Humanities and the City of Labor
In contemporary cultural theory, the city is remade by technology into nodal network spaces of a new economy. Theorists such as David Harvey, Saskia Sassen, and Manuel Castells, for instance, suggest that we have entered a new era in which the city is no longer determined by exploitation; rather, the city is a transnational space of financial capital flows made possible by global telecommunications and cybertechnology—what Castells calls the "Information City": a society "organized around networks" (398). The city, on these terms, is based not on labor but knowledge, and is characterized by highly fluid boundaries between identities, places, images, and information. Such a view of the city, I believe, implies an understanding of the humanities as a post-critical and pragmatic negotiation of signs and sub-cultures. It teaches citizens to understand what "is" but is indifferent to what "could" be, because it disconnects new technologies and spaces from what makes them possible. In the post-critical humanities citizen-workers are taught in the cultural and technical skills required to adjust to capitalism, and thus training for the new needs of capital is substituted for knowledges necessary to understand the totality of capitalist relations and how to collectively transform them. The dominant humanities, in short, simply update the contemporary workforce, by severing skills from the social ends toward which they are put under capitalism—production for profit—thus representing the existing mode of production as natural, inevitable, and above all, unchangeable.
In this paper I put forth an alternative view of urban space, technology and the humanities. The city, I argue, is the space of labor. By this I mean that the productive practices of the people who work in the city, and the relations which structure their practices, serve as the foundation of urban relations, and without addressing these relations, urban cultural theory will be able to provide us only with details of the dense urban fabric, but not an explanation of the conditions under which that fabric came to be, who really benefits from it, and how it might be radically changed. I will thus be developing throughout my paper the concept of the "geography of labor", which I believe provides us with a more effective means of grasping the totality of social relations in the city and beyond. The geography of labor assigns a primary role to the dialectical praxis of labor in the analysis of the city because in the actual material development of human societies, productive practices are the central organizing practices; they are "the most essential historical activity of [humans], the one which…forms the material foundation of their requirements of life" (Dialectics of Nature 19). As Marx and Engels argue in the German Ideology, "life involves before anything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself"—a "fundamental condition of all history, which today as thousands of years ago must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life" (48). Labor not only supplies humans with the necessary means of subsistence, but by acting on nature through labor, people change both nature and themselves (what is possible). Labor continues to be the basis of human society today, but it is mediated by exploitative relations, which radically limit the ends toward which the dialectical praxis of labor can be put. People's labor-power has been transformed into a commodity by capitalism, subjected to the dictates of profit, not human need. And nowhere are the consequences of commodified labor more evident than in the capitalist city, where a few enjoy tremendous wealth at the expense of the vast majority of citizens who produce that wealth yet for whom adequate food, housing, and health remain a dire daily struggle.
I believe the "city" represents the possibility of a future in which no one's needs are met at the expense of others, and that the humanities are an urgent space in which to collectively build the knowledges and practices necessary to realize such a future. But such praxis (and the materialist theory that underlies it) has, of course, been widely de-legitimated by postindustrial theory, which now monopolizes the humanities because of the ways in which it serves the needs of capital, by privileging consumption, cultural difference and technology, and exiling those theories that argue for causal relations between the conditions of the many and those of the few. My paper therefore begins with a discussion of postindustrial theories, in order to unpack their idealist assumptions and social implications. Such a critique is particularly important in the context of urban theory, because these assumptions, whether they are articulated in their earlier, more overt idioms (as in the work of Peter Drucker and Daniel Bell), or the more sophisticated contemporary discourses of Saskia Sassen, underlie dominant notions of (urban) space today, and are being used to justify the complete commodification of urban life. In other words, these theories—which represent the source of wealth as technology, culture and circulation, not (living) labor—are effective alibis of privatization: the transfer of social wealth produced by working people into the private hands of those who own the means of production. My paper brings the idealist assumptions of theorists such as Jean Baudrillard and David Harvey into contestation with the materialist theory of (urban) space provided by Marx, Engels and Lenin, and in developing my argument that the city is most comprehensively understood as the geography of labor, I will be taking as my case study the rebuilding of "ground zero", and the struggles over the interests such rebuilding should prioritize. One of my main arguments throughout this paper is that the humanities (including urban cultural theory) need to be re-understood as lessons in educating critical citizens to understand, critique and work to praxically transform class relations.
In the city of labor, the humanities are the site of critical analysis and critique of existing social relations of production, based on exploitation. They are attentive to the specificity of the local but never take the singular and the specific as given. Instead they demonstrate the ways in which the specific is the product of the dialectical praxis of labor and thus a human culture of freedom and equality can only be built on the freedom of labor from exploitation.
Dominant theories of the city and technology today are grounded in the post-industrial and post-capitalist theories of a "new" society, elaborated in such texts as Daniel Bell's The Coming of Post-Industrial Society; Peter Drucker's Post-Capitalist Society; Stuart Hall's New Times; Post-Fordism, edited by Ash Amin; and Nancy Fraser's Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the "Postsocialist" Condition and Global Networks, Linked Cities, edited by Saskia Sassen. Such texts suggest that in the last 3-4 decades we have entered a new historical moment which is post-production and post-exploitation: that is, a moment, when capitalism has broken from of its former relations of exploitation and entered a new era "free" from the class relations of the past. The new post-capitalist era has been brought about, post-al theorists suggest, by radical changes in technology that have fundamentally altered the ways in which society is organized. They point to the shift from the "rigid" and structured production of the assembly line to "flexible" and "just-in-time" production, the dominance of high tech over low-tech industries, the rapid growth of cybercities and cybersuburbs and the decline of the industrial metropolis, and the rise of the "service" industry as instances, not as shifts in the mode of capital accumulation, as historical materialists argue, but as an index of a fundamental change of the capitalist mode of production.
Such assumptions, which undergird contemporary theory and the humanities, are an articulation of what Mas'ud Zavarzadeh calls "post-ality": the "ensemble of all practices that, as a totality, obscure the production practices of capitalism—which is based on the extraction of surplus labor (the source of accumulation of capital)—by announcing the arrival of a new society which is post-production, post-labor, post-white, and post-capitalism"(1). It is a "regime of class struggle" which "severs the past of capitalism from what it regards to be its radically different and 'new' present (which unlike its past is now free from exploitation)", in order to ideologically solve the social contradictions of capitalism caused by the social division of labor (1). Post-ality, in other words, is a marker of the crisis of labor in capitalism, an attempt to conceal the fundamental economic contradictions of capital by focusing on surface changes in capital in the postwar period—i.e., the changes in managerial strategies, new developments in the division of labor, cybertechnologies, etc., that capitalism must make in order to revolutionize the forces of production and stave off a crisis. The "post" is grasped in contemporary theory as a series of diverse discursive practices with their own autonomous and immanent logic when, in fact, they are all versions of the articulation of the crisis of labor in capitalism. They are all attempts to explain away the structure of capitalism—the conflict between wage-labor and capital over the amount of surplus-labor produced in the working day—by suggesting that capitalism has undergone a "fundamental break" between its "industrial" phase and its "post-industrial" phase and, therefore, requires a new set of concepts in order to explain its effects on culture.
In what is a quintessential articulation of post-al logic, managerial theorist Peter Drucker argues that technology has brought about a society in which knowledge (ideas), not labor, is the source of wealth. In the post-capitalist society, Peter Drucker writes, "the real, controlling resource and the absolutely decisive 'factor of production' is now neither capital nor land nor labor. It is knowledge. Instead of capitalists and proletarians, the classes of the post-capitalist society are knowledge workers and service workers" (Post-Capitalist Society 6). Central to Drucker's argument is the assumption that the economy has shifted from an emphasis on the production of goods to the production of information and services; a moment in which it is no longer "manual" labor and the production of commodities that drives the economy, but "mental" labor and the production of codes, images and "information" evidenced in the rise of the telecommunications, the use of computer technology and, generally speaking the service industry (such as healthcare, advertising, etc). The increasing importance of the processing of information in the cybereconomy, the need for the coding of information and images, etc., are viewed as both the sign of a fundamental break in capitalist relations (such that the relation between exploited and exploiter has been replaced by a differential scale of access to knowledge), and of a break that has been ushered in by technology itself. Technology, in other words, is viewed as a distinct entity, governed by its own laws.
What Drucker proposes as the overcoming of class contradiction through technology is, in actuality, a one-sided analysis of the way in which capitalism was forced by dwindling profits in the North and an increasingly radical resistance in the South to reconfigure the international division of labor in the post-war period. Drucker's arguments come on the heels of significant changes in the post-war economy that involved a reorganization of production, governed primarily by capital's search for cheaper labor power, and the intensification of exploitation, in order to counter the falling rate of profit. With the end of the postwar "long boom" (a time of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity which enabled a large section of the US working class to obtain a relatively high standard of living and led to the funding of public programs), the oil crisis of the early 1970s and a series of subsequent recessions, capital needed to increase its rate of profit through the intensification of exploitation. This involved the introduction of newer technologies to expand the productive forces, increasing the exploitation of the workforce and driving down the cost of labor.
Against the industrial processes and the national economy, post-industrial theorists at the time reflected the new developments in capitalism, arguing for the need to diminish the role of the state in both providing welfare for working people and enforcing corporate regulations, and to allow greater flexibility among corporations to move not only exports (trade) but their production centers around the world in search of cheaper sources of labor and raw material. De-regulation, in other words, was not simply a matter of loosening restrictions. It was, above all, a means of transferring social wealth from workers to owners to increase the rate of profit—which was particularly important for the US in the context of growing competition from Japanese and German corporations, and the inability to access the labor-markets of the socialist bloc. The emphasis of postindustrial theory on technology reflects the ways in which the new cybertechnologies have increasingly been used to restructure the global economy to facilitate faster and greater extractions of surplus labor from workers around the world. Technological developments in and of themselves, such as those based on more "flexible" production processes, thus do not represent a radical break in labor relations; rather, they reflect new ways of accumulating more profit on a transnational scale. That is, new ways of accumulating more unpaid labor from workers around the world. As Faruk Tabak argues, such changes in the way work is experienced (for instance, the shift from the industrial assembly line to cybertechnologies) are driven by the need to make work more "market-mediated" (quoted in Morton 12). It is, as Donald Morton explains, a reflection of capital's need to make production processes more sensitive to quickly shifting market conditions in an increasingly volatile global economy ("Pataphysics of the Closet" 12). By making production more responsive, either by "just-in-time production" (which helps to ensure the realization of surplus value by producing goods on demand, rather than for a relatively unknown market which risks the possibility of not selling the goods), cybercapitalism's new technologies mediate exploitation in newer, more efficient ways.
