In Suspicion of...

Shivani Shedde

This text introduces three articles produced by participants in the 2021 Toolkit for Today: Legalities for Living.

In December 2022, Melinda Gates, representing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, travelled to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India to meet its Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath. Curiously, Gates congratulated the UP government on its “effective management” of the Covid crisis and lauded Adityanath’s development model addressing global issues such as nutrition and women’s empowerment as exemplary for India, if not for the rest of the world. Controversy broke out among party critics, if not simply for the fact that Adityanath, one of the best-known politicians of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), maintains a record of right-wing incendiary rhetoric responsible for divisive and violent political action against the lower caste, non-Hindus, journalists, students, protestors, workers, farmers, the sick, and more. As one of India’s most populous states, UP holds one of the poorest regional rates for electrification, literacy, safety, and women’s health—hardly a praiseworthy development model. Adityanath’s government has assumed a mission to clean up its image, partially by quelling any opposition to his incentives.

The UP government’s silencing and coercion of dissenters, which they justify as using the “rule of law” to maintain civic order, has extended to targeted demolitions of their homes. The flagrant corrosion of municipal by-laws in place to protect private property drew no ire from the upper echelons of the BJP, including the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi; he continues to herald the “success” of such a “development model” as providing a groundwork to attract foreign and domestic investment. Law and development have been weaponized against people in UP to favour private donors in construction projects, a financing model that resembles what historian Achille Mbembe calls “private indirect government,” or the fracturing of the law to private power.1 Such a case study invites considerations of how state violence is wielded against citizens to further political interests.

  1. Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Oakland: University of California Press, 2001). 

Heavy equipment is used to demolish the house of a Muslim man that Uttar Pradesh state authorities accused of being involved in riots, 12 June 2022

Who and what does the law protect? As the participants in the 2021 Doctoral Research Residency at the CCA argued, the domain of law needs to be placed under more scrutiny, for law, apart from its fallibility, can have profound material consequences.

In the 2021 Toolkit for Today, focusing on the topic Legalities for Living, participants met in workshops, seminars, and events to trace that increasingly acute, critical conjunction of architecture and law.2 The resulting articles synthesize our reflections to raise questions such as: What does and does not constitute evidence? Who can and cannot furnish proof? What constitutes appropriate testimony?3 We hold that law shouldn’t be taken at face value, but rather considered “suspiciously” to invite reconsiderations of norms and prescriptions for everyday ways of thinking and living.

We approach suspicion not to engage in a triumphalist exercise of demystification, to induce paranoia and pessimism, or to let loose an avalanche of conspiracies, but to probe the architectural archive for legally ordained standards, concealments, repressions, or disavowals.4

Suspicion indulges in the very aim it is often been pitted against: to provide avenues for repair, if not for reparation. Suspicion embodies dissatisfaction and mistrust against state and corporate institutions, bureaucracies, and ideologies. Suspicion problematizes grand narratives and the abstract, static, and top-down impulse of the archive in favour of hidden histories of architecture. Suspicion foregrounds ways in which the built environment is made and remade through its interactions with politics, people, and nature. Suspicion is essential to radical politics that disrupts architecture standards, archives, training methods, and representations. In suspicion of—read in this light—is not an adversarial stance toward law, professions, or archives of knowledge, but a skeptical approach leveraged to prioritize democratic access to rights, to enable voluntary collective action within a body politic, and to redress the norms and biases of architectural canons.

As historian Esra Akcan has argued, architectural history can set the stage to ask, “what would have happened if things turned out otherwise.”5 Probing the idea and method of suspicion, this Toolkit considers overlaps between legal and historical viewpoints new conditions of possibility for rethinking the persistent and systematic entanglement of law and architecture, legality and illegality, jurisdictions and controls, and burdens of access, evidence, and proof.

  1. Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Oakland: University of California Press, 2001). 

  2. See Stuart Hall and Doreen Massey on “conjunctural analysis” in “Interpreting the Crisis: Doreen Massey and Stuart Hall Discuss Ways of Understanding the Current Crisis,” Soundings 44 (Spring 2010): 57-71. 

  3. Aggregate Architectural History Collective, Writing Architectural History: Evidence and Narrative in the Twenty-First Century (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021). 

  4. Renisa Mawani, “Law’s Archive,” The Annual Review of Law and Social Science 8 (2012): 341. 

  5. Esra Akcan, Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship, and the Urban Renewal of Berlin-Kreuzberg by IBA 1984/1987 (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2018), 300. 


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