Organized by Leagues and Legions

Are We Fighting With or Against ‘The Man’?

The DIY nature of interventionist work in architecture and urbanism can be seen as a subtle yet poignant reminder that formal institutions are failing to meet the needs of many communities and neighborhoods. As encouraging as it is that designers and communities are willing to change conditions on of their own accord, the question remains: what is the role of government and other formal institutions in interventionist practice? Should interventionists ignore, lobby, or change government?


  1. aml says: August 29, 20127:21 pm

    it depends on the specificities of each government, of course–but it’s important to keep dialogue open. as much as i understand the frustration and occasional need to step outside–or beside–legal boundaries, revealing flaws and making the limits and contradictions of the law visible is one of the best outcomes of interventionist practice.

  2. Adam Greenfield says: September 3, 20129:29 pm

    Every sustained change in human consciousness needs, in effect, a Martin and a Malcolm — someone, that is, to push from the institutional inside, and someone to make unreasonable demands, and pull the system from the outside.

    We each of us have to choose the role that feels truest to our capabilities and personalities, but this is how the Overton window is shifted. When the Malcolm and the Martin work in synchrony, measures that were formerly seen as outside the scope of possibility come to be understood as conventional wisdom with startling rapidity. Those of us dedicated to the practice of tactical urbanism understand that not only are our projects worthwhile in and of themselves (they produce joy, an appreciation of the city and of the community, an enhanced sense of agency on the part of participants), but  also in the work they perform as propaganda of the deed, pulling the Overton window that much further in the direction of liberatory potential. It’s an exciting moment to be a part of.

  3. Kim Holleman says: September 4, 201210:13 pm

    I LOVE this question, and ponder it often. I feel that the role of government is to FUND interventionist practice with the full knowledge that the big institutions simply cannot meet the needs of all. We can have both the big fish, the medium fish AND the little fish in the pond, all swimming together, all adding to the system.

  4. Adeola Enigbokan says: September 7, 20125:36 am

    As an artist working on DIY projects in Moscow and Saint Petersburg over the past year, I experienced a urban spaces that are charged with the need for political, social and economic changes, in which masses of people, for the first time in 20 years, are going out into the streets to demand these changes. The overwhelmingly negative response from government and other powerful institutions have created a strangely electrified field, in which even small actions can carry shocking charges. Working in these Russian cities, I found questions that so clearly separate “interventionists” and “government,” and distinguish between the actions “ignore” “lobby” or “change,” so overly simplistic as to be almost irrelevant to the actual situation everyday people face. In Russia it is impossible to simply “ignore” the government, though some may try. And, just as in the USA, it is also quite difficult for average citizens to “lobby” the government. The possibility of “change” in such electrified fields, in which overwhelming power is wielded mercilessly and arbitrarily, is another matter altogether. Change itself takes on new meaning. I have found that seemingly small gestures, by ostensibly powerless people have actually had a rippling effect, just by nature of the charged atmosphere. Why? I think this is because what is needed in these places is not simple changes in policy, or design protocols, but something even more basic and simple: people’s recognition of their own proper value and their willingness to experiment with this value.

    And one last note on this question: why distinguish between “designers” and “communities”?  

    • Kim Holleman says: September 7, 201212:59 pm

      I would say it is extremely important to make a distinction between designer and communities because they are not the same. Designer connotes an individual with a single minded purpose:  Design. Communities is something completely unto itself, and connotes “together with the many”. So I guess, can you redefine your question or make it more clear what you are asking? I do not see any correlation between “designer” and “communities” other than designers can design for communities and that communities can contain designers amongst their ranks. Perhaps I am missing a deeper meaning that you can explain more.

      • AG says: September 7, 20123:37 pm

        I think that’s a dangerous line of thought, Kim, to be honest. In politics it might even be called “vanguardism,” the idea that the people need someone to lead them, or deliver solutions to them. I think that at its most maximal, the role of a designer is to interpet, synthesize and consolidate the needs of a community in a resolved design solution — and ideally one that’s scalable, flexible, extensible and open to adaptive reuse.

        I’m not arguing that all people will have equal degrees of aesthetic discernment, let alone the design skills to convert that discernment into a functioning product or service. But the community itself should (must, in my opinion) have a very strong role in determining the shape any putative solution is going to take. Otherwise there will be no buy-in, no emotional investment and no uptake.

      • Adeola Enigbokan says: September 7, 20125:11 pm

        Dear Kim,

        When I asked the question, “why distinguish between “designers” and “communities,” it was within the context of my comment about working in charged political fields. In the fields in which I work, I have not found it helpful to maintain distinctions between “interventionists” and “governments,” for example, primarily because the reality of everyday life, people’s responsibilities and allegiances, often make it difficult and fruitless to focus on these distinctions, rather than focusing on the actual rippling effects of actions, small and big. It is for the same reason that I ask why we need to frame our questions based on distinctions between “designer” and “community.” I am suggesting that narrow definitions of “community” and “designer” move the focus to ideas about what is an “expert” and who is the “layman.” However, I understand the whole point of “DIY” to mean doing it for yourself, whomever you may be. So if our question is really about how we can all learn to ‘DIY,’ it seems counterproductive to hold on to categories that make distinctions based on expertise and “single-minded focus.” For me, DIY refers to a way of life, and approach to the world in which people see themselves as able to work creatively in their living environments. Therefore, the idea of designer as expert with “a single-minded focus: design” implies that the designer him- or herself is beyond “the community,” and that “design” is something that people who make up “the community” cannot do without some specialized, single-mindedness.  If we are more interested in finding new ways of working together, and developing DIY ethos, I suggest that we reconsider our definitions of “designer” and “community” as fundamentally separate categories. I hope this clarifies my point?

  5. kierstennash says: September 8, 20125:23 am

    both. the two are not mutually exclusive. to intervene is to come between; to delve into the relational complexity that defines our post-normal dialectics in order to investigate, disassemble and re-frame the political, social + economic forces that define our everyday practices.

  6. Jordan Geiger says: September 29, 20124:08 am

    Kim Holleman has sparked discussion with two somewhat incendiary remarks that I find contradict one another:

    (1) “I feel that the role of government is to FUND interventionist practice” and (2), “I would say it is extremely important to make a distinction between designer and communities because they are not the same.”

    To these, I offer: I am the man! It’s unfortunate phrasing for this discussion topic, merely because of all the baggage that “the man” brings to it – gender and race connotations are farthest from my mind here, but rather participation. That’s why I agree with statement (1) and so cringe at (2). The former speaks the voice of an early Hans Haacke, grinningly biting the hand that feeds, just as that hand seems to put it out there for a bite.

    The latter, on the other hand, buys into both kinds of vanity: the vanity of impotence (visionaries for others) and of omnipotence (at the service of others). 

    If the options are to ignore, lobby or change government, I opt for advocacy – which I consider change from within, not in the sense that lobbyists have grown to be that insidious malignancy in US legislative process (as evidenced most glaringly in areas like the Farm Bill and rancor around new health care legislation) but rather that advocacy is the evolving making of a commons in a newer sense today: as both public space and public discourse. I embrace the tautology that we can have this kind of advocacy because we can – by making it, we make it. I’m comfortable with being found naive on this, because I think there’s room for alternate parallel DIYs and interventionisms. As a recent addition to the ranks of a state university, I take seriously my own role as an agent of the state, a citizen and servant to my fellow citizens – and so I have been looking to projects in that capacity that aspire to raise consciousness and advocacy in matters of public concern.

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