[Paleopsych] Hedgehog: Richard Sennett: The New Political Economy and its Culture

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Richard Sennett: The New Political Economy and its Culture
The Hedgehog Review - Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture

          Democracy today takes form within a public culture that is
    profoundly influenced by the new political economy. In this economy,
    work and place are changing in ways that a mere twenty years ago
    seemed unimaginable. In the 1970s, the great corporate bureaucracies
    and government hierarchies of the developed world appeared to be
    securely entrenched, the products of centuries of economic development
    and nation-building. Commentators used to speak of "late capitalism"
    or "mature capitalism" as though earlier forces of growth had somehow
    entered an end-game phase. But today, a new chapter has opened. The
    economy is global and makes use of new technology; mammoth government
    and corporate bureaucracies are becoming both more flexible and less
    secure institutions. As a result, the ways we work have altered:
    short-term jobs replace stable careers, skills rapidly evolve, and the
    middle class experiences anxieties and uncertainties more confined in
    an earlier era to the working classes.

          Richard Sennett is Professor of History and Sociology and
    University Professor of the Humanities at New York University. His
    many publications include The Corrosion of Character; Flesh and Stone:
    The Body and the City in Western Civilization; The Conscience of the
    Eye; and The Fall of Public Man.

          Place has a different meaning now as well, in large part thanks
    to these economic changes. An earlier generation believed that
    nations--and within nations, cities--could govern their own fortunes.
    Now, the emerging economic network is less susceptible to the controls
    of geography. A divide has thus opened between polity--in the sense of
    self-rule--and economy. This then raises the question, where can
    democracy really happen? What interests me in particular is the
    dramatic impact that underlying economic conditions have on the
    pursuit of democracy in the postmodern community and the postmodern

          I look at the practice of democracy not so much as a fixed set
    of procedural requirements, but as a process that needs to have
    certain kinds of symbolic markers and consummations that define where
    people are in relation to each other. In other words, all democratic
    processes need to culminate in symbolic forms that are provisional but
    defined. And one of the ways that the postmodern economy is
    challenging democracy has to do with the destruction of those sign
    posts, especially those sign posts that mark how people are to make
    sense of their lives in terms of place and time. Postmodernity has
    managed to challenge the notion that time should have a coherent,
    narrative shape--it has had a disorienting effect. The flexible
    economy has not only fragmented workers' lives, but also made it very
    difficult for workers to understand how the project of survival itself
    has a history in time.

          How do we experience institutional changes in work and place
    and, more generally, changes in our concept of time as a cultural
    shift? Old Marxist notions, which argued that the economy directly
    represents itself in consciousness, will not serve us. Allow me to put
    forward instead two simple propositions that seem to be emerging at
    the end of the twentieth century.

          First, today's material conditions are impoverishing the value
    of work. Flexible, short-term work is ceasing to serve as a point of
    reference for defining durable personal purposes and a sense of
    self-worth. Sociologically, work serves ever less as a forum for
    stable, sociable relations. Second, the value of place has thereby
    increased. The sense of place is based on the need to belong not to
    "society" in the abstract, but to somewhere in particular. As the
    shifting institutions of the economy diminish the experience of
    belonging somewhere special at work, people's commitments increase to
    geographic places like nations, cities, and localities. The question
    is: commitments of what sort? Nationalism or ethnic localism can
    indeed serve as defensive refuges against a hostile economic order,
    but at a steep human price, fostering hatred of immigrants or

          These two propositions might suggest an unrelievedly bleak view
    of the culture of the emerging political economy. But this is not my
    view. Work is a problematic frame for the self, since it tends to
    equate worldly success and personal worth. Of more civic consequence
    is the fact that troubled fortunes might actually induce people to see
    themselves as other than economic animals. Rather than act
    defensively, they might instead put a certain distance between
    themselves and their material circumstances. They might recognize that
    their value as citizens is not dependent upon their riches. Such
    detachment could enrich the ways in which people use the places where
    they live. If work now restricts the self, place could expand it.

