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2008 CONFERENCE: Oxford, UK

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INTERROGATING TRADITION:

Epistemologies, Fundamentalisms, Regeneration and Practices


Call for Abstracts

Tradition has become a keyword in modern global practices, its meanings inextricably bound today with the issues it seeks to explain. As tradition is a keyword, the exercise of interrogation becomes essential in understanding the social and political contexts in which it is mobilized. Examining the intersecting discourses of tradition and the politics of its organization moreover become critical in identifying how socio-political identities and differences are pursued. Tradition thus can be seen to bind the dialectic of the cultural imaginary and the material reality of the built environment. Here, the historical realities and the political economies that have marked the development of local traditions and their attendant discourses become relevant considerations. For example, tradition is often a marker of nationalism and economic progress orchestrated in part to stabilize local cultures, legitimize invented histories, and frame social practices. The invocation of tradition has accordingly become instrumental in various nationalisms, regionalisms, and fundamentalisms.

The paradoxes of this global moment necessitate a recalibration of our operative epistemological frameworks in the study of traditional environments. The aim of such a recalibration is to critically forge two broad avenues of inquiry undertaken in prior IASTE conferences. In an earlier phase, IASTE scholarship had focused on the historical development of tradition as a means to understand the cultural ecology of places. A later cycle of scholarship examined tradition as a contingent and flexible form unsettled by globalization and the conditions which linked and dismantled assumed cultural coherence from its context. Whether in the explorations of shifting geographies of tradition as nostalgia and authenticity, the manufacture of heritage as part of struggles over space, or hybridity in a globalizing world, these examinations have been critical in understanding the constitutive dimensions of tradition. This scholarship has unsettled the belief that identities are geographically bounded and fixed, speculated the “end of tradition” and identified “hypertradition” in which the real and the virtual become mutually constitutive in an inseparable continuum. From this perspective it is possible to assert that what has ended, then, is not tradition itself, but the idea of tradition as a harbinger of authenticity, a container of specific cultural meanings, or a static authoritative legacy that carries the weight of history with it.

Why is interrogation important at this time? We use the term “interrogate” to refer to the epistemic exercise of understanding, framing, and questioning the rationalities of traditions, their constructions of authoritative knowledges, and the contingent practices and politics through which spaces and subjectivities are constituted in the 21st century. The conference seeks to underscore the co-constitutive linkages between the epistemologies and the practices of tradition. To that end, interrogating tradition is a re-engagement with how tradition is also mobilized and deployed in the making of space and its sustenance.

As in past IASTE conferences, scholars and practitioners from architecture, architectural history, art history, anthropology, archaeology, folklore, geography, history, planning, sociology, urban studies, and related disciplines are invited to submit papers that address one of the following three tracks:

I. Epistemologies of Tradition
The relationship between tradition and epistemology is key to the conference theme. Some issues relevant to this line of inquiry include whether tradition is independent of its deployment. And if this independence is untenable, then is the deployment of tradition in fact its epistemology? Within these debates, some have argued that tradition is the absence of choice. Consequently, tradition emerges where choice is delimited or where the number of practices and social forms available are relatively proscribed. It can be argued then that tradition is about constraint, though it is often described in active terms such as “having,” “being” and “belonging.” This line of inquiry on the epistemologies of tradition is critical in two ways. One, it allows for the theorization of tradition appropriate to this current moment. Accordingly this track will examine emerging definitions of tradition and the epistemic exercises that frame these definitions. In addition, this track will identify epistemologies that constitute tradition itself. Secondly, interrogating tradition moves examinations away from an orthodox perspective that views tradition as a static legacy of the past; a viewpoint that is apolitical. Rather, in following IASTE’s intellectual perspective, tradition can be identified as a dynamic project for the interpretation and re-interpretation of the past from the point of view of the present towards the promise of its deployment in the future.

II. Fundamentalism and Tradition
A key field of inquiry in the study of traditional environments has been the spatial practices of various ideological movements and their broader social implications. Such examinations have led some to theorize fundamentalism as an ideological apparatus that is hegemonic in intent and substance. In order to move beyond this static conceptualization, this track will investigate the specificities of fundamentalism where fundamentalism – as established forms of aesthetic and political governance – itself becomes a fundamentalist exercise. In examining the convergences between fundamentalism and tradition in the context of globalization, papers can investigate how traditional knowledge is formulated and deployed in the political sphere, including the post-conflict reconstruction of societies and environments, the use of tradition by the “state” as a means of co-optation or governance, or the manner in which fundamentalism is “framed” and used by different interest and social groups. Papers in this track can also question how tradition becomes the deliberate means of defining the past in relationship to the present and future.

III. Regeneration and the Practices of Tradition
Tradition as practice can be oriented around the formation, negation and negotiation of socio-political identities that occur through discursive as well as spatial politics. Papers in this track should explore contemporary and historical geographies of practice where tradition is produced and inscribed as articulations, social movements or as forms of embeddedness in place. Politics and practice are prominent factors in the circulation and the construction of forms of legibility embedded in tradition. Papers can also engage with the concept of tradition in pedagogic discourses or in professional practice in addition to the practices of revival, regeneration, and preservation of vernacular traditions. As new methodologies for the study and regeneration of vernacular traditions emerge in the twenty-first century, the role of the built environment has been critical in processes of cultural revival and sustainability. A productive critique of the spaces of tradition or the tradition of space is thus premised on the assumption that tradition may in fact be the most powerful catalyst for change.