How Pragmatism And Feminism Work Together In The Architecture Industry


Inequality has many classifications, and these classifications exist everywhere – for example, racial inequality in an election, gender inequality in the workplace and many other inequalities. Pragmatism is a theory that uses experience and knowledge to get ideal results, but in many situations, the dominant people are white men. So, basically, in terms of pragmatism, they dominate the process in most industries with their experience and knowledge. However, pragmatists also care about whether the results of their actions can satisfy people. For example, in architecture, when designing a house or apartment, has the architect taken women’s needs into consideration? It is an important link in designing because, for most families, women spend more time at home than men. They also often use more space, facilities and functions of the house than men. Therefore, female architects are needed in the architecture industry, and they may carry out a good design based on their experience. Feminism is a theory that believes in gender equality; that is, women should have the same rights as men, such as equal rights in politics, voting and the workplace. But in the architecture industry, women are underrated. Even though they may have good ideas due to their perspective, they are often not adopted. In this essay, pragmatism and feminism will be introduced and compared in terms of architecture, looking at how pragmatism affects women’s roles in the architecture industry.


Pragmatism came out of the modern philosophical school in the 1870s; Charles Sanders Pierce was the first person to conceptualize pragmatism in his paper ‘How to make our ideas clear’ in 1878. The concept was further developed by William James and John Dewey. James was not only a pioneer of pragmatism, but he was also a psychologist, so when he was developing pragmatism, James mainly started from the psychology perspective. In his book Pragmatism: A New name for some old ways of thinking (1907), James mentioned pragmatic methods, which is “the attitude of looking away from first things, principles, ‘categories’, supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts” (James, 1907, p.69). This verifies the main idea of pragmatism: practical results are caused by actions. He also talked about the conception of the truth in his lecture six, Pragmatism’s conception of truth, many times; he believed the truth is formed in the process of gaining experience. He also thought that if there is “any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, simplifying, saving labour; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally” (James, 1907, pp.72-73). In this case, one thing that can be known from his point of view is that the final results are the tool with which to examine whether the truth is true. The definition of pragmatism emphasises the actual result of the actions, the benefits made from actions. For pragmatists, if the actions lead to profitable results, it will be their truth. In addition, unlike other philosophies, pragmatism neither completely belongs to idealism nor belongs to materialism. Pragmatists believe in truth, but if the theological point of view can lead to a practical result, they will believe in theology as well. This is also a point made by James in his lecture, Pragmatism’s conception of truth.

As an important aspect in pragmatism, experience, for Dewey, is not constant when applying to different things; it needs to change in different situations to get ideal results. It is an immediate reflection of the nature of something in the present. Why are knowledge and experience the precondition of taking action? Dewey took an example of the differences between animals and humans. It is a material world for animals, but for humans, they may know things from previous experience. By continuous exploration, humans will gain more experience, and this is what Dewey said: “all this which marks the difference between bestiality and humanity, between culture and merely physical nature, is because man remembers, preserving and recording his experiences” (2004). In Dewey’s book Experience and nature, he also described the experience as a “processes of experiencing” (2004). It includes almost everything in nature, the outcomes of the actions, the environmental factors, and the feelings in the process of reaching the results. Dewey also pointed out that the previous conception of experience which is personal and physical is wrong; it is an incomplete idea.

Pierce, James and Dewey are the three representative figures in pragmatism who made this theory developed and mature. In summary, everything which has a good effect on the consequence can be considered as the truth, and pragmatism is a process of summarising the experiences and knowledge and which lead to a practical result.

