Douglas Spencer

Research Title: Smooth Operators: Architectural Deleuzism in Societies of Control
Research Areas: Architecture, Urbanism, Critical Theory, Continental Philosophy, Marxism

Director of Studies: Tanis Hinchcliffe
Second Supervisor: David Cunningham
Third Supervisor: Professor Murray Fraser
Starting Date and Mode of Study: 2008 Full-Time


Douglas Spencer studied for his first degree in History of Art and Design and Film Studies at Sheffield City Polytechnic, and his Masters in Cultural Studies at Thames Valley University. His work is interdisciplinary, but has come to focus upon architecture, urbanism and critical theory. He is an experienced lecturer and writer, having taught architectural and urban history and theory within the Architectural Association’s Graduate School, and at the University of East London, Westminster University, and Middlesex University, and having had published a number of journal essays and contributions to books. He also publishes an architectural blog ‘Critical Grounds’ and is a founding committee member of the recently established ‘Asking Architecture’ discussion group.

Thesis Synopsis

Capital’s current powers of self-valorisation are deeply invested in the subject’s capacities for communication and co-operation. ‘Immaterial labour’, as this productive power has been termed within neo-marxian currents of political philosophy, has become paradigmatic of both ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ in contemporary life as a result of the processes of post-Fordist restructuring begun in the 1980s.

Contemporary architecture has been instrumental to  this new mode of subjection. Practices such as Zaha Hadid Architects, FOA, and Rem Koolhaas/OMA have happily serviced the programmes of clients for whom the  networked organisation of immaterial labour is key.

Within their own discourse, however, the architects of this ‘projective’ or ‘post-critical’ current have framed this alignment as essentially radical and progressive. Reference to the thought of the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and their conceptual vocabulary of ‘folding’, ‘smoothing’ and ‘the diagram’ has been instrumental to this process. Hence, whilst the architects considered here work for contemporary forms of governance and capital they do so in the name of a philosophy originally developed as an incisive critique ofthese forms of power.

It is the argument of this thesis that the claims to progressive or radical status made for apparently ‘Deleuzian’ architectures are untenable. Rather such architectures are the willing and useful instruments for capital’s current mode of power as a ‘society of control’. This argument is pursued through a critique directed both at the production of subjectivity within these architectures and of the ‘progressive’ discourse in which they are framed.

Recent Publications, Exhibitions, Presentations


  • Review Essay: Michael Batty, Cities and Complexity: Understanding Cities with Cellular Automata, Agent-Based Models, and Fractals, The Journal of Architecture, Volume 14, Issue 3 June 2009 , pages 446 – 450.
  • Review Essay: Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson and Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the Twenty-first Century, Radical Philisophy, Number 157, September/October 2009.
  • Review Essay: Reinhold Martin: Utopia’s Ghost, Radical Philosophy, Number 164, November/December, 2010
  • Essay in journal: ‘Prototypical Urbanities,’ in Architecture and Culture, Number 344, January 2010.
  • Essay in journal: ‘What is Landscape Urbanism?’ in Topos 71, June 2010.
  • Refereed essay in journal: ‘Replicant Urbanism: The Architecture of Hadid’s Central Building at BMW Leipzig,’ in The Journal of Architecture, vol.15, no.2, April, 2010
  • Essay in book: ‘Landscape Urbanism, Praxis and the Spatial Turn,’ in Landscape Sensitive Design, Actar, 2010.
  • Essay in book: ‘Instrumental Urbanism and Immaterial Labour’, in Positions on the City, Marina Lathouri and Ryan Dillon, eds., AA Publications, 2010

Guest/Keynote Lectures:

  • ‘Landscape Urbanism: a renewed praxis’, 18 November 2009, Faculty of Engineering, Trento University, Trento, Italy
  • ‘Self-organisation and Self-control: the networked subject of late capitalist urbanism,’ Intermediate School, Architectural Association, London, 20 November 2009
  • Keynote lecture, ‘Complexity without Contradiction: cybernetics, architecture and enchantment’, Nordic Association of Architectural Research, Annual Conference 2010, 22-24 April, University of Tampere, Finland.
  • ‘Instrumental Urbanism and Immaterial Labour’, AA City Cultures Research Cluster Symposium, 14 May 2010, Architectural Association, London
  • ‘Groundworks: the politics of infrastructure’, AHO, Oslo, Norway, 14 October, 2010

Teaching and Employment Interests

Lecturing and publication.

Contact Details and Further Information

[email protected]