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agency, cr/theory, essay, resistance

Towards An Enigmatic Age: Architecture of Surrender or Resistance*

strakhovZygmunt Bauman’s not so new and yet internationally acclaimed book on our global tendencies is still regarded highly as one of the pioneering sources into the sociology of globalization:[1] His timeless book, titled “Globalization; the Human Consequences”, in this respect, deserves a careful reading, an thus a thorough revisiting for comprehending the ever-expanding faculties of this peculiar era. It is today a common belief that the term has been widely exploited and even a tiresome literature is now available to a larger audience at all levels. However, as it might sound paradoxical this particular phenomenon still receives a great deal of attention in academia and becomes a major attraction for further research by the scholars no matter how their primary intentions are devised ideologically. In this respect, there are two mainstream schools of thought that suggest alternative viewpoints on globalism, affirmative and pejorative respectively.

Perhaps, before giving a full account of Bauman’s critical reading on globalization one should very briefly underline some of the fundamentals of the affirmative tradition. In this regard, there seems to be an ample room among the members of the francophone world by which the term globalization is more than what it stands for to the Marxist critics:[2] The most outstanding campaign, for instance, comes from two prominent scholars of this world, Dardot and Laval, as they relentlessly suggest that the prime vehicle of globalization, that is neoliberalism, parts and parcels requires a more regulated market with multiple strategies and agencies rather than its commonly known notions that of “deregulation” and “unconditional freedom”. According to them, what is “neo” in neoliberalism is exactly its peculiar nature that persistently monitors the market relations for the collective interest, which, in the end, create a mutual welfare. The neoliberal policies, in other words, are in constant search for expanding the market while posing new sets of managerial and administrative techniques in order to regulate the underlying qualities of capitalism. In addition to that this regulatory properties carefully expand into our life through the state-based laws and directives as well as the common people’s everyday practices.

This is to say that neoliberalism requires a much formal qualities through which the state itself needs to be regarded as a private enterprise as in a similar fashion as individual human beings interact in market-driven environments. At last, this is going to bring a public good for all as the word globalization still stands for the hope and determination of “order”, an order that is at a worldwide scale. And yet, its new geographic expansion provides more mobility of people, commodity/capital and of information and thus becomes equally beneficial for everyone. Not to mention the recent technological developments, which at the end create a more homogeneous network of things – the notion of “network society” gains a larger scale of momentum, regardless of where you are and who you become.[3]

It is exactly at this point that Bauman’s critical analysis turns out to be an essential tool to discuss globalization in many respects: firstly, his account on how the new political and economic structuring have ever evolved makes an explicit panorama on the history of globalization. And secondly, not only its historical essence, but also its underlying paradoxes, economic, social, and of course cultural, can now be enumerated in a more substantial way. On contrary to what seems to be a common belief within the francophone world Bauman discards similar affirmative approaches and follows rather a more pejorative tract through which he develops his own analytical methodology: According to him, we are unable to govern global events since we can only watch as geographic and national boundaries, nation-statehoods, and conventional institutions, and most of all, once traditionally relevant social networks shift in rapid and unpredictable ways. His reading of globalism is therefore a direct manifestation of the “late, post-industrial”, or “third-phase” of capitalism; and this trend undeniably requires follow-up questions in order to truly address the issues that have been quite detrimental to us, specifically since the last quarter of the 20th century.

Perhaps at this very moment we should give a full credit to other scholars such as Harvey as his recent works present methodological similarities.[4] Like Bauman Harvey also follows a similar line of argument, capturing a dramatic and yet a sound tone of critical standpoint: for him, globalism is a matter of moral stand, needing to be challenged; and this necessitates a strong political will and program. It is no coincidence that for both Bauman and Harvey the critique of globalism should be supported via political tools; and to begin with, those tools should answer the primary questions that of relevant and effective in sustaining capitalismHarvey’s recent book, titled “The Enigma of Capital”, in this respect, forwards a constructive analysis of global capitalism while outlining the arcane details of the current financial crisis. However, by doing so, he reviews the rise of capitalism as historically specific process overwhelmed by capitalism’s fundamental dilemmas.[5] And needles to say, all those dilemmas make themselves explicit via tangible questions such as who benefits from the new global economy? Or, are the less-privileged worse off than ever before? Or, who profits the most from this newly emerging social hierarchy? Or, what are the social consequences of speed and mobility in global scale?

