Education as the battle between ideas...

I recently reflected upon my education for Marlboro College's "After Marlboro: Stories of Recent Graduates Off the Hill." Text below...

To me, interdisciplinary study supports the battle between ideas. The skirmish of my Plan of Concentration at Marlboro College was between disciplines with writing, film and community architecture. I have gone on to study in an “interdisciplinary” architecture masters program based out of Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany, called Architektur.Studium.Generale. But now I realize that interdisciplinary study does not translate easily between different institutions. Not all schools support the ideological battleground.

In my program, we travel every six weeks for workshops in Germany, Estonia, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Spain and Israel. We are 19 students from 8 countries, and we live the life of tired travelers. By now, the romance of travel is long gone. The program consists of fieldwork, travel and multicultural classrooms, but the multicultural experience—jumping from city to city—feels more touristy than ethnographic to me. While diverse, we students are also similar. We share Western heritage: lineage, safety, comfort, privilege and education. When possible I have tried to jump outside these trends by living with locals in Poland, Austria and Israel—to hear their tongue, to eat their meals, to walk their streets, to learn from their everyday routines.

Generally, I have chosen the role of the rebellious student—to subvert the self-justifying institutionalization of knowledge in the program—by making projects that draw on theory from in and out of architecture. In each workshop, I have expanded my spatial reading and theorizing of political architecture. I have drawn on recent political geography, urbanism and political philosophy, and my projects have confronted theory with the practices of real political architects.

In my experience, architectural discourse is thirsty for this kind of political critique. My sociology of architecture writing has been accepted by peer-review journals and conferences, including a recent conference called “Architecture and the Political” at Lebanese American University, Beirut. I am trying to continue developing sociological analyses, while forging new connections into practice. I am training myself to confront standard practices with “the political.” I hope to continue this work. I may go the PhD route next, or try to gain professional experience practicing political architecture, or both.

At Marlboro, I chose sociology, documentary film and architecture to root my activism in rigorous academic thought and communication. In my graduate program, interdisciplinary study is conditional, restricted and de-politicized. As I reflect from the trenches of graduate school, I am grateful to have been so challenged, supported and encouraged by the Marlboro faculty and community. Only through my undergraduate experience—between the boarders of disciplines, among the multiple approaches of different Plan projects—did I equip myself with the academic artillery to subvert from within.