Like other postindustrial arguments, Drucker articulates the logic of changes in technology in a way that obscures what drives it. His arguments respond to certain social and economic changes, but in a manner that isolates technological change from the broader series of economic relations, the effect of which is to attribute change to technology alone. This isolating out of particular elements of the social totality is based on what Georgi Plekhanov called the "factors" theory, a subjective method which "arbitrarily picks out different sides of social life, hypostasizes them, converts them into forces of a special kind, which, from different sides, and with unequal success, draw the social man along the path of progress" (9). It is in this context that technology takes on a mystical quality, as if technology comes out of the minds of people rather than being produced by people under certain historical conditions.
I have used the concept of "technology" several times thus far and I need to take some time now to clarify what I mean by this concept, and its difference from the post-al theories of technology. Following Marx, I understand technology as the product of (past) human labor; it is "congealed labor". That is to say, technology is the both a product of the transformation of nature and raw material through labor into goods that satisfy human needs, and it is the means through which labor engages this dialectical praxis. The dialectical praxis of labor is in all forms of society the fundamental basis of technological innovation. As Marx argues in Capital, "Labour is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. . . He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature" (283). The relation between labor and technology is a dialectical one, since through the development of labor, technology develops to a point at which new forms of labor are developed and necessary, which in turn leads to new technologies, requiring new modes of labor, etc. And, as the way people labor changes, so too do people: activities and modes of relating to others become possible that were not possible previously, under earlier stages of development of the forces of production.
However, labor and technology are always mediated historically through the labor relations in which they are articulated. Under capitalism, the production of technology (like everything else) is mediated through commodity relations, the production of goods for profit. Under these relations, not only does labor become a commodity (purchased on the market), but technology (which is also produced as a commodity) is used to increase the rate of profit by reducing the amount of workers/wages the capitalist pays out while increasing the productivity of existing workers. This is another way of saying that in commodity relations, which presuppose private ownership of the means of production, the working day is divided into 2 parts: that time during which the worker produces value equivalent to meet her needs (socially necessary labor, which her wage represents) and that part of the day during which the worker works for the capitalist without compensation (surplus labor), the basis of all accumulation. Value, in other words, is produced not by technology but living labor, which is the only commodity which, when consumed, creates more value than itself. The exclusive significance of the commodity of labor power is that it is the only commodity which is "a source not only of value, but of more value than it has itself. This [e.g. the creation of value] is the specific service the capitalist expects from labour-power" (301). Since the fundamental drive of capital is to increase the amount of capital accumulation, capitalists seek to increase the amount of time during the day in which workers create surplus labor, and to lessen the amount of time spent reproducing the workers needs.
Technology is one of the most important ways in which this intensification of exploitation takes place. By introducing new(er) technologies, capitalists can speed up and intensify the production process, so that more products can be made by fewer workers, which makes possible the firing of now "redundant" workers, workers whose jobs have been taken by machines. This is, of course, what accounts for the continued growth of productivity in the US despite the loss of at least 3 million jobs under the Bush Administration. Moreover, as commodities require less and less labor to produce (since the same labor creates more commodities than it did before the new technology), the commodities produced are less and less valuable, meaning that necessary labor-time to reproduce the means of subsistence is decreased, and workers devote more time producing surplus value for the capitalist. Thus the ratio between what the workers receive in the form of wages (whether or not they are paid at value) and what the capitalist receives grows exponentially. Though technology is produced by labor, the benefits of technology are privatized, rather than used to meet the needs of all. Whether the wages are "fair" (market value) or not, the worker is exploited and increasingly receives less in return for her labor power, while the capitalist receives a greater share of surplus-value. Technology, in other words, is crucial for capitalists because it is on the basis of technological innovation that capitalists can gain a greater competitive edge and increase their profits relative to other capitalists who have not used the same advances in technology. Those capitalists who are on the cutting edge of production can undersell their product relative to other sellers because their product has been made with less labor, and therefore less necessary labor—and the capitalist can accumulate more surplus value. This in fact is the whole basis for the rapid revolutionizing of the forces of production that is specific to capitalism.
But what needs to be emphasized here is that although the innovations of technology are used to increase the rate of exploitation of the worker, this does not eliminate the fundamental property relation, which is a matter of private ownership of means of production (not just specific technologies); private command over surplus labor. The revolutionizing of production in capitalism (the shift from "industrial" to "postindustrial" capitalism) is still based on the exploitation of those who must sell their labor in order to survive. There has, in short, been no "break" in production, separating a later stage of capitalism from its exploitative past. Technology does not produce profit; human labor power does. Technology therefore cannot serve as the basis of capitalism now.
To turn back to Drucker, we can see that his claim that technology is the driving force of history and the implication that the main way to bring about social equality is to train more people in the information technologies corporations require, is based on an idealist theory of technology. For, technology is an ensemble of social relations, not an assemblage of autonomous objects and procedures. The materiality of technology is not in its object body but in the labor relations in which it is produced and used. This is another way of saying that technology does not change class relations. Contrary to post-al theory, technology does not bring about equality, democracy, or freedom, because it is not an autonomous object. Machines are social. They are the extension of the dominant social relations. That is, technology is both produced by human labor and it is the extension of the labor relations of society—the way people produce goods to meet their needs—and the relations that are organized around and determined by their mode of production. For instance, in a socialist society, in which production is not organized for profit but to meet the needs of all, technological advances are used to ensure that all people have access to housing, healthy diets, advanced education, complex culture, convenient public transportation. It is used in the collective interests of society, in order to advance social interests. By contrast, in capitalist society, in which the means of production are owned privately, advances in technology are used to accumulate profits for those who own it, rather than advance the collective interests of all. As a result, the very people who produce and work the technology, become, as Marx argues, appendages of the machines, for the main role of technology in this society is to increase the amount of surplus value produced by the worker. In capitalism all advances in technology are used to increase the wealth of owners, at the expense of the wage-laborers who produce it.
If advances in technology alone actually brought about equality, then the societies in which technology is most advanced would have the most economic equality. But just the reverse is true. The U.S., the most technologically advanced nation in the world, is also one of the most economically polarized. As even such mouthpieces of capital as the New York Times acknowledged at the height of the tech boom, "the growing concentration of American wealth and income challenge a cherished part of the country's self image: They show that rather than being an egalitarian society, the United States has become the most economically stratified of industrial nations" (Bradsher A1). With the crash of the technology bubble, such realizations are ever becoming the norm in bourgeois economic, political and cultural theory.
I will discuss at some length the implications of postindustrial theories for how "space", and in particular urban space, is theorized today. But first it is necessary to emphasize that the idealist assumptions about technology that inform post-industrialist arguments have deeply problematic consequences for how we understand the role of the humanities today. When technology is viewed as autonomous from labor relations, knowledges and skills necessary to use technology become divorced from the ends toward which technology is used. Under these assumptions, humanities are reduced to communication skills—from the highly sophisticated skills of sign manipulations to the more common skills of writing (Teresa Ebert and Mas'ud Zavarzadeh "Hypohumanities"). They become the space of production of pragmatic information management in cyberspace; skills that are severed from critique because they are purely bottom-line oriented and devoid of knowledge regarding how, why and for whom those skills work. The role of the humanities, on these terms, is to prepare a workforce that is literate but post-critical: a workforce that acts efficiently within exiting social relations but is indifferent to their transformation. As a result, core issues such as the commodification of labor, which is the basis of production under capitalism, are entirely taken for granted, and the accumulation of profit for the few is accepted, not only as "natural" but "inevitable"—and thus put beyond question and social inquiry. The main concern of the post-critical humanities is profit and a supply of labor-power that is able to produce profit (surplus-labor) under the current conditions of production, at the current level of development of the forces of production.
Contemporary "communication" skills, it is necessary to point out, presuppose a certain stage in the development of the productive forces. The service industry, which is focused on moving commodities to and from the market, requires on the most basic terms the production of those commodities to exist. If the service industry appears to have taken a significant role in the production process, it is because commodities can be produced at more rapid pace, and more time has to be devoted to circulation, because the global economy has expanded production throughout the world and thus requires a whole apparatus of exchange to move commodities to and from the market. That is, what has made possible the new articulations of the humanities is labor at a specific level of production. Technology is congealed labor (the labor of generations of workers) and, as well, requires certain skills in order to be used. Just because many workers today work with information, images and codes, rather than steel and assembly lines does not mean that labor is no longer the basis of production. For the codes, images and information that are communicated are produced and transmitted by material means; that is, through labor. Moreover, what contemporary theories forget is that "theoretical" knowledge (which is assumed to be entirely distinct from labor) is itself dead labor. As Zavarzadeh argues, postindustrial arguments "take the 'theoretical' knowledge constructed in laboratories but bracket the material conditions of production of these knowledges: not only are the very instruments of experimentation (which lead to theoretical formulations) 'produced' by 'labor' but the conditions of possibility of the 'experiment' itself (as a science event) are provided by the labor of generations of workers. The buildings in which scientists undertake their work are constructed by 'labor'; their food, clothes, cars, telephones, computers…are all 'produced' by labor" (10). Theoretical knowledge ("humanities"), in other words, presupposes a world in which some have been freed from direct participation in manual production in order to engage in theoretical work. Postindustrial theory takes such a world for granted, and promotes a notion of the humanities in which the main question is learning codes—an emphasis on controlling means of signification, not means of production.
The arguments of Daniel Bell are exemplary here. He argues, for instance, that since "the post-industrial society is shaped by an intellectual technology, the major problem for the post-industrial society [is] the development of an appropriate 'infrastructure' for the developing communications networks…of digital information technologies that will tie the post-industrial society together" (such as transportation technologies, energy utilities, oil pipelines, radio, television, etc.) (xv). For the post-industrial labor force, in other words, knowledge is no longer needed to understand the totality of social relations and their interconnections (in fact Bell even suggests that "capitalism" is no longer a coherent concept [xx]), or why society is "tied together" in the way it is. Rather, knowledge should be focused merely on "processing" information (xii) and "codifying knowledge".
