ in October, vol. 110, Autumn 2004.

Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Toolbox

by Fredrik T

DSC_0043 copy

Antony Gormley, Kivik Art Center, 2008

The three texts analyse the relationship between theory and practice from various perspectives. In extension, it brings up questions as to what theory is and what constitutes practice? In the conversation between Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault a new relationship between theory and practice is discussed. This relationship is “partial and fragmentary”, rather than one being the application of the other. To Deleuze, theory is invariably local, related to a limited field, and subsequently applied in another sphere.

Deleuze uses the “relay” to explain how he understands theory and practice to be interrelated: “practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another. No theory can develop without eventually encountering a wall, and practice is necessary for piercing this wall”. Deleuze brings up Foucault’s analysis of penal institutions, where at one point it became necessary for the prisoners to be heard, a form of practice which informed the theory – as a relay to another set of theory rather than as a simple affirmation or application of theory. “The emphasis was altogether different: a system of relays within a larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and practical”.

This new relationship between theory and practice is thereby ultimately one where “representation no longer exists; there is only action — theoretical action and practical action, which serve as relays and form networks”. This shift can be compared with Marx, as proposed in his theses on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” (Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, no. 11). Foucault suggests that “theory does not express, translate or serve to apply practice: it is practice”. To Foucault, theory is a “regional system” of the struggle against power. Both Foucault and Deleuze agree that theory is inherently opposed to power [which would suggest that power is opposed to theory?]. Power is here understood as something enigmatic elusive, incomprehensible in totality, only perceivable in its expression, as Foucault puts it: “everywhere that power exists, it is being exercised”, the problem is that in most instances, it is masked, hidden and it is the task of theory to expose these hidden power relations.

In Eyal Weizman’s text “Lethal Theory”, critical theory is applied to question the power of the military doxa, a set of dangerously rigid beliefs , both to the soldiers themselves and civilians. As Naveh puts it: “we employ critical theory in order to critique the military institution itself”. If power is understood to be opposed to theory (an e contrario interpretation of the relationship between power and theory elaborated by Foucault and Deleuze), the question becomes: how does the introduction of theory into a system (the military) opposed to theory transform this system? On the surface, the answer is very literal; theory is employed to break down actual walls, according to Weizman. Yet, by questioning the military logic, (critical) theory in extension, must on a different level question power and how it is exercised. Despite claims of the opposite, “this theory is not married to its socialist ideals” (Weizman), one could argue that making a military establishment start to think rather than recognise will ultimately transform not only its operational tactics, but also its own subjectivity, and its relation to power.

Professional’s roles and practices in the urbanization process

by Ragnhild Claesson


Conceptual Cluster 1: Relations and Agency

As the world is getting more segregated and spatially divided between rich and poor, and increasingly so during the past three decades through neoliberal politics (Harvey 2008:32), professionals and practitioners working with urban development, as planners, architects and preservationists, are developing practices within a sustainability discourse. Some of these practices aim at reaching municipal goals of social sustainability, for example poverty reduction and equality. The roles and practices of professionals in urban development are debated and under negotiation, and Awan, Schneider and Till (2011) speaks of “critical practices” as a way to make transformative actions against non-reflective practices of habit and repetition. Drawing on Lefebvres understanding of production of space, they state that the architects’ work produces social space and that “every line on an architectural drawing should be sensed as the anticipation of a future social relationship” (2011:30). Social space is never neutral, but political and charged with dynamics of power relations, hence architectural production is not a neutral action. Rather than “architect”, the authors suggest “spatial agent” to describe an actor who negotiate to reform conditions, and who “engage transformatively” with structures of society (Awan, Schneider and Till, 2011:28-31). Archtiecture may also be seen as a shared activity, a relational practice, where the architect acts together with others in a network of different agents. Petrescu (2012) believes the architect can initiate such network of actors, as a kind of urban tactics (in De Certeau’s sense of the term), by creating “relationscapes” where different agents and relationships between people, material and spaces are produced. The aim would be to empower agents to manage space and to maintain democracy. Petrescu and her atelier aaa (atelier d’architecture autogérée, small letters) design agencies rather than objects, and she questions current architectural regulated practices. Her participatory approach aims at working with others to empower them, instead of on behalf of clients or of oneself. The archiect’s role in Petrescu’s suggestion is manifold; to create a rhizome system, to empower agents, to produce facilitating (architectural, physical) objects to enhance appropriation of space, and at the same time to map and visualize the network and the process. In Petrescu’s work, the mapping becomes performative and an actor in itself, one agent amongst the other, which mirrors the process. She explains that the mapping can “enhance experience”, help to create and reveal agents, and to discuss things otherwise invisible (Petrescu, 2011). Coming back to Harvey’s analysis of the consequences of neoliberal politics on urbanization, the division of space due to urbanization is a global process, which he believes possible to struggle only on a global scale with finance capital. Harvey finds the idea of the city functioning as collective body politics, where progressive social movements might emanate, implausible (Harvey, 2008). In the light of this perspective, Petrescu´s suggestion of the extended architectural role as an empowering agent on a local scale, might be more in favour of empowering the architect than the local people. However, as Harvey also points out, social movements may be supported by local state apparatus, which could contribute to a reshaping of the city (Harvey, 2008:33).

Awan, Nishat, Schneider, Tatjana & Till, Jeremy (2011) “Introduction” Awan, Schneider & Till (Eds.) Spatial Agency. Other Ways of Doing Architecture, Routledge, London

Harvey, David (2008) “The Right to the City” New Left Review 53, September October 2008, 23

Petrescu, Doina (2012) “Relationscapes: Mapping agencies of relational practice in architecture” City, Culture and Society, 3 (2012) 135-140