          At least this was Hannah Arendt's hope a generation ago, when
    she articulated in The Human Condition her famous distinction between
    labor and politics.[3]^1 She hoped in particular that in urban life,
    with its large scale and impersonality, people could conduct a civic
    existence that did not merely reflect or depend upon their personal
    fortunes. Today, the uncertainties of the new economy argue more than
    ever for a selfhood, as well as civic behavior, unchained from the
    conditions of labor. Yet, the places in which this might occur can
    neither be classical cities, like those Arendt admired, nor can they
    be defensive, inward-turning localities. We need a new kind of civic
    life to cope with the new economy.


          To make sense of the culture of the emerging political economy,
    we might begin by defining its key word, "growth." Growth occurs, most
    simply, in four ways. The simplest is a sheer increase in number, an
    increase in supply (such as more ants in a colony or more television
    sets on the market). Growth of this sort appears in economic thinking
    among writers like Jean Baptiste Say, whose loi des debouches
    postulated that "increased supply creates its own demand." This
    increase in number can lead to an alteration of structure. This is how
    Adam Smith conceived of growth in The Wealth of Nations.[4]^2 Larger
    markets, he said, trigger the division of labor in work. Growth in
    which size begets complexity of structure is familiar to us in
    government bureaucracies, as well as in industry. A third and quite
    different kind of growth occurs through metamorphosis. A body changes
    its shape or structure without necessarily increasing in number. A
    moth turning into a butterfly grows in this way, so do characters in a
    novel. Finally a system can grow by becoming more democratic. This
    kind of growth is anti-foundational. As John Dewey argued, the
    elements in a system are free to interact and influence one another so
    that boundaries become febrile, forms become mixed. The system
    contracts or expands in parts without overall coordination.
    Communications networks, such as the early Internet, are obvious
    examples of how growth can occur democratically. Such a growth process
    differs from a market mechanism, in which an exchange ideally clears
    all transactions and so regulates all actors in the system.
    Resistances, irregularities, and cognitive dissonances take on a
    positive value in democratic forms of growth. This is why subjective
    life develops through something like the practice of inner
    democracy--interpretive and emotional complexity emerges without a
    master plan, a hegemonic rule, and an undisputed explanation.

          My own view is that the freedom and flexibility of democratic
    growth is not a matter of pure process, but gives rise to the need for
    signposts, defined forms, tentative rituals, and provisional decisions
    that help people to orient themselves and evaluate future conduct.
    Yet, the flexible economy is destroying exactly these formal elements,
    which orient people in the process of democratic growth. Put another
    way, what we need to cope with the emerging political economy is more
    democratic forms of flexible growth. The question is: where should
    such growth be promoted? At the workplace? In the community? Are they
    equally possible, or equally desirable, sites for democracy?

Smith's Paradox

          Let me begin to look at these questions by examining the
    cultural deficits to the new capitalism. For example, one paradox of
    growth has dogged the development of modern capitalism throughout its
    long history. With material growth comes the impoverishment of
    qualitative experience.

          The age of High Capitalism--which for convenience's sake can be
    said to span the two centuries following the publication of Adam
    Smith's The Wealth of Nations in 1776--was an era that lusted for
    sheer quantitative growth, of the first sort I've described, but had
    trouble dealing with the human consequences of the second sort, in
    which the increase in wealth occurred through more complex economic
    structures. Adam Smith argued that the division of labor, which was a
    structural complexity, was promoted by the expansion of free markets
    with ever greater numbers of goods, services, and laborers in
    circulation. To Smith, a growing society seemed like a honeycomb; each
    new cell was a place for ever more specialized tasks. A nail-maker
    doing everything himself could make a few hundred nails a day. Smith
    calculated that if nail-making were broken down into all its component
    parts, and each worker did only one task, a nail-maker could process
    more than 48,000 nails a day. Work experience, however, would become
    more routine in the process. Breaking the task of making nails into
    its component parts would condemn individual nail-makers to a
    numbingly boring day; hour after hour nail-makers would be doing the
    same small job.