In suggesting that the shift from "manual" labor to the "knowledge" economy is what characterizes capitalism today, Bell is basically putting forward the notion of freedom as freedom from (manual) labor ("work"). But not only has manual labor not ceased (it has in many cases simply moved from the North to the South), what Bell is doing is eclipsing the necessity of emancipation of humanity through human labor. Bell suggests that the goal of human history is to relieve people from having to "work", and that capitalism is bringing us closer and closer to such a (utopian) situation. According to Marx, however, the question has never been freeing people from "work", it is a matter of freeing people from exploitative conditions of labor. For it is only through labor that social needs are met—without labor there would be no meeting of any social needs whatsoever. Moreover, if we look at the economy today, the vast majority of people who do work, work not less but more hours and more intensely, and this is not only in "manual labor" but in the knowledge economy as well, where many people must take 2-3 "flexible" jobs to meet the ends that 1 job used to meet. In substituting freedom from work (individual "liberty") for freedom from necessity (freedom from exploitation and poverty), Bell puts forward the interests of the petit-bourgeois managers as the goal of history. He is concerned primarily that capitalism share more of the accumulated surplus value with the "middle class". In conveniently forgetting that, without labor no one could meet any of their basic needs (let alone more complex ones), Bell reveals that his theory presupposes the very capitalist relations that allow the few "liberty" while the many work for them, while claiming that we have moved "beyond" capitalism.
is at stake here is the underlying pragmatism of the contemporary
humanities: the acceptance of "what works" for capital
as "what works" for all. These are the ruling class
imperatives behind the humanities today,
the main drive being the need for surplus-labor for profit and thus
the need to "skill" the urban proletariat so that capital
has access to a labor-supply that is able to quickly adjust to
working under the current level of forces of production (without
altering the relations of production). Bill Readings responds
to these corporate needs in The University in Ruins, where he
argues that, now that "the University is developing toward the
status of a transnational corporation" (164), the humanities
should be focused on the "tactical use of the space of the
university" (18). In other words, with the decline of what he
calls the "national cultural mission" (20)—which is a
code for the decline of a period of capitalism in which federal
funding was used for public programs and services, which have been
dismantled in the wake of massive privatization and
deregulation—we can only "dwell"
"pragmatically" in the "ruins" of the
university, rather than attempt to (re)build a university which
aspires to any collective aims (what he calls a "romantic"
nostalgia): "To dwell in the ruins of the University is to try
to do what we can, while leaving a space for what we cannot envisage
to emerge" (176), his example being the support of "short
term collaborative projects of both teaching and research […]
which would be disbanded after a certain period, whatever their
success" in order to prevent them from becoming
institutionalized, bureaucratic or "disciplined" (176).
This is an exemplary articulation of the post-critical humanities.
In the guise of a sobering, "realistic", non-utopian
approach to new times, its main assumption is that an investigation
into the root causes of the "decline" of the university is
useless; that it is more important to "get on" with the
current restructuring rather than ask too many big questions about
the interests the restructuring serves. He calls for a humanities in
which we "do what we can", entirely taking for granted
that "doing what we can" is increasingly guided by the
principles of profit and profit alone. With the commodification of
the university, the main demands on university administrators,
faculty and students alike are on making the university more
efficient in meeting the needs of corporations. Thus, Reading's
"short term projects" are perfectly consistent with the
new strategies required by transnational corporations for their
employees to engage in temporary team work to complete specific
projects, team work which is better able to respond to and adapt to
need developments in the market. Whatever the asserted
"creative" motives under which employers foster these new
working climates, such corporate tactics are a response to the
increasingly fast pace at which technology is revolutionized and new
strategies of accumulation are necessary. "Long term
projects", in other words, are not a problem because they
become "institutionalized"—after all, the main
assumptions on which Readings arguments are based are themselves
thoroughly "institutionalized" and
"bureaucratic"—they are a problem because they are not
"flexible" enough for the
university-as-transnational-corporation, and become a drain on
profit. It is not a coincidence that in the post-critical
humanities, students are taught that what is required today is
"a certain opportunism" (176), rather than a struggle
for the humanities as the site for advancing the principles
of collectivity and solidarity.
Post-industrial theories are of course still highly influential today, but they have begun to lose their historical credibility in the wake of the economic crises of the current global downturn that began in the mid 1990s. Increasingly, there has emerged the recognition—even among the most ardent supporters of the new economy—that technology is not the great equalizer it was claimed to be, as the global divisions between rich and poor have drastically increased, not decreased, in the decades since the emergence of the "knowledge society" and cybercapitalism. Bourgeois theories—under the intensification of crisis of wage-labor in capitalism—must account for global economic inequalities and they do so today with theories of "globalization". Theories of globalization foreground the "networks" of the global economy (structured by a hierarchy of unequal nodes), matters of cultural "homogenization", inequalities of trade, and the growing digital divide as a means of coming to terms with the divisions that post-industrial theory forecasted would be resolved as the new economy advanced.
Globalization theories, however, are basically a continuation of post-industrial theories, oftentimes disguised as "critique". Like the older articulations, they sever matters of trade inequalities, geographical inequities, cultural homogenization, concentrations of wealth, etc., from the economics of global capitalism. They suggest, as Duncan Watts does in a recent issue of WIRED magazine edited by architect Rem Koolhaas, that on the basis of the network society people's social position is determined by who they "know" and are in "contact" with, not their position in the social relations of production; that individuals need to be understood "as nodes embedded in a complex web of social, economic, and institutional ties" (136), which are irreducible to class divisions.
In the theory of globalization (networks, trade, etc) the missing term is imperialism: the monopoly stage of capitalism in which giant transnational corporations, increasingly desperate for greater profits, compete for (re)division of the world market and for economic territory. What drives capital around the world in search of new territories, markets and resources is the need to gain control over the labor and resources of lesser developed nations in order to control the rate at which workers in those nations will be exploited. By controlling the rate of exploitation of the South, imperialist nations can control the rate at which these nations' economies grow, and thus ensure the continued dominance of the imperialist nations in the world capitalist system. Imperialism is, at root, a matter of appropriating the surplus labor of the world working class. What bourgeois theorists call "globalization", in short, is an intra-class war between advanced capitalist economies over a larger share of the surplus-labor produced by the world proletariat.
Imperialism is a necessary concept in understanding world relations today because it explains why there exist tremendous concentrations of wealth on the one hand, and masses of desperately poor people on the other; the irrational overproduction of goods alongside desperate want; and nodes of densely developed areas amidst huge sections of the world that are excluded from developments in science and technology or left in utter ruins. It explains, for instance, why many workers around the world may have only (in)direct "contact" with Bill Gates, yet are nonetheless being exploited by him to increase Gates' own private wealth. That is, why, contrary to Watt's claims, it is not the case that "when not just you but anyone can be connected to anyone else on earth…what goes around comes around—faster than you think" (136). Theories of globalization, in contrast, grasp only the surface levels of the global economy, severing the movements of capital from the international division of labor.
Exemplary of the ways in which theories of globalization are a (re)articulation of postindustrialist assumptions is the work of third way urban sociologist Saskia Sassen, who is perhaps most well known for her research on the "global city", but who is now increasingly turning to matters of networks and digital highways in the transnational urban economy, and has edited books on these issues for the United Nations. Sassen's writings are significant because, on the one hand, they put forward a theory of globalization on the basis of a critique of postindustrial theory's inability to account for concentrations of wealth and resources in cities in the information economy (that is, growing inequalities in and between cities). On the other hand, she has foregrounded the role of "production" in the global economy as a means of intervening into the displacement of the "material" by postindustrial theory. However, both "production" and "material reality" are de-materialized in her writing. They are basically tropes to privilege "services" and "finance" and the local sites through which these circulate. Both in her earlier and her more recent work, Sassen's texts reproduce the postindustrial logic at a new level, by turning the "material" into technology, services and exchange relations, and "class" relations into "occupational" differences, thus erasing the exploitation of labor that is the source of capital accumulation in the first place. The "material" in the geography of labor is fundamentally tied to the economic sphere and the relations of production, which have a historically necessary connection to all other socio-cultural relations. Sassen's theory of the "material", in contrast, focuses primarily on the relations of exchange, and the "materialism" she posits is really a neoempiricist methodology which takes the existing forms of exchange as given, isolating them from the determining relations of production. It is a theory of globalization in which the imperialist expansion of capital has been suspended and wealth is produced by "trade". In covering over the material roots of capitalism in the guise of a more "materialist" analysis, her theory has the effect of evading (and thus legitimating) the basic workings of capital while claiming to be supportive of those who are exploited by it.
Sassen critiques postindustrial and "information society" theories for their implication that technological advance will lead to the growing irrelevance of cities with the expansion of cybercapitalism (The Global City; Global Networks; "Whose City"). Such theories suggest that telecommunications mean that people can live and work "anywhere" and still be connected to their jobs, friends, family, etc, regardless of the distance between them. This was a position taken, for instance, in an early "postindustrial" reading of the city by Melvin M. Webber, "The Post-City Age" (1968). Webber argued that with the development of computers and telecommunications, cities would disappear because the whole world would become increasingly "urbanized", thus superceding the divisions between city, suburbia and country. In fact, Webber suggested that "space" and "place" would cease to have any meaning in such a highly dispersed information society. Many contemporary theorists, such as Paul Virilio (The Lost Dimension), echo these arguments today in their analysis of globalization. On the contrary, Sassen argues that rather than leading to greater spatial dispersion and the supercession of cities, technological progress has led to greater spatial concentrations and greater importance of cities worldwide. Indeed, from Sassen's position, cities (and in particular a core network of very powerful "global cities") have become so integral to the global economy today because of the highly advanced development of technologies necessary for global finance and the service industry. She writes, "The widely accepted notion that agglomeration has become obsolete, now that global telecommunication advances are allowing for maximum dispersal, is only partly correct. It is, I argue, precisely because of the territorial dispersal facilitated by telecommunication advances that agglomeration of centralizing activities has expanded immensely" ("Whose City Is It?" 180-81). In other words, her argument attempts to confront more directly the increasingly stark concentrations of wealth and poverty in the wake of "cybercapitalism", in a way that prior versions of postindustrial theory did not because they privileged technological and spatial dispersion and an inevitable "leveling" of resources.
