THREAD | Who’s got the power?

Posted on 13/07/2011

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As a result of a recent comment by Maria Miranda about the work of Chantal Mouffe, I’ve realised that I have omitted an exploration of power from Placing. That is, I have not really scoped issues and questions of power in the flow of communication, politics and community as it applies to this work. That means I haven’t really addressed the need, in a direct way, for a different kind of politics and power in the way we design, communicate and make cities. However, ideas about power have been in the mix just not explored as such – mostly the writing has flowed along seams of possibility, knowledge and constraint – creating an optimistic open-endedness that says radical change and changescaping is and should be possible, that we are, as practitioners and citizens, agents for that change. However, I do note sometimes that considerations of power and politics are sometimes absent from design and planning work. There is perhaps a sense from my writings that I am driving towards a kind of consensus – which isn’t true. I am a great believer in conversation, dialogue and deliberation. By necessity this means an appreciation of politics and an understanding that power, conflict and antagonism are part of the terrain.

Mouffe’s essay titled, Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces, published in Art & Research can be found online in PDF. She explores the proposition that “artistic practices could contribute to the struggle against capitalist domination but this requires a proper understanding of the dynamics of democratic politics; an understanding which I contend can only be obtained by acknowledging the political in its antagonistic dimension as well as the contingent nature of any type of social order.” Here she questions Habermas’ notions of the public sphere, consensus and communicative rationality, drawing up Arendt and Kant, acknowledging Lyotard’s differend. Delving further, I am now reading a comparative study of Mouffe’s agonistic pluralism and Ranciere’s sporadic democracy. Both of these ideas capture some essential recognition of conflict and disagreement that diverges from trajectories of communicative and political rationality.

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