          I call this coupling of material growth with qualitative
    impoverishment "Smith's Paradox," after Adam Smith. Though Smith did
    not coin this term, he did recognize the existence of this paradox,
    which came down to us in what we call "Fordist Production," monotonous
    assembly-line work, the kind of assembly-line work prevalent in Ford's
    Highland Park plant in Michigan during the First World War. Today,
    proponents of the new capitalism claim that Smith's Paradox is now
    coming to an end. Modern technology promises to banish routine work to
    the innards of machines, leaving ever more workers free to do
    flexible, non-routine tasks. In fact, however, the qualitative
    impoverishment recognized by Smith has simply taken new forms. New
    technology frequently "de-skills" workers, who now tend to machines as
    electronic janitors. Meanwhile, the conditions of job tenure also
    compound de-skilling. Workers learn how to do one particular job well,
    only to find that work-task at an end. The reality now facing young
    workers with at least two years of college is that they will change
    jobs, on average, at least eleven times in the course of their working

          More brutally, the division of labor now separates those who get
    to work and those who don't. Large numbers of people are set free of
    routine tasks only to find themselves useless or under-used
    economically, especially in the context of the global labor supply.
    Geography no longer separates the skilled First World from the
    unskilled Third World. Computer code is written efficiently, for
    instance, in Bombay for a third to a seventh its cost in IBM home

          Statistics on job creation do not quite get at people's fear of
    uselessness. The number of jobs, even good skilled jobs, does not
    dictate who will have access to them, how long the jobs can be held,
    or, indeed, how long the jobs will exist. Ten years ago, for instance,
    the U.S. economy had a deficit of computer systems analysts. Today, it
    has a surplus. And many of these highly skilled workers, contrary to
    ideology, do not retrain well. Their skills are too specific. In sum,
    the specter of uselessness now shadows the lives of educated
    middle-class people, and this specter now compounds the older
    experiential problem of routine among less-favored workers. The young
    suffer the pangs of uselessness in a particularly cruel way, since an
    ever-expanding educational system trains them ever more elaborately
    for jobs that do not exist.

          The result of uselessness, de-skilling, and task-labor for the
    American worker is the dispensable self. Instead of the
    institutionally induced boredom of the assembly line, this
    experiential deficit appears more to lie within the worker--a worker
    who hasn't made him-or herself of lasting value to others and so can
    simply disappear from view. The economic language in use
    today--"skills-based economy," "informational competence,"
    "task-flexible labor," and the like--shifts the focus from impersonal
    conditions like the possession of capital to more personal matters of
    competence. As this economic rhetoric becomes more personal, it
    gradually de-symbolizes the public realm of labor: economic
    inequality, power, and powerlessness are facts that are difficult to
    translate into self-knowledge. Similarly, the process of
    flexibilization in the workplace destroys permanent categories of
    occupation. Ironically, while work inequality has grown, the map for
    evaluating this inequality has been lost. While this shift in language
    seems personally empowering, it, in fact, can serve to increase the
    burdens on the working self.

          This sense of "dispensability"--a sense of failing to be of much
    value in this economy--has great sociological implications. What
    Michael Young feared in his prophetic book, The Rise of the
    Meritocracy, has come to pass: As the economy needs ever fewer,
    highly-educated people to run it, the "moral distance" between the
    masses and the elite widens.[5]^3 The masses, now comprising people in
    suits and ties, as well as those in overalls, appear peripheral to the
    elite, productive core. The economy profits by shrinking its labor
    base. Its emphasis on personal agency helps explain why welfare
    dependency and parasitism are such sensitive issues for people whose
    fortunes are now in doubt. Labor is disposable.

          Some tough-minded economists argue that current forms of
    unemployment, under-employment, de-skilling, and parasitism are
    incurable in the emerging economic order, since the economy profits
    from doing "more with less." But this qualitative impoverishment, this
    re-organization that makes increasing numbers of people feel that they
    personally have no footing in the process of economic growth, poses a
    profound political challenge. There is no easy solution to Smith's
    Paradox, the problem of impoverished work experience. The postmodern
    vision of a project-less life is only for the elite. In the lives of
    most people, it is a form of oppression--a cultural ethos that is
    inhumane. There is a loss of the notion that you can guarantee
    something for your children, a profound loss of social honor. It is
    possible to live with a flexible self only if you are so empowered
    economically, culturally, and politically that "possibility" requires
    choices of the sort made by consumers in a mall.

