Originally presented as a conversation between myself and Peg Rawes at the AHRA Architecture and Feminisms Conference in 2016, ‘Material and Rational Feminisms’ features as a chapter in Architecture and Feminisms: Ecologies, Economies, Technologies, eds, Hélène Frichot, Katherina Gabrielsson and Helen Runting. Published November 2017 by Routledge. Below is the original abstract for our presentation.
The panel will explore whether contemporary affirmations of materialism and biopolitical affect can be brought together with forms of rationalism and critically reflective thought to which they are typically opposed. How, we ask, can we produce from these different traditions of constructing alterity, a theory of practice adequate to the demands placed upon architectural history and theory today?
As Rawes has noted, feminist and ecological thought alike have produced discourses in which reason and technology are sexed as ‘male’, and thus castigated as essentially oppres- sive, whereas the material, sensed or ecological are sexed as ‘female’. Opposing the continuation of this split as obstructive to the creation of an effectively ecological architecture, Rawes has turned both to feminist theories of the nonhuman — e.g. Haraway and Braidotti — and to the proto-ecological thinking of ‘ratio’ in Spinoza in order to argue for the possibility of a ‘humane’ architecture.
Spencer will here pursue a similar objective, but through different means; Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of the split between reason and the senses as the founding act of Enlightenment thought read, in dialectic of Enlightenment, through Homer’s The Odyssey as a gendered division between reason and matter. At the same time, and through the same means, he will also explore certain of the difficulties he per- ceives in the work of neo-materialists, such as Braidotti, around the discourse of bodies, subjects and their relationship to environments, including those produced through architecture.