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Goodies and Baddies

Part 2 Dissertation 2008
Jonathan Pugh
Royal College of Art UK
Squatting and Gap year volunteering are both acts of ‘civic participation’. However, whether as publicised deeds or subversive interventions, the contrasts and similarities in their ideology and methodology are unusually deceptive. Starting from the extraordinary precedents of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) increasing influence on a global level over the last two decades, I embarked on a number of forays both as a participant and an observer to record the quickly changing culture of ‘volunteering’ on a borough and grassroots level in London. Increasingly efficient, fluid, aesthetically motivated and often contradictory, the structure of voluntary groups suggests communities are functioning on terms far from just that of the ‘local’.

Quantitatively, trends show that institutionally prescribed volunteering through agencies, educational establishments or the workplace is replacing ‘traditional cultural’ or religiously motivated participation. Policy, council initiatives and an emphasis on social status through ‘charity’, have led to ‘free-labour’ becoming an increasingly more consumable action. As bureaucracy and leisure become the currencies of the ‘new volunteerism’, a knee-jerk reaction of more radically autonomous ‘volunteers’ is attracting popular support because their methodologies undermine these very systems. Guerrilla Gardeners, the Space Hijackers, and various social centres on squatted premises are addressing charitable needs with ‘friendly deviance’. But are any of these movements just displaying a democratic laziness in order to sell deviance as mass politics? Some examples have shown me the ease with which ‘truly’ autonomous groups become absorbed into the formal sector they so passionately oppose, suggesting in part, that methodologies are fragile, and individuals are motivated more by the aesthetics of their choice of action.

My primary research has shown potential in common interests between contrasting groups who are separated within an image of formal, informal or activist volunteering. Although I have deliberately avoided referring to architectural paradigms, the observations can be applied to question assumptions made on the way communities contribute towards policy and public space development. In retrospect, the research has helped to clarify my own methodology by showing how diversely motivated individuals or groups, acting as free agents, can form an antidote to formal action based solely on the illusion of a so called ‘

Jonathan Pugh

It is with both pleasure and pride that I write in support of the nomination of Jonathan Pugh's dissertation. Jonathan was an extraordinary student whose passion for social engagement and desire to make that an integral part of his discipline are clearly evident in his dissertation. This is perhaps an unusual nomination, for the subject matter is only obliquely related to the practice of architecture itself, and under normal circumstances I might have cautioned a student to try and establish a clear and coherent link with more obviously architectural matters. However in this case I was wholly convinced that the student's desire to investigate ,and to participate in, the various forms of social activism he describes in the dissertation were absolutely central to his notions of socially committed design, and thus paradoxically he would be able to demonstrate a rather more convincing relationship between theory and practice than a more conventional student with a more conventional dissertation subject. I hardly need to add that Jonathan did not disappoint, and this dissertation is one of the most exciting and challenging that I have tutored in recent times.

Joe Kerr
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