But how far have Sassen's arguments actually moved beyond postindustrial theory? I have argued that the idealism of postindustrial theory is rooted in its assumption that it is technology and knowledge that is the basis of wealth and social change (that changes in technology have led to knowledge becoming the basis of society). However, if it is the case, as she suggests, that what constitutes the economy today is the predominance of "services" and "finance", and the technologies that have led to their dominance, it is not so much that Sassen disagrees with the fundamental arguments of postindustrial theory, despite her disclaimers. Rather, it is only in the details of how the services and transactions become manifested spatially, and the social inequalities that accompany this new geography, that is her main point of contention. Or put differently, Sassen does not break from the underlying logic of postindustrial theory—she adds other forms of "work" to it. As is evident in her arguments above, in her discourse it is (still) technology that has brought about fundamental changes. This point is made even more explicit in her most recent book, Global Networks, Linked Cities, where she argues that "we are seeing the formation of a transterritorial 'center' constituted via telematics and intense economic transactions" (14). What she opposes is not so much the idea that technology is the agency of change, as the spatial formations posited by postindustrial theorists and information society theorists. Her main concern is primarily an "empirical" one: to "fill in" the holes left by dominant readings of technology, because, "[o]nce these processes are brought in to the analysis, funny things happen; secretaries become part of it, and so do the cleaners of the buildings where professionals work…We recover the material conditions, production sites and place-boundedness that are also part of globalization and the information economy" (Cities 1).
However, the relation of specific laboring activity to its useful effect (that is, the relation of the worker and the specific product of her work) does not explain where class inequality comes from—WHY it exists. This can only be explained by the fact that the worker labors in "a specifically social relation of production". It doesn't matter if a person produces knowledge, empties garbage bins, etc.: what matters is whether she privately owns the means of production and exploits the surplus-labor of others or sells her labor-power and is exploited. This is what determines class inequality. To put this differently, regardless of how many occupations are included to "fill in" the picture of globalization, what gets left out of Sassen's analysis is not only the underlying position in labor relations of high-skilled information technology labor and janitorial work (i.e., wage labor), but the fact that technology ("telematics") is congealed labor, and without this, there would be no economic transactions. It is not just a matter of who operates the technologies (whether it is a computer, phone system, or a broom)—but in who's interest these technologies are being used in the first place.
What is hidden in Sassens' "recovery" work is that the high-tech computers (not to mention the "low-tech" tools used by those who clean buildings) are produced by exploited labor. Without the living labor of workers, the telematics and financial transactions she privileges would not be possible. Moreover, what is being circulated in these transactions, (and what the entire service industry is geared toward facilitating), is the surplus value of workers. And, especially in the case of cybertechnologies, it is produced by workers in the South working under some of the most terrible and physically debilitating conditions, where for instance workers (primarily women) lose their sight within a matter of years. By focusing on cities and the infrastructures of cities that make possible global finance markets (from the law firms and advertising agencies to the nannies and wait people who "serve" the elite workers), what is erased is precisely the global division of labor Sassen claims to be concerned with.
The erasure at the heart of Sassen's highly detailed empirical observations is fundamentally related to Sassen's theory of class. At the center of Sassen's analysis is a Weberian theory of class in which classes are understood in terms of "occupational" differences, or what Weber calls "life-chances on the market". Its emphasis is on the status of various occupations, their wages and their different job "characteristics", and the different kinds of "consumption" that their jobs allow. What is displaced here is the Marxist theory of class in which class is one's position in the social relations of production, that is, where one owns sells her labor power to others or whether one owns the means of production and thereby exploits the labor of others. In the place of such a structural theory of class is a "network" theory of class—class as (hierarchies of) occupation, class as consumption—which takes the structure and causality out of class relations and puts in its place multiple hierarchies of inequalities that are not reducible to the conflict between labor and capital. This is the theory of class that underlies Peter Drucker's argument that "Instead of capitalists and proletarians, the classes of the post-capitalist society are knowledge workers and service workers" (Post-Capitalist Society 6). It is also clearly articulated in Sassen's claim that the main class division in the global city today is between "highly paid professional classes connected to leading sectors in the global economy" and "low-wage service workers", such as cooks, janitors and nannies, who "serve" the professional classes (Cities in a World Economy xiv). What this implies, again, is that a break has occurred in capitalism, in which workers are no longer exploited by capitalists. Instead, classes have become increasingly complex and multiple. To refer back to Watt's phraseology again, all people are "embedded in a complex web of social, economic, and institutional ties". In fact, Sassen suggests that workers are now exploited by each other (not capitalists).
But if workers have ceased to be exploited by capitalists, how is it that profits have continued to increase exponentially, while the number of jobs that pay enough to meet even basic needs has declined significantly over the past three decades? So much so that CEO's (whose salaries are not "wages" but concealed "profit") now earn up to 450 times more than the "average" worker's wage (compared to 46 times more in the 20th century)? How is it that corporations are able to amass resources and services in cities in greater and greater concentrations? Are we really to believe that there is no causal relation between the growing wealth of the few and the growing poverty of the many? Even if we accept Sassen's suggestion that sectors of the working class "exploit" one another, the gap between what the "elite professionals" earn today and the working poor earn is minimal compared to the gap between both these sectors of workers and the corporate owners, whose annual profits are billions of dollars. The Marxist theory of class explains these divisions in a way Weberian theory cannot, since for Weber there is no causal relation between increasing concentration of profits of the rich and the increasing destitution of the working class. For Weber, profits are not produced by the accumulation of extracted surplus value, but by gradients of power—an answer which leaves the primary question—the source of class power—a mystery whose effects can only be described.
Sassen, who denies the existence of imperialism, reads global
inequities in terms of "trade"; what
leads to the concentrations of wealth and economic disparity is a
matter of "free trade" versus "fair trade." To
say that globalization is a matter of (unfair) trade is, however, to
assume that the fundamental problem with globalization is that
workers are not paid a fair price for their work, that some
companies are able to obtain prices over and above the costs of
production, etc., and that its is these kinds of transactional
discrepancies in the economy that have led to such deep
inequalities. This argument suggests that if all workers received a
fair exchange for their work (an exchange of equivalents) and
moreover that if fair exchanges were more evenly distributed (rather
than concentrated in nodes), then inequalities would be
significantly minimized. Such a position mistakes the fact that it
is not the exchange of
equivalents that produces profit, or that increases the value of
capital. Trade does not create profit. What is necessary for capital
is a commodity that can produce more than its value. That commodity
is labor power. As Marx argues in the Grundrisse, "the
simple movement of exchange values, such as is present in pure
circulation, can never realize capital" (255). By this he means
that the exchange of equivalents (for instance, the exchange of $10
for a $10 commodity) does not produce profit, because what increases
value is not exchange but surplus labor:
is commodities (whether in their particular form, or in the general
form of money) which form the presupposition of circulation; they
are the realization of a definite labour time and, as such, values;
their presupposition, therefore, is both the production of
commodities by labour and their production as exchange values. (255)
erasing the surplus value as the basis of the increase of value in
capitalism, theories of "trade" end up positing a theory
of "pure circulation", in which the fundamental relations
of exploitation through which surplus value is extracted is
"extinguished". In other words, the sphere of exchange
on the surface of the bourgeois world, [and] there and there alone
does the motion of exchange values, their circulation, proceed in
it's pure form. A worker who buys a loaf of bread and a millionaire
who does the same appear in this act only as simple buyers, just as,
in respect to them, the grocer appears only as a seller. All other
aspects are here extinguished (251).
That is, "Each appears towards the other as an owner of money", who exchange equivalents (246). Extinguished in the space of "pure circulation" in other words are the fundamentally opposed positions of the worker and the capitalists in the relations of labor: the deeply antagonist relations between the individual who buys the bread through wages which she received for her labor power, the other through the profits accumulated from the exploited labor of others.
Why should this "extinguishing" matter for urban cultural theory? Why is it not sufficient to simply "value" exploited workers more, and deny that there is any real difference between workers and those who employ them? It matters because it leads to a "solution" to social problems that do not address the fundamental causes of inequalities. Sassen suggests that it is primarily a matter of increasing workers "income" that will lead to less concentrations of wealth. Focusing on "income" however is to formulate the problems in capitalism as a matter of "fair exchange": as long as there is "fair exchange" in capitalism there is no problem. But even when workers are paid the market value of their labor they are still exploited, and not only does this serve as the basis for all capital accumulation, but the rate of exploitation under imperialism is radically increasing, not decreasing. Neither the dismantling or even the "reforming" of exploitation can simply be "wished" away. Exploitative relations need to be collectively transformed, so that no one has the freedom to exploit another. Framing global capitalism today in terms of "trade" matters because until the social relations of labor are transformed, only the needs of the few will be met.
What Sassen's emphasis on fair exchange misses is that capital is compelled to revolutionize the forces of production through technological innovation. This drive leads to greater investment in means of production (which, as I have argued above, cannot produce profit) versus labor power, which leads, in turn, to a crisis of overproduction and a decline in profit. There is thus an increasing need to export capital and to extend command over the surplus-labor of the world proletariat. This is what explains the imperative of imperialism—and its production of deep unevenness. Sassen's arguments on globalization are basically a pragmatic response to the developments of imperialism: "I can accept the fact that we will always have inequality" she argues in an interview in the University of Chicago Magazine, "but what I find extremely unjust is when a system produces enormous wealth and fails to redistribute a good part of it in the face of extreme poverty—and when people who are very well off have no idea of what misery is and do not bother to understand" (online). That is, despite her insistence that one of the main effects of focusing on place is to be able to account for the "historicity" of changes to the local, when it comes to economic inequality, we must assume this is "natural" and therefore ineradicable. At best we can hope to minimize its most "extreme" contradictions.
as she herself points out, that the World Bank has recently engaged
in a "programmatic effort" to "produce analyses that
show how important urban economic productivity is to macroeconomic
performance" (Cities 8), Sassen seems quite clearly
concerned simply with advocating a notion of the humanities in which
the main concern is developing more
"complete"/"fuller" descriptions of economic
markets; that is, foregrounding an empirical methodology which
provides for more "details" of emerging markets. But
behind this is a way of reading the world that meets the needs of
capital. It translates into producing urban "experts" and
"professionals" who are adept at
reading the codes of other cultures and can quickly adapt to meet
the demands of a volatile transnational marketplace. Such
skills are of particular concern in the context of the increasing
competition among major cities to gain direct access, bypassing
national states, to global markets for resources and activities.
