I have an essay titled ‘Nature is the Dummy: Circulations of the Metabolic’ out soon in New Geographies 6: Grounding Metabolism to be published by Harvard GSD in August 2014
My contribution is intended as an ‘ungrounding’ of metabolism. Here’s an extract from the introduction:
Where continental theory had once drawn architecture into its world of free-floating signifiers, by the early 1990s the discipline had set about establishing its theory and practice on firmer ground. As well as turning to Deleuze and Guattari, with their apparent affirmation of production over meaning, it also turned to the solid realities of matter and life, to systems theory, and to the science of complexity. ‘Material organizations’, ‘emergence’, ‘self-organization’ and ‘morphogenesis’ have, since then, become the keywords through which matter and life are figured as essentially organisational, processual and productive phenomena. These capacities have been repeatedly represented within design discourse as the materialist and ontological grounds from which architecture, as well as landscape and urban design, should derive their own operational paradigms in order to perform effectively, efficiently and ecologically. Central to all of this has been the figure of ‘metabolism’, a kind of catch-all term employed to describe the productive transformation of matter through its circulation, at all scales, within material, biological, social and technical systems. Even where this tendency has not been so much a turn to a so-called ‘new materialism’ as a return to a critically oriented historical materialism, as in the case of Urban Political Ecology, the ontological essence of metabolic processes have been foregrounded as central to its concerns and methods.
If it could be said by Roland Barthes, in 1973, that in matters of textual interpretation ‘everything signifies ceaselessly and several times’ (1990, p.12), today’s organizational agendas demand instead that everything circulates, ceaselessly and productively. What typically remains unreflected upon, however, are the ways in which the metabolic, and its kindred keywords and concepts, are themselves circulated — discursively, textually and institutionally, in countless essays, books, course titles and symposia — and the consequences of all of this in terms of what design means and what it does.