Events And Opportunities

History and Theory as Methods of Ethical Engagement: The Ethical Imperative

  • Dates: 12 Aug – 20 Sep, 2017
  • Location: Denver, Colorado, United States
  • Contact: Sharone Tomer
  • Email: stomer@vt.edu
  • Phone: 540-231-1370
This panel will discuss how architectural history/theory coursework responds to ethical questions. In recent decades, questions of ethical engagement in architectural practice have been situated within architectural education primarily in two realms. First, professional practice coursework asks students to “do no harm” and to use legal tools to protect themselves and their clients from conflicts of interest, liability and risk. Second, design-build and community-focused studio courses allow students to engage with public clients and disadvantaged communities. In the first instance, ethical frameworks are applied to existing models of professional practice. In the latter, faculty ask students to experiment with project types and clients currently excluded from access to professional services. While both spheres of ethical education have their own potential and limits, in this session, we are interested in a realm of architectural education in which ethical questions have received relatively little (recent) attention: history/theory coursework.

In 1999, Sibel Bozdogan wrote of the problematic nature of Eurocentric architectural coursework. She asked two crucial questions: “How does one make architectural history less Eurocentric and more cross-cultural?” and “How does one talk about the politics of architecture without reducing architecture to politics?” The more recent work of groups like the Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative (GAHTC) has begun to pose responses to Bozdogan’s questions. The GAHTC have pioneered methodologies and models for transnational histories that depart from east/west, first/third-world divisions. They offer resources and teaching materials for scholars hoping to trade the dominant frameworks of religion and nation-state for stories that emphasize cultural exchange and hybridization. However, efforts such as the GAHTC seek to do more than expand the architectural canon to include previously marginalized histories and geographies. It is a pedagogical project of rethinking the categories and structures through which architectural history is indexed. It uses a globalized perspective to rethink both the content and the delivery of architectural history and, in so doing, its takes aim at the profession’s understanding of itself. We are interested in how revised approaches to architectural history and theory provoke and embed ethical questions within architectural pedagogy.

To this end, we invite papers that explore how history/theory coursework addresses questions of race, inequality and systemic exclusion. More specifically, how exactly do these courses equip students to make ethical decisions in practice? Interested authors may consider the following questions: What are the consequences of questioning what is and is not considered ‘architecture’? What range of subjects and sites, in the realm of architectural history and theory, are worthy of study? Does ethical engagement in history/theory simply imply inclusion or is a more radical transformation in framing required? How do we understand and situate history/ theory relative to other realms of architectural knowledge production? Can there be direct relationships between history/theory coursework and activist agendas? If so, how are these articulated relative to departmental, institutional and accreditation requirements? Finally, are architectural history/theory courses their own political project or strategic devices for uncovering ethical questions?

Information on the conference (15-17 March in Denver, Colorado), submission requirements, and the online submission process can be found on the conference webpage http://www.acsa-arch.org/programs-events/conferences/annual-meeting/106th-annual-meeting/call-for-papers. Please email the session chairs Anna Goodman (good7@pdx.edu) and Sharone Tomer (stomer@vt.edu) with any questions.
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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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