After being stuck in Sydney Airport for an extra day courtesy of bizarre weather, I’ve finally returned from the 2018 Historical Materialism Sydney conference. It was a fantastically invigorating conference, and a very refreshing opportunity to think through important questions with a diverse audience.
My paper was entitled “Wars on Brutalism: concrete modernism and imperialist heritage culture in Britain and Australia” and the abstract is below:
Modernist architecture and urban design has had a contentious legacy in Britain and
Australia, with concrete modernist landscapes frequently interpreted as symbols for, or causes of, social ills associated with the ideologies which created them. After the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) from 2007 onwards, however, the state-socialist symbolism of “Brutalism” took on new currency, at the same time as aging modernist sites were increasingly challenging the boundaries of official heritage recognition. In 2014, Victorian Liberal State Government Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, pursued a high-profile media campaign condemning Melbourne’s modernist “eyesores”, while in 2016, British Minister for Transport John Hayes gave a speech reported as “declaring war on Brutalism.” This paper locates the ensuing political debates within intertwined global histories; of the evolution of neoliberalism in Britain and Australia; its invocations of imperialist cultural norms and “culture wars” as tools of legitimation; and its maintenance of fixed, closed definitions of cultural value during periods of economic upheaval. In both Melbourne and London, rhetoric of liberal-capitalist-imperial “greatness” was mobilised to advocate “rolling back the tide”, not just of postwar social democracy and architecture, but also the tide of diversified, plural definitions of cultural value, expressed through challenges to singular ideas of heritage. These political debates highlight the ongoing ideological Othering of modernism in conservative politics, in an attempt to preclude recent alternatives to neoliberalism, and also to preclude more diverse, plural definitions of urban value through insisting on the singular veneration of imperial “greatness” as heritage.
I’m looking forward to incorporating feedback and questions from the audience into the article form of this work.
The full program for the conference can be found here.