Disciplinarity: undoing it yourself, and with others

Gilly Karjevsky: The last time that we met (physically) we were discussing terminology. I invited you to talk about Terminology to open the Lexicon lecture series at the Floating University Berlin, as the writer that coined critical spatial practice[1] – a term that eventually evolved into what I perceive to be my discipline. When I think and talk about my own practice, I really think through the prism of critical spatial practice, because it does so well define the boundaries in which I work. And I am not the only practitioner who does – the term has been taken on by many, resulting in various academic programs providing diplomas under this exact or similar terms of spatial practices. Did you ever consider when writing about critical spatial practice and offering it as a term that it would one day be perceived as a discipline by a practitioner?

Jane Rendell: No, I didn’t ever expect it to be thought of as a discipline. But I did hope that it might help people navigate their way through the work that they do, that it might help practitioners to negotiate the edges and crossovers of different types of practice. I’d come out of an architecture school where I was quite disappointed with the way in which theory and practice were related, and into an art school where I was teaching designers and artists together in a course called the theory and practice of public art and design. But it was also, and the title gives it away, a place for thinking about a much more dynamic relation of theory and practice. So I think the thing that was for me the motivation for thinking about the relation of theory and practice, was my interest in critical theory. Not from a philosophical perspective, per se, but what theory could do for practice, and vice versa. There’s amazing work done on the history of critical theory from the Frankfurt School, but the two principles I draw out of critical theory are self-reflection –  being really attentive to your own processes, and social critique – the importance of critiquing what is happening in the world around you. And I thought, well could these principles underpinning critical theory not also be principles to inspire modes of practice. I guess I wasn’t interested in any kind of practice that might slip out of art and into architecture or vice versa, but certain types of practice that are defined not by their discipline, but by the way that they do things – that combine reflection on their own modes of operation and a push for social critique in some way. For the Frankfurt School critique is a social critique of capitalism as a social system of oppression. But of course, it’s not only a social critique of capitalism that’s required, but also a social critique of many other modes of oppression, patriarchal, hetero-sexist, colonialist, racist, etc. So the motivation for coming up with the term ‘critical spatial practice’ was in order to find a way of understanding practice through the principles of critical theory, and of course Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre’s work on spatial practice are important references for me here.[2]

[1] Jane Rendell, Art and Architecture: A Place Between, (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006).

[2] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), and Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).


Jane Rendell in conversation with Gilly Karvesky, ‘Disciplinarity: undoing it yourself, and with others,’ Making Futures, edited by Markus Bader, George Kafka, Tatjana Schneider, and Rosario Talevi, (Spector Books, 2022).


(Download PDF)
Other Books