European Commission - 7th Framework Programme European Museums and Libraries in/of the age of migrations last updated: February 2015

Conference: IASTE 2012 - The Myth of Tradition

04-07 October, 2012

Portland, Oregon, USA | University of Oregon


Recent IASTE conferences have explored traditions as they relate to the formation of boundaries, the politics of consumption, and utopian futures. Building upon these earlier inquiries, this conference will examine the role of myths in the creation and endurance of particular traditions of space and practice. In many cultures, narratives based on little more than a story retold ever so eloquently are used to establish and perpetuate traditions that guide behaviors, customs, and actions. Through constant repetition myths become regimes of truth, as well as structures of shared meanings in the making of tradition.

The roots of the term “myth” stretch back to the Greek word “mythos” and it remains a term with different meanings in different cultures. A myth is often a story origin that is beyond anyone's memory or any group’s history. For some, it is used to suggest “fiction” or “illusion.” Among certain scholars of culture, it refers to stories coded among primitive societies over time, which constitute “living myths.” Many of the myths we hear as children have been passed down to numerous generations, becoming embedded so deeply in the landscapes of our imagination. Myths, however, are not merely stories to read aloud, but rather they are regulating narratives and rhetorical. They impart a particular ethos, map out morality, and define the parameters of accepted behavior, making legible the particular boundaries of religion, culture, and practice. Traditions, then, constitute the ways in which these myths maintain their hold, and space becomes key in their manifestation and perpetuation. Indeed, spatial traditions continue to operate even when the myth upon which they were founded has disappeared.

While myths and the traditions they engender often emerge as devices that dictate certain codes and norms, they have tangible effects on space and place. For example, the analysis and use of myth in urban planning and architecture has a long history but for the most part has focused on the design of urban utopias or religious places such as the mosque, the synagogue, and the cathedral. However, traditions based on myths have shaped the profane spaces of the everyday not only the sacred ones. For instance, in the 20th century, many architects and planners operated under the belief that a particular spatial fix could provoke the modern condition. Striving to configure spaces for development and progress, they built projects ranging from the high modernism of Brasilia to Soviet collective housing. But these projects demonstrated that environmental determinism was little more than a myth; a fictitious story masquerading as a theory that influenced a generation of practitioners and theorists who sought to shape society through space. The New Urbanism movement, responding to the perceived failures of modernism, has itself reinvented the myth of the perfect small town. Discourses on sustainability are also often be based on particular myths regarding efficiency and productivity. Meanwhile, in the global south, what is arguably the myth of the entrepreneurial slum-dweller, perpetuated by both academia and popular media, has led to a new transnational tradition of slum upgrading and microfinance. The myths that have justified these traditions have their inherent problems, which when exposed raise new questions regarding spatial productions. Moreover, they often have tangible political and spatial implications. For example, the tradition of urban renewalcarried out in different time and on different sites as diverse as Boston’s downtown, London’s docklands, Abu Dhabi’s central market, and Mumbai’s Dharavi districtperpetuates in its name a myth: that renewal would reinvigorate inner-cities, when it sometimes simply furthers the logic of accumulation that privileges certain groups sustaining the myth of the free market.

IASTE scholars have weighed in on many aspects of tradition but the focus in this conference turns to a critical examination of one of tradition’s important foundations. This IASTE conference will attract an interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners from around the world working in the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, city and regional planning, art and architectural history, sociology, transportation planning, geography, urban studies, cultural studies, anthropology, religious studies, archaeology, and environmental studies. They will present papers related to the following three tracks:

Track 1. The Politics of Myths in the Construction of Traditions and the Placemaking Process
The selective pursuit of certain myths over others necessarily privileges one story over another and injects political motives in the making of place. The founding of nation states by colonial powers continues to shape political actions today, where democratic desires are meeting resistance from leaders of states based on artificial lines, foundational myths, and colonial dreams. Ongoing revolutions in different parts of the world have questioned the meaning of citizenship and the myth of the nation-sate and the end of history. Understanding the political landscape within which myths operate is fundamental to understanding the places that these myths produce. Papers in this track will probe the complex relationships between tradition, politics, and myth and investigate the role of state and non-state actors in the deployment of myths to advance socio-political agendas that shape the built environment.

Track 2. Foundational Myths and Invocations of Tradition in Socio-Spatial Practices
A key objective of this conference is to uncover ways in which myths have shaped traditions, which in turn have been used to structure space and place. Inquiries into ways this has occurred in religious, civic and urban spaces, buildings, and complexes are encouraged. Many ancient civilizations have cultivated myths and legends to shape their built practices. But what role do myths play in the contemporary world? From ideas about the stabilizing role of subsidized homeownership to the sustainability benefits of urban growth boundaries, myths influence today’s economic systems, environmental policies, and spatial practices. Papers in this track will distinguish between tradition, myth, and habitual current practice, explore foundational myths, and analyze ways in which these myths have been used in the placemaking process.

Track 3. The Myths and Traditions of the New Digital Age
Today, new social practices are being reshaped by both new technologies and entrenches systems of belief. Digital social networks become increasingly important in daily life in a manner that is connecting virtual space to physical space. The recent uprisings in the Middle East are a reminder that revolutions do not happen in cyber space even if they start there. New media, which can be analyzed as the mix between traditional cultural conventions and digital technology, is now used to shape more flexible spaces that serve multiple purposes. Papers in this track will investigate the connections between virtual and physical space and its impacts on tradition


Promoted by:
Nezar AlSayyad, IASTE President, University of California, Berkeley
Mark Gillem, IASTE Director and Conference Chair, University of Oregon
Sophie Gonick, IASTE Coordinator, University of California, Berkeley
Emelia Day, IASTE Conference Coordinator, University of Oregon
Vicky Garcia, CEDR Conference Administrator, University of California, Berkeley



» link to the Conference