Designing Disorder
eBook - ePub

Designing Disorder

Experiments and Disruptions in the City

Pablo Sendra, Richard Sennett

Share book
  1. 160 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Designing Disorder

Experiments and Disruptions in the City

Pablo Sendra, Richard Sennett

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents
Citations

About This Book

In 1970, Richard Sennett published the groundbreaking The Uses of Disorder, arguing that the ideal of a planned and ordered city was flawed. Fifty years later, Sennett returns to these still fertile ideas and, alongside campaigner and architect Pablo Sendra, sets out an agenda for the design and ethics of the Open City.The public spaces of our cities are under siege from planners, privatisation and increased surveillance. Our streets are becoming ever more lifeless and ordered. What is to be done? Can disorder be designed? In this provocative essay Sendra and Sennett propose a reorganisation of how we think and plan the social life of our cities. 'Infrastructures of disorder' combine architecture, politics, urban planning and activism in order to develop places that nurture rather than stifle, bring together rather than divide up, remain open to change rather than closed off.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Designing Disorder an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Designing Disorder by Pablo Sendra, Richard Sennett in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Politics & International Relations & City Planning & Urban Development. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.

Information

Richard Sennett
In 1804, midway through the military conquest of Europe, Napoleon laid out laws to regulate civil society in France and throughout his empire. The code civil imposed order on everyday life by regulating family affairs, defining school curricula and organising religious practices. This was the first great piece of modern social engineering.
Little more than a decade later, Napoleon’s empire lay in ruins, as did his formal, rationalised plans for civil society. Writer and political thinker Benjamin Constant was happy to see it fail, but what was to replace it? Rather than return to the ancien régime past, or to the violent ideologies of the Revolution, he dreamed of a different kind of civic organisation. In his ‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’ in 1819, Constant argued for an ordinary life in which people are personally stimulated by the unexpected; in which social experience expanded beyond the values of like-minded ‘in groups’; in which political certainties are confronted. In Constant’s ideal society, people learn to live with, and indeed benefit from, ambiguity, contradiction and complexity. The life-stream ran deep, he argued, rather than clear. This life-stream ran through a city.
Constant proposed that a city like Paris possessed three characteristics. In the old, prerevolutionary city, rich and poor lived cheek-by-jowl with one another but did not mix. It was a city of indifferences. In the revolutionary city, especially during the 1792–94 Reign of Terror, people who did not conform to the dominant powers were hunted down and guillotined; difference became a crime. After Napoleon’s fall, from 1815 to 1830 Constant lived in a Paris whose streets teemed with people who were mutually, intensely, nervously aware of one another, but who allowed each other space to lead separate lives; the citizens were both traumatized and tamed by history’s disorder. This third, chastened Paris embodied Constant’s idea of civil society.
In this book, we explore what Constant’s vision might mean today and how it could perhaps be designed. The project began fifty years ago when I, Richard Sennett, wrote The Uses of Disorder. I knew little about Napoleon then and had never heard of Benjamin Constant. But in probing the connections between self and city, the book explored a particular version of civil society. It was premised on the not-remarkable observation that personal experience expands by turning outward rather than inward. Similarly, civil society emerges as individuals become less self-involved and more socially engaged.
But how? I argued that a dense and diverse city engages people in a particular way. It is not just a matter of exposure to or toleration of the city’s many ways of life. To connect with others who differ racially or religiously, whose ways of loving are alien, who come from distant cultures, people have to loosen up inside themselves, treating their own identities as less absolute, as less definable. You could say that people have to engage in a kind of self-disordering.
This leaves us with a big and concrete problem. A city is a physical solid that contains many different ways of living. In old French usage it is both a ville – the solid of buildings and streets – and a cité – the behaviour and outlook adopted by the people who lodge within the physical place. Could the kind of civil engagements envisaged in The Uses of Disorder be made physically? Could the buildings, streets, and public spaces be designed to loosen up fixed habits, to disorder absolute images of self?
Once printed, I was still not satisfied that I had good answers to constructing civil society materially. As I have worked increasingly as a practical city planner, this lack of material answers has remained a grave defect, in my mind – and it generated the collaboration in this book. Here, architect Pablo Sendra explores how the adaption of flexible urban infrastructure can loosen up and enrich life on the ground. Sendra’s aim is to design infrastructure that permits community innovation and surprising configurations. Though these designs could enable a complex, diverse, loose city to function, they alone cannot cause it to exist. They are tools, necessary but not sufficient for creating a nurturing urban civil society. The mark of a complex, diverse, loose city is that a person can look back and reflect that ‘life turned out differently than I expected’. That reflection is just what Benjamin Constant thought to be the rationale of civil society – life beyond the ordained, the prescribed – even though he never contemplated the sewers of Paris as a tool for creating this experiential freedom.
*
