On the Death of Colin Ward

The Child in the City, Anarchy in Action and Welcome Thinner City are three of the most influential books for the shape of my adult life. I’m mourning the death of writer and activist, ‘giant of social commentary’, Colin Ward.

Ward’s claim in Anarchy in Action (1973) that the international postal system was a perfect example of anarchist organisation helped me to see the meaning of Wright’s ‘sociological imagination’. Rather than looking for a political party with a headquarters and a manifesto, I began to see self-organising social systems everywhere, spontaneous egalitarianism, an immanent. if distinctly patchy, utopia.

Welcome Thinner City (1989) was for a time my Bible for understanding urban politics and policy at the end of the Thatcher period. Looking back it almost single-handedly made sense of what I did then and caused me to do what I do now.

The Child in the City (1978)  helped me to see how urban policy can be shaped for the benefit of the people who actually have to live with it. ‘making the city more accessible, more negotiable and more useful to the child’ remains one of the most important things we can attempt.

“I believe that the social ideas of anarchism: autonomous groups, spontaneous order, workers’ control, the federative principle, add up to a coherent theory of social organisation which is a valid and realistic alternative to the authoritarian, hierarchical and institutional social philosophy which we see in application all around us. Man will be compelled, Kropotkin declared, “to find new forms of organisation for the social functions which the State fulfils through the bureaucracy” and he insisted that ”as long as this is not done nothing will be done.” I think we have discovered what these new forms of organisation should be. We have now to make the opportunities for putting them into practice.” Anarchism as a Theory of Organisation (1966).

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