Category Archives: Building Social Spaces

Vaccination walk – Or A Beginning Typology of Ways in which Manchester Pedestrians are Screwed

About 6 weeks ago I got a text from my GP saying I could make THE appointment and I was surprised knowing it was early but so happy, not least because my GPs were administering the vaccine themselves ten minutes walk away. Brilliant. Within hours a number of other texts arrived from another number saying cancel that appointment immediately, there is no vaccine for you.

I’d just seen the news about vaccine shortages, the hold put on the roll out.

A real fall after something of a high. Of course I knew full well the vaccine roll out hadn’t even (hasn’t even) started in some other countries. Even disappointment carries its privilege. So many here means so few there. Things beyond my control but that I hold in my heart.

I finally did get to go get my vaccination last Thursday — freedom day. Of a limited kind still I know, but still. Sadly, the closest available location was Etihad stadium, home of Man City. I cannot afford to get there to see football of course, very sad indeed. Knowing it was a stadium I also knew the whole experience would be a little bit of a fuck you to pedestrians. My theory was the newer the stadium, the more of a fuck you. I was not wrong.

This is Type 1: the screwing of pedestrians by planners and architects of all such large sprawling complexes (Universities, stadiums, business parks and etc, but stadiums are the worst), with a secondary screwing by their management who could signpost a way through for people if they chose, as well as let you know which routes were generally left open so you could be reassured you wouldn’t wander in through an opening and 15-20 minutes later find the exit you needed blocked. A niche type of screwing, but one that exists in every major city.

As a planner myself I despise this — it is a massive area to completely or partially, but always arbitrarily, close off.

I also despise the giant roads that cut through neighbourhoods and made the surest walking route to reach Gate 2 absolutely the most awful (and most polluted) to walk down, even if it is named Alan Turing way. This is Type 2: the carving of such massive thoroughfares through a city’s fabric without thought to parallel routes for pedestrians or bicyclists.

I knew I was taking a chance taking an alternative route despite google maps swearing up and down I could cut through. So wrong. I had given myself plenty of extra time and needed all of it as I ended up walking around half the giant stadium and down the major thoroughfare breathing in exhaust the whole way.

I thus encountered the third fuck you to pedestrians, or Type 3: pavements closed off for massive construction works at Gate 2. No clear advance warning or signage that allow you to avoid or navigate it, so you’re in a maze of orange barriers (in this case too narrow for social distancing and full of construction workers, none of whom were wearing facemasks) facing the attempt to somehow cross the steady stream of cars pouring in full of people to be vaccinated, the construction having made it absurdly complicated for them as well.

This is the screwing over of pedestrians (and drivers) by development (as if that weren’t already screwing people over enough in this city), the poor practice of construction companies and the complete lack of caring/regulation from the city’s planning department. This is currently ubiquitous and everywhere, even where the hoardings loudly proclaim courtesy.

And of course, I’d already encountered the fourth, possibly most overwhelming kind of fuck you to pedestrians experienced by all residents of South Manchester during the whole of this lockdown–a combination of austerity impacting local authority abilities to pay people to clean parks or pick up bins every week or maintain public pathways combined with controls, fees and temporary closures of landfills leading to the rise of fly tipping. I walked through a landscape of rubbish, empty paths down the backs of houses strewn with bin bags, abandoned household goods and the wind-blown detritus of everyday life. On one of them someone appears to be drinking themselves to death (but on Malbec, not a bad way to go I guess).

These footpaths and little pieces of wild ground all feel hidden away, uncared for, and to be honest, as a woman unsafe. But how different this could be as a place to escape traffic and enjoy some limited experience of nature. These footpaths along the railway lines could be really beautiful, full of bees and birds. Instead Type 4: walks through the urban landfill.

The vaccination process itself was pretty easy, though involved an awful lot of walking/standing once on site (I passed several older people really struggling on canes, couldn’t they have been pulled out of the queue and helped first? I don’t think anyone would have minded). The two women who gave me my jab were funny and awesome and I love the NHS more than I can say.

I walked back home heading back into the centre and then out again, along the canal. That was beautiful, though sadly yet again hitting the Type 3 fuck you from developers. With no warning I twice encountered massive scaffolding with boards to shut down the canal path–no information, quite a long way to walk back to some alternate, much more unpleasant route. A few of the boards had been removed, still leaving a scramble. It was unclear who had removed the boards or if I was heading into danger. Turns out they were at some point renovating an old building further along the path, signs warned of things falling. There was no work taking place.

Did the older couple who passed me get their bikes through this ‘opening’? I doubt it. Which meant at least a mile of backtracking for them.

But I saw goslings! And I passed one place where public spaces are cared for — a lovely sign signalling Blakemore Walk and a row of blossoming trees. The canal is beautiful and calm and the sun was shining, the development of overpriced investment boxes hasn’t yet destroyed the character of the place and the entangled histories of labour, working class life and exploitation that these old bricks evoke. This final section of walk may have made up a little for being SO SICK, I even had chills. Hurt all over. Exhausted. But still, I am now team Astra Zeneca and it was so worth it and I look forward to my second jab immensely. But maybe not the walk.

free Spaces: Social Movement, space and The Practice of Democracy

Free Spaces was first published in 1986, second edition way back in 1992, yet the ways it thinks about space, conviviality, democracy, communities and societies that work…pretty timeless. Not everything, of course. But I love how it brings the ways in which people live in and occupy the physical spaces around them with the processes that contribute to political and social engagement, the ability to work across difference, the capacity to listen to others to build a better world. As they write:

Free Spaces asks an elemental but important question. What are the environments, the public spaces, in which ordinary people become participants in the complex, ambiguous, engaging conversation about democracy: participators in governance rather than spectators or complainers, victims or accomplices? What are the roots not simply of movements against oppression but also, more positively, of those democratic social movements which both enlarge the opportunities for participation and enhance people’s ability to participate in the public world? (viii)

It’s interesting also that they differentiate the positive kinds of neighbourhood activism and organising from the reactive through differences and a narrowed understanding of ‘public’, I think it would be really useful to bring this a little more into conversation with the renewed wave of thinking about populism (see for example Muller or Revelli).

The participatory, egalitarian, and open character of public life at the heart of democratic movements is qualitatively unlike protests with a defensive and parochial cast like the Ku Klux Klan, where “public” has a much thinner and more static meaning … And the very nature of public life in free spaces conveys older, richer meanings of the term “public,” pertaining to the community as a whole in its diversity, and notions of human dignity that modern thought neglects to its considerable impoverishment. Thus we hope the arguments that Free Spaces helps to generate will focus in part on the relevance of these underlying themes—the nature of public life, the importance of community, the substance and meaning of democratic values–and on the features of coventional wisdom that have rendered such themes largely invisible. (xxvi-xxvii)

Can I just say up front that my favourite part of this book was in many ways the footnotes…like this brilliant footnote from page 5 on citizenship. It’s something I’ve thought a little about, enough to be aware of some of these wider debates, but not dug into a lot. I have been thinking about the importance of face-to-face encounter for some time though, miss it terribly in this time of Covid which adds a strange nostalgia over the very possibility of such a thing:

Citizenship, in an active sense, emerges out of face-to-face encounter over time As Robert Bellah and his colleagues observe in Habits of the Heart*, this understanding of citizenship, in American folklore and practice, is grounded in community, associated with the widespread belief in “getting involved” and “making a contribution.” Thus, it can be contrasted with definitions of citizenship as a politics of interest-group bargaining, normally conducted by professionals; or a politics of the nation, expressing generalized visions of common purpose uniting disparate groups. In democratic movements, all three meanings of citizenship are held in tension and balance, but it is a central argument of this book that without rich opportunities for a “politics of community,” democracy becomes a hollow and ritualized formality. Others have made the point in more general terms. As G. D. H. Cole put it many decades ago, “Over the vast mechanism of modern politics the individual has no control, not because the state is too big, but because he is given no chance of learning the rudiments of self-government within a smaller unit.”

Quoting G.D.H. Cole! I certainly know a couple of people who would be terribly impressed. Another footnote with their definition of community, worthy of thinking about:

Throughout Free Spaces “community” is intended as a concept suggesting density and texture of a relationship. Thus, though community in this sense most often has a spatial dimension—a “neighborhood” implication—such a dimension is not part of the definition; rather, communal ties depend on a complex set of social relationships that overlap and reinforce each other. Craig Calhoun has characterized community in these terms as meaning a “greater ‘closeness’ of relations” than is true for society as a whole. “This closeness seems to imply, though not rigidly, face-to-face contact, commonality of purpose, familiarity and dependability.” Craig Calhoun, “Community: Toward a Variable Conceptualization for Comparative Research,” Social History 5 ( January 1980): 111.

This book maybe just possibly romanticises a little the predilection of the poor, in community, for democracy, but I lean that way myself. I like this flying of their colours.

The drama and passion in the histories which follow revolve, in no small measure, around the ways in which the dispossessed and powerless have again and again sought simultaneously to revive and remember older notions of democratic participation, on the one hand, and on the other given them new and deeper meanings and applications. Democracy, in these terms, then, means more than changing structures so as to make democracy possible. It means, also, schooling citizens in “citizenship”—that is, in the varied skills and values which are essential to sustaining effective participation. Democratic social movements, efforts whose goal is an enlarged democracy, are themselves vehicles for such schooling.

And thus…the need for free spaces.

To understand the inner life of democratic movements, one must rethink such traditional categories as “politics,” “private life,” “public activity,” “reaction,” and “progress.” Only then can we hope to fathom how people draw upon their past for strength, create out of traditions—which may seem on their face simply to reinforce the status quo—new visions of the future, gain out of the experiences of their daily lives new public skills and a broader sense of hope and possibility. The central argument of this book is that particular sorts of public places in the community, what we call free spaces, are the environments in which people are able to learn a new self-respect, a deeper and more assertive group identity, public skills, and values of cooperation and civic virtue. Put simply, free spaces are settings between private lives and large-scale institutions where ordinary citizens can act with dignity, independence, and vision. These are, in the main, voluntary forms of association with a relatively open and participatory character… (17)

So how more precisely do we characterise such free spaces?

