New Book: Architecture and Space Re-imagined

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Newly published in the Routledge Research in Place, Space and Politics – Architecture and Space Re-imagined: Learning from the difference, multiplicity, and otherness of development practice, Richard Brewer.

“As with so many facets of contemporary western life, architecture and space are often experienced and understood as a commodity or product. The premise of this book is to offer alternatives to the practices and values of such westernised space and Architecture (with a capital A), by exploring the participatory and grass-roots practices used in alternative development models in the Global South. This process re-contextualises the spaces, values, and relationships produced by such alternative methods of development and social agency. It asks whether such spatial practices provide concrete realisations of some key concepts of Western spatial theory, questioning whether we might challenge the space and architectures of capitalist development by learning from the places and practices of others.

Exploring these themes offers a critical examination of alternative development practices methods in the Global South, re-contextualising them as architectural engagements with socio-political space. The comparison of such interdisciplinary contexts and discourses reveals the political, social, and economic resonances inherent between these previously unconnected spatial protagonists. The interdependence of spatial issues of choice, value, and identity are revealed through a comparative study of the discourses of Henri Lefebvre, John Turner, Doreen Massey, and Nabeel Hamdi. These key protagonists offer a critical framework of discourses from which further connections to socio-spatial discourses and concepts are made, including post-marxist theory, orientalism, post-structural pluralism, development anthropology, post-colonial theory, hybridity, difference and subalterneity.

By looking to the spaces and practices of alternative development in the Global South this book offers a critical reflection upon the working practices of Westernised architecture and other spatial and political practices. In exploring the methodologies, implications and values of such participatory development practices this book ultimately seeks to articulate the positive potential and political of learning from the difference, multiplicity, and otherness of development practice in order to re-imagine architecture and space.”

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Changing Cities: how to think about urban politics

CollegeFreely available online at OpenLearn, a new open access teaching resource called Changing Cities, which provides a framework for thinking about the contemporary ‘urbanization of responsibility’:

“Urban processes are increasingly held to be responsible for causing a variety of problems – environmental destruction, social injustice, global financial instability. They are also identified as harbouring the potential to meet these challenges – through urban experiments in sustainably living, creative culture and alternative economies.   This unit explores how contemporary processes of urbanisation challenge how we think about political agency, providing a framework for the analysis of the causes, implications and responses to issues of common concern.”

equation-robin-wilson-newsThe Changing Cities unit is a taster of sorts from the Masters level course (D837 in OU-speak) of the same name – Changing Cities: urban transitions and decision-making. It was written by myself and Nigel Clark, and draws on material in the larger module authored also with Parvati Raghuram; the unit includes an audio discussion with Margo Huxley. The aim of the whole project was to find a way of making various traditions of ‘critical’ urban and spatial theory do more than provide easy ‘critical’ reflexes to contemporary issues – to make these ideas useable by turning them into machines for generating questions which can be investigated in different contexts:

“This unit explores the ways in which urbanisation processes help to generate issues of public concern. It elaborates a theoretical framework of critical spatial thinking that can be used to analyse the complex ‘agency’ of urban processes in generating, identifying and resolving the myriad issues associated with contemporary urbanisation. This framework draws on traditions of urban thought and spatial theory in disciplines such as geography and anthropology, development studies, planning, political science and sociology.”

The module also sought to make a virtue out of what is often thought of as a problem, namely the chronic problem of conceptualising the ‘object’ of urban analysis. Taking some inspiration from our former colleague Allan Cochrane, as well perhaps as from a stray thought or two in one of Foucault’s lectures on the theme of ‘the town’, it seeks to develop the idea of thinking of ‘the urban’ as the name given to various sorts of problems:

“The framework is intended to serve as an analytical device for investigating the key questions raised when presented with a pressing urban issue or a spatial problem. It is based on a threefold understanding of the problematisations to which definitions of the urban are a response:

  1. The urban represents a complex of issues, problems and objects which generate contention, gathering together myriad indirect consequences that are generated both locally and from afar.
  2. The urban is a field where the diversity and interconnectedness of effects operate as a seedbed for issue recognition. The recursiveness of urban life is also important in the formation of signs and symbols that can represent purposes and help anticipate consequences. These objects of recognition and intervention are also the medium out of which political subjectivities can be enhanced and people can learn to be affected.
  3. The urban remains the site of institutional architectures that might be useful in the development of further democratising impulses, either through challenge and alternative institutions or through further democratisation of institutions that already exist.”

So, if you have a spare 15 hours, take a look, and enjoy!

Critical spatial theory: my thoughts

UntitledI was conferencing last week, at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in LA. I was involved in two sessions, the first a panel discussion, organised by Scott Rodgers and Rosie Cox, on the uses of social media by academics, including reflections on how blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking can be used to carve out some new spaces of communication with academic and non-academic audiences. The second was on the theme of ‘defining the contours of a new 21st century critical urban theory’, a series of paper sessions organised by Chris Baker and Justin Beaumont. I presented a paper to the title of Where is the action? in which I tried to articulate some of the problems, as I see them, with prevalent approaches to critical urban theory, and critical spatial theory more broadly, and to say too something about some alternatives ways of proceeding. My paper was an attempt to articulate the whole arc of an argument that links, in my head at least, a series of pieces on urban theory, democracy, on ‘ethics’, on ‘class’, and other themes which I have written over the last two or three years (and have therefore already trailed on this blog), as well as some thinking done while developing an online Masters CPD course on critical spatial theory. So, the paper is rather allusive, shall we say.

Anyway, in the spirit of the first of these sessions, I thought I may as well post up the paper I presented in the second session – it will also be linked on the Things to Read page. This is the written paper which I spoke to at the conference – it has no references, although I imagine it as full of invisible hypertext links to other things I have written and to lots of things other people have written. I guess I’m thinking that since I said this all out loud at the conference, there is no good reason not to share these thoughts with the anonymous audience that may or may not be out there reading this blog – and to share it in much the same spirit as one does a ‘live’ conference performance, as a work in progress, awaiting further elaboration, and open to comments and questions….