Michael E. Zimmerman Tulane University
Professional Ethics, Vol. 11, No. 4 (2003), 1-14.
In this essay, I approach architecture, ethics, and globalization from the perspective of postmodern theory, which has both influenced and been influenced by architectural theory. In fact, architects were among the first to utilize the term"postmodernism." By "postmodern theory,” I have in mind positions that on the one hand criticize Western ethnocentrism, metaphysical foundationalism, centered subjectivity, and the idea of progress, and on the other hand celebrate the Others who have allegedly been dominated and/or excluded by the practices and attitudes of Western colonialism. Multiculturalism is the best-known ethical and politicaltrend that has been influenced by postmodern theory. My approach to architectural ethics in an age of globalization will be framed by multiculturalism, but will also provide the occasion for some critical reflection about multiculturalism and postmodern theory. I begin by examining how postmodern theory criticizes modernity and the globalization arising from it. Then, I offer a hypotheticalexample of the moral dilemmas facing an American architect who attempts to adhere to a postmodern multicultural moral framework, while responsible for designing and helping to oversee the construction of a complex in a southeast Asian city. As we will see, the American architect may bring with her concerns about multiple perspectives and about the oppressed Other that are not shared by her Asianclients. Indeed, they may find such concerns problematic, if not threatening. Finally, having already discussed how postmodern theory helps to contribute to the development of multiculturalism, I will explore how postmodern theory may impede moral activity within the multicultural framework. I. Globalization, modernity, and postmodernity. Global economic integration is taking place at the same momentthat totalizing political narratives (whether modern ones from developed worlds or traditional ones from developing
worlds) have been giving way to a host of new, often competing, frequently exclusionary narratives that tend to dis-integrate what modern ideologies sought to unite. In the midtwentieth century, during the height of the Cold War and before anti-colonialism had reached itscrescendo, business and political leaders in developing countries often aspired to have their capitals "modernized" by architects who were pleased to erect tall, rectilinear, buildings made of concrete, steel, and glass. Arguably, many of these architects, like other representatives of the capitalist and socialist regimes then competing for global control, believed that they were making a beneficialcontribution to these developing societies, the leaders of which often regarded progressive, Western-style economic development as the way beyond poverty, disease, ignorance, political oppression, and general misery. Despite other disagreements, capitalists and socialists alike concurred on the basic premises of Enlightenment modernity: that humankind takes part in a universal history; that basicpolitical and economic rights ought to be extended universally to all humans; that the human estate can be improved by eliminating political oppression, by providing economic well-being and opportunity, by dominating nature through scientifically-guided technology, by encouraging universal education, and by preventing religious dogma and clergy from interfering in political, economic, and scientificaffairs. Postmodern theorists claim that modernity's noble promises have often issued forth in dark consequences, ranging from marginalization and virtual extermination of indigenous cultures to degradation of the biosphere by industrialism, all of which are intensified by globalization. German postmodernists (and anti-modernists) such Nietzsche and Heidegger profoundly influenced recent French...