ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

New directions in anthropology, architecture and design
Location Room 9
Date and Start Time 14 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 3


  • Fabiola Jara Gomez (Utrecht University) email
  • Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Cristina Grasseni (Utrecht University) email
  • Alberto Altes Arlandis (Umeå University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

We will explore synergies across anthropology, architecture and design, understood as modes of inquiry. Focusing on processes of making entailed in the production of experimental social and cultural forms, we aim to lay the foundations for innovative, responsible, sustainable aesthetic production.

Long Abstract

This panel will explore synergies across anthropology, architecture and design, understood as modes of inquiry and aesthetic production. Following Tim Ingold's lead, the panel invites anthropologists and practitioners to focus on processes of making entailed in the production of new and experimental social and cultural forms.

If all knowing can proceed only through real, local and material engagement, then this must apply to anthropology as well. Knowledge is not what can be said about the world; it is rather a way of making the world. The emergence of the creative commons, along with contemporary experimental interventions by citizens in many parts of the world, calls for new collaborative methodologies. Practices such as local, sustainable food provisioning and the use of alternative currencies, or the autonomous construction of distributed 'home' environments, could be understood as 'aesthetic productions', redesigning a 'self' which breaks the bounds of the neo-liberal subject.

The disciplines of architecture and design have long been accustomed to confronting and cooperating with materials, places, and people, and have much experience to offer in this area. They have already developed collaborative and participatory methodologies which hold promise for anthropology. Architects Alberto Altés and Oren Lieberman propose the notion of 'intraventions'. Focusing to the collective production of the common, they develop situated and collective ways of doing and making immediately, transversally and diffractively.

We call for papers which contribute to the creation of a conceptual and methodological common ground, and to laying the foundations for innovative, responsible, generous, sustainable aesthetic productions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Rethinking the urban: ecology, infrastructure, urbanization

Author: Adrià Carbonell (Umeå University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will explore a new notion of urbanity in the context of planetary urbanisation, through the investigation and analysis of the following themes: urban-ecology, urban-infrastructure, and new processes of urbanisation.

Long Abstract

In the last couple of decades, the interest in understanding territorial forms as operative design tools has been overcome by an unstoppable urban growth that has turned cities into metropolitan regions and subsequently in fully urbanised regions. As cities are dynamic processes and not static forms, contradictory phenomena have overlapped in time and space. Processes of expansion and contraction have redefined the edges of the city, its internal structure and dependencies, through establishing new relationships, connecting areas to networks and reconstructing fields and territories. The ever-expanding urbanisation process that we are witnessing has blurred the boundaries between the city and the countryside, resulting in a planetary formation of complete urbanisation that is being consolidated in the early twenty-first century.

This paper will argue that in order to understand the contemporary processes of urbanisation and to revert its lucrative destruction, the planetary dimension of the phenomena needs to be tackled, and the isotropic sea of urbanisation needs to be reconfigured into territorial ecologies. Strategies of intervention will be defined in order to reformulate a new model of urbanisation oriented towards a collective re-appropriation and democratic management of specific contexts, paying special attention to notions of (urban)ecology and (urban)infrastructure.

Making common grounds: experiments in self-organization in Dutch urban environments

Authors: Fabiola Jara Gomez (Utrecht University)  email
Beatriz Pineda Revilla  email

Short Abstract

Resilience and sustainability are key challenges for self-reliant grass-roots urban initiatives. This paper focuses on urban food provisioning initiatives and presents ongoing research in the Eastern district of Amsterdam. We use strategies of participative research in urban planning and social anthropology.

Long Abstract

Resilience and sustainability are key challenges for grass-roots urban initiatives. Research on alternative food provisioning systems in Amsterdam and Berlin demonstrates the crucial role that the networks intersecting neighborhood organizations, city council officials, housing corporations and local entrepreneurs play in enduring success of these initiatives. This paper focuses on action research methodologies. We present preliminary results of an ongoing research in a neighborhood located in Amsterdam East. Remarkable neighborhood due to its high degree of ethnic diversity (more than 36 distinctive groups), its high incidence of families depending on complex public support, in combination with a concentration of initiatives and experimentation in self-reliance by the local population. People experiment on alternative food distribution: food banks and community kitchens; use of alternative currencies and time-banks; community gardening and community based care. How do resilience and sustainability appear in local settings and in which environments do they thrive?

The proposed methodology encompasses multidisciplinary strategies including: the mapping and archaeology of the places; the recording of narratives of belonging; some instruments from the Actor-Network Theory to follow processes of network formation recruitment and mobilization. We are attentive to the presence of brokers notably creative actors and cultural translators; and seek to assess the diversity of resources (material, social, cultural and conceptual) mobilized throughout the networks. We consider what we call the impetus factor expressed in a sense of urgency the incidence of sharing events and the awareness in the making of common grounds amongst the participants.

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Technologies of experience and intravention: a floating, silent room

Authors: Josep Garriga Tarrés (Umeå University)  email
Alberto Altes Arlandis (Umeå University)  email

Short Abstract

We will present the process of thinking/making a floating, more intimate and silent room at Umeå School of Architecture. We will also document and judge its effects both in the spaces of the school and in the times, academic experiences and lives of the actors involved in or affected by the project.