Those questions seem to be very straightforward; and yet, so are the answers: for the Marxist intelligentsia, it is so obvious that the last-phase of capitalism and its new global trends create a class of absentee as well as an ever-expanding social vacuum, which at the end massively generate concurrent problems, such as social injustice and uneven geographical development across the world – not to mention the declining traditional and local qualities along with the worsening urban poor, the less-privileged communities, and the underclass crowds who are ceaselessly forced to live in ghettos, slums, shanty towns or gecekondus as the first-hand reserve army of global capitalism. As a result of this reading the pejorative school tends to dissect globalization in all its manifestations: Its effects on the economy, politics, social structures, an even our perceptions of time and space are now under critical scrutiny.

However, at this very moment Bauman first and then Harvey address some of the fundamental dilemmas: For instance, on contrary to what have been widely shared within the neo-conservative intelligentsia, globalism rather presents a way that divides us as it unites, creating an ever-widening abyss between communities, citizens, classes, cities, regions, and geographies. Here the dividing element is of who holds the wealth.

It is another dilemma that globalization persistently re-produces a more homogenous world rather than the most needed egalitarian society we hoped for. Regardless of your gender, age, ethnic origin, and faith, social status, professional and occupational background, all the civic and democratic rights become almost irrelevant as the global tendencies create an identical “ecosystem”, social and physical respectively, which in the end sets up standardized environments as well as uniformed behaviors. Again, the decisive issue is of who has the capital.

The most important of all, it seems to create its own binary-image that of “local”. Here the term local is believed to become an antidote to the global capitalism, as the term place is believed to replace the abstract space. I believe that this paradox should receive a much needed attention because not only it seems to be quite relevant to what INTBAU stands for in nature, but also presents an intriguing argument by which the discussions on “local, locality, place and thus tradition” can now be enumerated in a more comprehensive way, of course, in relation to the current global trends. According to the pejorative school, the speeding life as well as the new ephemeral qualities of time has created an absentee class formation: As a sociological fact, this new class benefits the most from “speculation” as it assembles a specific urbanization mode or rural pattern while its capacity to befit a permanent occupant of any given “local” is extremely regulated and thus restricted. That surely delivers an asymmetric power to those, who hold the capital and thus the wealth. Bauman defines this absentee class as the “new landlord”, which breaks unreservedly its traditional ties with the land and the place-base production processes. This is extremely critical because, the new landlord has now the faculties to move constantly on a global scale in order to locate, dislocate and re-locate itself, depending upon the multiple- choices provided. This surely postulates a new reasoning by which the “local” can no longer be regarded as an antidote to the global; it is rather an enduring part of globalism, as it becomes a constant variable of further capitalist exploitation in the bare hands of this new class.

In a similar line of argument, it can be said that the “ideal place” is not an exception either, because, traditionally speaking, place requires a relatively undeviating inhabitant who is expected to be in an exact location while dwelling, perhaps referring to Heidegger.[6] The act of dwelling refers to one’s geographic location in Cartesian world, which in fact compels boundaries in order to separate the material realms; and territories to be able to encapsulate different social networks.[7] However, one can assume here that it is no longer a relevant assumption as the global capitalism rather blurs the boundaries and obscures those territories incisively. As a result, once the traditionally pertinent notions such as “here and there”, “close and far away”, “inside and outside”, for instance, have no relevancy at all since neither the “local” nor the “place” can now advance those faculties.

The new era, on the contrary, beholds an uncanny network in which the Cartesian coordinates rather give way to obscure and ambiguous sets of relations, socially and physically. According to Luke, for instance, this is exactly why we should keep questioning the notion of tradition; in this respect, the traditional place is now completely removed from the self’s body as it turns into an artificially-built and rationally-devised ephemeral construction, which eventually far exceeds the most desired local qualities of any territory.[8] It is also in this uncanny network the local inhabitants of any given place are now forced to dwell, produce, consume, in short, to partake in and deal with the empowering authority; however, the authority, the absentee class as the “new landlord” seemed to have already broken its traditional ties with the less-privileged classes. As said above, the new landlord has the faculty to move around constantly island to island, and to locate, dislocate and re-locate itself in order to evade the most possible conflicts, if necessary. According to the absentee class, any forms of social and political engagements with the locals have to be strictly avoided and thus contested places should be emptied out as soon as possible once the profit happens to be maximized.