Case Study: Woman in Architecture

When talking about famous architects, there are some people that come to mind, but how many of them are women? This is a reflection of the architecture industry; there are more men than women in this area. Denise Scott Brown is very famous as an architect and for her efforts on women’s rights in architecture. She is an American architect and planner, a writer and an educator. She works with her husband and partner Robert Venturi who is a well-known architect as well, and they founded the studio Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates. They collaborated on many projects, such as The Vanna Venturi House and London’s National Gallery. But Scott Brown was never treated equally as an architect to her husband. Most collaborative work was attributed to her husband. In her article, ‘Room at the top? Sexism and the star system in architecture’, she described many situations where her work was neglected. Scott Brown mentioned another female architect who works with her husband as well; she said her collaborative work with her husband was attributed to her husband’s talent instead of their collaboration, but in other cases in which the partners are males their names will be put together. It is unequal to ignore one person’s contributions because of their gender. Whether an architect is talented or not should never depend on their gender. When Scott Brown attended a job interview, she was rejected because she was an architect’s wife. And when she was with Venturi, people said “so you are the architect” to him, but they would say “so you are the architect, too” to her. It is obvious that Venturi was deemed more significant, and by comparison, Scott Brown was seen as much less important in spite of her equal contribution to projects. It is worth mentioning that Venturi was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1991; however, as his partner, Scott Brown was not even nominated. It was considered gender inequality, and many people sent the petitions to the Jury of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. However, it was rejected in the end. Scott Brown has undeniable talents and has made great contributions to architecture as she had worked with her husband for 22 years as of 1991. As such, she deserved the same honor as Venturi.

60% of people do not accept the female architect, and think female architects have less authority. By comparison, only one-fifth of people consider female architects to have good work. Even in 2017, decades after Scott Brown’s contributions, there is still a giant gap between the number of female and male architects. At present, the number of female architecture students are increasing, but as Scott Brown (1989) wrote, “the rise in female admissions and the move to the right in architecture appear to be trends in opposite directions, but they are, in fact, unrelated because they occur at either end of the seniority spectrum”. That meaning, more female students are willing to learn architecture, but after graduation, they are not really accepted by this industry. In China, male graduates find jobs more easily than female graduates. This is because interviewers think women do not have the same talent as men and that women are not willing work as much as men. It is not only an issue of gender inequality but also an issue of stereotypes about women. So, it is easy to conclude that no matter the era and country, gender inequality always exist and is hard to reduce.

How Does Pragmatism Work with Feminism?

Feminism is a political theory that demands equality between women and men; it fights for women to have the same rights as, and equal chances, to men. As mentioned above, pragmatism is a theory that uses experience and other useful methods to get ideal results. Since pragmatism relies on experience, compared to men, women have some characteristics that makes them better than men. Women have more delicate feelings, they can keenly observe slight differences and, sometimes when looking at things from their perspective during design, they will notice more details. For example, as one of the members of a family, women’s average time of using the house is basically more than other family members, so women have more experience within the home, which, in other words, means they have feelings and opinions about the house that are different from others. As such, they may know which arrangement is better. These are all the result of their experience. As Jane Addams mentioned in Democracy and social ethics, the decision makers need to “move with the people” to “discover what people really want” (Addams, 2005, p. 37). In this situation, assuming the client is a woman, “move with the people” requires architects put themselves into a client’s position and use their design experience and knowledge to meet “what people really want”, which is why women are needed in the field.

Richard Rorty, who is one of the representative pragmatists, pointed out that “we see knowledge as a matter of conversation and of social practice”. He thinks a pragmatist’s job is not seeking the truth but promoting conversations with their knowledge to obtain a satisfied consequence. Women are good at negotiations and also have their special experiences. In short, if there are more female architects, the architecture industry will be better.


The great potential of female architects will make the architecture industry more prosperous with their inborn keen and observational abilities and their minute experience of nature, but they are shut out because of inequality. They have the characteristics which pragmatism needs, and with these, they can achieve an ideal result. Society needs to reduce inequalities, not only in architecture but also in other areas, and schools should encourage female architecture students to enter this industry by using their unique experience and perspective of looking at things.

Reference List

  • Addams, J. (2005). Democracy and social ethics. Available from (Accessed: 15 January 2019).
  • Brown, D.S. (1989). Room at the top? Sexism and the star system in architecture. In E.P. Berkeley and M. McQuaid (Eds.), Architecture: A place for women (pp. 237-246). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Dewey, J. (1958). Experience and nature. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
  • Dewey, J. (2004). Chapter I: Changing conceptions of philosophy. In Reconstruction in philosophy. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
  • James, W. (1907). Lecture II, what pragmatism means. In Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Co. p.69.
  • James, W. (1907). Lecture II, what pragmatism means. In Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Co. pp.72-73.
  • Rorty, R. (1979). Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Tether, B. (2017). Has the building industry fully accepted the authority of the female architect? Retrieved from (Accessed: 15 January 2019).
25 October 2021
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