my abstract for "architecture and the political" conference

I will be presenting a paper at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon, at a conference called "Architecture and the Political: The Fourth International Symposium on Architectural Theory."

Below is the abstract that I submitted to the conference. The final paper will vary somewhat from the below..

Between Ethical and Police Architects:

Interpreting an Ethnography on Ethical Architects with Rancière’s Politics

In Disagreement, Jacques Rancière argues that politics has been an aesthetic spectacle since
the beginning of political philosophy with Plato and Aristotle – who logically solved the conflict
between the rich and the poor with philosopher kings and party politics as a manipulation of the
people. Rancière replaces the common word “politics” with “police” because so-called politics has created techniques to legitimate control by distributing ways of being, ways of thinking, and ways of speaking – with nothing left over. Proper politics begins from the assumption that all people have equal thinking and equal voice, therefore politics or the political act occurs when the egalitarian logic confronts the police logic. Our post-political police order has created mechanisms of subduing politics under the guise of supposedly post-ideological legal frameworks, technological solutions, or ethical categories.

The universality of politics is disagreement between ideologies in space, especially in a year of
revolutions across the Middle East. As architects define space with forms and social systems, the current so-called political or ethical architectural practices – under the titles “social,”
“humanitarian,” or “radical” – must be analyzed to confront theory of the political with the practice
of so-called political architecture. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) provides a precise framework for
contextualizing ethnographic fieldwork gathered through observations, interviews, and film
documentation of rural and urban political architecture projects in the US – to interpret the
network of ideas (design intensions, pedagogy, publications) agents (architects, students, clients, communities), and objects (design tools, constructed buildings, regional-geographies). ANT complicates the so-called political architect’s practices by revealing a network that dangerously resembles the network of the police order. Police architectures have evolved along with all forms of biopolitical control, from the overt panopticon expression of power to decentralized or invisible forms that distinguish, divide, dominate, and to social systems that manipulate, disguise, and coerce.

A personal reflection – from in the trenches of a multidisciplinary, multicultural, and supposedly
politically conscious European architecture graduate program – will reveal ethical architectural
pedagogy marginalizing discourse on the political because it strays form the architects distribution of the perceptible. Even supposedly ethical architects (re)distribute physical forms and forms of social systems that impose upon the people – as does the police order – and inhibit the egalitarian demonstration of the political. If there is going to be any true political architect then they must recognize the universality of the political act – not form-making to inhibit action – but openness to allow conflict, discussion, and disagreement. Some architects have touched the edges of the political in their architectural practices – including Teddy Cruz, Eyal Weizman, Dan Pitera, and Thomas Dutton – in which practices align their forms and social systems with social movements, and reconsider their practice as “not a map drawer but a drawer of lines of march.”


  1. I think you are mixing a bit the practice of architectue with the practice of urban planning and the political with democracy. Both are not the same. Additionally I the comparison between architects and police is not sufficient enough. Both practices include service, but to whom? Architects are not elected, they are chosen from the clients. And "political" architecture under a dictatorship is certainly not supposed to deal with conflicts, actually the contrary.
    And why would you need "lines of march", if there are pluralistic directions?
    I think, clarfying the terms you're using would be helpful.

  2. I think you're right. We need to clarify terms. It may not be overly necessary to open up too much of a dialogue now, because the actual paper has varied significantly from this first phase in abstract. In any case, I will try to address some of your concerns.

    I am comfortable interchanging the term architect and planner in a very theoretical paper, and especially with "political architectural practices." First, the architects I present through my ethnographic work – here the Alley Flat Initiative from the University of Texas at Austin – are architects (not planners), and they are working on a building scale with planning scale consciousness. I agree with you that architects and planners are different. Usually, the architect works for a client and is commissioned to design a specific project that is often realized; whereas, perhaps, the planner's process is drawn out over a much larger period of time and it is unlikely that the project is completely realized, but it instead serves as a mediating tool for politicians – between the social and the urban special development.

    I present the architect in such a theoretical frame – politics, the political, and the police – in order to try and experiment with the political philosophy of Jacques Ranciere in the context of architectures that attempt to bring about social or political transformation. The architects here are not the architects that are engaging in an economic exchange (providing a service for pay). The architects here are not paid. Therefore, the client does not have any power they might have had, if they had purchased architecture.

    The phrase "lines of march" comes from Thomas A Dutton, who I expected to present at the end of the paper because he has developed a political architectural practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, over the last thirty years by aligning his practice with local social movements.

    I really appreciate your comment. Please don't hesitate again. I will post the full paper in the coming week, which I assume you will feel much more comfortable with because I present Jacques Ranciere's terminology as "controversial concepts" in the broader actor-network between concepts, actors, and objects.

    Take care,


  3. Hi there anonymous: I FINALLY put a more accurate draft of my paper online. Sorry for the delay, I have been rather busy with school. Please let me know how you interpret this draft. Thanks, Kenny