For all their variations, free spaces have certain common features, observable in movements varying widely in time, aims, composition, and social environment. They are defined by their roots in community, the dense, rich networks of daily life; by their autonomy; and by their public or quasi-public character as participatory environments which nurture values associated with citizenship and a vision of the common good. In a full way, the spirit, dynamics, and character of free spaces can only be understood i the concreteness of particular stories, where people gain new skills, a new sense of possibility, and a broadened understanding of whom “the people” include. (20)

There are a number of movements that created such spaces and experiments with living democracy: the civil rights movement, the national Women’s Christian Temperence Union — providing space for white middle-class white women, but unable to overcome their prejudice and biases. Settlement houses. Suffragette movement, SDS, wome’s liberation movement and the ways they tried to move beyond the old hierarchical structures. An additional failure has been in the theorising of how this should happen.

The problem has not been with the attempt to analyze and understand the processes that dehumanize workers, but with the attempt to develop conceptions of action and theories of social change based upon the capitalist definition of working people. The notion of an abstract, universal cosmopolitanism as the end point of true class consciousness draws its theory of group formation and its language from the vast settings where people are organized by modern life. It assumes that a sundering of people from their historical and organic connections—from their “roots”—is the indispensable preliminary to free-dom. It proposes, in place of community weakened or lost, an organization based on abstract solidarity. Moreover, the idea that uprootedness is an indication of progress has maintained a compelling hold over much of modern scholarship—Marxist and non-Marxist alike—which sees traditional relations as reactionary obstacles. From such a stance, in turn, workers must abandon memories and ties to their communal past as an essential part of building modern movements like the trade unions.

Wrong! Ha! And back to a wonderful footnote on Marx and Engels.

There is a strong feeling for the concrete in the historical writings of Marx and Engels that confounds the the abstract universalism of their political theory. Yet the point is that the basic theory that saw revolutionary consciousness as a rootless cosmopolitanism has continued to hold sway over the dominant left approach. It appears in Lenin’s theory of revolutionary consciousness as the worldview of middle-class, radicalized intellectuals that must be introjected into the working class, and in Trotsky’s contention that the Bolshevik Party must be a “moral medium” of its own, guarding against ideological contamination and, implicitly, forming a socializing agent for its members in order to detach them from all prior loyalties. In our time, the leftist view of liberated consciousness as a process of radical separation lies behind Michael Harrington’s vision of a “rational, humanist moral code” to replace traditional moral values. It informs conventional criteria used to distinguish social movements. Thus, E. J. Hobsbawm contrasts “primitive” protests grounded in communal ties and “modern, secular” movements like the trade unions and socialist parties that supposedly have severed such connections. Similarly, the Tillys separate “reactive” communal movements from “proactive,” modern movements. Ralph Miliband means much the same thing when he argues that “the Marxist notion of a most radical rupture’ with traditional ideas signifies a break with all forms of tradition and must expect to encounter the latter not as friend but as foe.” And this view of social change and its agents is succinctly summarized by Stanley Aronowitz in his essay entitled, appropriately enough, “The Working Class: A Break with the Past.” According to Aronowitz, all particular identities—of “race and nationality and sex and skill and industry”—are obstacles to the development of homogenized class consciousness. As he puts it, “they constitute antagonisms which still act as a brake on the development of revolutionary consciousness.” (112-13)

Ah, take them all down! Because studies of actual movements show ‘that the life of communuties and not abstract notions of class have provided the main resources for oppostional movements among working people‘. (114)

So what does provide such resources?

Certainly the most innovative and successful examples of contemporary organizing show the same characteristics as their predecessors. None are marked by an abstracted “class consciousness,” but all manage to merge into the activity of the union the communal traditions central to people’s identities. This occurs in particular sorts of voluntary associations, free spaces that link communal life and workplace activity, where people can learn essential public skills and a powerful sense of their own rights and capacities. In the process of organizing, traditional identities and institutions furnish ideological re-sources even while themselves undergoing democratic trans-formation. Class as a lived and powerful reality, then, always has a populist cast. It is about peoplehood, multiple identities, and the places in the community that nurture democratic aspiration and capacity, as well as about relations to the means of production. (149)

And the question for Evans and Boyte, is how all of this can be brought to bear to nurture uprising and movement beyond that triggering point and the first mass wave of protest. I love this acknowledgement of how people grow and change through struggle, building their own networks and processes.

Our concern in Free Spaces has been to understand the ways in which the defensive and limited impulses which spark most social protests, especially in their early stages, can be trans-formed into democratic initiatives. What are the features of the environments in which people discover their capacities to over-come deferential patterns of behavior, outgrow parochialisms of class, race, or sex, and form a broader conception of the common good? How do people develop new visions in which elements of tradition become resources for democratic activity?

In the course of democratic movements, as a people move into action, they change. They discover in themselves and in their ways of life new democratic potentials. They find out new political facts about the world. They build networks and seek contacts with other groups of the powerless to forge a broader group identity. In turn, for such processes to occur requires more than local, communal roots. Such spaces must also be relatively autonomous, free from elite control.

Thus, the voluntary aspect of such community environments is an important element. Unstructured by the imperatives of large and bureaucratic organizations… (188)

And a story to illustrate, how lovely is this.

Casey Hayden, a young white southerner who spent years working in the civil rights movement, argued in 1965:

I think we’ve learned a few things about building and sustaining a radical movement: People need institutions that belong to them, that they can experiment with and shape. In that process it’s possible to develop new forms for activity which can provide new models for how people can work together so participants can think radically about how society could operate. People stay involved and working when they can see the actual results of their thought and work in the organization. . . .9 (190)

So how to ensure that social movements move us towards more justice, deeper democracy, wider participation, lasting change? And what is the role of place/space in this? The centre of the argument.

Thus, democratic action today, as in the past, also depends upon an open and Participatory public life that can bring together diverse communities and nourish the values of citizenship. The richness and vitality of public life in free spaces stands in marked contrast to the static and thin quality of “public” in reactionary protests. …

Democratic movements have always expressed this sensibility—in contrast to the conventional assumptions that “public” and “government” are virtually identical. They have seen government as properly the agency and instrument of the self-organized community, neither itself the problem (as conservative ideology tends to view it) nor the solution (the typical perspective of modern liberalism). Thus, for instance, as the nineteenth-century Knights of Labor engaged in electoral activity, they understood such involvement to be an expression of values and community life, not as an end in itself.’

For a well-developed consciousness of broader community and generalized, active citizenship to emerge requires ways for people to build direct, face-to-face and egalitarian relationships, beyond their immediate circles of friends and smaller com-munities. Thus, a prelude to democratic movement, visible in different times and settings, has been the emergence of avenues for wider sociability. (191-92)

The appropriation of democratic possibility depends on the collective experience we have identified with free social spaces. Simply, democratic ideas only make sense in the context of democratic experience. When people begin to see in themselves the capacity to end their own hurts, to take control of their lives, they gain the capacity to tap the democratic resources in their heritage. Thus, workers drew on biblical, artisanal, and republican traditions throughout the nineteenth century and on ethnic cultures shaped to the new r environments of urban, industrial America. The separation of home and work spaces made the existence of community institutions such as taverns, churches, reading rooms, clubs, and other groups all the more essential in order to create a vocabulary in opposition to the emerging industrial order… (193)

What happens when these spaces don’t exist? They speak of a new ‘rancorous, sour mood’ that shapes the country, a new polarization. Thirty years ago.

Politics of sound bites and special interests, politicians who define their positions by the latest poll, rhetoric that inflames symbolic divisions, all have convinced citizens that the political process has lost its capacity for the elemental function once noted by Arthur Schlesinger—the “question of remedy,” provisional solutions to basic public problems. Moreover, the dilemmas of politics have not simply been inflicted upon the citizenry. A rancorous, sour mood shapes most political discussions of the citizens themselves, from abortion to animal rights, affirmative action to America’s role in the world. Debates polarize around questions of who is righteous or who is morally bankrupt. Any sense of “the people” as responsible, creative participants in making decisions, shaping our nation’s affairs, or solving critical social problems is distant indeed. A version of this politics of blame, accusation, and self-righteousness has also roiled the nation’s intellectual life. Here, the main concerns of progressive intellectuals have continued to reflect a focus born in the Sixties, on patterns and structures of oppression and injustice along lies of race, gender, culture, sexuality, and class. In response conservatives have charged that a culture of “political correctness” stifles free inquiry and debate in academia. In this climate, every side tends toward a stance of political innocence that destroys the possibility for engagement with others of different persuasion. (Vii)

Thus it’s interesting to think about space in relation to a growing populism, as noted before:

Ties of place, gender, memory, kin-ship, work, ethnicity, value and religious belief, and many other bonds may in different contexts be sources of communal solidar-ity or of fragmentation. Communities can be open, evolving, and changing—or static, parochial, defensive, and rigid. They can encourage new roles for those traditionally marginalized or powerless within their midst, or they can reinforce patterns of exclusivity and parochialism. Without attention to the specific features and processes that democratize community life, any invocation of communal values is prey to telling criticisms of sentimentality and naiveté. (184)

And its connections to the right

From a democratic perspective, more is lost through the eclipse of community than a sense of belonging and secure identity. Citizenship itself disappears from view. And the very arenas where it is nourished and given meaning—communally grounded voluntary associations of the sort we have called, throughout this work, free spaces—are defined simply as bulwarks of order and the status quo. Such a perspective, for instance, characterizes much of contemporary conservatism. (185)

All that can go wrong, but mostly this book is about all that can go right. I quite loved it. I end with one last footnote — as I say, they are marvelous. Like this cornucopia of interesting references on precisely this polarisation. All of this buried away? Terrible.

