The Politics of Architecture in Africa Workshop at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) organised in collaboration with the Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS University of London and the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg.
Why the ‘politics’ of architecture?
Architecture is possibly the most political of all the arts. Particularly within a civic and public sense, it usually requires large capital investment and is thus predominantly commissioned by political and cultural elites. Architecture defines the landscapes of our daily activities, giving a face to our political institutions, and measuring out the quality of our facilities, services and houses. More than any other art, it is linked to the material realm of politics, illustrating and shaping wealth distribution and access to power. But it also carries collective symbolic meaning, defining the public sphere, embodying history, mediating, narrating and shaping collective experience. Architecture is therefore politically important. For historians and researchers, it provides a rich landscape within which to explore political and social organisation and meaning.
Archives and newspaper accounts of building planning and execution expose the interests, arguments and constraints involved in determining resource allocation and political priorities. Looking at specific buildings – where they sit, their aesthetics – tells us about the history of the community and the ways in which values and ideas are expressed. And talking to citizens about those buildings reveals the various ways people engage with authority and with each other, allowing us to better understand common and sometimes contradictory understandings of cultural and social identities. This workshop will exploit the rich potential architecture offers to the study of politics across Africa. The aim is to establish cross-disciplinary discussions, using a variety of examples and perspectives. We welcome scholars from any discipline to submit paper proposals and we aim to create as wide a geographical range as we can.