Outlaw Territories: Environments of Insecurity/Architectures of Counterinsurgency by Felicity D. Scott

Tank _summer 16_books _36

Hardback, 560 pages
Publisher: Zone Books (April 2016)
ISBN: 9781935408734
Language: English
Selected by Tank

In Felicity Scott’s latest, and most brilliant, work, published by the estimable Zone Books, she explores the relationship between architecture and territorial insecurity during the 1960s and 1970s. Scott provides a masterly account of the ways in which architecture became a site of political agitation at the same time as it was increasingly enmeshed with military, legal and humanitarian apparatuses. She questions how architecture and the environment became so intimately connected to the exercise of power in the era’s geopolitics. 


In January 1970, American entrepreneur Stewart Brand published a “supplement” to the Whole Earth Catalog entitled “The Outlaw Area”. Launched in 1968, Brand’s catalogue quickly became a catalytic piece of media infrastructure for sponsoring alternative lifestyles and the back-to-the-land commune movement. Fuelled by the period’s rhetoric of crisis and survival, it also amplified and fed that rhetoric back to a large audience. “The Outlaw Area” included the catalogue’s usual array of “tools” to empower the individual to “conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested” – hence fashioning lines of flight, or so it was widely assumed, from the power of “government, big business, formal education [and] church”. Additionally, the edition included Brand’s reflections on the notion of outlaw areas, “Apocalypse Juggernaut, Hello”, wherein he identified a central nexus of ecological catastrophe and population explosion. “As if the spirits of our ancestors weren’t trouble enough,” he posited of rising anxiety about the future, “now we’re haunted by the ghosts of our descendants.” His solution to scripting a better future: “try stuff,” even “try everything [...] One thing we need is better outlaws”.

According to Brand, complications with this plan arose from constraints imposed by law or, more specifically, by laws that did not account for a historical emergency in which, many prophesied, earth and humanity faced certain destruction within the next 30 years. “Reasonable laws made by reasonable men in reasonable times proscribe trying everything,” he suggested, adding, “For a good reason: people get hurt trying stuff. If you’re bound to try stuff anyway, then either you’re working directly for City Hall or you’re an outlaw, or both.”

Brand’s ambivalent association of government and outlaws as agents fostering invention – one blurring the boundary between legality and illegality – might seem a peculiar place to begin a book interrogating architecture’s inscription within an emergent apparatus of global environmental governance and the management of (unsettled) populations. But even in his brief reflections on outlaw areas and the ambiguous subjectivities occupying them, we can identify symptomatic evidence of this matrix that bears on the story that follows. A media-savvy figure who surfaces repeatedly in this book, Brand sought a strategic role within this apparatus (the Whole Earth Catalog being only the first of many initiatives), and in so doing offered telling clues to its operations. His acknowledgment of the potential indistinction between City Hall and outlaws alluded to the complex relationship between the actions of government and the police, on the one hand, and the actions of people (not always citizens) operating or positioned outside the law, on the other. It also pointed to the ambivalence at work in his entrepreneurial activities, which spanned from the catalogue to recent ventures such as the Global Business Network. Did these two factions unwittingly form a knowing, if perverse mirror image of each other? Did one side learn from the strategies of the other? Positioned within a common zone of indeterminacy, as he saw it, they were less opposed than mutually intertwined.

Like the Whole Earth Catalog, Brand’s speculations on the concept of an outlaw area were avowedly indebted to American inventor and futurologist R. Buckminster Fuller, whose experimental work and enigmatic persona switched back and forth between government and countercultural arenas at the time. 

[1] The name for the Whole Earth Catalog can be traced back to the writer Stewart Brand’s lobbying of NASA during the 1960s. Brand campaigned for the release of NASA’s satellite images that showed, for the first time, the whole of the earth from space.