Urban analyses simply need to "address these changes" (8).
It is therefore necessary to situate Sassen's arguments—taken to
be "left" by many theorists—in relation to the arguments
of the central organs of transnational capital, such The
Economist, which reported that:
is a measure of the extent to which urban (or "brown")
issues, as opposed to rural, or "green" ones, are moving
up the international agenda, that UN-HABITAT, the United Nations
agency responsible for such matters, was recently promoted from its
lowly "center" status to the more exalted "programme"
level (the first time this has happened in UN history). A few days
ago it celebrated its elevation by holding the first-ever World
Urban Forum, an informal think-tank of experts culled from
governments, the private sector and voluntary organizations, in
theory works to update the idealist assumptions of the information
economy, and serve as a means of providing the emerging labor force
with more up-to-date skills for the new needs of transnational
The contemporary humanities, I have suggested, direct citizen-workers to understand only the "local" (superstructural) dimensions of transnational capitalism and its imperialist imperative, focusing on matters of "lifestyle", "consumption" and the complexities of flows of capital and goods across the globe. For example, they focus on the touch, the taste, the "experience" of the city, without accounting for the historicity of the city. This is an empirical approach which takes as given the surface level changes of capitalism, abstracting them from their causes. Whether in the laissez-faire discourse of the conservative City Journal, the writing of third-way urban sociologists like Saskia Sassen, postmarxist urban theorists such as David Harvey, or the aesthetic/architectural discourses of such poststructuralists as Baudrillard, the popular theories of urban space are informed by postindustrial assumptions, and thus accept a similar post-critical humanities. Theories of urban space that follow from this line of argument read the city as a cultural space which is post-exploitative and formed by knowledge and technology, not labor. Urban space, on these terms, is a geography of flows: flows of finance capital, information, workers and commodities, all of which are continually in flux: a highly differentiated space of circulation which is irreducible to the conflict between labor and capital. This is what I call the "geography of circulation and consumption", which focuses primarily on what Marx calls "the daily traffic of bourgeois life": the sphere of exchange.
At the core of the contemporary theories of urban space is the notion that the "concrete" site of praxical transformation is the site of the local, particular, lifestyle, consumption, etc. In other words, "space" is being used here to substitute the physical, psychical, local—in short, the experiential—for explanatory knowledge of the social relations of production. Space and place, in fact, have become the new site to talk about the complexities of everyday life in transnational capitalism. As Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift argue in Thinking Space "Social and cultural theory has recently taken a spatial turn—using geographical concepts and metaphors to think about the currently complex and differentiated world" (i). These theories of space, however, are ultimately idealist, because they abstract the spatial concrete from its underlying relations. They suggest that the most productive way to understand space today is in terms of its "alterity", which requires dispensing with the "abstractness" of "theory" (which is reduced to a "master" narrative, a "Cyclops eye" ). The result however is that what is called the "concrete", and posited as the site of spontaneous experience and knowing, is actually an abstraction.
For instance, the emphasis on the "specificity", "contingency" and "sheer multiplicity" of space is not the effect of "space" itself, or new ways of thinking about space. Space and spatial relations, in other words, are not subjective. They are objective. The organization of space reflects and is determined by the relations of production. The emphasis on the specificity of space is an effect of the change in the methods used to exploit workers under capitalism, but not a change in the exploitation of workers' surplus-labor. In the production process of the Fordist assembly line, for example, production time is segmented into regular units and sequences (and the production process of the assembly line takes place in "one" space). Space is largely theorized in "uniform" and even "universal" terms. Under "flexible" accumulation, in contrast, production time and space is no longer standardized—the "contingency" of "space" comes to the foreground because the various stages of the production process become increasingly separated from one another (an effect of the internationalization of labor), while the various stages of production take place "simultaneously". Space becomes theorized increasingly in terms of its specificity because, while the capitalist production processes and division of labor are spread out all over the globe, this requires capital to separate out the phases of the production process in search of the cheapest labor and production costs; to move from one space the next, and to be connected with various site of production, distribution and exchange throughout the world. Beneath the new spatial relations, in short, the production relations of capital remain unchanged. Postindustrial theory, following its "new times" assumptions, abstracts the strategies of capital accumulation from the underlying exploitation of labor by capital, and thus represents the new spatial effects of capitalism as a radically new (post-exploitative, post- bourgeois/proletariat class division) capitalism. By erasing the causes of changes in space, these theories alibi capital's need to find more surplus labor to exploit more intensely, which has become increasingly important as the global economy has entered, once again, a serious stage of crisis, and capital requires new realms to both extract more surplus value from workers as well as realize existing surplus value by opening up new markets.
In opposition to what I am theorizing below as the idealism of the geography of circulation and consumption in the work of Baudrillard and Harvey, I am putting forth the concept of the "geography of labor" in order to grasp the material relations of urban space: the relation between what takes place on the "surface" of daily life under capitalism, and the production processes which, as Marx argues, take place "behind the backs" of workers. Geography of labor foregrounds the social relations of production as the basis of the ways in which urban space and culture are organized. From this position, urban changes, such as the shift by capital from one industry or infrastructure to the next are at root determined by capitalist relations of production, and the needs of capitalists to accumulate surplus value (the basis of profit). On these terms the working and living conditions, the shape of urban architecture, the ongoing gentrification and redevelopment of financial districts, etc. are determined by the struggle between capital and labor over the extraction of surplus value that takes place during the working day. Geography of labor is central to the analysis of (urban) space today, because it enables one to understand the developments of capitalism in the postwar era and its increased need for "flexibility" and expansion in relation to capital accumulation –without separating such "geographical" trends from the labor relations that make them possible.
contestation between the geography of labor and the geography of
circulation and consumption is part of a long-standing debate
between idealism and materialism over how space is to be understood.
As Lenin argues in Empirio-Criticism, the fundamental
question at stake in the issue of space (and time) is: is space
objective or is it subjective (a matter of what Kant and Mach refer
to as bodily "sensations")? That is, is space, as the
world of material objects, a "pure construct" (discourses,
representation, etc.) as idealists have argued, or is it, as
dialectical materialists such as Engels and Lenin argue based on
objective reality? As Lenin explains, "The theory of space and
time is inseparably connected with the answer to the fundamental
question of epistemology: are our sensations images of bodies and
things [materialism], or are bodies complexes of our sensations
[idealism]"? (180). In other words, for dialectical
materialists, "space and time" are understood to be part
of the objective world—"matter in motion independently of our
mind". Lenin writes,
as things or bodies are not mere phenomena, not complexes of
sensations, but objective relations acting on our senses, so space
and time are not mere forms of phenomena, but objectively real forms
of being. There is nothing in the world but matter in motion, and
matter in motion cannot move otherwise than in space and time. Human
conceptions of space and time are relative, but these relative
conceptions,…, in their development, move towards absolute truth
and approach nearer and nearer to it. (177)
Lenin's comments are in direct opposition to the idealist claim that space is a product of human thinking, or bodily sensations (i.e., abstract categories, discourse, feeling, etc.). The Machian Karl Pearson, for instance, argued that "Of time as of space we cannot assert a real existence: it is not in things but in our mode of perceiving them" (as quoted in Lenin 185). If we accept that space is an effect of perception we return to a theory of knowledge based upon experience, in which "experience" remains unmediated and autonomous. If we were to apply this to the city, we would go no further than the immediate experience of urban life: the way it feels, the way it smells, the way it looks, etc. We would not have any knowledge about why the city looks the way it does, why one has a particular experience (and not another) of the city, or the historical relations of the city. Answering such questions (which address the root causes of perception) require going beyond the immediate realm of subjective experience. To understand space in terms of perception is to begin and end with the subject.
Lenin is arguing, in contrast, that humans' conception of space and time reflects the actual, objective relations of space and time; changes in how they understand these relations are, at the same time, determined by the level of productive forces and scientific knowledge. Thus, even when human knowledge is an approximation there still exists matter in dialectical relation independent of human mind and sensations. A dialectical materialist theory of space is based on the understanding that matter has existed prior to human existence, and, moreover, that matter is continually in motion: matter is continually developing. The existence of matter is independent of human existence and consciousness. As Lenin points out, moreover, the argument that space is the product of human thinking leads to the rather ridiculous conclusion that before humans space did not exist; that humans are the creators of space and time, and when they cease to exist so too will space and time.
It is important to point out that Lenin is not suggesting that our understanding of space is unmediated. In fact, the very debates over space (and their changes) indicate that how we understand space is indeed mediated by social relations and social conflicts. However, the fact that ideas of space are mediated (not immediate, spontaneous) does not lead Lenin to the conclusion that there is nothing but "mediation" or that we can never know "space". On the contrary, he argues that our knowledge should seek to understand space more completely in all of its complexity—a knowledge which can only ever approach the "truth" of space and spatial relations. At issue is that "The mutability of human conceptions of space and time no more refutes the objective reality of space and time than the mutability of scientific knowledge of the structure and forms of matter in motion refutes the objective reality of the external world" (Lenin 177).
This understanding of "space" is crucial for historical materialism's theory that it is the social relations of production, not "constructs" or "things" that produce human society. Constructs or things are themselves produced under material relations of production. To say that changes in how we think about space are the basis of changing spatial relations, or the argument that changing objects in space, such as houses, urban streets, malls, public parks, etc, bring about changes in social relations, is a rearticulation of the idealist assumption that it is the local/subjective that is the basis of the world. In other words, for materialism, social space is determined by labor relations (production). It is determined by the ways in which people meet their needs. Different ways of organizing social production will result in different spatial arrangements. A society based on private accumulation will privilege private spaces, which are inevitably unequal; in contrast, a society organized to meet all people's needs, will privilege public, collective space. Space, in short, is never autonomous from the relations of production.
