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On Tactical Optimism

Leopold Lambert
Don’t get this title wrong. I don’t have particular hope for the future, whether we talk about society or the practice of architecture itself – two things I have trouble separating anyway. In fact, I recently surprised myself thinking that for a certain number of generations, the future necessarily meant a generalized betterment of society and its conditions for life – something that seems impossible today. Now we might think of history’s cyclicity, or that the various forms of neocolonialism and neofascism in which we all take part (as one of those responsible or one of those subjected) are the swan song of specific forms of oppression. Yet these intuitive reflections do not hold against the daily experience of reality.
The optimism I would like to propose here – which might be difficult to argue for in a longer format – is a tactical one, unrelated to any form of hope. It consists in attributing a large part of our political imaginary to the various actions and projects that resonate with the ethical systems of our individual and collective political engagement. In other words, it requires us to focus on the numerous revolutionary initiatives and struggles around us, regardless of the asymmetrical ratios of power involved in them. It’s a collective of intersectional feminist architects, a group of decolonial cartographers, an exhibition on two artists who designed spaces for antinormative bodies, a team of architects producing evidence for international trials, a young architect turned prison doula, an Afrofuturist workshop on a boat, an anti-orientalist publication on Global South building crafts, etc. The list is long, and that’s my point.
This optimism is tactical for two reasons. The first one has to do with the emotional solace it can provide in times when many of us experience (to drastically different degrees) the toll that asymmetries of power take on the body and the psyche. The second is perhaps more strategic than tactical: rather than facing structural violence alone, these initiatives can be put in dialogue with each other, building a greater coalition that makes the possibility of revolutionary change more tangible. The majority of architects might still make daily contributions to this violence – through colonialism, gentrification, social and racial segregation, hypernormative ableist and patriarchal design, through the design of police stations and carceral facilities, banks and financially speculative buildings, etc. – but that’s expected. Architecture is never easier to practice than when it reinforces the current domination. Yet the radical endeavors organized against them are worth contributing to and fighting for, as they embody the only tenable positions in this age of intense structural violence. Tactical optimism, in its promotion of such endeavors, is a first step toward action and the creation of the necessary revolutionary imaginaries.

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