The ʽDiverse Economies’ of Participation


  • Julia Udall
  • Anna Holder



This article begins to construct a theory of participation in architecture, urban design and urban planning as a range of practices undertaken across a landscape of economies that largely exists outside of the capitalist economy. These practices themselves overlap in terms of their material forms, bodily and mental activities with the practices undertaken by labour employed to produce the built environment within the capitalist marketplace.

With respect to participation, our aim in articulating practices is to move away from a discussion of levels of participation and legitimacy within individual projects and towards an understanding of the organising, productive and reproductive work that is done in participating in the production of the built environment as part of an ongoing process of social change. They proliferate through multiple instances of performance and those who undertake them act as carriers of these practices, including forms of knowhow, understanding, motivational and emotional knowledge, creating resources through these acts of performance.

The article contends that participatory practices are liable to be exploited re-presented or co-opted as commodified resources and this fragility limits the socially transformative potential of participation. Drawing on J.K Gibson-Graham’s conception of ‘diverse economies’, an alternative representation is developed to recognize the landscape of practices constructing alternative economic systems, and exploring means and methods of resistance to co-option or enclosure.

Author Biographies

Julia Udall

Julia Udall studied architecture in Glasgow and Sheffield and is a Design Tutor at Sheffield School of Architecture, where she is completing her doctoral research. She has worked in architectural and community organisations, researching and acting with people to create change in the urban landscape. She is a director of the social-enterprise architectural practice, Studio Polpo, and a member of the SSoA research centre ‘Agency’.

Anna Holder

Anna Holder holds qualifications in architecture and planning and has practised in the UK and the Netherlands. She is completing her doctoral research on ways in which architecture and spatial projects are initiated, focusing on designer and community-led processes. She is a director of the social-enterprise architectural practice, Studio Polpo, and a member of the Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA) research centre ‘Agency’.