Contributions from the History of Architecture and Urbanism
Call for Papers
Deadline for submission: December 1, 2013
The historical epistemology of risk is obscured by its apparent novelty, theorized by scholars including Ulrich Beck as an effect of “reflexive modernity,” where risk production replaces wealth production as the overarching political economic order. We submit that the so-called “risk society” is only the most recent ideological manifestation in a long and disparate history of probability, chance, insurance and speculation. This symposium seeks to examine risk in architecture, urbanism and design from the early modern period to the present, revealing it as an ideology underlying design’s agency.
The notion of risk first made its appearance in common language in the mid-sixteenth century, replacing the older notion of “fortuna,” tied predominantly to maritime trade and the safety of ships and their requisite financial investment. Considered one of the first theories of probability, a correspondence between Pascal and Fermat in 1654 on the parti des dés or “problem of points” outlined the fair division of stakes in the premature ending of a game of chance, creating a distinction between a calculated risk and an uncertain gamble—activities previously conflated. Although not framed as risk per se according to Lorraine Daston, aleatory contracts subsequently viewed the future as a set of mathematically-derived expectations—the product of the probability of an event and its outcome value—mitigating risk by its equitable and manageable partition.
Actuarial tables developed for stock market speculation were adapted by entrepreneurial builder Nicholas Barbon in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 to produce one of the first financial tools for risk mitigation in architecture: fire insurance. Likewise, the engineer Manuel da Maia employed techniques to mitigate the effects of future seismic activity in the reconstruction of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. This later inspired Pierre Patte’s famous street section which could be read as an image depicting the risk management infrastructure that undergirds all modern building and urbanism. In the context of the 19th century’s use of statistics and quantification, we can understand Ian Hacking’s concept of the “taming of chance” through Hausmann’s plans for Paris which used urban design to order and control the streets of the city.
Black swans, freaks of fortune and force majeure are the dark matter of architectural history. If Beck’s risk society insists that risk is a new formation of modernity, this symposium seeks to complicate the concept with new counter histories and alternate genealogies. Why was architecture and natural disaster the fulcrum that transposed the actuarial tables of maritime trade into property insurance? What does it mean to consider the emergence of the party wall as an architectural act manifested by a pervasive ideology of risk? Might we learn more about risk by positioning architectures of empire like the Great Wall of China, the Castel Sant’Angelo or Vauban’s Citadel at Lille, in a long, unfolding history of risk?
Recent or new papers of around 2,500 words should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 1, 2013. Any questions can also be sent to the same address. Authors must currently be enrolled in a graduate program. Selected participants will each receive a $500 stipend. The symposium will be an all-day event at UCLA on February 8, 2014.
Beck, Ulrich. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London; Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications Limited, 1992.
Daston, Lorraine J. “The Domestication of Risk: Mathematical Probability and Insurance 1650-1830.” In The Probabilistic Revolution Volume 1: Ideas in History, edited by Lorenz Kruger, Lorraine Daston and Michael Heidelberger. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987.
Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990.
Hacking, Ian. The Taming of Chance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Levy, Jonathan. Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America. Cambridge; London: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Latour, Bruno. "Is Re-modernization Occurring – and If So, How to Prove It? A Commentary on Ulrich Beck." Theory, Culture & Society 20, no. 2 (2003): 35-48.
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