Durable Time

          Because sheer quantitative growth and the division of labor
    offer no remedy to the subjective, experiential problems of work, some
    policy makers have turned to the third model of growth, metamorphosis.
    In the political arena, such a form of development is called variously
    "auto-gestion," "self-management," or simply "change from within." The
    practical and worthy aim is to make work more humane by having workers
    themselves control their work. The goal is to have workers reform
    their institutions of work through a decisive act of collective will.
    In the political arena, metamorphosis occurs through rupturing
    established institutions. While management gurus practice rupture from
    the top down, socialists have aimed to remake work institutions from
    the bottom up. The practical record of such efforts at work
    re-organization is mixed. Some forms of change from within and
    workers' auto-gestion succeed, mostly in small, niche enterprises;
    others fail, overwhelmed by the larger currents of the global economy.

          Change from within supposes order can be made out of chaos by an
    act of will; in political terms, the polity is self-creating. The
    social difficulty with the model arises, though, from the very act of
    will it supposes. Basic social bonds like trust, loyalty, and
    obligation require a long time to develop and have diminished as
    people do shifting, task-centered jobs. Loyalty requires that personal
    experience accumulate at an institution over time, but the emerging
    political economy will not let it accumulate. Personal time, like
    civic time, must possess duration and coherence. Workers form a sense
    of subjective strength and positive agency through making things last.
    But will alone is insufficient to accomplish that task.

          Max Weber's famous image of modern life confined in an "iron
    cage" slights stability as a positive even in the lives of ordinary
    people. Weber feared the rise at the beginning of the twentieth
    century of large national bureaucracies and corporations that made use
    of the service ethic, earning the loyalty of those whom they made
    secure. Weber doubted that loyal servants make objectively-minded
    citizens. Yet petty bureaucrats, time servers, and the like derived a
    sense of status and public honor from their stations in bureaucracies.
    T. H. Marshall, the intellectual father of the modern British welfare
    state, understood this well: however static big institutions may be,
    however resistant to change from within, they provide their members a
    scaffolding of mutual loyalty and of trust that events can be
    controlled, which are prerequisites of citizenship. The bureaucrat as
    good citizen is not a pretty picture, but then, Jay Gould had no
    interest in the subject at all.

          The current rush to take apart this institutional architecture
    is undoing the social, civic dimensions of durable time. Take loyalty,
    for example. When career paths are replaced by intermittent jobs,
    loyalties to institutions diminish. This generalization, of course,
    needs all sorts of qualification. For instance, one study of dismissed
    IBM programmers found that the people with more than twenty years of
    service remain enthusiastic about the company, while accepting their
    firing as a matter of fate. A more diminished sense of loyalty appears
    among younger workers, who have had more brutal dealings with the new
    economic order; many of these younger workers view the places where
    they work mostly as sites to make contacts with people who can get
    them better, or simply other, jobs.

          In this, the young have not failed to do their duty, since new
    economic institutions make no guarantees in return. They routinely
    replace permanent workers with temporary workers, or "off-shore" work.
    Loyalty requires that personal experience accumulate in an
    institution, and the emerging political economy will not let it
    accumulate. Indeed, the profitable ease with which international
    capital today assembles, sells, and re-assembles corporations erases
    the durability of institutions to which one could develop loyalty or

          Time, then, is everything in reckoning the social consequences
    of the new political economy. And as a cultural value, rupture--that
    favored child of postmodernism--is less politically challenging than
    the assertion that people ought to have the right to develop loyalty
    and commitment within institutions. If the dominant powers of the
    political economy violate durable time, can individuals provide for
    themselves--formally or informally--amongst one another the sign posts
    that institutions deny them?

          This question is less abstract than it might seem at first. The
    modern economy did not simply wipe out the social struggles and
    personal values formed in an earlier phase of capitalism. What has
    been carried into the present from the past is a set of subjective
    values--values for making time coherent and durable, but in entirely
    personal terms. This personal, durable time intersects with the new
    economy of work in particularly disturbing ways.

