CEAL_EPI_February 2015Image: EPI Workshop with SAGE Advisory Group (source: CEAL photo stream)

The Winter 2015 semester marked the end of my Engaged Pedagogy Initiative Fellowship with the College of LSA’s Center for Engaged Academic Learning (CEAL) and Rackham’s Arts of Citizenship program. Over the course of two semesters, Denise Galarza Sepúlveda (Director of CEAL) and Matthew Countryman (History, American Culture, and Faculty Director of Arts of Citizenship) in coordination with a range of academic and non-academic partners guided our training in community-oriented pedagogies. These meetings covered skill-building workshops on concepts and foundation of community-based learning, on building trusting and mutually beneficial campus-community partnerships, and on planning course reflections in strategic and creative ways towards enhanced participant learning. These meetings also included opportunities for interacting with invited community partners from southeastern Michigan to understand diverse perspectives and expectations on the ground. Additionally, we worked one-on-one with members of CEAL’s Student Advisory Group on Engagement (SAGE) to enrich our course design and implementation tactics.

The combined lessons of this fellowship enabled me to produce an undergraduate course proposal on participatory processes of land stewardship and community gardening in Detroit. My course entitled, “The Community Garden: Space, Program, and Politics of Engagement,” had three pedagogical goals: first, to build forms of self-awareness necessary for engaging communities across gender, class, and racial difference; second, to examine how our non-academic partners are imagining the city for themselves and how are they building the infrastructure to support community visions; and third, to collaboratively curate our partners’ spatial practices and lived histories for the Smithsonian’s archive of American gardens. Thank you Denise and Matthew,  Desiraé Simmons (CEAL Program Coordinator), SAGE students, and community partners in Detroit, as well as my inspiring peers for this incredible experience. A special thank you to Meg Sweeney (English, DAAS, Women’s Studies, and American Culture) for mentoring me all along.



Image: The Engaged Pedagogy Syllabus Writing Workshop (April 10, 2014): In conversation with Dr. Megan Sweeney, Group Facilitator & Associate Professor in English, DAAS, and Women’s Studies at U-M (source: Arts of Citizenship photo stream)

The Engaged Pedagogy Syllabus Writing Workshop at the beginning of this month brought together doctoral students from across diverse disciplines to explore how engaged pedagogical experiments might expand our understanding and communication of concerns aimed at changing social structures, directly or indirectly. Engagement has long constituted interdisciplinary work, one attentive to multiple constituencies and overlapping realities. Against this backdrop and following Maria Cotera’s brilliant provocation “how might we situate our individual pursuits and develop course contents of reciprocal value to both the academy and the partnering community? How might we create a heterogeneous and complex understanding of contexts and community practices? How might we demystify knowledge production and prepare ourselves for vulnerabilities in online, classroom, and fieldwork learning?” The workshop, and our group discussion in particular, explored some of these issues. Together, they called into question our received methods of coursework design and teaching in academic fields, including those that have traditionally produced engaged work, such as art/design and architecture.

The workshop was organized by the Arts of Citizenship’s Student Leadership Committee led by Meagan Elliot (Sociology and Urban Planning) and Caitlin Townsend (History and Museum Studies), with support from Matthew Countryman (AoC Faculty Director) and Elizabeth Werbe (AoC Associate Director). Thank you all for a fantastic session! It was wonderful to rekindle connections from last summer’s Institute for Social Change and think about future directions. For more information about this event, see Joseph Ciladella’s helpful recap, Rackham Graduate School blog, April 22, 2014.

Social Life, Zone Sociale
Image: Imagining the field, Engaging the field: Kroll’s Zone Sociale, Woluwé-Saint-Lambert, UCL

Last month, my colleague and friend, E. Keslacye invited me to deliver a guest lecture in her graduate seminar on architectural research methods at LTU, Southfield. The title of my talk was “Fieldwork: Human Factors and Social Research.” I devoted the bulk of this presentation to discuss my selection of field tactics for examining the two case studies of my dissertation, in particular, the respective manifestations of Kroll and Tschumi’s design-polemical theories. Prior to my lecture, however, I had circulated two sets of readings that jointly addressed the humanistic discourse of environmental design studies. The first set laid out some of the ways of conceiving our field and fieldwork in epistemological terms. The second set discussed the qualitative and case study research strategies for engaging the field and its ground conditions. The talk and readings together raised some very good questions among those interested in pursuing empirical research. Thanks for the opportunity, EK!

Image: Pedagogical Experiments in Urban Design: Series 1, Social Space / Spatial Practice, Proceedings of Graduate Student Reading Seminar, published by CEPT University Press, 2012.

Last month, I was delighted to receive the author’s copy of a CEPT University monograph on my summer 2011 graduate course entitled, “Social Space / Spatial Practice.” I was equally happy to know that this volume was displayed at the SA50 exposition, celebrating 50 years of School of Architecture in Ahmedabad in December, last year. The publication is the first in a series that aims to critically document ongoing pedagogical experiments in the field of urban design at the university. It consists of five parts: 1) prefatory note; 2) course content; 3) student participation and collective involvement; 4) concluding note and critical reflection; and 5) course bibliography. Check out the announcement in CEPT E-News Magazine Vol. 2 No. 1, January 2013.