Napoleon’s code civil was revolutionary in that it afforded all citizens equal rights – albeit only if those citizens were male. Napoleon championed ‘family values’ that tied women to their husbands and disenfranchised illegitimate children. Again, the code afforded religious liberty to all, freeing Protestants and Jews to pray openly in France, but it also reintroduced legal slavery into French colonies. This troubling document had a profoundly positive effect, even so, on the later pursuit of civil rights. In particular, it decreed equal schooling for all. And such demands for educational equality set in motion the post–World War II struggle for racial civil rights in America, where the code civil formed part of the background for the American Supreme Court decision to outlaw in 1954 racial discrimination in schools.
By the time The Uses of Disorder was published in 1970, the accumulated injustices done to Americans of colour had turned major American cities into violent battlegrounds. The Kerner Commission, a national quasi-governmental body, was created to analyse these riots. The mayor of New York, John Lindsay, was a member of this commission, and in 1967 I belonged to his legion of assistants. The commission concluded that ‘white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it’. This might seem, perversely, to explain the title, The Uses of Disorder: violent disorder serves as a wake-up call.
Burning streets did not resurrect, however, the scenes of barricaded streets that Benjamin Constant witnessed at the end of his life, during the 1830 revolution in Paris. Here he encountered barricades raised to protect insurrectionary districts from military attack and police round-ups. A barricade was at the time constructed by throwing furniture into the street and then piling it up at corners to create an impasse. In 1830, the spaces behind barricades were vigilantly guarded by the citizens in revolt; until the military overwhelmed them, the streets were, for a few weeks, disciplined spaces. In contrast, during the violent urban disorders of the 1960s, storefronts inside poor communities were set aflame by looters who had infiltrated the rioters. The leaders of street protests could not control these violent parasites from the very beginning. As the Kerner Commission found, these looters were few in number; still, the revolutionary ‘uses of disorder’ appeared corrupted by theft.
Racial upheaval was not the only kind of disorder touching America at the time. While rarely being violent, more personalised disorder afflicted the civil society of the privileged: those who were white, middle class, heterosexual, and, if young, free from military service abroad. The discontent inside this ‘secure’ zone traced back to a malaise articulated by Benjamin Constant.
Constant was a novelist as well as a jurist; such pursuits were practised separately, imagined as the activity of different islands labelled Imagination and Philosophy. His novel Adolphe portrays a man who gives up a great romance, chronicling his falling out of love rather than the initial stoking of his ardour. Adolphe becomes bored by the storms and stresses of desire; in middle age, passion arouses him less than the allures of a career. The novelist writes this story to show how ‘small’ a human being Adolphe becomes.
The philosopher of civil society thus decries how the circumscribed life comes to fear adventure, shunning difficulties, avoiding storms and stress. This contrasts with the contemporary account of ambition drawn by Stendhal in the novel The Red and the Black. Stendhal’s protagonist, Julien Sorel, burns with ambition, driven by desire to conquer Paris and to penetrate the very heart of power, becoming a domestic Napoleon. Adolphe does not burn with passion, nor did he conform to the more German model of aspiration, a desiring of youth succeeded by resignation and regret in middle age. Adolphe is content, indeed relieved, to lead an orderly, clearly laid-out life.
Constant the philosopher did not analyse the mechanism by which such ‘smallness’ could afflict the collective civic body. That explanation appeared later, as social science. The fear explored by Adolphe’s story appeared nearly a century later in Max Weber’s writings on bureaucracy. People live inside an ‘iron cage’, Weber famously argued, when working within bureaucracies, particularly if their overriding ambition is to climb the bureaucratic ladder. The figure of Adolphe was now by Weber set in a broader context, one in which efforts to rationalise society, as the code civil, inevitably created the bureaucracies which demeaned people: ‘Rational calculation … reduces every worker to a cog in this bureaucratic machine and, seeing himself in this light, he will merely ask how to transform himself … to a bigger cog’.
Weber was not a dry observer of this process: ‘The passion for bureaucratization … drives us to despair’. He was certainly not alone in identifying this malaise. Novels like Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities dissected, in relentless though often comic detail, how bureaucracy makes for small life. Perhaps the most despairing image of the iron cage was elaborated by Weber’s contemporary, Rainer Maria Rilke, in his poem about a panther confined to a zoo. The poem began, ‘his vision, from the constantly passing bars, has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else’.
Iron-cage despair afflicted those of my generation who had grown up inside the security zone. Sociologist C. Wright Mills detailed with some sympathy the construction of his parents’ particular cage: Daddy and Mummy were haunted by the Great Depression and World War II but kept those nightmares to themselves; the nightmares could be repressed thanks to America’s new prosperity and global hegemony. But by the beginning of the sixties, the children of the zone simply paced, panther-like; by the end of the decade, they sought more actively to destroy it. The young had regained the passion for experience writ large which Constant – and after him, Musil and Weber – had though shrunken. Which is where The Uses of Disorder entered the picture.
I did not come from the zone. My childhood was spent in an urban public housing project, and my single parent was a covert member of the Communist Party. I was gay, and I had lived in Chicago and New York on my own or with lovers since I was fifteen. A series of accidents led me into Harvard University as a young adult. There, at first, the sorrows evoked by those who grew up secure seemed to me self-indulgent. In time, I appreciated that their suffering was real. I was also as self-involved as any suburban Hamlet. I made big mistakes in judging the strangers with whom I mixed daily and nightly. I had survived, but I had not gained much self-knowledge.