The Coherent Self

          The Victorians founded their sense of self-worth on life
    organized as one long project: the German values of formation, the
    English virtues of purpose, were for keeps. Careers in business,
    military, or imperial bureaucracies made the life-long project
    possible; these careers graded work into a clear sequence of steps.
    Such expectations devalue the present for the sake of the future--the
    present that is in constant upheaval and that may tempt the individual
    into byways or evanescent pleasures. Weber described
    future-orientation as a mentality of delayed gratification. Yet, this
    Victorian experience of cohering time has another side, which was
    subsumed under the ethical category of taking responsibility for one's
    life, though in a way quite opposite from the innovatory character of
    the will to change from within.

          Today, late Victorian values of personal responsibility are as
    strong as a century ago, but their institutional context has changed.
    The iron cage has been dismantled, so that individuals struggle for
    security and coherence in a seemingly empty arena. The destruction of
    institutional supports at work, as in the welfare state, leaves
    individuals only their sense of responsibility; the Victorian ethos
    now often charts a negative trajectory of defeated will, of having
    failed to make one's life cohere through one's work. Take what happens
    when career paths are replaced by intermittent jobs. Many temporary
    workers are put in the unenviable position of knowing that their job
    insecurity suits obligation-resistant companies, yet these temporary
    workers none-the-less believe that they are themselves responsible for
    the mess made of their careers. This sense of personal responsibility
    deflects workers' anger away from economic institutions to themselves.

          Meanwhile, the new economic map, which devalues the life-long
    career project, has shifted the optimal age curves of work to younger,
    raw employees (employees who range in age from the early twenties to
    early forties, instead of employees who range in age from the late
    twenties to middle fifties) even though adults are living longer and
    more vigorously. Studies of dismissed middle-aged workers find these
    workers both obsessed and puzzled by the liabilities of age. Rather
    than believing themselves to be faded and "over the hill," these older
    workers feel that they are more organized and purposeful than younger
    workers are. Even so, they blame themselves when they are perceived by
    management to be obsolete. Likewise, they blame themselves for not
    having prepared better for this contingency. 21 [6]^1

          Workers' sense of personal responsibility and personal guilt is
    compounded by the rhetoric of modern management, which attempts to
    disguise power in the new economy by making the worker believe he or
    she is a self-directing agent--managers are now called "coaches,"
    "facilitators," and the like. It is not the workers' "false
    consciousness" that makes these titles credible, but rather a twisted
    sense of moral agency.

          In modernity, people take responsibility for their lives because
    the whole of their lives feels their making. But when the ethical
    culture of modernity--with its codes of personal responsibility and
    life purpose--is carried into a society without institutional
    shelters, there appears not pride of self, but a dialectic of failure
    in the midst of growth. Growth in the new economy depends on gutting
    corporate size, ending bureaucratic guarantees, and profiting from the
    flux and extension of economic networks. People come to know the
    resulting dislocations as their own lack of direction. The ethic of
    responsibility becomes, ironically and terribly, a subjective
    yardstick to measure one's failure to cohere.

          In contrast, I would like to see discussions about democracy in
    the workplace enlarged beyond references to worker self-management.
    When we talk about democracy in the workplace, we must address the
    cultural dimensions of work, a different and literal kind of
    self-management in which coherence rather than rupture is a primary
    value. We must think through worker democracy in terms of this legacy
    of subjectivity. Is there some way to lighten workers' burden of
    self-responsibility, while acknowledging workers' desire for coherence
    and durability?


          The city is democracy's home, declared Hannah Arendt, a place
    for forming loyalties and practicing responsibilities. It also is a
    social setting in which personal attributes fade somewhat in a milieu
    of impersonality. Thus, Arendt imagined that the city--or more
    properly, "urbanity"--could relieve burdens of material circumstances
    in the social relations between people. Could Arendt's vision somehow
    be combined with the ideal of democratic growth invoked by John
    Dewey--that of the city as a place of ever increasing complexity of
    values, beliefs, and cultural forms?

