Literary imagination as a modality of collective space making in Paul Ricœur’s polysemy of action

This paper initiates a discussion on the modalities of action and participation in current architectural practices concerned with agency and the participation of users. Although such approaches to architectural or urban projects currently form a vast and growing repertoire at international level, their theoretical basis remains weak; they rest on concepts (agency, action) that demand to be more fully defined, especially in terms of their language-based dimension. We propose a synthesis of Paul Ricœur’s take on action and human agency, exposed in his book The Course of Recognition (2005) as a point of departure in building such theoretical grounds. Through a series of studies of the term recognition (recognition as identification, self-recognition, mutual recognition), Ricœur’s aim is to found a phenomenology of man as capable, where human life is understood through action, that is, as praxis. Ricœur pointedly connects the emergence of meaning—knowledge production processses—with man’s capacity to act (pouvoir faire), understood as an outcome of his possibility to speak, to narrate himself and his experiences (pouvoir dire, pouvoir raconter et se raconter). It is through such practices (using words and doing deeds) that man reclaims the right to see his capacities recognized, thus becoming capable. This may occur, Ricoeur insists, in rare yet crucial instances of mutual recognition grounded in agapè, that is, in the non-monetary exchange of gifts (don). The enactment of one’s agency (understood as a potential) therefore implicates language-based means of narrating the everyday, of fictionalizing experiences. In our Western context, the literary tradition that led to the development of the modern novel attests of such processes: the novel’s key feature rests in painstaking, careful and precise narrative accounts of ordinary, everyday life-events. If architects and users are to genuinely engage in the modalities for action required by participatory approaches, the specificities of the discursive processes at play in action have to be acknowledged. Literary imagination—the re-appropriation of narrative processes— is key in imagining potential modes of cohabitation, in collectively envisioning new ways of living together.

Presented at:
Reading Architecture Symposium, Athens, Greece, June 16-18, 2015

 Record created 2015-12-15, last modified 2018-09-13

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