At Harvard, I sought to find self-knowledge by writing. Something in me wanted to write, however, about places lived in rather than strict autobiography; in relating self and city, ‘city’ seemed to me the independent variable. It might be said that I was not ready to face myself. But at Harvard a mentor, psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, thought this was the right way to face: looking outward rather than inward.
The young Erikson was a Danish artist who got nowhere with art and so turned to psychoanalysis as a second-choice profession, initially training under Freud and working with children in Vienna. He fled war-gutted Europe for a post at the Austen Riggs psychiatric clinic in Massachusetts, where he became more interested in adolescents and young adults. There Erikson did the work for which he became famous, on the ‘identity crisis’ which occurs as human beings transition from adolescence to adulthood. In his view, this is such a rough passage because of the tension between seeking and shutting out new experiences. On one hand, the young thirst for the new; on the other, they fear being exposed raw. If this tension is not worked through, the young will cling to a rigid sense of self that inhibits them from accounting for difference and divergence in others.
I accepted this view in The Uses of Disorder but in time came to see it could be restructured without the Freudian plumbing of id shits, superego flushings and the like. Cognitive psychologist Lionel Festinger did so by researching the continual interplay in the brain between inductive curiosity, which opens up new perspectives, and deductive reasoning, which seeks to resolve mental disorder. In another vein, psychologist Carol Gilligan rejected the idea that an adolescent identity crisis – ‘Who am I?’ – is the defining moment when gender differences between self and others are sorted. Gender, she showed, is renegotiated again and again, across the human lifespan.
These un-Freudians rephrased what Freudian jargon calls ‘ego strength’. Whether confronted with a math puzzle, the jarring demands of a lover, or learning a new job, people need to develop an ability to deal with ambiguity, difficulty and the unknown to explore the unexpected turn rather than defend against it. And here lay Erikson’s own strength as a thinker: he was a moralist more than he was a psychoanalyst.
His moral view could be encapsulated in the phrase Less Self, More Other. That’s what happens on the positive side during an identity crisis, and indeed throughout a lifetime: a person takes in more of the outside Other, projects less of one’s Self on others. It takes psychological strength to practise this ethic but this power cannot develop in a vacuum. People have to practise Less Self, More Other, rather like going to a gym to develop one’s muscles. My insight – and I hope the durable value of my book – was that a big, dense, diverse city was the place where people could practise and gradually strengthen this moral muscle.
Were Benjamin Constant alive today, I suspect that the phrase Less Self, More Other would resonate with him. Civil society as he conceived it should turn people outward, shaking them out of their own prejudices and habits as defining absolutes of how everyone should live. But his view was more complicated, wiser than this moral nostrum, at least as I have compacted it into four words. Constant’s civil society is to be a place in which people are both mutually engaged and disengaged, a city of solitudes as well as communities.
Constant perhaps learned this duality from his liaison with Madame de Staël, a writer he met in Paris in 1795 and with whom he fled to Switzerland when Napoleon banished her in 1802. Her novel of 1807, Corinne; or, Italy, a manifesto for women’s rights lightly disguised as a story, argued for the right of women to be freed from permanent obligations in marriage, for their freedom to conduct passing affairs, for their ‘inalienable right to privacy, that is, solitude’. Never monogamous, Constant practised what Madame de Staël preached – until he and his wife, Charlotte von Hardenberg, whom he married after Madame de Staël’s death, returned to Paris.
There, his writings extended de Staël’s erotic ethics to civil society more generally. He wanted a society that challenged communal conformity and collective propriety. Civil society should embrace differences in and fluctuations of behaviour, so that people could be set free, free to be themselves – alone. The unbridgeable distances, the necessary silences, between people who differ should be acknowledged and respected. That’s what makes civil society ‘civil’, and what a big, dense, diverse city – unlike a nosy village – makes possible.
*
But we cannot talk about freedom without talking about power. And the city, while being an exemplary theatre for self-expression and social engagement, is also a site of complex networks of dominance.
In 1806 Napoleon captured the city of Jena, where Georg Friedrich Hegel had been teaching. The young philosopher fled, carrying a half-finished manuscript for The Phenomenology of the Spirit but little else; Napoleon the general terrified him. In later years, Hegel came to idolise Napoleon the emperor as a heroic figure and praised the code civil as a rational way to organise civil society – but that lay in the future, when Hegel had hardened in old age as an apostle of order.
The Phenomenology is an edgier book, one in which the author argues with himself. Its most famous chapter is on ‘Lordship and Bondage’ and perhaps the most famous sentence in this chapter declares that human beings are fulfilled ‘only in being acknowledged’ by others. That is, ‘a process of mutual recognition’ is necessary for each person to feel complete in their selfhood. This might seem no more than a philosophic version of the cliché declaring that no man is an island, but Hegel turns recognition into a deeper and darker issue.
How can people of unequal standing – lords and servants, master and slaves – practise mutual recognition? The servant has to obey the master, but to Hegel this is not enough. As Hegel observed in the French Revolution, if servants do not believe in their masters, eventually they will turn on the powerful. It is a radical proposition: In the long term, power depends on vol...

Table of contents