Anarchy and the Use of Disorder: A Sydney Perspective

The music which resonates to my core is primarily based around ideals of anarchy. When i envisage the perfect city I imagine strong provisions for individuality, self discovery and social diversity. However in contrast, I typify the modern environment as one which provides comfortable, functional, unambiguous and un-challenging perceptions of self and society. It is upon my interest in the value of anarchy that I read  the Uses of Disorder by Richard Sennett.

Study of Social Class, City Life and Identity

Richard Sennett was 25 when he wrote The Uses of Disorder as a  study of social class, city life and identity; he celebrates the dynamism and diversity of metropolitan life. He argues that only in the “dense, disorderly, and overwhelming city”, with a mix of different classes, ethnicities and cultures, do we learn the true complexity of life and human relations: “The jungle of the city, its vastness and loneliness, has a positive human value.” Sennett speaks eloquently of the benefits to individuals and society of diverse and anarchist urban communities.

The imperatives of metropolitan development are arguably formed by modernist and collective desires of order and rationality. In 1923, Le Corbusier pronounced his support for industrial planning strategies; he proposed that the ‘tiring’ city be vindicated by logical and productive systems based on principles of control and mass production. In a number of publications, Sennett has criticized the social outcomes of such principles and permanent urban desires. Sennett (1970) proclaims that the modern city creates a destructive form of self disfigurement; “People are so involved in the desires for coherence, that they actively seek their own self-repression and slavery.”

Sennett believed that such collective orders are stunting the ability for individual growth. In the Uses of Disorder, Sennett (1970) describes the present individual as one who seeks the same kind of machine like order, proposed by Le Corbusier (1923). Sennett (1970, p.135) describes “The desire for a purified identity is a state of absolute bondage to the status quo;” a generalised and inattentive state of life.

The Sydney Context

Sydney has a distinct spatial pattern and social structure as the result of various historic and urban dynamics. More recently distinct social urban structures have occurred due to the rapid development of Sydney as a global city. Sydney has a highly unequal spread of income, as a result Sydney has distinct locations of advantage. It is through the structured monetary advantage that suburbs of wealth are able to separate themselves from those of disadvantage. Generally, In such an environment individuals are segregated and isolated; this in turn contributes to mainstream individual and social patterns of extraction. Sennett (1970) argues that the modern wealthy individual is increasingly turning inward in an attempt to manufacture some sense of ontological security and protection from the rest of society.

In response to the current isolation of wealthy suburbs Sennett proposes anarchy; as a result individuals are honest and without myths of harmony. He describes the need for society to discover dissonance, dislocation and displacement. I live in Newtown, Sydney which unlike surrounding suburbs, it does not embody the collective standpoint of a singular communal representation.  Renderings of the vicinity typically Newtown as a collection of social minorities. The diverse fabric of King Street provides a comparable and legitimate acceptance of ‘otherness’ and dissimilarity. Newtown i understand is Sydney’s closest representation to the effective disorder described by Sennett.

The Newtown Precinct (Sydney, Australia)

King Street (below) delineates a modern and diverse mix of alternative cultures and lifestyles. The unique elucidation of King Street is that the present representation of diversity is not through enforcement or survival but rather the outcome of modern individual choice and the desire for diversity and dissimilarity. The physical and social richness defined by King Street  represents a suburb not formed by wealth but upon struggle and exclusion.

king street newtown sydney
Picture: King St, Newtown

Fundamental to Sennett’s ideal is the desire to create an honest and dynamic environment. Sennett (1970, p.108) “We must create social situations that will weaken, as a man matures;” therefore providing situations where the desire for an orderly and purified experience can be probed.  The social outcome of the ‘possible’ city describes an honest, active and unique condition of experience.

The rendering of King Street to that of the ‘possible’ city is analysed from two fundamental perspectives; firstly, the contribution of the built environment to allow complexity and multiple points of contact. Secondly, is the presence of social diversity, uniqueness, communal interaction and ‘otherness’. The photograph captures the street life of Newtown whereby adult shops, gambling pools, intimate restaurants and individual retail stores are actively used by diverse groups of individuals. In contrast to other Sydney based suburbs King Street provides a working environment that contests the proposed and implemented beliefs of Le Corbusier (1923) and Haussmann (1860);  the components of King Street function dynamically without the control of a pre-determined whole. King Street continually evolutes to provide interactive, dynamic and indifferent environments of retail, residential, community and commercial.

The built fabric of King Street is predominately defined by niche and independently owned businesses. Sennett (1970) illustrates the decline of intimate space, adult shops and gambling pools as the product of mainstream social rejection. King Street however, encapsulates a modern and compact environment where each is flourishing and commonly accepted.

The diverse outcome of King Street is a society where allegiances are intertwined by complex forms of individuality and evolution. King Street provides a physical environment for exploration; exposure provided by such a cityscape cannot condemn experience or adult growth. Sennett (1970, p72) describes such exploration as paramount to the ‘possible’ city, “the great promise of city life is a new kind of confusion;” a sense of disorder that will liberate, enrich and mature the contemporary individual.