Dominant theories of urban space and planning are primarily idealist theories of space. They focus on the effects of capitalism rather than on its root relations, and they rehearse many of the arguments made centuries before them as "new". The writings of Baudrillard are exemplary of the idealism of "classic" texts of "high theory". In The Singular Objects of Architecture, a recent series of interviews with architect Jean Nouvel, Baudrillard reads space (and in particular, architectural space) in terms of discourse. Following poststructuralist assumptions, Baudrillard suggests that in language there is always a slippage of the signifier, which prevents it from ever being anchored down by any determinate meaning. According to this logic, there is always a textual gap between what is said/written and its meaning, since the object to which language refers is not a "real" object but only another sign in an endless chain of signification. Language, Baudrillard writes, is always a "lost object […] we can never clarify things, we can never say, 'OK, that's behind us' or 'OK that’s ahead of us'" (15). Language always articulates an "enigma"—a "no place" in the place; the "nothing" of space. What he calls "singular objects of architecture" are those architectural works which grasp the "enigmatic" side of space, those that "fool the eye" and "trick the sense" (18), and thus reveal space to be what it does not seem to be. That is, those architectural projects which "reroute our perception of phenomenon from the material to the immaterial" (7). Such a theory of architecture essentially repeats in other terms Baudrillard's main argument that technological advances have led to a point in which there is no longer any "reality" to which signs and images refer, only simulacra.
It is not the social interests the architecture serves, or the ways in which it was produced, that is meaningful here, but precisely the "immaterial" aspects of the structure and its "affect" on the spectator, which defy all (discursive) expectations. In other words, Baudrillard is talking about the "experience" of the building and how it makes one feel, and especially the experiential "vertigo" that some architecture induces. But of course even the "experience" of a building is itself historical. Architecture's ability to defy expectation and subvert established systems of meanings depends on a "norm", according to which one can say precisely what Baudrillard has said is now impossible: "OK, we are beyond this…". In other words, our experience of space is not spontaneous, it is very much conditioned by social relations which go beyond language itself. For instance, the "postmodern" architecture of Frank Gehry, whose recent (1997) Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao uses titanium sheathing and steel frame to produce a free-form style of metal curves—an architectural project which is an effect of a particular stage of development of architectural materials, which presupposes a certain advance in relations of production, etc.—can be read as "enigmatic" only in relation to other styles of architecture, which followed different formal rules, such as Le Corbusier's "Dream for Paris", which features highly structured and uniform buildings, and attempts to govern the "totality" of urban space down to its minor details. Gehry's architecture, which foregrounds spatial complexity and multidimensionality, is the product of a world in which capital is represented as "fluid" and without boundaries (the product of transnational capital); Le Corbusier's plans of the 1920s, in contrast, reflect the high point of industrial capital in its national stage, when technology was viewed as capable of serving the public through rational design, to create "machines for living" to house large sectors of the population. One architectural style creates an "experience" of flows and borderlessness, the other one of "uniformity" and connectivity; but these experiences of space are not isolated from their historical conditions of production. In other words, the "spontaneity" Baudrillard attributes to certain (architectural) spaces is an effect of architecture's historicity, and the social relations in which architecture is situated—not some inherent aspect of language or spatial "experience".
On Baudrillard's terms, all articulations of space are contingent and local: they do not reflect objective relations, since there is no object to which theories of space actually refer (the object is always "lost" to another signifier). Baudrillard's writes, "My comments need to be contrasted with the idea that something could be 'real'" (15). This fundamentally idealist assumption is what underlies his discursive claim that "space has become infinitely indeterminate in every direction" (14). Space, which for Baudrillard is "structured" like the slippage of the signifier along the chain of signification, exceeds all conceptualization, and to struggle for spaces free from inequality and oppression is a futile act of violence against meaning and its inherent slippages. The class extension of this (epistemological) argument is tellingly put by Jean Nouvel when he says "if an architectural object is only the translation of some functionality, if its only the result of an economic situation, it can't have meaning" (9).
This is space as sublime. Space becomes a meditation on the excessiveness of all spaces of the social, which are assumed to be the products of individual thinking. The consequence of this reading is to privilege experience by keeping focus on the surface differences of objects. In this way, Baudrillard is doing the ideological work of exchange value. The reason Baudrillard's arguments (whose emphasis on the subjective experience of space can be traced back to Kant) are read as "new" and still "relevant" is because by focusing on the local and the different they make it appear as though the central question today is not how things are produced, but their "life" on the market. Baudrillard's theory reproduces the logic of the commodity by differentiating among the products of labor and attributing those differences, not to labor, but to things themselves, and attributing the differential experience of the things to a mystical cause ("language"). On these terms, it is the product, and how it is consumed ("experienced"), that matters, not the labor that produced it, and under what conditions. To the extent that Baudrillard's theory continues to have explanatory "power" it is because it articulates the logic of capital, displacing use-value with exchange value. In the same way, "design" and "makeover" shows have emerged at a moment of economic crisis and overproduction, encouraging people to consume, and teaching them that the personal crises they face as a result of economic contradictions can be solved with a new lamp.
Baudrillard has often been read as quite "radical" and "anti-establishment" because he reduces material issues of urban space to matters of language and textual playfulness. But if we take his arguments out of the linguistic space in which Baudrillard articulates all social relations, and implicate them in the actual material relations, what are the consequences? It means that the differences between who lives in the urban "ghetto" and those who live in Central Park West penthouses is reduced to a (life) stylistic difference. That is, it is reduced to different modes of consumption: it is not objective relations of class that separates those who are forced to live in dilapidated, unsafe buildings and those who live in luxury, but how we think about space and use it; how its coded and recoded. Thus, what is necessary to change relations of urban living is to think differently about them; to make local changes to urban slums, rather than address the economic relations which cause slums and gated communities in the first place. In short, in the guise of "theory" issues of poverty and inequality in living conditions are what are actually being mystified here.
Baudrillard's more overtly idealist arguments have in recent years come under scrutiny for their textualization of social relations and for their reduction of social inequalities to relations that need to be merely re-thought, rather than changed. With the growing social divisions that have disrupted the "free play" of transnational capital, textualist arguments have increasingly come under attack, and it is now quite common to find critiques of the primarily textualist arguments, even by those who have been ardent supporters of poststructuralism. There is, in short, increasing objective pressure from the growing class antagonisms in capitalism to address the "material" conditions of globalization and their actual impact on workers.
It is in this context that David Harvey's arguments seem to provide a much more explanatory account of transnational capitalism because of his emphasis on the "concrete" spaces in which "flexible accumulation" plays out and his foregrounding of class inequalities in the urban context. That is, Harvey is widely regarded as one of the main "materialist" thinkers in contemporary theory. However, as I will suggest, especially in his more recent writings, Harvey articulates not so much an analysis of the structures of class exploitation that underlie urban relations—that is, the international division of labor—as the discursive deployment of such concepts as "capital accumulation" and "class" in order to put forth a more pluralized and "flexible" reading of class from within the discourses of the left, a hybrid reading he calls "historical-geographical materialism". This is because Harvey's analytical point of departure is actually the geography of circulation: the sphere of exchange. As a result, what Harvey provides is a map of transnational urban geography devoid of labor.
Harvey's Spaces of Hope is a case in point. He argues that: "The accumulation of capital has always been a profoundly geographical affair. Without the possibilities inherent in geographical expansion, spatial reorganization, and uneven geographical development, capitalism would long ago have ceased to function as a political-economic system" (23-4). This follows from one of Harvey's main arguments, that transnational capital requires a "spatial fix" in order to resolve its crises of profitability. When, for instance, a market becomes saturated, and it is not possible to continue to make a certain rate of profit, a corporation will look to new spaces in order to invest in new technology, new buildings, new infrastructure, etc., to raise the level of profit, oftentimes leaving behind the older, less profitable buildings and structures. This is particularly evident, for instance, in the abandonment of industrial cities such as Detroit (which has resulted in devastating unemployment, poverty and urban "decay"), for more high-tech centers such as Austin, Atlanta, Silicon Valley, and other cities in the South. At a certain point however, these spaces also become less profitable, as other corporations invest in similar spaces, and capital will have to move on to new spaces, in an endless cycle. Space, as a result, is constantly being re-made by capital and technology, and is thus in a continual state of flux. Spatial differences, as Harvey argues elsewhere, are "irreducibly distinct" (Spaces of Capital 24).
history of capitalism is read on these terms as a history of
geographical-technological expansion, as capital goes from one
spatial "fix" to another, an expansion Harvey suggests has
become particularly striking in the wake of
"globalization", when developments in technology have
enabled geographic movement to take place even more rapidly and
"flexibly". He argues,
relativism introduced by revolutions in transport and communications
coupled with the uneven dynamics of class struggle and uneven
resource endowments means that territorial configurations cannot
remain stable for long. Flows of commodities, capital, labor and
information always render boundaries porous. (Spaces of Hope
In other words, echoing the post-industrialist arguments, Harvey suggests that transformations in technology in the postwar era have led to radical changes in the way space, and especially urban space, is organized. Urban space, on these terms, becomes a space of flows of capital, commodities and labor, not a space determined by the relations of production; a space of "relativism" and contingency not determination.
Situating space on "irreducibly distinct" terms is part of the broader post-al effort to deny the imperialist imperative of capital: the export of capital and the exploitation of the world proletariat. The ongoing remaking of space (and its irreducible differences) that Harvey discusses are not autonomous; rather, they are produced by intra-class war over the total surplus-labor of the world proletariat. The concentration of wealth, overproduction, the export of capital, etc., moreover, also lead to stagnation and decline. In other words, these laws also manifest the "uneven development" as well as the "decay" of previously developed areas (e.g., Detroit). This is the sign of capitalism in crisis and the fact that capitalist relations of production are becoming increasingly crisis ridden. Harvey's notion of "irreducibly distinct" works to cover over the notion of "crisis, and to present capitalism (disguised as the transhistorical struggle over "space") as eternal, as self-correcting.