In more theoretical terms, a focus on the free spaces at the heart of democratic movements aids in the resolution of polarities that have long and bitterly divided modern observers and critics—expressive individualism versus ties of community; modernity versus tradition; public and private values, and so forth—by highlighting the living environments where people draw upon both “oppositions” to create new experiments. See especially Chapters 3, 4, and 6 for a discussion of these issues. For earlier discussions of the concept of free space, see Harry C. Boyte, “The Textile Industry: Keel of Southern Industrialization,” Radical America (March-April 1972); Sara M. Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York: Knopf, 1979); Harry C. Boyte, “Populism and the Left,” democracy 1 (April 1981): 53-66. and Sara M. Evans and Harry C. Boyte, “Schools for Action: Radical Uses of Social Space,” democracy 2 (fall 1982): 55-65. Though we have developed the concept in our explorations of American social movements, it clearly has application to other cultural and social settings. For interesting applications of the idea to other societies, see, for instance, Craig Calhoun, “Class, Place and Industrial Revolution,” in N. Thrift and P. Williams, eds., The Making of Urban Society: Historical Essays on Class Formation and Place (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985); Allen Isaacman et al., ” ‘Cotton Is the Mother of Poverty’: Peasant Resistance to Forced Cotton Production in Mozambique, 1938-1961,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 13 (1980); Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, Mozambique: From Colonialism to Revolution, 1900-1982 (Hampshire, England: Gower, 1983); Ronald Aminzade, Class, Politics and Early Industrial Capitalism: A Study of Mid-Nineteenth-Century Toulouse, France (Albany: StateUniversity of New York Press, 1981).

We have used the terms “space” and “social space” to suggest the lived, daily character of those networks and relationships that form the primary base of social movements. The concept of social space grows from traditions of social geography, ethnology, and phenomenology. It suggests strongly an “objective”, physical dimension—the ways in which places are organized and connected, fragmented, and so forth; and a subjective dimension, space as understood, perceived, and lived—what seems customary, familiar, part of daily experience. For discussions of the “socially constructed” nature of physical reality, see for instance Edward Hall, The Hidden Dimension (New York: Doubleday, 1968) and Anne Buttimer, “Social Space in Interdisciplinary Perspective,” in John Gabree, ed., Surviving the City (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973). We stress, in addition to the communal nature of free space, the importance of voluntary organizational forms through which people can learn public skills and values and take sustained action over time. But it should be noted that informal, local relations themselves normally have an important element of independence from centers of power that can sustain brief forms of resistance. As Anthony Leeds put it, “The amorphousness, multiplicity and kaleidoscopic quality of the organization of localities…are virtually impossible to legislate for (or against) or to control by uniform sets of sanctions…In this independence and its social and ecological bases s found a locus of power for cooperation with–the supralocal institutions.” “Locality Power in Relation to Supralocal Institutions,” in Aidan Southall, ed. Urban Anthropology:Crosscultural Studies of Urbanization (1973) (18-19)

Evans, Sara M. and Harry C. Boyte ([1986] 1992 ) Free Spaces: The Sources of Democratic Change in America. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

*Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life

From Longsight to The Fairfield Moravian settlement

A long long walk through to neighbourhoods we have not seen before revealed such unexpected treasures today, above all the Fairfield Moravian settlement. We walked through Gorton (increasingly well known) and on to Openshaw, Fairfield, Droylsden. Needing to stretch our legs safely in lockdown, so tired of the streets immediately around us. We went off once again in quest of more blue plaques…quests we enjoy. Mark has posted a badly photographed plaque every day now for weeks, and I love the wander through everyday streets and architectures with a preliminary destination provided by the randomness of human birth and committee-recognised achievement.

We found such extraordinary things on this walk, though sadly as much flytipping as ever. Improved, perhaps, by the presence of creepy dolls and ancient suitcases, cheap chairs sat upright in the road.

We saw flowers growing from walls, the memories of windows and doors and crosses, a canal and some cottages down at an old wharf, geese and the astounding cuteness of goslings, a Moravian settlement of cobbled streets and timeless feel, open fields, huge brick factories in various stages of disrepair and decay, very pleasing sections of older terraced housing, some fascinating church architecture (South Manchester has such a wealth of wondrous churches and mosques with astonishing spires), an extraordinary checkerboarded market building, a variety of old pubs (closed alas all closed), birds attacking a kestrel above the ghosted outlines of a factory long demolished, the library bearing a plaque for Harry Pollitt, former General Secretary and Chairman of the British Communist Party, cats on roofs and staring at us from windows, and the birthplace of Frank Hampson who created the Dan Dare comic strip.

The Moravian settlement was most extraordinary, visited as the site of two plaques but we had no idea what else what there until we found it. A whole community (or what is left of this village and its fields that once covered 60 acres) of Georgian houses opened in 1785, built by Czech Moravians fleeing persecution. The money to build it came from Moravian church member John Lees, who sold two of his mines in Oldham (mines in Oldham!) to raise the £6,000 needed (£6000!). From the church’s website:

Fairfield is a Settlement congregation which was opened in 1785. It was planned and built by its own people, with its inn, shop, bakery, farm, laundry, fire-engine, night-watchman, inspector of weights and measures, an overseer of roads, and even its physician. There were community houses for sisters and brethren, who applied themselves to the varied work of the Settlement.

With the passing of time have come changes. The boarding schools of Fairfield have gone. That for boys, started in 1790, was discontinued in 1891; and the girls’ school, begun in 1796, has passed into the care of the local authority as Fairfield High School for Girls. The work of the Moravian Theological College was transferred to Fairfield in 1875 and continued there in the original Sisters’ House until 1958. Fairfield is no longer a self contained village; no longer does the watchman make his nightly rounds, and in the farm meadows are now streets and houses.

Despite the many changes in the life of the Settlement over the past 200 years, the Church, with its worshipping and serving congregation, remains its focus and heart.

There is a lovely piece in the Manchester Evening News about the museum there (closed sadly but not-sadly of course due to lockdown) and the woman who runs it and was baptised as a baby here. From the news article (well worth a read):

With its own council, inspector of weights and measures, bakery and laundry the Morovians built their own unique community where men and women were equal.

The plaques were for Charles Hindley, first Moravian MP, mill owner and part of the factory reform movement and Mary Moffat who attended the Fairfield Girl’s School, became a missionary to South Africa and whose daughter married David Livingstone. I have left the pictures in the flow of the walk below, simply because they stand in such incredible contrast to the world around them. We were struck by how simple this place is and yet how much better it seemed to work as a place to live, labour, visit than the whole of the area around it. How I would love to live in such a place. Obviously I am a bit obsessive about how urban space works, and some of this has rubbed off on my partner. We spoke about it as we walked the long miles home. Those thoughts and more below:

  • As I stare at my pictures, and the other pleasing examples of terraces we walked past, I am ever more certain that for me it is the height of the ceilings and the size of the windows above all that makes terraced housing most pleasing. The older they are the bigger the windows, and even the most simple two up two downs are thus rescued from what always strikes me as the meanness of so much later housing construction.
  • No asphalt or paved roadways, with nicely wide pavements raised from the roadways but not otherwise distinctive. This makes the whole of the space between buildings feel more unified and for walking or playing in, with cars allowed on sufferance. They are cobbled and obviously this makes them absurdly picturesque, but it is more the narrower cobbled space for cars and the parking set in the middle rather than along the edges that makes this work I think.
  • Likewise I think houses fronting right on the pavements, trees down the middle of the space between the terraces creates more of a sense of community and connection, a shared greenspace but easy (perhaps better said easier) to maintain. But what we could see of the gardens also showed them much loved and beautiful
  • Unified building materials but very differently sized dwellings giving visual interest, adding nooks and crannies and varied surfaces but also a sense that this community has planned for a diversity of household sizes and needs. There is clearly some level of class/status distinction here, but they feel to some extent unremarkable in the face of the quality of building, the greater sense of community expressed by the layout of the buildings and the way people clearly lived side by side.
  • the feeling of artisan rather than mass construction
  • Beautiful communal buildings
  • Well cared for and maintained (I’m guessing few absentee landlords here, and regulations maintaining the ‘historic preservation’ aspect), clean, some houses covered by greenery (my favourites of course) but many not

I found a map of the original settlement that shows the layout and the changing building uses, including the initial building of rooms for single men and women:

By F H Mellowes – Two Hundred Years of Church Service, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6869830

Scrolling down, you meet a statue to honour the early Moravians themselves, and then the village is easy to see emerging from South Manchester. But this walk took us past many streets and buildings and spaces full of character, one of my favourites so far.

Gropius on the Scope of Total Architecture

I almost wholeheartedly loved Walter Gropius on the Scope of Total Architecture. One of the key figures of Bauhaus, he still writes this as his preface, reminding us of the ideals behind the best of this new architecture:

CREATION AND love of beauty are elemental for the experience of happiness. A time which does not recognize this basic truth does not become articulate in the visual sense; its image remains blurred, its manifestations fail to delight.

Since my early youth I have been acutely aware of the chaotic
ugliness of our modem man-made environment when compared to the unity and beauty of old, preindustrial towns. In the course of my life I became more and more convinced that the usual practice of architects to relieve the dominating disjointed pattern here and there by a beautiful building is most inadequate and that we must find, instead, a new set of values, based on such constituent factors as would generate an integrated expression of the thought and feeling of our time.

How such a unity might be attained to become the visible pattern for a true democracy-that is the topic of this book. It is based, essentially, on articles and lectures written-with a few exceptions-during my years in Harvard University as chairman of the Department of Architecture (1937-1952). (7)

So much in common here with so many others I have read:

ENTERING A new chapter of my life that–contrary to the normal expectation of life after seventy–looks to me just as turbulent and perilous as the period preceding it, I realize that I am a figure covered with labels, maybe to the point of obscurity. Names like “Bauhaus Style,” “International Style,” “Functional Style” have almost succeeded in hiding the human core behind it all, and I am eager, therefore, to put a few cracks into this dummy that busy people have slipped around me. (11)

So many cracks! I am so glad to have read this.

Part 1: Education of Architects and Designers

He is and architect and planner, but in many ways and above all a teacher. There is so much here about supporting the following generations to think, imagine, create for themselves. It is lovely, open-minded, focused always on self-improvement through collective endeavor. I also love the way he italicises sentences — much like Ruskin’s aphorisms but not pulled to one side. I have highlighted them because the formatting loses them just a little.

