Theory through Objects: Activist Form


Design and Visualization



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“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” - Leonardo Da Vinci

It is urgent that architecture address the compounding social and political problems of today- income inequality, racial division, religious persecution, gender identity and rights, and ecological crisis- to name a few.  The question is how.  For nearly seventy-five years architecture has assumed a critical-theory basis for socially engaged design- that upon diagnosing and revealing the truth of a given social inequality or problem, an action to rectify that problem will be taken by those who can now see it-- whether architect or observer. A strategy of producing “awareness” to prompt action, accordingly, continues to permeate the socio-political ambitions of the architectural profession. While contemporary attitudes in philosophy and the arts have largely abandoned these awareness-based techniques as utterly ineffective (as merely seeing a problem rarely actually prompts action to solve it), they persist in architecture and, worse; convince architects that they are socially engaged when, in fact, they are using broken strategies in their attempts to be so. Architecture’s reliance on these assumptions has proven not only painfully ineffective, but, as philosopher Jacques Ranciere theorizes, actually reinforces the very hierarchies and inequalities that such diagnosis/awareness strategies seeks to abolish.

This seminar asks if there are other ways in which the design of buildings and “objects” can be socially and politically impactful—and if there are other ways to discuss these issues rather than relying on standard critical-theory/critical-discussion seminar formats.  Instead of relying on dry PowerPoint presentations or abstract, intangible discussions -- all presentations, brainstorming, ideation and think-tank style discussions in this seminar will be done solely through engaging with physical objects- sometimes found and sometimes designed and made by students. In fact, PowerPoint presentations, images, diagrams, hand-outs or other 2d or image based materials are expressly forbidden.  Students will engage in preliminary historic research regarding past examples of the politicization of objects- largely using the Victoria and Albert Museum’s recent “Disobedient Objects” exhibition as a collective starting point.  This history of object-based activism will help position subsequent discussions, through contemporary design and objects, related to the contemporary writings by Jacques Ranciere, Graham Harman, Elaine Scarry, Steven Shaviro, the Laboria Cuboniks Xenofeminist Collective, Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams and others. Concepts and movements addressed will include, but are not limited to: The Politics of Aesthetics, Dissensus/Aisthesis, Xenofeminism, Immaterialism, Object Oriented Ontology, Alien Phenomenology, Extro-Science Fiction, Accelerationism, Para-Fictional Practice, Afrofuturism, Estrangement and Discognition. This seminar can also fulfill the YSoA History and Theory elective requirement through the writing of a fifteen-page paper done in association with, or possibly instead of, the final project, pending approval of the instructor.