Christiania | The Violence of Heaven [ 2 ]


Violence of Heaven [ 1 ]

I opened the first post with the story of Christiania – a ‘micro-nation’ in the centre of Copenhagen that has been going since the early 1970s. Seen as a ‘social experiment’ by the generally left-leaning governments of Denmark, it is now under increasing threat from more right-wing administrations, as set out in Porter Fox’s excellent article ‘The Normalisation of Free Town.’

In Tuckman’s stages of group development, a team goes through stages of ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.’ The forming element is generally straightforward – people gather around a passion or desire and propose what they would like to do with their energies. In one sense, this happens pretty ‘naturally’ and may require little input. Following on from that, the storming element is essentially the easiest: the walls are torn down, the people march because of shared passion against something. Storming is generally about revolution – putting group energy into turning something round.

All utopias by definition get to this point. They form, they storm… but what happens next once they have turned over what they set out to oppose governs whether they will be a success or failure. Certainly, there is usually a lot of left-over energy and camaraderie from the ‘storming’ – and Christianians were no slackers, undertaking large infrastructural works and creating innovative social structures too.

I want to propose that for Christiania and any other utopia – even if the revolution is peaceful, the ‘norming’ element brings with it an element of ongoing violence. Why? Because once a pure space has been stormed and won – in this case the opening up of a disused military barracks – and once the initial fervour of creating a new space within which to exist has run out, what is left is the ‘norming’ of how to then simply live within this new space. People need to know what the new rules are, even if that means there are apparently no rules spoken.

In the case of Christiania, the battles began pretty quickly over who should have control over who lived where. Despite this being a place where there was meant to be no property ownership, people wanted to be able to put their own friends into vacant houses when they came up, and this led to fights and evictions.

These internal struggles are one aspect, but the most violent move has to come from defending the new space which has been stormed, and the pitch battles around the perimeter of Christiania that have been fought recently (see photo above) are a prime example of this.

Another example could include the storming of the Waco complex, and Christiania is no different to any other utopian movement that seeks to create a permanent new, purified space. Once these sorts of utopian spaces have been formed and stormed, they have two options to sustain their purity: defend their boundaries and stop dirt getting in, or continue to expand their boundaries and purify the space surrounding them. It’s to these two options we’ll turn in the next post.


3 responses to “Christiania | The Violence of Heaven [ 2 ]”

  1. Acetate Monkey

    Hi Kester,
    Interesting thoughts (as ever), but I thought the storming element was about the group having internal storms after the honeymoon of formation- competing interests, getting on with the irritating group member next door? These are ironed out to create a ‘norm’ focus and order. I could be wrong though.

    Your thoughts reminded me of Turner’s idea of communitas (egalitarian community-spirit) and how spontaneous or idealogical communitas eventually becomes deliberately worked at ‘normative’ communitas. I’m looking forawrd to your next piece, thank you for these- always refreshing, insightful and thought provoking!

  2. No, you’re quite right – I’m using Tuckman’s stages for my own purposes really, thinking about how they might apply more externally at the boundaries of a group, rather than internally, a move I think is valid!

    The normalisation of any community is a fascinating process – and how it retains flexibility rather than ossifying into dead tradition is the million dollar question. I do try to cover it more explicitly in the book, but I’ll be trying to expand on some stuff in the next couple of posts… time allowing!

  3. Acetate Monkey

    Aah! I see! Yes sounds like a perfectly reasonable extension of the idea to me (for what it’s worth!). Is there any space for the later embellishments of transforming and adjourning? Would it be fair to describe Vaux and/or the ’emergent’ thing as reaching those stages?
    I was going to write earlier that I’m amazed how much you seem to accomplish- many plates spinning it seems to me. Are you the new Dr Who? 🙂