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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Alan Dunyo Avorgbedor, Individualized Program

African Technicity and Architectures of Being

Wednesday, December 15, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This study examines the nature of sub-Saharan African architectural and aesthetic expression and its relationship to notions of modernity and their epistemological forms. Through an analysis of predominantly West African paradigms of embodied expression, I explore the cultural and moral grounds for individual and communal personhood that are produced in participatory, embodied, and relational capacities within natural and built environments in the African context. These culturally embedded processes help to develop indices of embodied awareness that direct epistemological, spiritual, moral, and aesthetic attunements that represent modes of an often ignored or under-appreciated suite of, what this dissertation proposes as, African Technicities. These technicities, embodied reflections, or techniques of cosmological projection orient the moral character of individuals and communities toward an ancestral home. They represent traditional African dwelling practices that help to decolonize the historically universalizing regime of Western architectural discourse.

The ancestral home and its traditional base for the maintenance of cultural values is both site-specific and materially expressed through an organic, earth-based materiality that is manifest in traditional dwellings and spatial organizations that center communal living. Importantly, I argue that the ancestral home, apart from its geographical, cartographical, and/or built expression, also represents a personal and communal projection that productively motivates responsive future imaginaries based on actual traditional values, rituals, and belief. It represents an inherently decolonial strategy, but one that authentically and actively “looks back” (much like the image of the ubiquitous SANKOFA Adinkra symbol of Akan origin from Ghana, West Africa) to progress forward and reclaim the tools of cultural dignity and determination from traditional repositories of ancestral wisdom and belonging.

As such, performance-based song and dance traditions and ritual economies of communal and spiritual cleansing and determination dynamize spaces for bodily expressivity. These performances inform the kinds of encounters and engagements that are aesthetically expressed in sacred and secular, as well as material and spiritual precincts. Traditional embodiments and cultural activity unfold avenues for individual and communal orientation that become morally projective, hodological (path-oriented), and character driven expressions. These cultural expressions, so unique to the sub-Saharan African context, exceed the conventional object- oriented, edifice-centric, or abstracted virtualizations of the natural and built environment, along with their presumptive aesthetic underpinnings, prescribed through Western architectural taste and discourse.

This research project concludes that in light of the hegemonic influence of Western architectural and aesthetics discourse—as the predominant historical, philosophical, and legitimizing agent of often problematic and racist portrayals of African architectural engagements, bodily expressivity, and their interrelations—a re-appraisal of the dynamics of African traditional living engagements from pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial environments can help to recenter the significance of locally produced African Technicities and their embodied wisdom. The proposal is, consequently, an anterior projection, always re- centering ancestral networks within a procession from the temporal to intemporal and from material to spirit. In other words, the cultural processes that develop African personhood and community in natural and built environments stress less the linearity of progressive form captured within conventional notions of modernity, and more the dynamic call and response or embeddedness of the ancestral spirit within diagrams of home that are embodied. Ultimately, this research aims to contribute to the growing bodies of knowledge that will counter and offer a more substantive analysis and appreciation of sub-Saharan African architectural environments and their aesthetic embodiments. Through a focus on African technicities and their contribution to epistemological and embodied modes of inhabitation, this study attempts to not only philosophically situate the contemporaneity of such traditions, but their enduring relevance for the way that we may understand how embodied dwelling practices can shape the future. This piece thus represents a major contribution to the current body of discourses that seek to develop a more plausible alternative for modes of representing the sub-Saharan African experience in and approaches to situated habitation and the built environment.

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