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Editorial [2/2]. Outro

Will Davis
p. 257-259

Editor's notes

DOI: 10.17454/ARDETH06.19

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1When we wrote the call for papers for this issue a year ago, Dana Cuff and I were drawn to the term “destabilization” as a promising framework for the kinds of scholarship we wished to attract. A text that stood out and helped formulate our thinking was Judith Butler’s 1991 essay Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the question of ‘postmodernism,’ which for us articulated the idea of contingency. For Butler, contingent foundations enable the purposive and significant reconfiguration of cultural and political relations. Pausing on the term relation, she asks, what good is it if it cannot be “turned against itself, reworked, resisted?” (12-13). The essay appeared, among other places, in Feminists Theorize the Political (1992), an edited volume in which Butler, alongside Haraway, Spivak, and Mouffe opened up debates around posthumanism, embodied experience and radical politics. These conversations continue to shape critical thinking and their influence on writing architecture is still visible today. Yet it is important to remember this body of work as an explicit response to a historical moment that saw the end of Reaganomics, wars in Iraq and the fall of the Berlin Wall. What are the historical convergences of our immediate present that offer opportunities to reflect, and how, as Ananya Roy asks on page 34, might we use these to trouble the through lines of history? The pages of this issue contain a series of responses to the word contingency, a term that reverberates with balance and consequence.

2Ways of telling can trouble the through lines of history and productively destabilize existing narratives. Walter Mignolo frames “epistemic disobedience” as an act that is attentive to “who, when, why is constructing knowledges?” (2009: 160). These who’s, when’s and why’s are significant because they frame the possibility of offsetting a given episteme—the telling of space is different depending on the position of who tells it. Kelema Moses sets out the possibilities for disorienting established ways of knowing and telling in her text on page 121. The “dehumanization of Indigenous epistemologies,” Moses contends, are the result of the status of money and private property as harbingers of civilization (127). Rather than facilitate the colonial binary, these observations allow Moses to propose opportunities for recuperation in the neocolonial present. In this sense, epistemic disobedience is not the refutation of a given episteme, but rather the recognition of their topographies in order to reinterpret and reassess them.

3The perception of history as a set of epistemes, genealogies, ruptures, and infamies has provided a way to comprehend structures and systems of power that undergird the architectural surface. Foucault’s methods have helped architectural scholarship outline lineages of oppression, but how might architectural scholarship use the same methods to point elsewhere? A recent lecture by historian Robin D.G. Kelley directly addresses the possibility of an intellectual elsewhere. In the Internationale Blues (2019), Kelley paraphrases Aurora Levins Morales by deploying the term joy to describe a type of joyful boldness that works against power structures. The “audacity of joy,” for Kelley via Morales, is not an evasion of or lack of understanding of oppression on the part of the oppressed, but rather an ephemeral expression that requires an intellectual method that takes care to pause on dreams, fantasies, and experiences.

4This type of scholarly inquiry, of writing resistance through architecture considers human struggle in all its particularities. In order to notice such narratives, an awareness of both power systems and whispers of resistance is necessary. Again, Butler’s words are instructive. “No subject is its own point of departure,” yet to critique the subject “is not a negation or repudiation of the subject, but, rather, a way of interrogating its construction as a pregiven or foundationalist premise” (9). Take for instance how the subject of air-conditioning units encircling the tropical meridian can teach us how architectural appendages form networks of technopolitical contingency (Jiat-Hwee Chang: 235), or alternately how the buildings, structures, and spatial organization of the refugee camp (its empirical texture) can be considered alongside the epistemic order of the university (Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, 145). “Decolonial thinking means that producing knowledge and living it are not separate,” Siddiqi writes, making visible “both a history and its connection to the telling of a history” (149). In this reckoning, subjects can be constitutive and productive.

5In the most basic sense, when something is contingent, it hinges on something else: it is important inasmuch as its bearing. A door is contingent on the proper functioning of its hinges, though we rarely notice them diligently hinging away. If a door’s hinges appeal for care they might squeak, sigh or groan – the hinge makes itself known in such moments – and one may have to listen to register the noise and avoid an irritating sound. Sometimes the things that matter go unnoticed or hide behind the more obvious aspects of a larger apparatus. But the allegory belies another truth: to write contingency is to exercise an ethics of paying attention. The accounts assembled in this issue lead the reader through a series of such vignettes, where scholars have listened for the sound of squeaking hinges and registered the consequences.

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Butler, J., Scott, J. W. (1992), Feminists Theorize the Political, London, Routledge.

Kelley, R. D. G. (2019), Internationale Blues: Revolutionary Pessimism and the Politics of Solidarity, London, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Mignolo, W. (2009), Epistemic disobedience, independent thought and decolonial freedom, “Theory, Culture and Society”, vol. 26, nn. 7-8, pp. 7-8.

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Bibliographical reference

Will Davis, “Editorial [2/2]. Outro”Ardeth, 6 | 2020, 257-259.

Electronic reference

Will Davis, “Editorial [2/2]. Outro”Ardeth [Online], 6 | 2020, Online since 01 November 2020, connection on 27 February 2024. URL:

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About the author

Will Davis

University of California Los Angeles – williamdavis [at] ucla [dot] edu

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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