MY intention is not to introduce a, so to speak, cut and dried “Modern Style” from Europe, but rather to introduce a method of approach which allows one to tackle a problem according to its peculiar conditions. I want a young architect to be able to find his way in whatever circumstances; I want him independently to create true, genuine forms out of the technical, economic and social conditions in which he finds himself instead of imposing a learned formula onto surroundings which may call for an entirely different solution. It is not so much a ready-made dogma that I want to teach, but an attitude toward the problems of our generation which is unbiased, original and elastic. (17)

This is a little more of what I was expecting:

Only perfect harmony in its technical functions as well as in its proportions can result in beauty. That makes our task so manifold and complex. (18)

But this relates more to understanding architecture as not simply of aesthetic value but its role in our everyday lives. The way he writes shades sometimes into the uncomfortable pronouncements of the expert upon how lives should be lived, but there is enough sensibility of people’s need to have ownership and control over their environments that could win out over such a top-down assumption of privilege. I am not sure they always did of course, but they might have.

More than ever before is it in the hands of us architects to help our contemporaries to lead a natural and sensible life instead of paying a heavy tribute to the false gods of make-believe. We can respond to this demand only if we are not afraid to approach our work from the broadest possible angle. Good architecture should be a projection of life itself and that implies an intimate knowledge of biological, social, technical and artistic problems. (18)

My Conception of the Bauhaus Idea

After that violent eruption, every thinking man felt the necessity for an intellectual change of front. Each in his own particular sphere of activity aspired to help in bridging the disastrous gulf between reality and idealism. It was then that the immensity of the mission of the architect of my own generation first dawned on me. I saw that, first of all, a new scope for architecture had to be outlined, which I could not hope to realize, however, by my own architectural contributions alone, but which would have to be achieved by training and preparing a new generation of architects in close contact with modern means of production in a pilot school which must succeed in acquiring authoritative significance…

I tried to put the emphasis of my work on integration and co-ordination, inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, for I felt that the art of building is contingent upon the co-ordinated teamwork of a band of active collaborators whose co-operation symbolizes the co-operative organism of what we call society. (19)

I can’t help but feel that this is the genius of Gropius, not so much in what he designed but in the open vision he developed and invited others to own, the creation of collaborative spaces that respected all aspects of creative work, the support of an ideal that working together we are always better than working alone. This thread runs throughout his writings, as does the necessity of reconciling the new industrial reality with a high quality of art and life in a way that someone like Ruskin never could.

Thus the Bauhaus was inaugurated in 1919 with the specific object of realizing a modern architectonic art… It deliberately concentrated primarily on what has now become a work of imperative urgency–averting mankind’s enslavement by the machine by saving the mass-product and the home from mechanical anarchy and by restoring them to purpose, sense and life. This means evolving goods and buildings specifically designed for industrial production. (20)

And so we have interdependence rather than individualism:

What the Bauhaus preached in practice was the common citizenship of all forms of creative work, and their logical interdependence on one another in the modern world. (20)

Our conception of the basic unity of all design in relation to life was in diametric opposition to that of “art for art’s sake” and the much more dangerous philosophy it sprang from, business as an end in itself. …

Here again the emphasis on an openness of vision:

The object of the Bauhaus was not to propagate any “style,” system or dogma, but simply to exert a revitalising influence on design. A “Bauhaus Style” would have been a confession of failure and a return to that devitalizing inertia, that stagnating academism which I had called it into being to combat…

God knows we have too much of the stagnating academism. He opposed this as much as he did the early specialisation to the ignorance of other forms of art and knowledge:

The Bauhaus aimed at the training of people possessing artistic talents as designers in industry and handicrafts, as sculptors, painters and architects. A complete co-ordinated training of all handicrafts, in technique and in form, with the object of teamwork in building, served as the basis. (23)

It embraces this idea of industrialisation as a force that can free us from labour rather than enslave us further. When exactly did we lose that?

The standardization of the practical machinery of life implies no robotization of the individual but, on the contrary, the unburdening of his existence from much unnecessary dead weight so as to leave him freer to develop on a higher plane. (20) … Ruskin and Morris were the first to set their faces against the tide, but their opposition against the machine could not stem the waters. It was only much later that the perplexed mind of those interested in the development of form realized that art and production can be reunited only by accepting the machine and subjugating it to the mind. (21)

and this, refining and repurposing their critique for modern times:

The difference between industry and handicraft is due far less to the different nature of the tools employed in each, than to subdivision of labor in the one and undivided control by a single workman in the other. (22)

His solution? Perhaps not immediately obvious, I am not sure even now perhaps with the benefit of hindsight given all the complexities of capital and consumerism.

DEVELOPMENT OF STANDARD TYPES. The creation of standard types for everyday goods is a social necessity. The standard product is by no means an invention of our own era. It is only the methods of producing it which have changed. It still implies the highest level of civilization, the seeking out of the best, the separation of the essential and superpersonal from the personal and accidental It is today more necessary than ever to understand the underlying significance of the conception “standard”–that is to say, as a cultural title of honor–and firmly to combat the shallow catchword propaganda which simply raises every industrial mass product to that high rank. (26)

Last point here, the importance he set on practice, on experience, on book learning and classroom teaching less than half an education. I love how the material space of the Bauhaus came to be.

In particular, the erection of our own institute buildings, in which the whole Bauhaus and its workshops co-operated, represented an ideal task. (27)

Is there a science of Design?

This looks at design psychologically, understanding how we experience reality and illusion, how children’s perceptions change, the impacts of our subconscious. All the new insights swirling about at the time that now perhaps feel a little dated — but so will our theories in the same span of time. I would like to think architects continue to grapple with them. Gropius again turns to a kind of standardisation:

If design is to be a specific language of communication for the expression of subconscious sensations, then It must have its own elementary codes of scale, form and color. It needs its own grammar of composition to integrate these elementary codes into messages which, expressed through the senses, link man to man even closer than do words. The more this visual language of communication is spread, the better will be the common understanding. This is the task of education: to teach what influences the psyche of man in terms of light, scale, space, form and color. (33)

I am unsure what quite I think of this. What resonates more clearly is the insight into a need for change and motion, the enjoyment of creative tensions.

THE NEED FOR CHANGE. This shift in the basic concept of our world from static space to continuously changing relations engages our mental and emotional faculties of perception…Art must satisfy this perpetual urge to swing from contrast to contrast; the spark, generated by tension of opposites, creates the peculiar vitality of a work of art. For it is a fact that a human being needs frequently changing impressions in order to keep his receptive abilities alert. (40)

He writes a bit later:

We have also learned that the human being needs frequently
changing impressions in order to keep his receptive abilities alert. To produce such a stimulus for him contemporary artists and architects try to create the illusion of motion. (69)

Part Two: The Contemporary Architect

Appraisal of the Development of Modern Architecture

I think the present situation can be summed up as follows: a breach has been made with the past which enables us to envisage a new aspect of architecture corresponding to the technical civilization of the age we live in; the morphology of dead styles has been destroyed and we are returning to honesty of thought and feeling; the general public, which was formerly indifferent to everything to do with building, has been shaken out of its torpor; personal interest in architecture as something that concerns every one of us in our daily lives has been aroused in wide circles; and the lines of future development have become clearly manifest throughout Europe. (59)

I am not sure this still feels true, but I love how it rings.

Archeology or Architecture for Contemporary buildings?

This reminds me quite a bit of Lefebvre, and I love this stretching towards how the co-constitution of society and material built environment might work.

ARCHITECTURE is said to be a true mirror of the life and social behavior of a period. If that is true, we should be able to read from its present features the driving forces of our own time. There is conflicting evidence, however. …

Surely there will always be conflicting evidence, surely this conflict must reflect the various social conflicts as much as capital and its dominant aesthetic and social ideals.

Good original architecture depends just as much on an understanding public as on its creators. (66)

I’m still thinking through that.

The Architect Within Our Industrial Society

His is a broad vision far beyond architecture conceived as a single structure, as his writing on housing issues and planning show. He has strong critique of capitalism:

The satisfaction of the human psyche resulting from beauty is just as important for a full, civilized life, or even more so, than the fulfillment of our material comfort requirements.

We sense that our own period has lost that unity, that the sickness of our present chaotic environment, its often pitiful ugliness and disorder have resulted from our failure to put basic human needs above economical and industrial requirements. (71)

As already noted, a strong preference for the collective above the individual, and a very different vision of leadership based on this:

to collaborate without losing their identity. This is to me an urgent task lying before the new generation, not only in the field of architecture but in all our endeavors to create an integrated society. (78)

The conditio sine qua non of true teamwork is voluntariness;
it cannot be established by command. It calls for an unprejudiced state of mind and for the firm belief that togetherness of thought and action is a prerequisite for the growth of human culture. Individual talent will assert itself quickly in such a group and will profit for its part from the cross-fertilization of minds in the give and take of daily contact. True leadership can emerge when all members have a chance to become leaders by performance, not by appointment. Leadership does not depend on innate talent only, but very much on one’s intensity of conviction and devotion to serve. Serving and leading seem to be interdependent. (79)

Synchronizing all individual efforts the team can raise its integrated work to higher potentials than is represented by the sum of the work of just so many individuals. (80)

Architect–Servant or Leader?

So what has Bauhaus achieved in his view?

If we look back to see what has been achieved during the last thirty or forty years we find that the artistic gentleman-architect who turned out charming Tudor mansions with all modern conveniences has almost vanished. This type of applied archeology is disappearing fast. It is melting in the fire of our conviction that the architect should conceive buildings not as monuments but as receptacles for the flow of life which they have to serve, and that his conception must be flexible enough to create a background fit to absorb the dynamic features of our modern life. (84)

If only this had not been quite so true, resulting in today’s starchitect working in service of capital:

This cult of the ego has delayed the general acceptance of the sound trends in modern architecture. Remnants of this mentality must be eliminated before the true spirit of the architectural revolution can take root among the people everywhere and produce a common form expression of our time after almost half a century of trial and error. This will presuppose a determined attitude of the new architect to direct his efforts toward finding the type, the best common denominator instead of toward the provocative stunt. (85)

It feels like we now live in ever more global cities of provocative stunts and banal ‘luxury’ residential sameness precisely because ‘we’ (developers, planners, people with money) have failed to put ‘basic human needs above economical and industrial requirements‘. Principally economic as financialisation sweeps all before it. It has resulted in a cold and sterile style that draws on Bauhaus, but has none of its soul, vision or open adaptability to facilitate life rather than capital.

Anyway, a few more posts on this to come — much better than the old post on another of my dad’s old books that I read some time ago now.

Gropius, Walter ( 1966 [1943]) Scope of Total Architecture. New York: Collier Books.

from Matsutake mushrooms to entanglements, patches and methodologies

I found Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World such an extraordinary book. I love particularly how it stretches to understand and theorise complexity in a way closely tied to justice struggles, that includes but is hardly limited to political economy and ecology.

It opens with this idea of entanglement, and its challenges to more traditional theorising around capitalism, nature, knowledge. I love her language, her style and the way it in turn allows such an intense grappling-with-things-as-they-are. She talks about enabling entanglements, all that this allows us to think through:

Ever since the enlightenment, western philosophers have shown us a Nature that is grand and universal but also passive and mechanical. Nature was a backdrop and resource for the moral intentionality of Man, which could tame and master Nature. It was left to fabulists, including non-Western and non-civilizational storytellers, to remind us of the lively activities of all beings, human and not human. Several things have happened to undermine this division of labor. First, all that taming and mastering has made such a mess that it is unclear whether life on earth can continue. Second, interspecies entanglements that once seemed the stuff of fables are now materials for serious discussion among biologists and ecologists, who show how life requires the interplay of many kinds of beings. Humans cannot survive by stomping on all the others. Third, women and men from around the world have clamored to be included in the status once given to Man. Our riotous presence undermines the moral intentionality of Man’s Christian masculinity, which separated Man from Nature. The time has come for new ways of telling true stories beyond civilizational first principles.

There is no question of what the stakes are — this wonderful idea of riotous presence. She continues

Without Man and Nature, all creatures can come back to life, and men and women can express themselves without the strictures of a parochially imagined rationality. (vii)

She continues:

My book then offers “third nature,” that is, what manages to live despite capitalism. To even notice third nature, we must evade assumptions that the future is that singular direction ahead…Yet progress stories have blinded us. To know the world without them, this books sketches open-ended assemblages of entangled ways of life, as these coalesce in coordination across many kinds of temporal rhythms. (viii)

This ‘crippling assumption’ of linear progress is critiqued again and again, as is the reduction of theory:

While I refuse to reduce either economy or ecology to the other, there is one connection between economy and environment that seems important to introduce up front: the history of the human concentration of wealth through making both humans and nonhumans into re-sources for investment. This history has inspired investors to imbue both people and things with alienation, that is, the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter.’ Through alienation, people and things become mobile assets; they can be removed from their life worlds in distance-defying transport to be exchanged with other assets from other life worlds, elsewhere.’ This is quite different from merely using others as part of a life world—for example, in eating and being eaten. In that case, multispecies living spaces remain in place. Alienation obviates living-space entanglement. The dream of alienation inspires landscape modification in which only one stand-alone asset matters; everything else becomes weeds or waste. Here, attending to living-space entanglements seems inefficient, and perhaps archaic. When its singular asset can no longer be produced, a place can be abandoned. The timber has been cut: the oil has run out; the plantation soil no longer supports crops. The search for assets resumes elsewhere. Thus, simplification for alienation produces ruins, spaces of abandonment for asset production. Global landscapes today are strewn with this kind of ruin. Still, these places can be lively despite announcements of their death; abandoned asset fields sometimes yield new multispecies and multicultural life. In a global state of precarity, we don’t have choices other than looking for life in this ruin. (5-6)

Again this is creating theory able to think in new ways about an all-pervasive precarity, all-pervasive spaces of abandonment and ruin (at the same as possible spaces of life and hope), and the entanglements that are part of this in complex ways. On precarity:

Precarity is the condition of being vulnerable to others. Unpredictable encounters transform us; we are not in control, even of ourselves. Unable to rely on a stable structure of community, we are thrown into shifting assemblages, which remake us as well as our others. We can’t rely on the status quo; everything is in flux, including our ability to survive. Thinking through precarity changes social analysis. A precarious world is a world without teleology. Indeterminacy, the unplanned nature of time, is frightening, but thinking through precarity makes it evident that indeterminacy also makes life possible. (20)

On assemblage, which she draws on a great deal and I confess I’ve never much cared for… but I love the idea stretched to be wielded in this way, these lifeways.

The concept of assemblage is helpful. Ecologists turned to assemblages to get around the sometimes fixed and bounded connotations of ecological “community.” The question of how the varied species in a species assemblage influence each other—if at all—is never settled: some thwart (or eat) each other; others work together to make life possible: still others just happen to find themselves in the same place. Assemblages are open-ended gatherings. They allow us to ask about communal effects without assuming them. They show us potential histories in the making. For my purposes, however, I need something other than organisms as the elements that gather. I need to see lifeways—and non-living ways of being as well—coming together. Nonhuman ways of being, like human ones, shift historically. For living things, species identities are a place to begin, but they are not enough: ways of being are emergent effects of encounters. Thinking about humans makes this clear. Foraging for mushrooms is a way of life—but not a common characteristic of all humans. The issue is the same for other species. Pines find mushrooms to help them use human-made open spaces. Assemblages don’t just gather lifeways; they make them. Thinking through assemblage urges us to ask: How do gatherings sometimes become “happenings,” that is, greater than the sum of their parts? If history without progress is indeterminate and multidirectional, might assemblages show us its possibilities?

Patterns of unintentional coordination develop in assemblages. To notice such patterns means watching the interplay of temporal rhythms and scales in the divergent lifeways that gather. Surprisingly, this turns out to be a method that might revitalize political economy as well as environmental studies. Assemblages drag political economy inside them, and not just for humans. Plantation crops have lives different from those of their free-living siblings; cart horses and hunter steeds share species but not lifeways. Assemblages cannot hide from capital and the state; they are sites for watching how political economy works. If capitalism has no teleology, we need to see what comes together—not just by prefabrication, but also by juxtaposition. (23)

I love how for her this fits into the landscape — a term with immense baggage in the world of geography, but still very useful I think. It moves into questions of methodology, where I also find so much to think about here, draw into my own work.

Telling stories of landscape requires getting to know the inhabitants of the landscape, human and not human. This is not easy, and it makes sense to me to use all the learning practices I can think of, including our combined forms of mindfulness, myths and tales, livelihood practices, archives, scientific reports, and experiments. But this hodgepodge creates suspicions—particularly, indeed, with the allies I hailed in reaching out to anthropologists of alternative world makings. For many cultural anthropologists, science is best regarded as a straw man against which to explore alternatives, such as indigenous practices.12 To mix scientific and vernacular forms of evidence invites accusations of bowing down to science. Yet this assumes a monolithic science that digests all practices into a single agenda. Instead, I offer stories built through layered and disparate practices of knowing and being. If the components clash with each other, this only enlarges what such stories can do. (159)

The concept of salvage, something I also find really useful:

‘taking advantage of value produced without capitalist control…”Salvage accumulation” is the process through which lead firms amass capital without controlling the conditions under which commodities are produced. Salvage is not an ornament on ordinary capitalist processes; it is a feature of how capitalism works. (63)

On supply chains, commodities, what a mushroom can teach us about the contemporary nature of capitalism, the idea of translation:

A supply chain is a particular kind of commodity chain: one in which lead firms direct commodity traffic.’ Throughout this part, I explore the supply chain linking matsutake pickers in the forests of Oregon with those who eat the mushrooms in Japan. The chain is surprising and full of cultural variety. The factory work through which we know capitalism is mainly missing. But the chain illuminates something important about capitalism today: Amassing wealth is possible without rationalizing labor and raw materials. Instead, it requires acts of translation across varied social and political spaces, which, borrowing from ecologists’ usage, I call “patches.” Translation, in Shiho Satsuka’s sense, is the drawing of one world-making project into another.2 While the term draws attention to language, it can also refer to other forms of partial attunement. Translations across sites of difference are capitalism: they make it possible for investors to accumulate wealth. (62)

and this:

Global supply chains ended expectations of progress because they allowed lead corporations to let go of their commitment to controlling labor. Standardizing labor required education and regularized jobs, thus connecting profits and progress. In supply chains, in contrast, goods gathered from many arrangements can lead to profits for the lead firm: commitments to jobs, education, and well-being are no longer even rhetorically necessary. Supply chains require a particular kind of salvage accumulation, involving translation across patches. The modern history of U.S.-Japanese relations is a counterpoint of call-and-response that spread this practice around the world. (110)

She continues with what helped out allow the global shift to outsourcing but following the commodity chain of the matsutake — this is a long quote but traces this way of unraveling how things work, fit together, of seeing absences as well as presences, of bringing together multiple ways of understanding how a thing works and how assemblage might be a useful concept along more traditional concepts used in looking at capitalism like alienation:

…I let the thread of the story unroll quite far from matsutake. Yet at each step I need the chain’s reminders to resist the lull of current erasures. This is not just a story, then, but also a method: big histories are always best told through insistent, if humble, details.

In collecting goods and people from around the world, capitalism itself has the characteristics of an assemblage. However, it seems to me that capitalism also has characteristics of a machine, a contraption limited to the sum of its parts. This machine is not a total institution, which we spend our lives inside; instead, it translates across living arrangements. turning worlds into assets. But not just any translation can be accepted into capitalism. The gathering it sponsors is not open-ended. An army of technicians and managers stand by to remove offending parts—and they have the power of courts and guns. This does not mean that the machine has a static form. As I argued in tracing the history of Japanese-U.S. trade relations, new forms of capitalist translation come into being all the time. Indeterminate encounters matter in shaping capitalism. Yet it is not a wild profusion. Some commitments are sustained, through force.

Two have been particularly important for my thinking in this book. First, alienation is that form of disentanglement that allows the making of capitalist assets. Capitalist commodities are removed from their life-worlds to serve as counters in the making of further investments. Infinite needs are one result; there is no limit on how many assets investors want. Thus, too, alienation makes possible accumulation—the amassing of investment capital, and this is the second of my concerns. Accumulation is important because it converts ownership into power. Those with capital can overturn communities and ecologies. Meanwhile, because capitalism is a system of commensuration, capitalist value forms flourish even across great circuits of difference. Money becomes investment capital, which can produce more money. Capitalism is a translation machine for producing capital from all kinds of livelihoods, human and not human. (133)

Gives examples of children reclaiming precious and dangerous metals from cell phones as another example of salvage — not anything thought of as capitalist labour, yet important to more traditional forms of labour such as the making of new phones.

However, there is something peculiar and frightening in this dedication salvage, as if everyone were taking advantage of the end of the world to gather up riches before the last bits are destroyed. (274)

These different forms of exploitation alongside each other makes theorising and organising for a better world difficult, but it is the task before us. Salvage is perhaps a term that can help get us where we need to go:

The challenges are enormous. Salvage accumulation reveals a world of difference, where oppositional politics does not fall easily into utopian plans for solidarity. Every livelihood patch has its own history and dynamics, and there is no automatic urge to argue together, across the viewpoints emerging from varied patches, about the outrages of accumulation and power. Since no patch is “representative,” no group’s struggles, taken alone, will overturn capitalism. Yet this is not the end of politics. Assemblages, in their diversity, show us what later I call the `latent commons,” that is, entanglements that might be mobilized in common cause. Because collaboration is always with us, we can maneuver within its possibilities. We will need a politics with the strength of diverse and shifting coalitions—and not just for humans. The business of progress depended on conquering an infinitely rich nature through alienation and scalability. If nature has turned finite, and even fragile, no wonder entrepreneurs have rushed to get what they can before the goods run out, while conservationists desperately contrive to save scraps. The next part of this book offers an alternative politics of more-than-human entanglements. (134-35)

And so we return to methods, to storytelling, to knowing place:

Telling stories of landscape requires getting to know the inhabitants of the landscape, human and not human. This is not easy, and it makes sense to me to use all the learning practices I can think of, including our combined forms of mindfulness, myths and tales, livelihood practices, archives, scientific reports, and experiments. But this hodgepodge creates suspicions—particularly, indeed, with the allies I hailed in reaching out to anthropologists of alternative world makings. For many cultural anthropologists, science is best regarded as a straw man against which to explore alternatives, such as indigenous practices.12 To mix scientific and vernacular forms of evidence invites accusations of bowing down to science. Yet this assumes a monolithic science that digests all practices into a single agenda. Instead, I offer stories built through layered and disparate practices of knowing and being. If the components clash with each other, this only enlarges what such stories can do. (159)

History is central to this, but what is it exactly? What does it need to be?

“History” is both a human storytelling practice and that set of remainders from the past that we turn into stories. Conventionally, historians look only at human remainders, such as archives and diaries, but there is no reason not to spread our attention to the tracks and traces of nonhumans, as these contribute to our common landscapes. Such tracks and traces speak to cross-species entanglements in contingency and con-juncture, the components of “historical” time. To participate in such entanglement, one does not have to make history in just one way.’ Whether or not other organisms “tell stories,” they contribute to the overlapping tracks and traces that we grasp as history.2 History, then, is the record of many trajectories of world making, human and not human. (168)

Just two other tidbits to end:

Privatization is never complete; it needs shared spaces to create any value. That is the secret of property’s continuing theft–but also its vulnerability. (271)

I just need to sit and think about that. And this, which perhaps is the real challenge this book seeks to address, the need for these new ways of thinking, studying, understanding:

Progress gave us the “progressive” political causes with which I grew up. I hardly know how to think about justice without progress. The problem is that progress stopped making sense. (25)

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Colin ward is Talking Houses

This is a great, quite a short introduction to some of Colin Ward’s thinking about housing. Written from an anarchist viewpoint, it shows just how fruitful this critique can be of a lumbering, one-size-fits-all and paternalistic state building programme (not that I wouldn’t trade that for anything we’ve had since). It also opens up new ways of thinking, planning, building housing better the next time around I think, and of how we might transform what we have left. These are just a handful of insights.

Above all I appreciate his central point, reiterated over and over again (and these are, mind you, a series of talks given in different places over different points of time, so a very accessible way into his thinking, but a little repetitive as well) that the key to it all is dweller control not ownership. You don’t need to own a place to make it home, but we (almost) all have that desire for a safe and secure place that we can make our own. Ward writes:

The application of anarchist ideas to the basic need of human shelter is dweller control and it is evident to me that people draw their inspiration from what other people actually succeed in doing. Not the affluent, who take dweller control for granted because they have freedom of choice, but ordinary fellow citizens facing every kind of difficulty because the system doesn’t cater for their aspirations. (7)

He did so much, like John Turner, to help show just what it was other people were doing.

He describes 3 revolutions in housing expectations bringing us into the present:

  1. Revolution in tenure: Before the first world war the norm, for both rich and poor alike, was renting in the private market. (7)
  2. Revolution in services and housing densities: Domestic service or some level of help common quite far down the social scale, replaced by mechanisation. Density extremely high in city centres. ‘Both demographic changes and decentralisation have had a liberating effect‘ (8)
  3. Revolution in the nature of households: A century of housing for nuclear households, now a minority

He also notes, ‘the landlord-tenant relationship has never, through all of history, been a happy one.‘ (9)

That made me laugh out loud.

The Do It Yourself New Town (1975)

The philosopher Martin Buber begins his essay Society and the State with an observation from the sociologist Robert MacIver that “to identify the social with the political is to be guilty of the grossest of all confusion, which completely bars any understanding of either society or the state”. The political principle, for Buber, is characterised by power, authority, hierarchy, dominion. He sees the social principle wherever men link themselves in an association based on a common or a common interest. (18)

I like that distinction. It’s maybe too long since I read Buber. Ward goes on to describe the long running connection between anarchism and planning, particularly Ebenezer Howard and Patrick Geddes. Geddes, it turns out, knew Kropotkin, Paul and Élisée Reclus. And of course they lived in times of ferment, Ward arguing that part of Howard’s success with the idea of the Garden City was that it came out at the same time as Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops, Blatchford’s Merrie England, and H.G. Wells’ Anticipation. (31)

His view of the Tudor-Walters Report in 1918 in how it moved away from dweller control toward paternal state ownership — rather a different that received wisdom which focuses on its virtues of architecture and attention to the health of the inhabitants such as that of Burnett in his History of Housing. Ward argues instead that it:

froze out all other forms of social housing in favour of direct municipal provision. Today, with public housing in collapse, we are suddenly discovering the virtues of cooperative housing — a notion dear to the heart of Howard and Unwin which has been neglected for sixty years, even though if you go to a country like Denmark where a third of housing is in the hands of tenemant co-operatives they say to the English visitor, “We owe it all to your Rochdale Pioneers.” (22)

Dismantling Whitehall

Always a welcome title, it might be enough on its own. But no. Even at this period, Ward is calling attention to this key dynamic which has only accelerated over time:

Every change in the allocation of funds from the central treasury to local authorities, in the bewildering changes of nomenclature since the 1950s has reduced their ability to decide for themselves. General Grants, Block Grants or Rate Support Grants have each been heralded by sales talk about more local discretion, but in fact each, while apparently giving greater freedom to local authorities, has been used to reduce their freedom of manoeuvre and their ability to select their priorities (49).

It has also, of course, reduced funding time and time again.

Until We Build Again

Again, for Ward the real point is that we needed space for many different kinds of housing — for various forms of cooperatives, self-builds and sweat equity. That we could have had a much different kind of city, with an entirely different relationship between residents and their built environment.

There was a phrase used about Gandhi by Vinoba Bhave. He said, ‘Gandhiji used up all the moral oxygen in India and the British Raj suffocated”. In the same way we might say that the direct provision of housing for rent by local councils used up all the inventive capacity of councils, and the alternatives never got a chance, they were suffocated. Now is the time to nurture the alternatives… (59)

Again the point that people step into responsibility for space if it is offered and they have the resource (though of course, the continual inventiveness around securing resource are legend). These trajectories of investment and decline are made visible street by street:

Most of us are familiar with the paradox that the life or death of buildings was decided by a line drawn on a map on the centreline of a road. One one side houses were demolished as unfit for human habitation, and were eventually replaced by flats that declined from the moment they were occupied. On the other, identical houses were sold off on the private market and improved by their purchases, making use of improvement grants and DIY. There was no magic about their success. It depended on access to resources and upon the opportunity to use one’s own resourcefulness , which is the concomitant of the dweller being in control. (60-61)

He gives a few examples of where alternatives were supported to flourish: some of the policies in Glasgow, supporting co-ops and urban homesteading in Easterhouse, The Lewisham Self Build Association, co-operative development agencies in Liverpool…

Direct Action for Working-Class Housing

I still haven’t read Gorz, he has been on my list for years. Precisely because of quote like this:

Classical socialist doctrine finds it difficult to come to terms with political and social pluralism, understood not simply as a plurality of parties and trade unions but as the co-existence of various ways of working, producing and living, various and distinct cultural areas and levels of social existence…Yet this kind of pluralism precisely conforms to the lived experience and aspirations of the post-industrial proletariat, as well as the major part of the traditional working class. (68)

This dynamic is as visible in housing as anywhere else, where of course the impulses were utopian but they were also imposed top down. For Ward, in evaluating the work of local authorities post-war who believed only large-scale solutions, the results were tragic:

When they ran out of bomb sites they made themselves a second blitz. Colin Jones has shown how the self-confident rush to destroy the past in Glasgow and Liverpool has resulted in a new housing loss and Graham Lomas demonstrated in 1975 how in London more fit houses had been destroyed than had been built since the war. (73)

Anarchy or Order? The Planner’s Dilemma (1985)

Ward writes

… our present misgivings and dilemmas about the role of planning in society are not the product of the energy crisis, nor of the collapse of the job market, nor of the present government’s ideology. They go back to fundamental differences in the world view of those whose version of the origins and functions of planning is that it is a popular movement associated with non-professionals like Ebenezer Howard, Patrick Geddes and F. J. Osborn and the whole garden cities movement that evolved with the TCPA, and those who see it as an extension of the sanitary reforms of the last century and governmental intervention in the housing market, with a hierarchy of professional expertise in local and central government administering the very comprehensive legislation for controlling land use that has accumulated since 1947.

