A few years ago the French sociologist Bruno Latour self-criticized Actor-Network-Theory, his seminal contribution to social theory. "There are four things that do not work with Actor-Network-Theory," he notes, only half-jokingly, "the word actor, the word network, the word theory and the hyphen." In a similar spirit we became uncomfortable with the working title of this book, Alternative Architectural Practice. These three words became increasingly limiting in a project that we wanted to be expansive and empowering. This introduction will therefore trace the journey from Alternative Architectural Practice to Spatial Agency, starting with an explanation as to why the first three words "do not work".
As soon as one says the word "alternative" it begs the question: "alternative to what?" In order to establish an alternative it is first necessary to define the norm against which it is set, and with this three issues immediately arise. First, the interpretation of the norm will differ accordingly to who is doing the defining. As the authors of the Ditionary of Alternatives note, "one person's alternative is another person's orthodoxy." There is no agreed understanding of what constitutes the inviolate centre of architectural culture, and so the definition of the alternative becomes difficult to pin down. Second, the alternative is necessarily reactive to the norm, and thus may remain in thrall to it. In some cases in this book the critique of the norm is explicit, and the resulting alternatives establish another way of constructing practice - for example, the feminist move away from the patriarchal underpinnings of so much architecture practice. But often, as in any binary structure, the alternative becomes bound by exactly the terms of reference that it would wish to escape. The alternative is always caught up in the shadow of the thing it posits itself against. The result is that the norm remains largely undisturbed by the irritant it overshadows. Third, the dialectical operation of the alternative suggests that, in the will to criticise the norm, one should abandon all the structures and rituals of the norm. The alternative marks itself through casting off the attributes of the centre, and in this there is a danger that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater.