Heike Delitz


Dr. Heike Delitz

University Bamberg
Chair for Sociology II

Gebaute Gesellschaft. Architektur als Medium des Sozialen (Dissertation, TU Dresden, 2009; Frankfurt/M. Campus 2010)

Built Society. Architecture as Medium of the Social

My reflections concern a sociological theory of architecture. The assertation is, that architecture should not be understood only in terms of »representation« or »expression« of a given society (of their social strctures, relations of power and so on). On the contrary, architecture makes a »difference« within the social realm. The initial conviction is, that architecture not only reflects or reproduces what almost »exists«. Rather, it gives a society a symbolic form in which it »institutes« itself as a certain »society« (Cornelius Castoriadis). And it creates spaces for everyday living, coexists with human body, enables his affects, movements, views, actions and interactions. Instead to be only a (passive) object or instrument, architecture is rather an active »socius« of our social interactions, subjective motivations, emotions. In its creative architecture a society have a chance to see itself somehow with new eyes: it sees itself in a way that is partially new. Particularly in this case of modern architecture, architecture pushes social things rather that is only an »expression« of them. So, the aim of that work is to say that architecture is not merely an expression, a mirror, a symbol of a given society or given social structures: it is their »medium«. It has a social activity or positivity.
Classical sociological theory conceptionalized the social realm sure too restrictive for such a theoretic (and empiric) sociology of architecture: from Weber to Luhmann sociological thinkers conceived the object of sociology as a sphere of pure »sociological facts«; as social, and particularly rationally »interaction« or as »communication«. In this basic concepts of sociology architecture is ignored first as artefact, second as technology, and third in its creativity. This (still obvious and evident) conception of social explains the challenge of this sociology of architecture. It is the dualistic, »classical« tradition of philosophy that requires to think architecture as (mere passive) object and (only semiotic) shell: something that »does nothing about this and nothing takes away«, simply a »copy« of already existing social structures.

The theory operates both on level of social theory as well as on (quite understood) micro-sociological level of interactions. In that micro-respect, a concept of Gilles Deleuze is used to think architecture not in subject-object scheme, but in termes of artifacts, bodies, motions, affects. On a level of a diagnostic theory of society, theory of »imaginary institution of society« by Castoriadis is extended to architecture: architecture gives a »society« foremost a permanent shape in which it occurs for anyone as a specific, given society. At the same time architecture provides always new characters for a society: architecture is both constitutive and transitive for a »society«. This sociological theory of architecture is designed that it applies to any society. But in attention to the new in architecture it applies in particular for modern societies, for the 20th century, in which architecture unfolded a creative and social-technological attitude. A background of this sociology of architecture is the new philosophy of Henri Bergson; and in his tradition of Gilles Deleuze and Cornelius Castoriadis. Bernhard Cache, André Leroi-Gourhan, Maurice Hauriou and Gilbert Simondon are also ‘Bergsonians’ which are considered with regard to a sociological theory of architecture. Not at least, Gabriel Tarde, Bruno Latour, Michel Foucault are helpful thinkers to take into account the active part of architecture within the social. They all allow a sociological thinking that considers artifacts and their symbolic dimensions. In addition and correction of this French tradition, Philosophical Anthropology is a background of this sociology of architecture: in particular theory of institutions and artefacts by Arnold Gehlen; and philosophy of culture by Helmuth Plessner. He unfolded a media philosophy which is not based on a paradigm of language. Rather it sees a own logic of architecture: their materiality and their relation to human body.

The sociological theory of architecture is accomplished by five case studies: five distinctive architectures, mostly in Germany, in five time steps are observed with categories and ways of thinking which are unfolded in this theoretically part (after a first introducing part, which provides an overview on implicit and explicit architectural sociologies). They reach from 1900  over cases in the twenties and thirties to exposed socialistic architectures in Soviet Union and GDR. The last sociological analysis applies to deconstructive (or deformative) architecture of present times in present western societies.

(project descriptions also under the following links: EGK 625EPHE Paris and "Architektur als Medium" on arthistoricum.net).