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AGENDA | Graham Foundation lecture: The Nightmare of Participation

October 29, 2009


The Graham Foundation has a serie of Public Programs with great activity in the field of exhibitions, lectures, conferences and more. This time, they’re hosting the exhibition ACTIONS: What You Can Do With the City, an exhibition presented by The Canadian Centre for Architecture CCA with 99 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world. Seemingly common activities such as walking, playing, recycling, and gardening are pushed beyond their usual definition by the international architects, artists, and collectives featured in the exhibition. Their experimental interactions with the urban environment show the potential influence personal involvement can have in shaping the city, and challenge fellow residents to participate.

In that field emerges the presence of Markus Miessen, an architect that have been researching the field of participation since 2006 with the publication of his book [co-edited with Shumon Basar] Did Someone Say Participate? and then with The Violence of Participation.



Over the last decade, there has been an increasing overuse of the term Participation. When everyone has been turned into a ‘participant’, the often uncritical, innocent and romantic use of the term has become frightening. Supported by an often nostalgic veneer of worthiness, phony solidarity and political correctness, Participation has become the default mode for politicians to withdraw from responsibly. Similar to the notion of an independent politician not associated with a specific party, this third part of Miessen’s ‘Participation Trilogy’ encourages the role of the “uninterested outsider”, an “uncalled participator” that is not limited by existing protocols, entering the arena with the will to generate change.

Miessen argues for an urgent inversion of Participation that takes as a starting point a model beyond modes of consensus. Instead of reading Participation as the good-doing saviour from political struggle, Miessen candidly reflects on the limits and traps of its real motivations. Instead of breading the next generation of consensual facilitators and mediators, he argues for conflict as an enabling rather than disabling force. He calls for a format of “conflictual participation” – no longer as a process by which others are invited “in”, but as a means of acting without mandate, as uninvited irritant: a forced entry into fields of knowledge that arguably benefit from exterior thinking. Sometimes, democracy has to be avoided to all cost.

Markus Miessen lecture: Nov 04, 2009
Graham Foundation, Madlener House, 4 West Burton Place, Chicago, IL 60610

More info here

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