Under such circumstances, therefore, it is so obvious that the possibility of an organized resistance seems to be a far-fetched expectation for the traditonal communities. Because, it is a common belief that globalization presents an intriguingly historical overview of spaces, from rural settlements to history-rich urban centers as the advent of capitalism alters the notion of traditional public good. As a result we need to explore more the nature of capitalist spatial attributes in respect to the transforming dimensions of a global world in which – through the advancement of technologies – time is accelerated and space is compressed. Presenting the way we have arrived at our current state of “phantasmagoric perception”, this rather indicates a new state of mind, which ministers carefully our everyday practices in spatial settings. Framed within this theory of “time-space compression” as well as the notion of “phantasmagoric perception” we must then propose critical inquiries over globalization in order to understand the capitalist expectancies aired by those privileged classes who benefit the most throughout their “spaces of capital”.[9]

Perhaps, at this moment, a few words are needed for the Turkish case. As a matter of fact, Turkey has never been an exception: The extreme instability in the current political and economic developments all in tune with the global trends seemed to have overwhelmed our best efforts to stabilize the nation. As a result, the fiscal crises have cascaded across much of Turkey with devastating social and spatial results, from İstanbul, the biggest metropolis to the second largest city of Anatolia, the Capital Ankara – not to mention the declining qualities of the mid and small-scale towns, scattered all around the countryside. The influx of emigrants from the least fortunate rural settlements to the industry-reach metropolitan areas is now far more than ever and it almost tripled the size within the last quarter or so. The empowering capitalist economy and the unconditional acceptance of neo-liberalism as the sole vehicle of Turkish nation have resulted the spread of unjust and uneven geographical development, almost a permanent burden of all social inequalities across the nation.

It is a common belief that the Anatolian landscape has always presented a splendid historical overview of space, from rural countryside to its tradition rich settlements. However, the arrival of global capitalism has drastically altered what Turkey stands for, for decades. On the contrary, the loss of environmental assets and the decline of public qualities in city centers can now be listed as some of the recent crises. Turkey’s once splendid nature now suffers the most as its natural resources are forced into profit-making industrial zones via hydroelectric power plants, mining excavation sites, corporate agriculture’s food-processing plants, and of course, mass-tourism’s consuming super-structures – not to mention, the declining qualities of its countryside as well as the traditions of rural life. In short, the environmental degradation, for some, is now one heavy problem as seriously dreadful as its urban counterpart.

In fact, the rise of capitalism presents the way we have arrived at our current state in which an “unethical” political choice is to eagerly nurse our traditional urban settings and practices. Framed within this development the Turkish cities today propose nothing, but ever-growing places of capital accumulation. The policies of neo-liberal urbanization have been regarded as an excellent answer to the new bourgeoisie’s expectations, articulated by the privileged power-holders who profit the most throughout urban transformations, inner-city gated-communities or regenerations, demolitions of urban centers, and the massive suburban constructions, etc. In other words, globalism came to Turkey with its tremendously effective urban attributes; and thus, urbanism first and then architecture as key tactical tools in order to overcome financial and economic shortcomings of globalism as well as to generate sources of investment have turned both disciplines as the capitalist “war-machines”[10], all destructively embedded in national and local policies, laws, regulations as well as everyday conventions.[11]

It is no coincidence that the state, the local authorities, and the national bourgeoisie went hand-in-hand in this damaging endeavor: the state agencies such as TOKİ (the Mass Housing Administration), or the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, or the local governments are surely more vigorous then their European counterparts as they relentlessly regulate and normalize market relations in tune with the capitalist expectations. Along with that they are also very eager to standardize the building codes through the needed laws and regulations in a way that the private construction firms and the real estate organizations are now parts and parcels of these restructuring processes.

Believing that we should construct a framework, not only for assessing the political and economic daggers that surround us, but also for addressing the prospects for more socially just alternatives, the faculties of architecture in modern Turkey has always been an active and resourceful media since its foundation years of the republic in 1923. Specifically, it is important to mention here that the schools of architecture have also been key institutions in supporting Turkey’s Modernity Project in many respects; politically they were always democratic and egalitarian in nature, fostering a student-centered organizational structure and hierarchy, and a non-elitist ideological standpoint. However, the higher education is now under a colossal pressure because of the abovementioned global trends and those of national incentives masterly ministered by the successive right-wing, neoliberal governments. This can be explained for two reasons; traditionally the state universities, in particular, have located themselves as non-profit educational institutions for the sole benefit of public good; and secondly, they have been a midpoint of collective will and resistance with a strong political program. Their two incentives then received both appreciation and aversion at the same time; and needles to say, the state’s operational apparatuses and the bourgeoisie have constantly challenged them as an organized impediment, because of their capacity to contest.