Along these lines, what Harvey's mapping of spatial fixes and flows conceals is that it is not (empty) "space" that enables the flow of capital. It is (living) labor. Without labor, there would be no building of offices and factories, no laying of cables for cyber networks, no development of codes and software, etc. The corporations that used to employ the majority of workers in Detroit, for instance, have not suddenly ceased to rely on labor and nor have they ceased to exploit labor—they have sought cheaper sources of labor in the South, where wages are radically lower, there are fewer workers' rights and environmental laws, and lower taxes; and they have also sought more advanced technologies through which to make workers more productive. By theorizing space as the site of irreducible difference, Harvey ironically ends up producing a quite universalizing notion of space which erases the fundamental differences in how space is used. For instance, the reason capital moves "flexibly" from one place to another is radically different from a worker's need to be "spatially" flexible. Workers move to find better wages, better benefits, cheaper housing, more conveniences, etc.—in short, to find better terms on which to meet their needs selling their labor power to capitalists. The capitalist, by contrast, moves from one place to the next to better exploit workers: for more surplus value. This is because the bottom line is profit. The differences between "developed"/"underdeveloped", "skilled labor"/"unskilled labor" is ultimately used by capital for the same purpose: to maintain a reserve army of labor, and to control the labor-supply in order to raise the rate of surplus-value extraction. This could not be put more clearly than in the words of Alan Budd, a Tory economic advisor in Britain: "Rising unemployment was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes…What was engineered—in Marxist terms—was a crisis in capitalism which recreated a reserve army of labor, and has allowed the capitalist to make high profits ever since" (Parenti 29).
The reason Harvey's theory occludes labor and ends up reducing antagonistic interests (despite its self-representation as committed to working class struggle) is because his understanding of space is based on the geography of circulation and consumption. It is an emphasis on the flows of exchange in capitalism. For instance, in Harvey's theory of space-time compression what matters are the ways in which space is reduced by time and devoid of labor. In doing so, he treats that which is circulated ahistorically by erasing the conditions of its production. Circulation is, to be clear, "constantly mediated" by production, and vice versa—but what Harvey occludes in his account of circulation is the fact that production is primary, since without production, there would be no circulation. On the contrary, production does not require circulation (for instance, prior to class societies, in primitive communism, collectively produced goods were not exchanged—exchange did not mediate the consumption of goods), rather the circulation of goods emerges at a particular stage in the development of social production.
urban space is understood in terms of the geography of circulation
and consumption, what disappears are the exploitative relations of
labor, without which, under capitalism, exchange and circulation
could not take place. The geography of circulation obscures the
labor of the city, and ideologically suspends the fundamental class
antagonisms. It is on the basis of Harvey's theory of space as
circulation that he writes of 9/11 that what was really significant
about the attack on the WTC can only be appreciated by viewing the
situation in terms of (the stoppage of) circulation:
down global capital markets and air travel throughout the United
States for several days and even offering commercial-free television
had a huge disruptive effect upon flows of capital. The global
effect was substantial, but the hit upon the New York economy was
severe, particularly given the closure of bridges and tunnels,
disruptions to the communications networks, and the immediate
effects upon tourism. All of this would have been enough to snap the
thread [of the economy]. Cut the circulation process for even a day
or two, and severe damage is done". (64-5)
account of the effects of the terrorist attacks for global financial
markets is, however, a one-sided account.
As Marx explains in the Grundrisse,
circulation is an essential aspect of the capitalist process because
"Capital exists as capital only in so far as it passes through
the phases of circulation, the various moments of its
transformation, in order to be able to begin the production process
anew […] As long as capital remains frozen in the form of the
finished product, it cannot be active as capital, it is negated
capital" (546). If, to follow this argument, the circulation of
capital stopped (momentarily) because of the destruction of the
World Trade Center, this does have an effect on the ability of
capital to realize surplus value as profit through the sale
of commodities and thus "begin the production process
anew". But, as Marx also explains, to focus on circulation as
if it were the basis of capitalist production is one-sided because,
"The circulation of capital realizes value, while living
labor creates value" (543). It is useful here to cite
Marx's explanation of the relation of circulation and production at
some length. Marx writes:
itself [is] merely a specific moment of exchange, or [it is] also
exchange regarded in its totality.
so far as exchange is merely a moment mediating between
production with its production-determined distribution on one side
and consumption on the other, but in so far as the latter itself
appears as a moment of production, to that extent is exchange
obviously also included as a moment within the latter.
is clear, firstly, that the exchange of activities and abilities
which takes place within production itself belongs directly to
production and essentially constitutes it. The same holds, secondly,
for the exchange of products, in so far as that exchange is the
means of finishing the product and making it fit for direct
consumption. To that extent, exchange is an act comprised within
production itself. Thirdly, the so-called exchange between dealers
and dealers is by its very organization entirely determined by
production, as well as being itself a producing activity. Exchange
appears as independent of and indifferent to production only in the
final phase where the product is exchanged directly for consumption.
But (1) there is no exchange without division of labour, whether the
latter is spontaneous, natural, or already a product of historic
development; (2) private exchange presupposes private production;
(3) the intensity of exchange, as well as its extension and its
manner, are determined by the development and structure of
production. For example. Exchange between town and country; exchange
in the country, in the town etc. Exchange in all its moments thus
appears as either directly comprised in production or determined by
conclusion we reach is not that production, distribution, exchange
and consumption are identical, but that they all form the members of
a totality, distinctions within a unity. Production predominates not
only over itself, in the antithetical definition of production, but
over the other moments as well. The process always returns to
production to begin anew. That exchange and consumption cannot be
predominant is self-evident. Likewise, distribution as distribution
of products; while as distribution of the agents of production it is
itself a moment of production. A definite production thus determines
a definite consumption, distribution and exchange as well as definite
relations between these different moments. (99)
What is central to Marx's analysis is that while "exchange" as well as "consumption" and "distribution" are necessarily elements in the process of producing surplus value, it is production that determines the entire structure. As Marx goes on to explain, at moments when circulation is disrupted, "This loss of capital means in other words nothing else but that time passes it by unseized, time during which it could have been appropriating alien labor, surplus labor time through exchange within living labor, if the deadlock had not occurred" (564). To connect this to the discussion of capitalism's "crisis" after 9/11, if either exchange, consumption or distribution fails, as in the case of the destruction of the WTC, this does disrupt capitalism, but not because it has effected the central mechanism of capitalism in the extraction of surplus value at the point of production. On the contrary, it disrupts capitalism only momentarily from realizing exploited labor, because, just for a moment, commodities were not sold and credit was not tendered. That this is the case can be seen by how ultimately little the destruction of the WTC ultimately effected global capitalism. The attack on the WTC was not an attack on a productive center but on a center of exchange, circulation and distribution that, in a globalized capitalist system, could be (and was) quickly replaced by another center of exchange somewhere else. Just as before, in other words, production could go on (if even momentarily delayed). It is, moreover, in the elevation of circulation and consumption that Harvey simply echoes bourgeois economists, not to mention the injunctions on the part of the Bush administration for citizens to go out and spend money in order to help revive the economy—as if consumption (exchange) produces value.
Harvey's analysis, despite its overt differences from such post-al theorists as Baudrillard and corporate theorists such as Sassen, is aimed at undermining any determinate theory of social relations, which he believes are exceedingly "porous" and open-ended. And it is precisely this underlying assumption which leads Harvey to substitute for "historical materialism"—according to which human history is determined by the ongoing developments in human production—the hybrid concept of "historical-geographical materialism". Spatial relations, he argues, cannot be reduced to class structures, such as the antagonism between labor and capital, without losing the "flexibility" and "particularity" that he suggests is inherent to space.
Harvey's criticism of historical materialism articulates the imperatives of the ruling class to determine profitable investment. For instance, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz recently argued (in a speech in Germany) that what determined the ability of the US to invade Iraq but not North Korea has to do with the different accessibility of resources available to those countries. The US can effectively impose economic sanctions on North Korea (and not Iraq), because, unlike North Korea, Iraq "floats on a sea of oil". In other words, economic sanctions would have a much more disastrous impact on North Korea because it is an industrialized nation that relies heavily on imports. What is at stake in Wolfowitz's arguments (and in relation to which Harvey's own arguments for the radical alterity of space need to be situated) is the way in which he treats all spaces as autonomous and ultimately disconnected from one another. As such, what is being erased in these comments is the economic logic underneath the apparently autonomous spaces of "Iraq" and "North Korea": the fact that the way the US treats Iraq and North Korea is determined by capital's needs. The uneven development that capitalism produces is taken as given and thus the differences between geographical spaces ("nations") appear as if the places were disconnected; that they are "problems" on their "own" terms and that what determines where the US invades and how (militarily or with sanctions) is not a matter of the exploitation of labor. The discourse of "flexibility" is a reflection of the inability of capital to develop in any other way other than unevenly. It is therefore necessary to intervene into the discourse of "flexibility" to show that it is a ruse to cover over the fact that the way capital develops is not only deeply exploitative, but, because of the exploitative nature of its labor relations, uneven, causing huge fault lines between developed and undeveloped spaces (from nations to cities, neighborhoods, and streets).
It is in this context that the arguments for "flexibility" and "complexity" take on a new relevance. Harvey suggests that historical materialism is unable to account for the growing "complexities" of global capitalism. But what is "complexity"? Is it, as Harvey suggests, the ultimate irreducibility of the local and the specific to underlying relations? Is it the concrete's "overdetermined" status? Or is it, rather, that the "complexities" of social life derive from the fact that the "concrete", as Marx argues, is "the concentration of many determinations" (Grundrisse 101)? That is, that the complexity of the concrete is its manifestation of a totality of social relations, an effect, which is not explainable on the basis of the immediacy of perception. If we accept Harvey's theory of complexity, we are left with a theory which retreats from theorizing the interconnectivity of all sites of culture, escaping into the idealism of Baudrillard's "difference". No sites can be theorized in terms of their "concentration of many determinations", because in the end, all sites are radically distinct. This is the logic of Wolfowitz, whose arguments amount to an alibi for the operations of capital. On the other hand, if, following Marx, we approach the concrete not as an "irreducible particularity" opposed to abstraction but as itself an abstraction of underlying root relations of production that themselves need to be explained (and can only be explained through conceptualization), then we can begin to unpack the relations of different spaces as a reflection of material relations, and in a way that enables us to conceptualize what produces them.
