Sennett, R. (2008). The Myth of a Purified Community. In: J. DeFilippis and S. Saegert, eds. _The Community Development Reader_. New York and London: Routledge.

Richard Sennett, PhD in Sociology, Harvard University, is the Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University. He founded The New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University in the 1970s. In the 1980s he was an advisor to UNESCO as president of the American Council on Work and taught occasionally at Harvard. In the 1990s he taught at both New York University and the London School of Economics.

Here Sennett claims that a myth of community solidarity, specifically the “myth of community purity,” gives resistant-to-change communities the “chance to be cowards and hide from one another” (175). Communities in effect believe they are a strong “we,” a projection akin to the willfulness of adolescents, which in fact cloaks a fear of the other, as well as the unknown in self. Such communities believe they share because they’re the same, not becomes they do any genuine sharing.

He sees three consequences of “this myth of dignity through communal solidarity” (177), the last of which is most pernicious.

  1. The loss of concrete participation in community life, resultant from a fear of participation, which could likely invite discord.
  2. The repression of deviants, driven by the need to fend off any possibility of confronting one’s own otherness.
  3. In confronting one’s own otherness, people may be compelled to violence.

Sennett contends that people cloistered from different and tensions will act out violently in what they deem to be acts of self-preservation. He believes that diversity is the bedrock of a great city (Jacobs, 1961), and therefore attributes abundance with the diminution of great communities. First, the rich are able to secret themselves away from the outside world. Second, the necessary sharing of resources among poor people encourages social interaction and social networks. (I buy the first argument but think the second’s a bit nostalgic.)

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Research Fields

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