Resistance, Cooperation and Cities as Craft: More on Sennett’s Trilogy

So I’ve posted before on Richard Sennett’s series that begins with 2008’s The Craftsman, continues with 2011’s Together and will end, he says, with a book on the construction of cities that will follow from his earlier looks at craft and cooperation.I’m open, of course, to the criticism of his perspective I’ve heard that cities are in fact not crafts — but I want to highlight a useful metaphor he establishes in Together, pp. 208-12 in a brief section titled “Working with Resistance”:

“The third embodiment relates the artisan’s encounters with physical resistance to difficult social encounters. The artisan knows one big thing about dealing with resistance: not to fight against it, as though making war on knots in wood or heavy stone; the more effective way is to employ minimum force.” (208)

“Resistance arises, then, in physical matter itself and also in making sense of matter, the second kind of difficulty often spawned by better tools. In fighting against resistance we will become more focused on getting rid of the problem than on understanding what it is; by contrast, when working with resistance we want to suspend frustration at being blocked, and instead engage with the problem in its own right. This general precept came to life in the London luthiers’ shop just as those moments when an instrument maker began banging a block of wood against the bench, suspecting there was a knot within…” (209, my emphasis)

So this seems to be a key point for what I imagine/hope Sennett will discuss in the third book on cities–resistance. If we look at the production of city-space, there has clearly been an attempt by urban planning to avoid understanding resistance–a problem that is particularly acute if you adopt a Lefebvrian perspective in my opinion. The problem of cities may have been seen as a problem of capital, or a problem of planar geometry, or as an architectural problem (defined as a purely visual phenomenon or image, which certainly doesn’t do justice to the field, just the way in which it gets employed in certain contexts)… not a social problem or a human problem if you follow the line of thought, a reification/instrumentalization of the city. So how have certain planners or how has a particular planning culture met with resistance and yet plowed ahead?

Continuing the metaphor there might be many ways in which this notion of resistance manifests itself during the planning process–physically in matter/physical territory, social resistance-groups themselves, combinations of these, resistance to the particular way of formulating the problem of cities in the first place…

I very much look forward to that third and presumably final installment to the extent that it addresses these questions–as I guess/hope it will…

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