Mary Carole Overholt, M.E.D.

Mary Carole Overholt, M.E.D.

Knoxville, TN

Space Praxis

Outside of the academy and professionalized practice, design has long been central to the production of feminist, political projects. Taking what I have termed space-praxis as its central analytic, this project explores a suite of feminist interventions into the built environment—ranging from the late 1960s to present day. Formulated in response to Michel de Certeau’s theory of spatial practices, space praxis collapses formerly bifurcated definitions of ‘tactic’/‘strategy’ and ‘theory’/‘practice.’ It gestures towards those unruly, situated undertakings that are embedded in an ever-evolving, liberative politics. In turning outwards, away from the so-called masters of architecture, this thesis orients itself toward everyday practitioners who are grounded in the environment-worlds they seek to reorganize and re-imagine. Though few of the space-practitioners discussed in this work would consider themselves architects, their work at the margin of design meaningfully expands contemporary definitions of architecture. Indeed, they exemplify the ways in which architecture could be retooled as a mode of activist engagement. The diverse array of spaces investigated include a handful of womxn’s centers in New York City, Cambridge, MA, and Los Angeles; the first feminist self-help gynecology clinic; an empty house in Oakland that was reclaimed by a group of Black mothers in 2019; and a series of pop-up block parties in Chicago.

While this document in no way operates as an encyclopedia of feminist space-praxes, it highlights an array of such projects held together by their mutual investment in building feminist commons and infrastructures of care. In each project, survival is understood as a material practice, contingent on the affective relationship between bodies, space, and technologies. Though the direct object of each project’s intervention varies—from the clinic, to the house, to the neighborhood—each suggests alternative ways of living, surviving, and designing outside of the built environment’s hetero-patriarchal scripts.

This page includes an abstract of my M.E.D. thesis project titled “Space-Praxis: Towards a Feminist Politics of Design,” images and video of the thesis book designed by Kathryn-Kay Johnson, and images of a book project, titled “Of Dust: Reflections from a Damaged Afterlife, which I completed individually in Professor Luke Bulman’s course “Books and Architecture.” I have also provided a link to an in-process syllabus for a hypothetical course titled “BAM!: Bodies, Affect, Materiality,” that I designed in Professor Ockman’s course “Approaches to Contemporary Architectural Theory.”

Over the course of my two years of researching and writing this M.E.D. thesis, I’ve accrued many debts of gratitude. To my advisor Keller Easterling and the members of the M.E.D. faculty committee, thank you for your thoughtful feedback and support. I would also like to express gratitude to my fellow students in M.E.D. program for their friendship and generative feedback on my work. And to Kathryn-Kay Johnson, the talented graphic designer and feminist co-conspirator who brought my M.E.D. thesis to life. My individual research would not have been possible without the financial support I’ve received from the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration and the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium.