Welcome to Harmonistan! Over the last decade, the term “participation” has become increasingly overused. When everyone has been turned into a participant, the often uncritical, innocent, and romantic use of the term has become frightening. Supported by a repeatedly nostalgic veneer of worthiness, phony solidarity, and political correctness, participation has become the default of politicians withdrawing from responsibility. Similar to the notion of an independent politician dissociated from a specific party, this third part of Miessen’s “Participation” trilogy encourages the role of what he calls the “crossbench practitioner,” an “uninterested outsider” and “uncalled participator” who is not limited by existing protocols, and who enters the arena with nothing but creative intellect and the will to generate change. Miessen argues for an urgent inversion of participation, a model beyond modes of consensus. Instead of reading participation as the charitable savior of political struggle, Miessen candidly reflects on the limits and traps of its real motivations. Rather than breading the next generation of consensual facilitators and mediators, he argues for conflict as an enabling, instead of disabling, force. The book calls for a format of conflictual participation—no longer a process by which others are invited “in,” but a means of acting without mandate, as uninvited irritant: a forced entry into fields of knowledge that arguably benefit from exterior thinking. Sometimes, democracy has to be avoided at all costs.
Markus Miessen (*1978) is an architect, consultant, educator, and writer. In 2002, he set up Studio Miessen, a collaborative agency for spatial practice and cultural inquiry, and in 2007, he co-founded the London- and Berlin-based architectural practice nOffice. In various collaborations, Miessen has (co-)published: The Nightmare of Participation – Crossbench Praxis as a Mode of Criticality (Sternberg Press, 2010), Institution Building: Artists, Curators, Architects in the Struggle for Institutional Space (Sternberg Press, 2009), When Economies Become Form (Berlage Institute, 2009), East Coast Europe (Sternberg Press, 2008), The Violence of Participation (Sternberg Press, 2007), With/Without: Spatial Products, Practices, and Politics in the Middle East (Bidoun, 2007), Did Someone Say Participate? An Atlas of Spatial Practice (MIT Press, 2006), and Spaces of Uncertainty (Müller+Busmann, 2002). In 2008, The Independent listed Did Someone Say Participate? as one of the ten best architecture books of all time. Miessen frequently contributes to international magazines and journals, such as Artforum, Log, 032c, Bidoun, Volume, and Kaleidoscope. His work has been published and exhibited widely, including at the Lyon, Venice, Performa (NY), Manifesta (Murcia), and Shenzhen Biennials. He has taught and lectured at the Architectural Association, London (2004–08), the Berlage Institute, Rotterdam (2009–10), Columbia University, and MIT. He has consulted the Slovenian Government during Slovenia’s presidency of the EU council, the European Kunsthalle, the Serpentine Gallery, the Dutch organization SKOR, and the Swiss think tank W.I.R.E. In 2008, he founded the Winter School Middle East (Dubai/Kuwait). Miessen currently works (with Joseph Grima) as a Harvard Fellow on a research project in Kuwait, is a professor for architecture and curatorial practice at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (Karlsruhe), a Ph.D. candidate at the Centre for Research Architecture (Goldsmiths, London), an editor of Archive Journal (Berlin/Turin), and recently has been elected a member of the European Cultural Parliament.