On October 21, 2010, I presented the 41st annual Morris Fromkin Lecture on Social Justice. In that lecture I spoke on “Charlotte Partridge: Layton School of Art and the Pedagogy of Social Engagement.” Partridge was one of the earliest educators of Wisconsin, who, influenced by John Dewey, showed us the transformative and progressive possibilities of art, design, and architecture and the potential of art to produce engaged citizenship, social justice, and sustainability. The topic is appropriate because understanding how to cater to myriad lifestyles, lived histories, and values of residents is a central challenge for the architectural design professional in a multicultural society.
In 2008 and 2010, my paper session at the Annual Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (a competitive, blind, peer-reviewed selection process with a 20% acceptance rate) began a discussion on interpretive methods needed to study the cultural landscapes of contemporary American cities. Both sessions brought together scholars interested in reexamining issues of social justice, urbanism and place-making in a highly mobile, global and culturally diverse world. In the 2010 call for papers, I noted that,
“much of the scholarship dealing with the production and experience of the built environment refers to the “sense of place.” … Yet much of our contemporary world is on the move. … Emerging scholarship suggests that the culture of mobility is performative, interactional, and hybrid. As such mobility undermines autochthonous values and affects how architecture is read, credited, and interpreted. … ”
The book titled Landscapes of Mobility: Culture, Politics and Placemaking (Arijit Sen and Jennifer Johung coeditors, Ashgate, 2013) emerged from this event.
On October 8, 2010, a symposium organized by Lisa Silverman and me (sponsored by the Center for 21st Century Studies, UWM) contributed to a methodological discussion on social justice and urban politics by suggesting a theoretical lens for studying the new socio-spatial reality. That lens, tentatively called embodied placemaking, refers to the role of the individual, often the subaltern, in the production of place. In a world that is mobile and culturally diverse, the ability to read and engage the physical worlds via individual embodied experiences alerts us to creative and emancipatory possibilities. It helps us understand what de Certeau calls tactics, everyday forms of engagement that empower individuals to resist, counter, circumvent, and transform the world around them. Embodied placemaking becomes a “weapon of the weak” and it suggests possibilities of radical citizenship and urbanism as promoted by Lefebvre in his article, “The Right to the City.”
A curricular guide and extended bibliography from the symposium can be found here.
The book titled Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City (Arijit Sen and Lisa Silverman, coeditors, Indiana University Press, Fall 2013) came out this event.
Embodied placemaking suggests a different form of architectural authorship and therefore impacts the way we understand and read the built environment. For instance, traditional architectural histories and professional monographs cite buildings and places as the product of patrons and communities who built them. In these official narratives, the place and its makers are noted. However, polysemic stories of inhabitants who lived and used these places are erased. Also missing in canonical discourses are fleetingly enacted occasions that, despite being short-lived, produce permanent memories among individuals. My research projects continue to explore new ways of reading and interpreting the built environment that represent the voices of its myriad users and inhabitants.
 The term weapons of the weak was used by James Scott in his analysis of power and resistance in peasant societies. James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Form of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985).
Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities, trans. and ed. E. Kofman and E. Lebas (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996).