I think this is a key tension in planning (though still struggle a bit with Howard as a proponent of bottom-up popular housing, I don’t know enough about Geddes or Osborn to feel much either way about them). But I do think this has all too often been true — a quote from Bruce Alsop:

It is astonishing with what savagery planners and architects are trying to obliterate working-class cultural and social patterns. Is it because many of them are first generation middle-class technosnobs? (85 – from (Towards a Humane Architecture, 1974)

Part of me responds to these great utopian visions of past planners and some of the brutalist building here in the UK, but I am more at ease with this suspicion in the long run:

If we have to polarise our attitudes between order and disorder, I fear order most, because I know that the order that will be imposed is the order of the secure and privileged. Socialist planners like Sharp thought that they were restraining the disorder of get-rich-quick capitalist entrepreneurs, when in fact they were trampling on the invisible order of those who just want a chance, as J. B. Priestley put it, to “get on with their own lives”. (92)

An Anarchist Approach to Urban Planning

Another great quote — one of the things I have loved about reading these is finding other people to look up and read. Like Giancarlo De Carlo:

The first main attitude is based on two principle arguments. Firstly that authority cannot be a liberating agent — perfectly true; secondly, that man [and of course today he would say man and woman] can do nothing until he is free — a mistaken view. Man cannot be liberated, he must liberate himself, and any progress towards that liberation can only be the conscious expression of his own will. The investigation of the full extent of the region, city and home, is such an activity. To find out the nature of problems and to prepare their solutions is a concrete example of direct action, taking away the powers of authority and giving them back to men [and women].

The attitude of hostility that really means “waiting for the revolution to do it”, does not take into account the fact that the social revolution will be accomplished by clear heads, not by sick and stunted people unable to think of the future because of the problems of the present. It forgets that the revolution begins in the elimination of these evils so as to create the necessary conditions of a free society. (124)

I also love, and had never before heard of, the ‘rungs’ of Arnstein’s ‘Ladder of Participation’. Climbing up from the bottom, these are:

Citizen Control
Delegated Power
Partnership
Placation
Consultation
Informing
Therapy
Manipulation

The top 5 are all too familiar, the top one what we always struggled to achieve. Ward writes:

I have always found Arnstein’s Ladder a very useful measuring-rod which enables us to get behind the barrage of propaganda and decide whether any particular exercise in “public participation” is merely manipulation or therapy, or often deception (which found no place on Arnstein’s ladder — but should have done). (126)

He is also clear about his critique of council housing from this perspective, and aware of where else the critique was coming from:

Because there is a political no-person’s-land which Mrs Thatcher and her advisers are colonising from the Right, and which you and I are colonising from the Left. Don’t be disconcerted about this. The wilderness is a good place to be, just because it’s a location for initiative, experiment, wild hopes and lost causes. (137)

Looking back now I would argue we can say this hope that such a wilderness could be inhabited without being colonised entirely by neoliberalism facilitating real estate as a key economic driver was a lost cause. Looking back now, and in comparing the UK to the States, you could argue that for all its faults, the vast numbers of council houses meant a depressed property market, created conditions in its margins for wild hopes, initiative and experiment no longer possible in many cities across the globe under accelerating financialisation. Not good enough, but better than where we are now. Because I am all for those hopes and experiments, and I do wish resources had been forthcoming to support them in broad, mutually sustaining ways. Even just a bunch of plain old co-ops. I am still a bit mournful reading this:

I don’t think that anyone here will now claim that the role of local authorities is that of a direct provider. We have been through that syndrome for several lifetimes, and it has taken the present government to break the connection, using thoroughly dishonest slogans about “setting the people free” (138)

Depressing, but this importance of dweller control to the dwellers themselves seems to resonate so strongly — what if we had had that impulse from the beginning, where would Right to Buy have been? Would the steady government centralisation of funding and control if not of responsibility have been the same on such a foundation? Could a central government austerity have stripped council after council, community after community of almost everything and given it away to its cronies? Ward could write even then:

Britain is the most unitary, which is to say, centralised, state in Europe, with a few exceptions like Romania or Albania. All political factions are to blame for this. The Left, intoxicated by the idea of conquering state power, rejoiced in being able to override reactionary local authorities. The Right, in spite of a tradition dating back to Edmund Burke, which exalted the local over the central, is equally intoxicated by its current success in finding one way after another of ensuring that local government can be brought to heel by innumerable small administrative measures intended to destroy those Labour Party which it has expanded into an Enemy to be eliminated.

I find this very sinister indeed… (139)

And here we are.

Ward, Colin (1990) Talking Houses. London: Freedom Press.

Red Vienna in Exhibition

This was splendid, how lucky we were. There was loads here about housing, but more on that later, but it was amazing. Red Vienna was amazing. After the electoral victory of the Austrian Social Democratic Worker’s Party (SDAPÖ) in May of 1919 Vienna, the new socialist council accomplished great things to improve the lives of workers. There was a moment of reactionary violence in 1927. Then in 1934 civil war, Red Vienna crushed beneath violence and bloodshed by the Nazis and I had never heard of a civil war…I know I keep discovering my own ignorance.

But the exhibition is a moment to look at all they dreamed and all they accomplished, and their bravery in the struggle to keep it.

This was perhaps one of my favourite concrete things:

Red Vienna Exhibition

A one piece cast-concrete kitchen scullery designed by Margarete Lihotzky to conserve as much space as possible for the new housing units. She did it based on observation of how women worked and what they needed — something that had not been done before (surprise surprise). She would go on to design the Frankfurt kitchen (which I will get to see in Berlin!), and then fight Nazis and she still lived to 100. She is marvelous, I will be writing more about her I think (but more is here). Her plans are below.

Red Vienna Exhibition

She is one new hero, there were others on these walls.

globemallows

Marie Jahoda, psychologist, fighter for freedom, incarcerated by the fascists, set free in 1937 and left for Britain. I found her career interests here (how cool is she):

Career Focus: Unemployment; positive mental health; anti-semitism and prejudice; psychoanalysis; non-reductionistic social psychology; field methods.

Her study of the effects of long-term unemployment on mental health:

globemallows

Adelheid Popp, feminist and socialist.

Red Vienna Exhibition

Käthe Leichter, feminist, economist, journalist. Murdered by Nazis. Her women’s network:

Red Vienna Exhibition

Otto Neurath again — I’ve written about his work developing isotypes, making knowledge visual — the photographs and charts covering all of these walls are the results of his work. Splendid.

globemallows

But perhaps most splendid this little elephant that he often used instead of a signature to sign all of his letters.

Red Vienna Exhibition

But he is one of teh driving forces behind these amazing infographics, this one exploring everything that goes into the building of a home. Damn. Awesome.

Red Vienna Exhibition

A selection from their library, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Ship of Fools by B. Traven.

globemallows

Paul Robeson needs no introduction, this is one of the best covers ever.

globemallows

Otto Neurath’s efforts to visualise and make intelligible data continues on in current illustrations — I love these social network diagrams.

globemallows

It’s possibly this book that was my favourite non-concrete thing. More precisely the fact that there exists a book on the riots in Vienna which has been stamped with the word lies. I think I would like such a stamp myself.

globemallows

There was also an array of brilliant political posters.

globemallows
globemallows

Inspiring. If you’re lucky enough to be in Vienna before next January, go see it.

I’ve not been well at all, have had no time no heart for writing much. But I’m off for a while, find this soothing. It’s 21st of June and I am only now able to look back, put up some thoughts about these amazing few days. And so I am following the timeline of memory creation, not of its documentation…

The Mountainous city: Portugal’s public elevators and funiculars victorian and modern

Both Lisbon and Covilhã are built on hills, and never before have I seen such an incredible infrastructure for navigating such terrain. Not that it is perfect mind, but for those with limited mobility it is quite wonderful, and that it should have been a decision to spend public moneys on such thing…brilliant. The most famous is this one, the elevador de Santa Justa from 1902, designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard who was an apprentice under Gustav Eifel.

Lisbon
Lisbon

This is one victorian beauty connecting Bairro Alto to Baixa, that is therefore crammed with people and subject to long lines. We therefore did not use this elevator, but the other, secret elevator that you enter just below a bar with fake grass and lounge chairs, and that dumps you out into a shop selling beautiful purses and other goods made from cork.

We also found this funicular, although we were not able to take it, we had people to meet and cod to eat! I may actually never eat cod again.

Lisbon

Covilhã though, this was a whole new level of infrastructure — I mean, look at these two elevators leading to the most fantastic bridge. I’m not even sure which I loved more. Especially the ways that people greeted each other, held the elevators and etc etc. This is going down and across the valley.

Covilhã
Covilhã

Crossing the bridge and looking down and across old factories.

Covilhã
Covilhã
Covilhã

I loved them but first, look at these. They are beautiful going up. 

Covilhã
Covilhã

We did go down another day, you know we did. More factories later, but here is a view of the bridge from below.

Covilhã

There are funiculars here too. Not all of them in working order, and even one that zig-zagged up the great hill from the train station (we ordered it to come and waited and it did not and I tried to converse with a friendly passer-by because in Brazil I communicated all right but in Portugal they speak a language entirely without vowels and I understand nothing so I don’t know if it was broken or simply incredibly impossibly slow). This led from the University up to the town centre.

Covilhã
Covilhã
Covilhã

This isn’t even all of them. I am so impressed. I haven’t even blogged the Gar do Oriente yet.

Tiles of Lisbon

Lisbon is a beautiful city…

Young and Willmott on Leaving the Slums for the Estate

I know they are listed as Young and Willmott but that simply is impossible to roll off the tongue, I shall try and probably once again fail to write it this way in part two on Family and Kinship in East London (1957). From the densely woven networks of family described in part 1, held together in crowded rooms and turnings by living with parents or next door to them, by every day visits, shared meals, shared chores, shared lives, to spacious new council homes built on 44 acres near Epping Forest. This is how everything changed, and as Young and Willmott write, what better way to understand the importance of residence?

