Urban civility or urban community? A false opposition in Richard Sennett’s conception of public ethos

European Journal of Social Theory 17 (1):3-23 (2014)
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Abstract

Richard Sennett can be interpreted as one of the more robust representatives of a current critique with regard to ethnic communities in urban areas, namely, that such ethnic enclaves are a proof of urban disintegration and failing citizenship. Firstly, I take issue with Sennett’s assumption that there is an inherent tension between in-group solidarity and the ability to deal with members of perceived out-groups. Secondly, instead of simply cutting citizens off from the wider public sphere and leaving them politically ineffective, as Sennett argues, urban communities can be instrumental in a struggle for emancipation and equal rights. Thirdly, a sense of belonging is a basic aspect of human well-being. Urban villages or ethnic clusters are able to provide this. Therefore, as long as a local identity is not exclusive or the effect of involuntary segregation, ethno-cultural concentrations in the city are acceptable from the moral-political point of view.

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Bart Richard Van Leeuwen
Radboud University

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