At this point, I would like to extend a massive thank you to my students for their intellectual contributions and brilliant participation in the seminar, to Vanita Verma for helping me finalize this document, to Nirmala Khadpekar for her patience, support, and editorial eye, and to Professor PVK Rameshwar, Head of Master’s Program in Urban Design, for being ever so indispensable in the dissemination of new knowledge in the field. “Social Space / Spatial Practice” is a detailed overview of our collective involvement. It speaks to the love we put into giving back to our School. Thank you all.

Image: “Q2P” by Paromita Vohra (right): A film on gender, toilets, and the city to be discussed in class.

I am thrilled to have been awarded an opportunity to teach a graduate seminar in Fall 2012 as part of a newly instituted competitive fellowship at the Taubman College. The course entitled, “Agency, Agenda, and Social Space” speaks both to my ongoing dissertation and my broader intellectual interests in the realm of critical theory and design. Here is the course description. All thoughts are welcome.

Agency, Agenda, and Social Space | Fall 2012

Following Henri Lefebvre’s theory of production of space, many scholars have come to view space as a distinct social and political category, actively produced at the intersection of mental, material, and experiential phenomena. The argument that space has political meaning and that it should be conceived of as a social product has provided a valuable framework for architectural theorists and environmental design researchers interested in examining questions of human agency and social agenda in architecture. At the same time, however, the conception of everyday nature of power in practices of space without the agency of community has become popular.

How might we study the narrative about social space within architecture, whilst also investigating the meaning of agency towards greater clarity? How might we examine material responses to questions of social space involving divergent expectations? Is it possible to reconcile spatial strategies that raise social questions and those that work with them through direct action?

This course will investigate politics of space, agency, and practice and their interrelationships from a range of theoretical perspectives and design juxtapositions. We will work through the writings of late 20th-century social theorists who discuss the relationship between space and society in terms of agency and materiality of everyday life. We will contrast writings and design practices that battle issues of social inclusivity and autonomy with those that encourage critical explorations of space through participation. The syllabus will also include texts on urban practices that focus on space and subjectivities such as women and loitering, youth and skateboarding to help connect specific renderings to a wider context of social theory and spatial scholarship.

Image: In-class seminar, CEPT, Summer 2011

“Social Space / Spatial Practice” was the title of my course offering at CEPT, this summer. Designed as a reading seminar for urban design students, this intensive explored the relationship between space and social agency, and discussed the many ways in which people imagine, experience and direct their everyday life. In contrast to high modern architectural discourse that reduced the wider symbolic realm to the notion of function, and saw space primarily as a material entity supporting social activity, this seminar focused on social values of space and investigated how space is socially produced. Specifically, we looked at how social groups appropriate space; how individuals subvert prescribed uses and create new meanings; and how people see their spatial settings and think about it.

Throughout, space was seen as an active social agent in the structuring of our everyday experience while agency was discussed in terms of how people understand their world and conceptualize their environments. The relationship between space and agency was analyzed using a mix of theoretical themes and a range of spatial practices. We examined the writings of late 20th century theorists such as Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, Michel de Certeau, and Nancy Fraser among others. Overall, the seminar covered texts in urban social theory, environmental psychology, and architectural theory to trace the multiple contours of social and political values of space.

The following are snippets from my micropublishing site. All seminar specific postings were tagged: summer@CEPT.
(…) Students explored the notion of social space vis-à-vis Gurgaon, the domestic help, labyrinth & Alpha 60 among others.
(…) They examined the relationship between space, practice, and everyday life touring NYC with Steve and mapping Bombay with Chaipau.
(…) Individually and in groups, students discussed the many voices that make up a public sphere alongside provocations by Paromita, Deepa and Shilpa.
(…) Finally, students interrogated the Lynchian notion of control and examined notions of place, activity forms, and symbolic associations with Whyte.
(…) On the last day, students made great presentations and together, we reflected on our collective involvement by enacting a playful exercise entitled, “Who is Public?”

Activism and Social Change by Design” is the title of Craig Wilkin’s course offering this Spring. As with his ongoing preoccupations and past academic teaching, this class too promises to discuss the instrumentality of spatial practice in effecting constructive social change. Here’s the course description for those interested in exploring the role and meaning of social agency in design practice.

Activism and Social Change by Design – Craig Wilkins
¼ lecture, ¼ discussion, ½ making a difference

This course examines the history, theory, and mechanisms through which architects, planners, and other socially-conscious activists put their professional skills in service to an idea of social change with an eye towards doing something similar in Detroit. The resurgence in socially-conscious design is due in large part to groups of students and practitioners who are inspired by the widening gap between the haves and the have nots; some in the field have leaped back into the arena of problem-solvers with great enthusiasm. Empowering people to take direct control over their environmental development, the resulting work has been both impressive and promising.

The course examines a series of interventions, strategies, theories, and works that impact people in perhaps modest ways that hold potential for significant social change over the long haul with an eye towards both advocacy planning and design activism. To establish a groundwork for discussion, the course introduces theories of social change that inform much of this work. In weekly readings that address both design and the urban environment, the class will be invited to reflect on how the articulation of space shapes and reflects political and social subjectivities.

This course will also have a design/build component. Students will have the opportunity to engage what they have been studying, as the class will collaboratively design and build a social intervention in Midtown Detroit. Students do not have to be in architecture, planning or design major to take part in this course. They should, however, have the desire to spend time making the environment, and specifically the City of Detroit, a better place to live.”