From Bethnal Green to Greenleigh (Debden)

Less than twenty miles away from Bethnal Green, the automatic doors of the tube train open on to the new land of Greenleigh. On one side of the railway are cows at pasture. On the other, the new housing estate. Instead of the shops of Bethnal Green there is the shopping centre at the Parade; instead of the street barrows piled high with fruit, fish, and dresses, instead of the cries of the costermongers from Spitalfields to Old Ford, there are orderly self-service stores in the marble halls of the great combines. In place of the gaunt buildings rising above narrow streets of narrow houses, there are up-to-date semi-detached residences. Bethnal Green encases the history of three hundred years. Cottages built for the descendants of Huguenot refugees, with their wide weavers’ windows and peeling plaster, stand next to Victorian red-brick on one side and massive blocks of Edwardian charity on the other. Greenleigh belongs firmly to the aesthetics of this mid-century. Built since the war to a single plan, it is all of one piece. Though the Council has mixed different types of houses, row upon row look practically identical, each beside a concrete road, each enclosed by a fence, each with its little patch of flower garden at front and larger patch of vegetable garden at back, each with expansive front windows covered over with net curtains; all built, owned, and guarded by a single responsible landlord.

Instead of the hundred fussy, fading little pubs of the borough, there are just the neon lights and armchairs of the Merchant Venturer and the Yeoman Arms. Instead of the barrel organ in Bethnal Green Road there is an electrically amplified musical box in a mechanical ice-cream van. In place of tiny workshops squeezed into a thousand back-yards rise the first few glass and concrete factories which will soon give work to Greenleigh’s children. Instead of the sociable squash of people and houses, workshops and lorries, there are the drawn-out roads and spacious open ground of the usual low-density estate. Instead of the flat land of East London, the gentle hills of Essex.

‘When I first came,’ said Mrs Sandeman, ‘I cried for weeks, it was so lonely. It was a shock to see such a deep hill going up to the shops.’ (121-122)

That gives such a beautiful sense of the differences, albeit a very particular view of them. But the scale is quite incredible.

Between 1931 and 1955 nearly 11,000 families containing over 40,000 people were rehoused from Bethnal Green on L.C.C. estates, many of them outside the county.’ (124)

People did, many of them, choose to come of course. Part of the study was to understand just why. The reasons were many, but not, for the most part, weaker attachments to their family.

lf the migrants did not have weaker kinship attachments than other people, why did they come? The main reason is {quite simple. The attraction is the house. Our couples left two or three damp rooms built in the last century for the ‘industrious classes ‘, and were suddenly transported to a spacious modern home. Instead of the tap in the backyard, there was a bathroom with hot and cold water. Instead of the gas stove on the landing, a real kitchen with a sink and a larder. Instead of the narrow living room with stained wallpaper and shaky floorboards, a newly painted lounge heated by a modern solid-fuel grate. And instead of the street for their children to play in, fields and trees and open country. The contrast is all the sharper because the new residents had, in the main, come from Bethnal Green’s worst houses. (126)

But the council in general had much more to do with it:

But, in general, the L.C.C.’s view of who needed it most decided who went. Our informants were mostly at the top of the L.C.C.’s housing list – they were living in the most overcrowded or the most unhealthy houses in the borough – and that is why they were selected. (127)

One of the tenants told them — ‘If we could take the house with us, we’d go back like a shot.’ (127)

For many, as with so many families, it was about the generations to come, not the generations they had left behind.

‘Everything seems quieter here, more calmer,’ said Mrs Vince. ‘The fresh air hits you when you come out of the station.’ Many people value the air and fields even more for their children than for themselves. Greenleigh is generally thought ‘better for the kiddies’.

So even where they left their kin with regret, the people were not deserting family so much as acting for it, on behalf of the younger rather than the older generation. (128)

But many did not stay.

Many migrants in fact decided that they had made the wrong decision, and left the estate, most of them to return to the East End. Altogether, from the opening of the Greenleigh estate until March, 1956, 26 percent of the tenants who had come there moved away again. (129)

The Family at Greenleigh

So what changed? Any friendly community feeling did not survive the scale of changing community. Everyone found the neighbors snobbish, stand-offish. Talked about the terrible loneliness. Some got part-time jobs just to survive it — one of those said ‘If I didn’t go to work I’d get melancholic.’ Her verdict on Greenleigh — ‘It’s like being in a box to die out here.’ (133)

The study found a great sense of loss, particularly women missing mothers. Most of the men continued to work in Bethnal Green as there were no jobs out near the estate, so suddenly they become the ones maintaining family ties. What made me most sad — it wasn’t distance or time that kept women from their wider families, but the cost of transport. In times of trouble they had no support, there was no one to lend money to tide people over, help when sick or pregnant, help with kids. Visiting was not a thing that was done.

Their study of Bethnal Green showed just how much happened in public spaces, not private ones, and these were precisely the spaces missing in the new estates.

One reason people have so little to do with neighbors is the absence of places to meet them. In Bethnal Green there is one pub for every 400 people, and one shop for every 44 (or one for every 14 households). At Greenleigh there is one pub for 5,000 people, and one shop for 300.

They had no cinemas, so could not congregate there either. This combination of distance and television changed things. Young & Willmott write:

The growth of television compensates for the absence of amenities outside the home, and serves to support the family in its isolation. (143)

Rents were also higher there on the council estate, often by 3 times. That in addition to fares meant people were trapped there.

Keeping Themselves to Themselves

Willmott and Young found people in Greenleigh eager to talk about their neighbours, how unfriendly they found them, and they always compared back to their community in Bethnal Green.

At Greenleigh they neither share long residence with their fellow tenants nor as a rule have kin to serve as bridges between the family and the wider community. These two vital interlocked conditions of friendship are missing, and their absence goes far to explain the attitude we have illustrated. (150)

They believed this to be partly due to the fact that everyone moving in at the same time, and there was no existing community for them to integrate into. While Willmott and Young describe their expectations that things would have improved over the few years between interviews, nothing really had changed. They blame a lack of density — a bit of catch phrase these days.

One reason it is taking so long is that the estate is so strung out — the number of people per acre at Greenleigh being only one-fifth what it is in Bethnal Green — and low density does not encourage sociability. (153)

The new big homes reinforced a feeling of what people lack, rather than all that they had. They were spending more on filling homes with objects, rather than entertainment and going out as they had before.

There is also a facsinating aside on time and space — in Bethnal Green people tended to be very informal, did ‘not need a highly-developed time sense…because it does not matter greatly whether her goes round to Mum’s at 10 o’clock or at 11. If Mum is not there someone will explain where she has gone‘ (157). This was not at all true of Greenleigh. Much of the difference lay in how close things were in Bethnal Green, with everything walking distance. In Greenleigh, life required a car and a telephone to ‘overcome geography and organize a more scattered life into a manageable whole (158)’.

The impact of this was quite profound, particularly on mental health, and particularly for women. This should not have been stuck in a footnote really:

Footnote 1, p 158: The chief psychiatrist at a local hospital told us that the loneliness of the women on this and other housing estates was the immediate, precipitating cause of so many of them coming to his department for treatment.

This lack of relationships, of knowing people, meant both a growing formality, as well as increased reliance on visual clues for judging strangers.

In a community of long-standing, status, in so far as it is determined by job and income and education, is more or less irrelevant to a person’s worth. He is judged instead, if he is judged at all, more in the round, as a person … How different is Greenleigh…Where nearly everyone is a stranger, there is no means of uncovering personality. (161-162)

They continue

Their relationships are window-to-window, not face-to-face. Their need for respect is just as strong as it ever was, but instead of  being able to find satisfaction in actual, living relationships, through the personal respect that accompanies almost any steady himan interaction, they have to turn to the other kind of respect which is awarded, by some strange sort of common understanding, for the quantity and quality of possessions which which the person surrounds himself (163-164)

They also note the lack of forward planning in the planning process for the estate itself…it has been developed as a community where people cannot age. When people’s children are grown where will they live? Nowhere for them to move close by, almost certain that enough existing units will not become vacant over the normal course of things, and it was council policy to prioritise outside people from the list rather than children. Willmott and Young note the protest that this raised among residents, a local association writing of the LCC in 1955 ‘We are in opposition to the view that people are simply units to be moved around the face of the earth in line with the impersonal schemes of some “Big Brother”...’

W&Y continue

The method by which the council has eased the housing shortage in the middle of the century is bound to create a further shortage in its last quarter. (168)

They weren’t wrong.

Movement between classes

They wanted to check and make sure that this growing sense of the importance of geography was not in fact more a function of social mobility, which leads to a rather interesting way to better understand class. Again, Willmott and Young trace sense of loss and disintegration of a sense of community it primarily back to the geography of the built environment — as people tend to seek out larger houses, they must look elsewhere. The authors write:

The East does not provide ‘middle-class’ people with ‘middle-class’ places to live, and such migration may therefore be more common than it would be in districts with more of a mixture of classes. (172)

In conclusion, though, of all of it.

…very few people wish to leave the East End. (186)

While the houses were better, Willmott and Young look at the networks of support, and find they are absent on the new estates. They have the best description of  the daughters’ new plight,  engaged in the ‘arduous…puzzling…monotonous‘ work of child rearing, while older people were cut off from remaining useful and part of the family. Willmott and Young are highly critical.

It seems that when the balance of a three-generation family is disturbed, the task of caring for dependents at both ends of life, always one of the great and indispensable functions of any society, becomes less manageable. (196)

So one key recommendation is to support these connections rather than tear them apart. Central to that there follows the need to maintain communities intact, and save as many of the existing houses as possible, updating the fabric, giving people new bathrooms, lavatories and kitchens.

I cannot help but agree with them, and wish this had been policy for the past few decades so as to build on the strengths of working class communities, rather than the opposite.

Young, Michael and Willmott, Peter ([1957] 1979) Family and Kinship in East London. Manchester: Penguin Books.