That is to say that today there seems to be an ever-expanding authority vacuum in Turkey and that certainly triggers a mounting tug-of-war between the fractions in architecture. Many of the state universities, including METU, however, still capture their integrity as they grow numerically and thus expand their legitimacy in Turkey; with its body of around 20.000 registered students, 73 schools, and with their own research implements in varying graduate programs the schools of architecture can be regarded as one of the largest body of organizations in Turkey.[12] In respect to that, the state’s position towards them also requires a careful examination since by the ministerial regulations as well as the local practices the primary incentives are rather to undermine the schools’ legal authority and their legitimate integrity – for instance, the expected law on Turkey’s Higher Education to regulate the field will certainly ensure that the schools should have limited faculties, if not.

As concluding remarks; firstly, we all have responsibility and that exceeds our mere professional world. Addressing the prospects for more socially “just alternatives” in urbanization and architectural practices, the discipline as well as the architectural education should cope with the recent issues and re-organize themselves, from education to practice, in order to keep creating an awareness of social responsibility and mobilizing a massive and yet a creative resistance against the unjust and uneven development patterns.

Secondly, it is no surprise that Turkey in particular and we all in general have recently found ourselves as an active participant of an international conflict within an ever-expanding war-zone, metaphorically and literally. This instability cast out of new imperialism now becomes a serious threat to our political and social integrity in full scale. That means that we should revisit our political will and program, once again.

And finally, nearby regional wars are now more possible than ever; and the governments’ unreliable policies seemed to have cascaded the problems exponentially. Therefore, the professional organizations such as INTBAU and the schools of architecture have to be devised as an antidote to our decades-long problems. In fact, a new reconciliation is of necessity here and it indeed requires a critical standpoint that could reverse what one might call as the “eclipse of reason”. As strikingly captured by Horkheimer in 1947: “The real individuals of our time are the martyrs who have gone through infernos of suffering and degradation in their resistance to conquest and oppression, not the inflated personalities of popular culture, the conventional dignitaries. These unsung heroes consciously exposed their existence as individuals to the terroristic annihilation that others undergo unconsciously through the social process. The anonymous martyrs of the concentration camps are the symbols of the humanity that is striving to be born. The task of philosophy is to translate what they have done into language that will be heard, even though their finite voices have been silenced by tyranny.”[13]


* Presented at Intbau Conference May 09, 2013, Cyprus.

[1] Bauman, Z. 1989, Globalization; The Human Consequences, New York: The Columbia University Press.

[2] Dardot, P., Laval, C. 2012, Dünyanın Yeni Aklı; Neoliberal Toplum Üzerine Deneme, İstanbul: Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları.

[3] Castells, M. 2009, The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, Volume I, New York: Wiley and Blackwell.

[4] Harvey, D. 2009, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[5] Harvey, D. 2010, The Enigma of Capital; And the Crises of Capitalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[6] Sharr, A. 2012, Mimarlar İçin Heidegger; Mimarlar İçin Düşünceler, İstanbul: Yem Yayınevi.

[7] Sack, R.D. 1986, Human Territoriality, Its Theory and History, London-Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[8] Luke; T.W. 1996, “Identity, Meaning and Globalization: Detraditionalization in Postmodern Space-Time Compression”, Detraditionalization, Edit. Paul Heelas, Sott Lash and Paul Morris, Oxford: Blackwell, pp.109-133.

[9] Harvey, H. 2006, Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development, London and New York: Verso.

[10] Deleuze, G., Guattari, F.  2011, A Thousand Plateau; Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis, London: The University Minnesota Press.

[11] Sargın, G.A. 2013, “Erk ve Hakikat Algısı, Mimarlık  (The Journal of The Chamber of Architects of Turkey), Güzel Sanatlar Matbaası, Ankara, pp.3-5.

[12] The Schools of Architects in Turkey has a vast field of implements, which had its own history and thus cultural implications as well; they, in this regard, should be regarded as the key institutions in shaping Turkey’s architecture culture.

[13] Horkheimer, M. 2004, Eclipse of Reason, London and New York: Continuum, p.109.


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