Abolition in Practice?
The spatial literacy cultivated in architecture schools has for centuries remained the purview of a discipline intent upon inscribing lines across land and bodies. Surveying provided the colonial technics of expropriation and enclosure; self-styled “gentlemen architects” directed enslaved laborers to build monuments to the ascendant American nation-state; professional associations lent their imprimatur to residential segregation, “urban renewal,” and the construction of a vast carceral apparatus. Simultaneously, racialized divisions between codified (white) knowledge systems and those degraded as “other” functioned as the caesura delineating the Eurocentric practice of “architecture” from mere vernacular “building.”
This issue of Paprika! invited architects, designers, artists, educators, students, and activists to help us break from the death-dealing logics of abstraction and accumulation and, instead, envision abolitionist architectural practices. The conversation emerged from a collective recognition that the inherited disciplinary tools and techniques at our disposal remain insufficient for confronting the task at hand—that is, the creation of a world unbound by the strictures of property, policing, and prisons. If racial capitalism redefines worlds in a way that unravels relationships of interdependence, then how might an abolitionist spatial praxis function to repair, renew, and reconstruct these broken bonds?
As scholars and practitioners looking outside rigid professional boundaries, we sought to think expansively about what it means to build infrastructures of mutuality and care. Following geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s assertion that “freedom is a place,” how might we begin to reckon with the immense spatial harm that architecture has wrought while reimagining our collaborative roles as place-makers, builders, preservationists, stewards, accomplices, fugitives, and saboteurs? Furthermore, how can we reorient toward abolitionist horizons—toward relational modes of practice that provision life against and beyond racial capitalism?
The accompanying November panel event entitled “Towards Infrastructures of Care: An Abolitionist Roundtable” allowed us to consider the relational disposition of social infrastructure as part of an abolitionist horizon. Our guests—Erica Adarkwa of the Yale Chaplain’s Office, Matt Peterson of Woodbine, and Roberto Sirvent of the Yale Divinity School—shared from their experiences building place-based solidarities, including secular and faith-based coalitions of resistance to carceral confinement, neighborhood mutual aid networks, and forms of community that transgress nationalist imaginaries.
Rather than offer prescriptive solutions, we conclude by humbly relaying questions that arose from the dialogue: How might we think of carcerality and settler colonialism as reciprocal technologies, and what possibilities does this dual analysis afford? To paraphrase urban studies scholar Ananya Roy, what does it mean to call for abolition on stolen land? How might unlearning inform an abolitionist spatial praxis, and what ossified disciplinary practices are we yet to unlearn? Moreover, what does it mean to engage this body of work from within the confines of a university? Finally, how can mutuality as a framework for relationship-building recast architectural pedagogy and practice?