Domestication and its Discontents: A History of Human Settlements

Open Research Seminar at the Architectural Association
‘City/Architecture’ PhD Programme

Pier Vittorio Aureli & Maria Shéhérazade Giudici

The seminar focuses on the history of settlements from prehistory to today seen from the perspective of one of the most controversial issues of human history: the process of domestication. By domestication we mean the complex of practices that construct consensus and thus social order. Far from being expressed in clear ideological terms, domestication is rather a diffused force that shapes our life, orients our behavior, and controls shared knowledge.
We assume that domestication begins with the passage from mobile to sedentary forms of life, a passage that has not yet been completed. Domestication thus coincides with the building of stable social structures within which human life itself is administrated. Within this process, architecture enables, directs, influences, includes, excludes, solicits, and, above all, constrains. Often taken for granted, these fundamental operations are architecture’s most important contribution to domestication. Here the politicization of architecture is no longer ‘discursive’ but it is embedded in the very material constitution of its elements: walls, passages, rooms, houses, streets etc.
As archeologists, anthropologists and historians have argued, this process was anything but pacific. The introduction of stability implied possession of land, which in turn created hierarchical relationships, uneven distribution of resources, and colonialism. Central to the issue of domestication is the moment in which a community settles and thus appropriates a territory in a permanent way. This process has taken a myriad of forms, the most problematic of which is the state form. Within state formations, settlements and domestication became part of a large-scale device that Lewis Mumford defined as ‘Megamachine’, that is to say systems in which technology, economy and politics converge into a single apparatus capable of subsuming and making uniform any individual value judgment.
In the seminar we will trace a critical history of these formations by looking at different forms of settlement: from the village to the city, from the land subdivision to military camp, from the town to the colonial outpost. The concept of domestication will allow us to construct an alternative history of citymaking seen through the lens of the domestic practices of appropriation and life management. In fact, the domestic sphere is not limited to the house per se, but will rather be used, in our seminars, to define the relationship between life and economy. In this sense, domestication encompasses processes that go from agriculture to colonization, industrialization, and extraction of resources. Ultimately such vantage point will allow us to problematize the omnipresent category of the ‘urban’ and look at how daily rituals often become the fundamental conduits of governmental power.

All sessions will take place at 2.30, 37 Bedford Square, first floor, front room.


10th October
Village: Architecture and the Rise of Sedentary Forms of Life

17th October
City: Early Cities in the Near East and Indus Valley

24th October
Town: Planned Settlements in Ancient Egypt and China

7th November
Grid: The Principle of Rectangular Subdivision in Ancient Greece and Rome

14th November
Monastery: The Domestication of Landscape in Late Medieval Europe

21th November
Capital: The Emergence of Domesticity in the Early Nation States

28th November
Enclosure: Colonial Appropriation from Europe to Asia and the Americas

5th December
Park: Greening and Primitive Accumulation in the Modern Western City