Trial by Space: Lost Cause Monuments and Public Controversy through Bruno Latour and Henri Lefebvre
Master of Arts
Theory and Criticism
This thesis is a discussion of the discourse monuments erected by Neo-Confederate organizations on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia through the political work of Bruno Latour and Henri Lefebvre. In response to framing the controversy surrounding monuments as conflicts over historical interpretation, this thesis asks how re-orienting the Confederate monument controversy through the intersection of Latour and Lefebvre’s theorization of politics and monumentality alter the approach to addressing Lost Cause spaces. My first chapter addresses the current framing of the controversy as one of imbalanced narratives, where a pedagogical solution is proposed to educate and contextualize Confederate statues. In my second chapter critiques the MAC’s framing of Lost Cause controversies as conflicts over different interpretations of history by examining monument sites as political arenas through Latour’s cosmopolitics. My final chapter analyzes how counter-monuments intervening onto Monument Avenue provoke controversies for marginalized groups to make themselves heard through a conversation between Latour and Lefebvre’s theorization of the trial.
Summary for Lay Audience
Why are groups fighting over Confederate monuments and how do we solve these conflicts? Two French political theorists attentive to the role public objects play in politics, Bruno Latour and Henri Lefebvre suggest that monuments hold a pivotal function in spreading political ideas. These two theorists have frequently been placed in opposition since they come from different traditions—Actor-Network-Theory and Marxism—although they both share a certain concerns that cause their theories to intersect on several important issues.
My project brings Latour and Lefebvre into conversation to explore the controversy surrounding Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Built following Reconstruction between the 1890s and 1940s, Monument Avenue is a commemoration of the Confederacy and represents the Lost Cause, a political movement that institutionalized white supremacy in the American South after the end of slavery. Recent events have prompted municipal governments across the United States to reconsider the place of Lost Cause monuments on their grounds. By examining the addresses, speeches and texts of the Monument Avenue Commission (MAC) established to solve the controversy in Richmond, this thesis shows how the MAC uses language of community and multiculturalism while excluding most residents from participating and keeping Lost Cause monuments in public. The MAC’s strategy is to contextualize monuments by providing signage that displays the historical conditions that produced these monuments and the people who erected them. My project argues that this strategy does not address the role of monuments as political anchors for contemporary groups like the Alt-Right that use them to project white supremacy in public. Introducing the political theories of Latour and Lefebvre help to understand the significance of holding public spaces with monuments is to political groups, and through a comparative reading of Richmond’s controversy with those in Baltimore, Charlottesville and New Orleans, I argue that suppressing these controversies and excluding participation only serves to continue the presence of white supremacy in public.
Patrick, Wil, "Trial by Space: Lost Cause Monuments and Public Controversy through Bruno Latour and Henri Lefebvre" (2019). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6665.