Mapping evictions and relocation distances in Manila, 2016

Georgia White

Visiting Lecturer Environmental Architecture




Engaging Epistemologies of Struggle Against International Development

This project works with social movements and partners of social movements to assess the hegemony of International Development, presented as an indisputable truth that limits and suppresses ways of being and producing that lie outside of the western imperial norms of neoliberal modernity.  

Embedded in this epistemological hegemony is a tension between theory and practice. Practice in the social domain can often be a way of living out a reality in a manner that asks what is possible. In development, practice is a way of acting out or confirming what has been predetermined as possible or functional, in theory. The development imaginary and its theory, extracts and reconciles what is seen to happen with what it knows to be ‘true’. Because development practice is seen as the enactment of established knowledge and truth, it is only within very strict parameters that the lessons from such enactments might re-enter theory as new knowledge. This truth allows theory to organise the world into its quantifiable attributes in order to quickly assess deficits and deploy rationalised production strategies to address them. This means that the complexity of the world that lies in the connection between economies, cultures, social structures and space are not only homogenised but separated from each other.

The privileging of theory over practice means that other forms of production taking place among social movements and popular organisations can only enter the theoretical canon through an intermediary. The rhetoric of participatory development is an illusion in which the ideologies, strategies and outcomes of projects are predetermined before any groups are able to participate in their detailed implementation.  

This project considers the position of the intermediary as the frontier between struggle and development, a position that very often replaces real participation of social groups with representation and mediation by an expert, maintaining a barrier between theory and practice and thereby upholding dominant truths. This position becomes the operating space for activist scholarship and design practice.

Counter-practice aims to engage the many sides of struggle that happen in the city; silent, spatial, organisational, democratic, material. In doing so it challenges the value system that development operates in and uses to restrict other modes of production. It combines practitioner interviews and development ethnography to identify the hidden political dimensions of organisational structures and the restrictions these can have on practice methodologies and outputs. I combine this with a spatial, epistemological approach to the study of struggle, aiming to create equivalences between claims that uphold the complex differences between sites and demands.


Georgia is an architectural and urban design practitioner and researcher. Her current PhD research explores the potential for counter-work in urban international development that engages popular organisations in alternative modes of collaboration. The research proposes new approaches to the scalar fractures that occur in established systems of international development and endeavors to engage the decades-long problem of disempowerment that occurs within. It hypothesizes that the contradictions in abstract ideologies of policy developed at the national and international scales, only become concretely apparent at the level of local dispute. By strategising a parallel system of proliferation, it intends to eschew the problem of scalar transitions that occur between the local and the urban. Georgia is testing her research through an ongoing live project in Manila, Philippines.

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Ines Weizman