The conundrum is familiar. As Mario Gooden notes in his reflection here on race and glass, pointing out the absence of particular Others in architectural history and practice reifies “the presence of a universal subject that has never been universal.” Right when we would like to meet the Other, it always turns out to be us. Gooden states this as a fact, when, in fact, it is an othering, a philosophical positioning that separates us into relativists (particularists, social constructionists, historicists) and universalists (rights advocates, cognitivists, moral realists). By decrying othering, we decry our own selves.
All our contributors begin from the premise that othering is indeed something to overcome; no one in this issue comes out in favor of othering. For our contributors, othering suggests not just difference that should be acknowledged but also immorality that should be repudiated: asymmetrical power, systemic inequalities, oppression, and inequity. Othering implies otherism, a psychological, sociological, or institutional position that, like racism, is only ever negative. To be otherist is to mark as inferior that which is not inferior in order to oppress it.
That’s clear enough. Nevertheless, coming to grips with othering in architecture is more difficult, more intractable than we, perhaps naively, imagined. To gain purchase on the sociological and the political, our contributors willingly situate architecture’s products and processes in “context.” We know that this familiar move vitiates architects and architecture of agency; the architecture becomes merely one instance of (the architect one agent among others, one actor struggling for fame in) a political economy and social network. Once the move is made, the discipline accumulates instances of injustice—racism, colonialism, misogyny: there’s nothing architecture-in-context can do to expedite justice. Yet we know, or should know, that giving voice to the Other leaves the world unchanged. We know, or should know, that we can’t escape complicity through benevolence. We know, or should know, that having architects recognize particular marginalized groups does not actualize parity.
The contributors gathered here claim, implicitly or explicitly, that architecture’s contribution to this political work against othering involves affirming architecture as the form and organization of physical space. We persist in characterizing architecture as spatial, as a spatial practice—despite the decades of resistance from Lefebvrians, phenomenologists, and iconologists, and despite the model of architectural history—of time—as our principal medium of critical reflection. Is this concurrence on othering-as-spatial-practice a sign of disciplinary coherence or of manufactured consensus? Does the unison override empirical evidence and theoretical problems? Is the range of architectural thought so constricted? Are there no other thoughtful positions about architectural othering?