          The cities, as well as the smaller communities, we know in
    America bear little relation to this ideal place. In communities,
    people do indeed try to compensate for their dislocations and
    impoverished experience in the economy, but often in destructive
    ways--through communal coercion and shared illusion. Many current
    building projects are exercises in withdrawal from a complex world,
    deploying self-consciously "traditional" architecture that bespeaks a
    mythic communal coherence and shared identity in the past. These
    comforts of a supposedly simpler age appear in the New Englandish
    housing developments designed by the American planners Elizabeth
    Platter-Zyberg and Andreas Duwany, among the architects in Britain
    working for the Prince of Wales to reproduce "native" English
    architecture, and in the neighborhood renovation work on the Continent
    undertaken by Leon Krier. All these place-makers are artists of
    claustrophobia, whose icons, however, do indeed promise stability,
    longevity, and safety.

          In order to avoid place-making on these conservative terms, we
    need to clarify what signposts and markers of form might successfully
    orient an alternative, open, and democratic community life. Let me
    cite three.

          First, communities must not shy away from confronting hostile
    forces. Communities can indeed challenge the new economy rather than
    react defensively to it. Modern corporations like to present
    themselves as having cut free from local powers--they may have a
    factory in Mexico, an office in Bombay, and a media center in lower
    Manhattan; these all appear as nodes in a global network. Today,
    localities fear that if they exercise sovereignty, as when they tax or
    regulate a business locally, the corporation could just as easily find
    another node. I believe, however, that we are already seeing signs
    that the economy is not as locationally indifferent as has been
    assumed. You can buy any stock you like in Dubuque, Iowa, but not make
    a market of stocks in the cornfields. The ivy cloisters of Harvard may
    furnish plenty of raw intellectual talent, yet lack the craziness,
    messiness, and surprise that makes Manhattan a stimulating if
    unpleasant place to work. Similarly, in South-East Asia, it is
    becoming increasingly clear that local social and cultural geographies
    indeed count for a great deal in investment decisions. And because the
    new political economy is not, in fact, indifferent to location, there
    exists the possibility for making communal demands--contracting with
    corporations to assure jobs for a certain number of years in exchange
    for tax relief, or enforcing strict work-place rules on age
    discrimination. What matters is the will to confront. Up until now,
    polities have tended to behave like weak supplicants rather than
    necessary partners. Put simply, place has power.

          Second, strong communities need not turn inward in a repressive
    fashion. Planning, especially in large-scale environments, can avert
    this and open groups up to one another by focusing on the borders of
    local sub-communities as active zones. For instance, "active edge"
    planners today seek to direct new building away from local centers and
    toward the boundaries separating communities. In East London, for
    example, some planners are working to make the edge of distinct
    communities into a febrile zone of interaction and exchange between
    different groups. Yet another strategy is to diversify central spaces,
    so that different functions overlap and interact in geographic
    centers. Planners in Los Angeles are seeking ways to put clinics,
    government offices, and old-age centers into shopping malls, which
    formerly were devoted solely to consumption activities. Planners in
    Germany are similarly exploring how to get light manufacturing back
    into the pedestrian zones in city centers.

          In honor of Arendt, many of these planners call themselves
    members of the "New Agora" movement. They don't see planning as the
    attempt to determine a specific outcome, but they do make assumptions
    about the form in which interaction and process should occur. In the
    case of active-edge planners, the animating belief is that the more
    people interact, the more they will become involved with those unlike
    themselves. In the case of the central zone planners, the animating
    belief is that the value of a place will increase when it is not
    simply commercial. Such planning is "democratic" in my own use of the
    word. The agora has a defined shape that can open up the possibility
    of complexity rather than hegemony. Again, part and parcel of this
    complexity of place is the diversification of a place's purpose. For
    instance, you can make shopping malls into places where people
    actually hang out, not just places for consumption. If you make malls
    more like town centers, you can draw people out of the network of
    their intimate neighborhood.

          When I say "intimate," I am not speaking of a psychological
    intimacy, but of exposure to your neighbors--such as knowing whether
    and how they are employed. Did they use credit to buy that Ford
    Windstar? America exposes people economically to each other in ways
    that enter social discourse as measures of relative personal merit.
    The reason I have focused my work on impersonality as a political
    project is that I believe that if we can provide more places in which
    that exposure is obscured, we can create the preconditions for a more
    just political discourse and interaction. Granted, you cannot force
    people to treat each other just as plain citizens, but at least you
    can provide the sites in which that kind of interaction might occur.
    And that is why cosmopolitanism (in a non-Kantian sense) can be a
    political project. My emphasis on the shaping of community is not, as
    it were, that such veiled communal relations would triumph over
    capitalism. That would give to place an absurd power. But where
    democracy occurs does matter in how democracy occurs.

