Dis/Comfort

Some years ago, on her blog Feminist Killjoys (as well as in her book Queer Phenomenology (2004), Sarah Ahmed wrote about comfort, in the context of thinking about racism and whiteness and heterosexuality and queer bodies in [public] spaces:

Think of how it feels to be comfortable: say you are sinking into a comfortable chair. Note I already have transferred how a body is affected to the object (“it is comfortable”). But comfort is about the fit between body and object: my comfortable chair maybe awkward for you, with your differently shaped body. Comfort is about an encounter between more than one body; the promise of a “sinking” feeling. To be comfortable is to be so at ease with one’s environment that it is hard to distinguish where one’s body ends and the world begins.

I wonder how might we create, in design, collective conditions for freedom, conditions for comfort and also, perhaps, for discomfort? where discomfort is not a space of inclusion, but a space of “patterns of differences that make a difference … in the sense of being suggestive, creative and visionary” (Barad, 2007, pp. 49–50).

I follow Jennifer Newsom, of Dream The Combine, who writes:

Who we center as our subject is a really important question when we talk about architecture.

Who is it for?

Who gets to make it?

Whose world view does it help prop up?

Who gets to be comfortable on the playgrounds, and who is made to feel the discomfort?

Photo by Marina Kozlova, 2020, Moscow, Russia.