CfP: The Observers Observed: Architectural Uses of Ethnography. Rotterdam, 24-25 November 2021

Call for Papers: The Observers Observed: Architectural Uses of Ethnography. Rotterdam, 24-25 November 2021

Jaap Bakema Study Center conference, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, TU Delft and Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam

This year’s Jaap Bakema Study Centre conference investigates the many ways in which architecture has taken an interest in ethnography in order to realign and expand its disciplinary scope and societal roles. Historically, ethnography is no innocent discipline: it is firmly embedded in colonial and capitalist logics and their Eurocentric knowledge production. At the same time, ethnography provided, and continues to offer, new insights and inspiration to help improve people’s everyday lives, and to innovate in planning practice for the benefit of the greatest number. To paraphrase James Clifford: today, ethnography offers the conceptual tools to break up and redistribute colonial power, to expand communication and intercultural exchange, and to embrace ambiguity, diversity and multivocality. Between architecture and ethnography, what might be the lessons from the past and for today?


For this conference, organizers seek contributions that highlight the transformative power of observational and participatory research in architectural design and its education. Organizers are interested in contributions that look at new interdisciplinary methodologies building on ethnography and anthropology, which highlight such disruption and expansion in order to move beyond universalist abstraction and essentialisms, to make visible the polyphony of practices that make up the everyday fabric of our multiplicitous lives.

To open up conversations on ethnography and architecture, and its potentials, organizers suggest that prospective conference participants explore the following directions:

  • Ethnography and ecology: beyond the human, post-human, more-than-human
  • Ethnography and multivocality: intersectional, feminist, queer, and cripping approaches
  • Ethnographies of care
  • Urban ethnographies, the festival and the everyday
  • Relational ethnography and dynamic communities of change
  • Migrants, colonial histories, Black criticism and interrogations of whiteness
  • Ethnography and the impact of technology, especially social media
  • Ethnography and the decolonisation of the architectural curriculum
  • And in a Latourian turn, the ethnography of ethnography, the observers observed.

Where is architecture in this broad and multi-layered field? Is it a designed space or gesture, intervening, generating, interacting, regenerating, hybridising, conditioning, still accommodating? Or a discipline of othering, control and surveillance, a regime of hygiene, but also a gesture of care and repair, a tool for economic redistribution and opportunity and emancipation for the people, an environment for chance encounters and a playground or stage for socialising, a transformative practice creating communities that can thrive and grow? And most importantly, to once again reference Aldo van Eyck: for whom and by whom?

Practical info
Abstracts of 300-500 words plus a short bio (300 words max) should be sent to by 25 June 2021. The aim is to have the conference proceedings published by the conference date.

The full call and more information can be found here.

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