          Places, especially urban places, have the capacity to help
    people to grow out of themselves into a more impersonal citizenship,
    and so to relieve themselves of their own subjective burdens. This may
    seem abstract, but we experience one of its elements whenever we
    plunge into a crowded street. A hoary cliché views impersonal crowds
    as an evil. Throughout the history of the city, people have voted
    otherwise with their feet. And one great theme in the literature of
    modern urban culture--from Baudelaire to Aragon to Benjamin to Jane
    Jacobs--finds in crowds a peculiar antidote to selfhood with all its
    burdens, a release into a less personalized existence. When she moved
    to Washington Square in 1906, beginning an affair with another woman,
    Willa Cather declared, "At last I can breathe," by which she meant
    that her erotic life no longer defined the terms of her social
    existence--at least in the dense, impersonal place to which she had

          Impersonality does more than shelter outsiders or members of
    sub-cultures; it offers the possibility for what Stuart Hall calls
    "hybridity," a mixture of social elements beyond any single definition
    of self. Impersonal release has a particular value in terms of social
    class and material fortune. Various studies of existing mixed-class
    areas of big cities like New York and London yield an interesting
    portrait; intimate "neighborliness" is weak, but identification with
    the neighborhood is strong. The poor are relieved of social stigma;
    those who are rich in comparison--contrary to common sense, that most
    fallible of all guides--find daily life in a diverse neighborhood more
    stimulating than in places that serve only as private mirrors. These
    studies exemplify the sociological proposition advanced by Durkheim
    that impersonality and equality have a strong affinity.

          The relief of self found in dense streets, mixed pubs,
    playgrounds, and markets thus is not inconsequential. Such dense forms
    of civil society affect how people think of themselves as citizens. As
    the late Henri Lefebvre put it, sensing one's "right to the city"
    helps people feel entitled to other rights, rights not based on
    personal injuries or on victimhood. As I say, no one could argue that
    an impersonal city life will extinguish either the reality or the
    sentiments aroused by economic failure. But "extinguish," like
    "rupture," belongs to the sphere of growth envisioned through
    metamorphosis. I imagine instead a more realistic democratic project,
    one which develops a kind of concurrent consciousness, in which a
    middle-aged, supposedly "over the hill" worker can also think of
    him-or herself in an entirely different way, by virtue of where he or
    she lives. This doubleness of self seems to be more practicable than
    the striving for rebirth, as in a metamorphosis.

          To conclude, whether we seek for democracy in workplaces or in
    cities, we need to address the culture of the new capitalism. The
    economy does not "grow" personal skills and durable purposes, nor
    social trust, loyalty, or commitment. Economic practice has combined,
    however, with a durable cultural ethic, so that institutional
    nakedness co-exists with the will to take responsibility for one's
    life. The forms of polity we need to invent must help people transcend
    both elements of that combination: we need a model of growth that
    helps people transcend the self as a burdensome possession.
    Place-making based on exclusion, sameness, or nostalgia is poisonous
    medicine socially, and psychologically useless. A self weighted with
    its insufficiencies cannot lift that burden by retreat into fantasy.
    Place-making based on diverse, dense, impersonal human contacts must
    find a way for these contacts to endure. The agora has to prove a
    durable institution. This is the challenge that urbanists like myself
    now confront.

          Baudelaire famously defined modernity as experience of the
    fleeting and the fragmented. To accept life in its disjointed pieces
    is an adult experience of freedom, but still these pieces must lodge
    and embed themselves somewhere, hopefully in a place that allows them
    to grow and endure.

    [7]^1 See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Garden City, NY:
    Doubleday, 1959). ] [8]^2 See Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature
    and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (London: Strahun and Cadell,
    1776). ] [9]^3 See Michael Dunlop Young, The Rise of the Meritocracy,
    1870-2033: The New Elite of Our Social Revolution (New York: Random
    House, 1959). ]

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