The diversity and social flexibility offered in Newtown provides an accessible habitation for diverse groups of people. Sennett (1970) describes maturity and richness as the outcome of experience and exposure. The photo encapsulates the diversity of people who collectively interact, not only with the built environment of Newtown but with other individuals and social minorities. Sennett (1970, p.187) “If social situations can be moved, to a social environment in which human diversity is permitted to express itself, I believe this “creature in the man” will take hold and become involved.”

The photograph defines a presence; at the forefront of the image is a young child who playfully jumps into the cameras view; as described by Sennett (1970) the ‘modern’ city submerges such playfulness and interaction. The photographic seeks to present the raw and authentic lives of individuals who are exposed to true aspects of social diversity, passion and possible conflict.

Comparative Study of Social Diversity & Harmony: Mosman & Newtown

The below diagrams compare the social diversity of King Street, Newtown to the social harmony of Military Street, Mosman. The comparative study was conducted between 6:30 and 7:30 on Wednesday the 13th and Wednesday the 20th of August. The submission of physical data corresponds to a 10 minute period of social responsiveness between 7:00 and 7:10. Firstly the built typology is mapped to understand the fluidity of King Street as a support structure for the acceptance of social interaction, density and indifference. Secondly the way individuals plot their dissimilar surroundings are compared to the likes of a suburb which does not offer the same kinds of social diversity. The documentation of diversity and interaction encapsulated by King Street is compared to the equivalent typology of Mosman; whereby the same encouragement and acceptance of otherness is not present. Personally, Mosman typifies the common Sydney suburban environment.

Note: To better understand the diagrams below, please view the legend which explains what the symbols and graphics represent (environment, movement, speed, interaction etc)

king street newtown sydney
Analysis: King St, Newtown mosman sydney
Analysis: Military St, Mosman

It is transparent what Newtown can offer to individuals who embrace the unique culture and understanding of otherness. A possible society that represents living without fear; by rejecting similarity we can become open, confused and overwhelmed. The diagrams comprehend the manner in which diverse groups of individuals interact on King Street; not only with their surrounds’, but socially, and with each other. The diagram aims to analyse the various social contributions and facets of King Street.

The Uses of Disorder (1970) proposed confusion and displacement against the pan-optic enclosures of the modern city. The chaotic and mobile city projected by Sennett (1970), aimed to promise social chances of exposure by subverting, moving across, or escaping from the enclosures of the ‘ordered’ city.  Newtown portrays a realistic and ‘true’ sense of community as propositioned by Sennett (1970). King Street illustrates a modern and liberating sense of willingness and social diversity. The complexity of Newtown likens to the urban and social desires of Sennett (1970) providing the ammunition to devastate our fabricated and ‘preconceived images’ of the world.

This article is an excerpt highlighting key components of a study I completed as part of my degree in Architecture. I would love to hear your feedback and your perspective. I’d also be interested to read your comments about the part of Sydney (or any part of the world for that matter!) you live in, and how it relates to Sennett’s theories.


One comment for “Anarchy and the Use of Disorder: A Sydney Perspective”

  • http://www.bemakeshift.co.uk Jay

    *Production of diagram that shows uneven economic income spread over the area
    *architecture depends, till

    Not having seen the rest of the thesis it’s hard to make comment from the excerpt (unless this is what you’ve written so far). I think the first thing to illustrate more clearly is how historical socio-economic trends in Sydney have occurred over say, the last 50 years and what the unequal spread is now. This I think would better facilitate the context of Newtown and King Street in particular with the rest of Sydney.

    I would also consider different explanations to the socio-economic development of the area you live in. Attributing the area’s difference to the rest of Sydney by interpreting it through the anarchist tradition is arguably not shared by its residents (some aspects are embodied unconsciously). Could the term ‘effective disorder’, for example, be another way of recognising a different kind of order? One not determined through top down planning (in the Modernist tradition as you say), but rather organic development characterised by bottom up approaches from the different kinds of communities who inhabit the area, in addition to architectures that respond to contingency instead?

    I believe it is also possible to present a taxonomy of architectures that actually show the ‘presence of social diversity, uniqueness, communal interaction and ‘otherness’. This can be achieved through careful documentation and perhaps even drawing up plans of spaces that actually encourage intimacy, human contact, etc.

    If you are focusing particularly on this area, again as I suggested before it would be great to actually find out how different groups of people came to be in the area. Generally if an area is full of ethnic minorities for example, there will be reasons for why they congregated there in the first place.

    If I may suggest two texts for your reading lists, you may find the following two useful:

    Architecture Depends, Jeremy Till – Till’s basic thrust is that architecture must respond to contingency; the unplanned, the ‘real’.
    Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell – There is a particularly good chapter on how the top Jewish Laywers in NYC came from similar family backgrounds in a particular area in New York. Perhaps this could help you identify some very specific frames of reference to highlight your thesis.