Long Abstract

We will present the process of thinking/making a 'floating' room within the spaces of Umeå School of Architecture, conceived to gift a small, more intimate, warm and silent space without occupying the available surfaces and as an alternative to the very open, cold and loud spaces of the building. We will document and judge its effects both in the spaces of the school and in the times, academic experiences and lives of the actors involved in or affected by the project.

The structural, acoustic and organizational challenges were solved through the exploration of alternative procedures and knowledge extracted from the situation. The project can be understood as an 'intravention' in at least two ways: firstly, as it takes place within the school responding to its material and spatial conditions; and secondly, understood as the generation of a situation in which students and staff work closely and collaboratively to build the room, leading not only to the development of relationships with the things, tools and materials used, but also to the establishment of something common.

Two transversal notions will be also used: the idea of technologies of experience will help us think through and develop ways of affording spatial experiences rather than looking at technology as an isolated, autonomous construct; and the idea of collaborative affordance, suggesting that straightforward, uncomplicated solutions generate a different experience of participation/contribution that can yield effects also in terms of the responsibility, care and fidelity to the things built by those involved in its design and construction.

Threshold machines: how Sanja Matsuri makes Asakusa

Authors: Raymond Lucas (University of Manchester)  email
Darren Deane (University of Westminster)  email

Short Abstract

Sanja Matsuri represents an embodied enactment of urbanism: the people of Asakusa make a statement of their right to the city. The event presents a number of challenges to conventional urban and architectural representation. This paper presents a Graphic or Architectural Anthropology of the event.

Long Abstract

The idea of placemaking has recently gained traction in policy contexts within planning debates, but the terms of this are rather loosely defined and reinforce or validate existing practices more than they allow for understanding historic events such as the annual Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa district of Tokyo.

Sanja Matsuri represents an embodied enactment of urbanism: that the people of Asakusa make a clear statement of belonging and of their right to the city. By enacting their urbanism, the people of Asakusa ensure the continuity of their district in a tangible manner: a solidarity is underlined and a common purpose gives a sense of unity.

The event presents a number of challenges to conventional urban and architectural representation. This calls for a multiple methods approach in order to understand the context as it unfolds and develops, combining lens-based media with drawings and other forms of notation in order to establish the fullest picture of how the festival unfolds. Drawing is a form of understanding which is directly relevant to architecture, and which gives a fine grain of spatial information.

The procession produces place by continually redefining thresholds. As the events develop, conditions of inside and outside are continually defined by the actions of participants. Memories of this reconfiguration of space linger long after the matsuri is over each May. This place making is achieved by agreement with the people of Asakusa: the embodied urbanism which not only defines the space of the district, but also neighbourhood bonds and identity.

Don't even dare to go real! Architecture pedagogy in a neoliberal world

Authors: Krzysztof Nawratek (Plymouth University)  email
Simon Bradbury (Plymouth Univeristy)  email

Short Abstract

The paper attempts to critically evaluate the practice of collaborative, real-world oriented architecture education which has become popular in many British Universities. We argue that this mode of teaching 'produces' graduates who question the very foundation of how architecture is practiced in the UK.

Long Abstract

This paper investigates a process of collaborative teaching and learning in an architectural studio in the context of 'live projects'. For years architecture was taught in a very individualistic way, aiming to prepare students to become leaders and 'individual artists'. It was achieved in a context of artificial (or even 'esoteric' design tasks) invented by tutors. For several years now (especially after the 2008 crisis), more and more British architecture schools have adopted a teaching mode connected closely with a world 'outside academia', so called 'live projects'. These live projects often have an explicit political agenda and the pedagogic model has shifted with many schools stressing the need for collaborative design process and team work.

The paper argues that teaching focused on a collaborative mode of design solutions and engagement with the 'real world' changes fundamentally the perception of the role of architects by newly graduated professionals, leading to a model of architect-activist. This perception clashes with conservative structures of the architectural profession in the UK. On the one hand there is a need for architects who can work as team members and understand the practicality of the profession, however there is no need for young architects who question fundamental principles of how architecture is practiced in a contemporary, capitalist world. The paper attempts to critically evaluate the very idea of collaborative, real-world oriented architecture education and its role in preparing students for alternative practice.

Architecture, spatial practices and political interactions in the Unified Educational Centers (CEUs) of São Paulo

Author: Vinícius Spira  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents a comparative study of two similar libraries in different peripheral São Paulo neighborhoods. As architect and anthropologist, I make use of ethnography to propose three different ways in which space interacts with everyday political interactions.

Long Abstract

The Unified Educational Centers (CEUs) have been built since 2003 in many of the most poor and peripheral neighborhoods of São Paulo metropolis, each of them offering a combination of educational, cultural and sporting facilities. The architecture of the first units defined open and large spaces, enclosed by transparent glass surfaces - characteristics historically associated with democratic practices. These first CEUs followed highly abstract and prescriptive goals related to liberty and to horizontal power relations, but in the case of CEU Butantã everyday interpersonal relations are scarce, and permeated by disagreement and contempt. In this paper I make a comparative analysis between the library of this CEU and the one from CEU Vila Rubi, a more recent unit that receives a large number of visitors and witnesses much more mutual agreements and understandings, although having an architecture of small and enclosed spaces.

