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Cairns, G (2008) Advocating an ambivalent approach to theorizing the built environment. Building Research & Information, 36(03), 280–9.

  • Type: Journal Article
  • Keywords: ambivalence; phronsis; power; practical wisdom; rationality; theorizing
  • ISBN/ISSN: 0961-3218
  • URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/09613210801928164
  • Abstract:
    This paper outlines the breadth of approaches to conceptualization of the built environment that exist across a range of literature sets, including construction management, architectural design and organization theory. It considers the commensurability, or otherwise, of different theoretical perspectives based upon their grounding in different ontological and epistemological stances. It also considers the basis of models derived of empirical engagement with practice. In contemplating the relationship between theory and practice throughout the life cycle of the built environment, along with the range of involved stakeholders; and illustrated by reference to the example of the contemporary 'workplace'; an ambivalent approach to theorizing at the local level of involved actors is proposed. In this approach, conceptualization of the built environment is based not upon early exclusive either/or choices between different theories and models, but rather upon inclusive both/and considerations. However, this does not mean that all are considered as equally valid in the outcomes of decision-making, and the role of power and politics is acknowledged within the process of negotiation of a 'good' outcome. The potential, and the limitations, of this ambivalent approach are informed by a contemporary social science interpretation of the concept of phronsis, or practical wisdom, which has roots in Aristotelian philosophy.