Michał Murawski’s talk examines the aesthetics, politics, and economics of architectural gift giving and the connected forms of violence, hierarchy, and publicness. In classical anthropological theory, the archaic gift is the opposite of the modern commodity, although practices of gift exchange also play an important role in modernity. Nowhere is this more vividly pronounced than in architecture: monumental ensembles, housing projects, and infrastructural facilities were presented as gifts during the 20th century by one dominant society to a subordinate one, or by the elites to the people. This was especially the case in socialist societies, but architectural gifts also existed in earlier feudal societies as they did in the welfare state, just as they continue to play a role in late capitalism today as an expression of oligarchical philanthropy. In each case the gift is inseparable from various forms of violence and hierarchy while giving substance to a “public spirit.” Murawski transports the audience to Warsaw in the 1950s then back to New York and Moscow today, looking at the various roles architectural gifts played in different social formations.
Michał Murawski (*1984 Warsaw, lives in London) is an anthropologist of architecture and urban life. His work focuses on the social lives of monumental buildings and on the powerful and subversive impact that communist-era environments continue to exert.