As an architect and anthropologist, I make use of ethnography, photography and virtual models to understand how spatial characteristics are related to everyday interactions in the libraries of the two above mentioned CEUs. I go beyond univocal and manicheistic associations between space and politics - like the one that relates openness with democratic pratices, and closeness with anti-democratic practices - and propose the concepts of intensive/extensive/separative contexts, respectively related to induced interactions, free interactions and interrupted interactions. Each of these contexts play important and sometimes contradictory roles in the politics of everyday interactions.

Beauty, participation and inclusion: designing (and making) with homeless people

Authors: Valentina Porcellana (University of Turin)  email
Cristian Campagnaro (Turin Polytechnic)  email

Short Abstract

“Living in the dorm” is the action-research started in 2009 in Italy. It’s dedicated to develop strategies to strengthen the quality of housing for homeless people. With a participatory approach, anthropology and design to promote process for the co-design and co-construction.

Long Abstract

"Living in the dorm" is the action-research started in 2009 in Italy. It is dedicated to develop strategies of product and process to strengthen the quality of housing for vulnerable people. The theoretical postulate is that spaces that host the housing service for homeless can only be redeveloped and transformed into places rich in symbolic contents and opportunities for relationships. With a participatory approach, anthropologists and designers are using the tools of the design and the languages of creativity to generate ecosystems in which the idea of beauty and change and the need for a qualitative dimension of the service acquires priority.

The development and embodiment of the design concepts respect the self-production strategies shared among the process stakeholders, making the most of the biographies, skills and professionalism of the users of the service. The projects draw on biographic elements and specific circumstances of the homeless people with respect to the housing service provided giving them value, by incorporating them into the fruition of structure and service, which design culture identifies as essential.

This generates products suited to the space and to the people, which are also worthy in terms of the relational value that they express. They tell the story of lives that have crossed paths in the everyday nature of moments of shared life and negotiations. The reflection led to rethink the purpose of the housing for homeless, also in terms of development of territory, of citizens' welfare, empowerment and cohesion.

Design and collaborations in a recovery process in post-tsunami Sri Lanka

Author: Arvid van Dam (University of Leeds)  email

Short Abstract

Highlighting some of the ways in which social and aesthetic change have manifested itself in the process of post-tsunami recovery along the Sri Lankan coastline I explore a conceptualisation of design as an everyday process of change.

Long Abstract

In response to the disruption caused by disasters, recovery is a process through which societies experiment with material and social change. Here I employ an understanding of recovery as a collaboration of divergent agents and agencies, each with its own goals, means, and positioning. It consists of everyday confrontations and negotiations; a frontier in which social relations are not (yet) regulated. Therefore it is profoundly unequal, but also creative. A rapidly changing environment requires new practices, experiments, and modes of cultural production. How then does design fit into such complex, uneasy and unequal collaborations? Can we conceptualise recovery as a design process?

Exploring a conceptualisation of design as an everyday process of change, and based on ethnographic fieldwork in post-tsunami Sri Lanka, I discuss how various stakeholders engage a hastily changing environment - but more importantly how they participate, as protagonists of this change. A disaster response can be planned, shaped to certain goals, and used in governmental strategies. However, meaning and significance in design is created at the interface of designers' intentions and users' experiences. Continuous power struggles that take place in recovery thus point us to the questions, who designs for whom? And, whose interests do emerging processes of making serve? I highlight some of the ways in which social and aesthetic change have manifested itself along the Sri Lankan coastline to explore the connection between design anthropology and the anthropology of disaster.

Making one's home: an ethnography of the material transformations in Romanian blocks of flats

Author: Maria Salaru (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will explore post-socialist material transformations in Romanian urban space and energy consumption practices inside and outside the home.

Long Abstract

This paper will explore post-socialist material transformations in Romanian urban space and energy consumption practices inside and outside the home. My aim is to reveal multiple, fragmented, contradictory processes of meaning formation around the material culture of the apartment. Based on on-going participant observation and innovative visual methodologies, I will discuss the manner in which inhabitants appropriate their block of flats in Piatra-Neamt, my current field site. I will focus in particular on the changes in the infrastructure of the buildings, which thus exemplify "processes of making". A central issue I would like to raise is how energy saving practices, such as wall insulation, that transgress the boundaries between the inside and the outside of the home, have resulted in a production of new forms of status distinction and citizenship in the local community. The focus on material flows instead of made objects will enable me to bridge discussions in material culture studies and ecological anthropology, which are both "broadly concerned with material conditions of social and cultural life", but have developed disparate theoretical languages (Ingold 2012). By building on on-going anthropological debates in architecture, ecology and economic anthropology, my project will contribute to understandings of rapidly changing everyday life in post-soviet cities through a study of material transformations in and outside urban homes.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.