Rather than render historical materialism more explanatory, in short, Harvey's concept of "historical geographical materialism" makes it less so. When space is posited as excessively "porous" and "contingent" it is not possible to theorize in any coherent or comprehensive manner what gives rise to, for instance, a particular spatial formation, or how it can be changed. At best, one can provide details of that space and its immanent changes. On the contrary, for historical materialism, production is primary—it determines all social relations, which is why it is given conceptual primacy. Far from meaning that "space" is a homogeneous zone without distinction, a historical materialist analysis of space is one that understands all spatial arrangements to be determined historically by the product of human praxis and the labor relations in which praxis takes place. It is by theorizing the labor relations that determine spatial arrangements that it is possible to understand the history of urban space and what needs to change in order to bring about more than just spatial configurations. What is needed is to abolish the exploitative relations which result in unequal "spatial" relations. To collectively produce a society in which the needs of all are met.
Harvey's spatial reading of capital translates into a theory of the humanities in which the role is to produce citizens-as-cartographers: citizens able to provide intricate maps of spatial differences and fluidities, but unaware of what causes them. Such a citizen is therefore positioned not as an active participant in the world that is mapped, but as a passive "describer" and "detailer" of social relations; someone who pays close attention to what Harvey calls the "militant particularity" of society, but is unable to connect particularity to the global relations of production to help bring about social justice in the world.
In contrast to Harvey, Engels argues in The Conditions of the Working Class in England, that "Since commerce and manufacture attain their most complete development in these great towns, their influence upon the proletariat is also most clearly observable. Here the centralization of property has reached the highest point" (61) The concentration of production in the hands of the few is so great, he argues, that "Hence, too, there exist here only a rich and a poor class, for the lower middle-class vanishes more completely with every passing day" (62). One of the results of this class polarization is that the spatial arrangements of the cities are largely divided between the working class districts, where workers are forced to live near their workplaces in desperate conditions, concealed alongside lavish districts for the capitalists—districts that are divided by what Engels calls the "hypocritical town planning" of the bourgeoisie, who are always anxious to ensure that the effects of their exploitation of the working classes are put out of sight and out of mind.
The space of the city, in other words, is the geography of labor. It is determined by the dialectical praxis of labor, the property relations within which this labor takes place, and the division of labor that develops as a result of the level of historical development of production. Moreover, it changes as the production relations change. By "geography of labor", however, I do not mean what Andrew Herod refers to as an approach that analyses "the spatial distributions of workers across the landscape to show how this affects the decision-making process of capitalists" (18). The problem with such an approach is not that it situates workers as "passive", as Herod claims, but that it ignores the structural relations between labor and capital, and the economic dynamics of space under capitalism. Marx provides us with an understanding of the geography of labor in Capital when he argues that relative to the early beginnings of capitalism in handicraft activities, which were dispersed throughout the country, "in so far as such a manufacture, when first started, combines scattered handicrafts, it lessens the space by which the various phases of production are separated from each other. The time taken in passing from one stage to another is shortened, so is the labour that effectuates this passage. In comparison with a handicraft, productive power is gained, and this gain is owing to the general co-operative character of manufacture" (325). In other words, the change from the space of handicraft to the space of manufacture (which was organized in towns and cities) was determined by the needs of production. The assemblage of workers in manufacture was a means of making workers more productive. Similarly, speaking about the "industrial villages" that developed on the basis of the textile industry in England, Engels explains that what drives the concentration of population are the needs of capital for amassing ever-larger amounts of surplus labor. He writes, "A manufacturing establishment requires many workers employed together in a single building, living near each other and forming a village of themselves in the case of a good-sized factory" (? 60). But, Engels continues, there comes a time when "the village grows into a small town, and this small town into a large one. The greater the town, the greater its advantages. It offers road, railroads, canals; the choice of skilled labour increases constantly, new establishments can be built more cheaply because of the competition among builders and machinists who are at hand, than in remote country districts, whither timber, machinery, builders, and operatives must be brought; it offers a market to which buyers crowd, and direct communication with the markets supplying raw material or demanding finished goods. Hence the marvelously rapid growth of the great manufacturing towns" (? 61). Engels maps the transformations of space under capitalism, but never for a moment does he forget that what makes these developments possible is the exploitation of the urban working class. Unlike the many writers, then and now, who gaze exuberantly and uncritically upon the urban spectacle, Engels argues that, though he found enormously impressive and magnificent the cityscape of London, with it's seemingly unending scenes of towers, shipyards, and vessels, it is necessary to realize "that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilization which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others" (64).
The spatial arrangements of transnational capital are still determined by the imperatives of capital, and, as Marx argues, the "directing motive, the end and aim of capitalist production, is to extract the greatest possible amount of surplus-value, and consequently to exploit labour-power to the greatest possible extent" (Capital 313). Spatial relations are still shaped by the division of labor, which has been increasingly internationalized. It is as a result of capital's unquenchable thirst for more profit that capital accumulation leads to geographical expansion. The fact that a transnational corporation may have headquarters in New York, its major production centers in Southeast Asia, its distribution centers in Europe, and despite the fact that these sites may be in constant flux—despite in other words that the various stages of production are spread out across the globe, resulting in what Saskia Sassen calls a network of "command and control centers"—this does not mean that the underlying structures of capitalism have changed. What it reveals is that the division of labor is increasingly international, and requires increasingly complex infrastructures to organize production in order to accumulate ever-growing profits. Similarly, the cybercities and cybersuburbs, from Silicon Valley, to Bangalore to the Teleport project in Tokyo, do not represent post-labor cities. Instead, they are based on the surplus-labor of workers who produce the city, on the one hand, and the social relations of private property in which capitalists appropriate this surplus labor for profit, on the other. It does not matter, in other words, if capital and labor are located in the same building or on the same continent; or whether they get to work in nicer environment with less apparent hierarchies, which is the primary concern of urban renewal theorists such as Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class). The issue in all of these cases remains the same: under capital no space is autonomous from the relations of production based on exploitation.
Focusing on the technologies through which transnational accumulation takes place, the spaces in which capital and commodities are accumulated, or the various occupations of workers who now constitute this international division of labor—is a means of distracting from the global relations of capitalist production, and the growing gap between rich and poor worldwide. The unsaid effect of this distraction is the conclusion that either homelessness, unemployment and hunger are inevitable and thus unchangeable, or that they are "flukes" in the system; that is, that they are exceptions to the rule of an increasingly networked world. If theorists, such as Sassen and others have had to begin to acknowledge such contradictions it is because they have become unavoidable by capitalists themselves. Even the IMF has been forced to dispell the "fluke" myth recently, when it acknowledged that such conditions of poverty are not exceptions but increasingly the rule in globalization (Anna Willard, "IMF-no clear proof globalization helps the poor").
of using advanced technology, which now connects workers all over
the world, to advance the interests of all people, surplus value is
use to produced profit for transnational capitalists; instead of
developing advanced healthcare facilities available to all workers,
health is being systematically privatized, and thus put out of reach
of the vast majority; instead of providing technology and
technological literacy for all children, they are the privilege of
the few, while the "lucky" schools in inner city
neighborhoods and rural districts are left with a handful of
entirely outdated computers to share among hundreds of students;
instead of updating urban transportation and building safe, clean
public housing for the homeless and working poor in NYC, billions of
dollars will be spent on an enormous commercial project which will
materially benefit only the city's wealthiest. This, at a time of
record budget deficits in every city and state across the US. In
short, instead of using the labor of the citizens (who represent the
most advanced stage of social relations under capitalism) to advance
the interests of society, it is used to extend the now outdated
private property relations of capital.
I have been arguing that the dominant means of theorizing urban space cannot account for the underlying imperatives driving the shaping of urban space because they eclipse production. These theories may tell us much about how urban space looks, its distinct formal arrangements, which technologies are operative there, etc, but little about why space is structured the way it is, and how it could better meet the needs of the workers on whose labor the city depends. The unsaids of post-al theory—the way what it "says" is also a way of "unsaying", of concealing—are particularly striking when it comes to theorizing the "concrete" matter of the rebuilding of "ground zero". Nowhere are the effects of post-al humanities and post-al citizenship more apparent than in the "public" debates, which were largely orchestrated by corporate leaders, over how the World Trade Center should be rebuilt.
The question of the rebuilding of "ground zero" is an urgent one. Not only will the labor of workers from around the world make the redevelopment of lower Manhattan possible, but millions of people's lives will be directly affected by what is built in its place, how the rebuilding takes place, and the interests it serves. What is rebuilt will have an impact for instance on workers' transportation, on the accessibility and affordability of their housing, on their jobs, wages and working conditions, and on their health (both accessibility of health care and environmental concerns). Most important of all, public funds (largely from the taxation of workers) will be financing the project, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and is taking place at a moment of record deficits, the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of employees, the elimination of welfare, and shocking cuts in education and food programs for poor children. A moment, in other words, in which enormous amounts of public resources have already been transferred to private corporations, in order to further privatize urban space. All working people therefore have an urgent interest in the direction of the redevelopment. Will the project continue privatizing and commodifying the city, or will it attempt to put the needs of people first? To talk about ground zero, in other words, is to talk about the priorities of the city and which interests will be served. But it is also to talk about the causes of existing economic inequalities and social divisions, and how these divisions are to be changed. It is in this context that the public debates over the future of the WTC site need to be situated.
In light of the social consequences of what the rebuilding of ground zero entails, how have the needs of the city been represented by dominant discourses? What are the "priorities" represented? Since notice was given of the architectural contest to determine which plans would guide the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, the "public debate" has focused around whether priority should be given to "cultural"/"commercial" interests or "financial" concerns. That is, whether emphasis should be on a suitable memorial, the rebuilding of a distinct skyline, places to shop, and cultural institutions, or whether rebuilding of the transportation infrastructure and financial markets. But this division, I argue, is largely a result of too narrow and localist a focus on particularities—a focus which reproduces the fundamental problems of post-al theory. One side views architecture and urban planning in culturalist terms, and as such posits culture as the site in which social divisions are healed through spaces in which people can come together (and shop), or "recognize" losses and "respect" each others cultural differences. The other side is more overtly concerned with the needs of capital today and therefore emphasizes newer and better transportation technologies, and the building up of waterfront areas and offices as a means of enticing corporations to locate in lower Manhattan. It is not that the other culturalist arguments are not also concerned with meeting the needs of capital. Rather, their capitulation to the needs of capital is more mediated, more "veiled", by substituting the freedom to consume for freedom from exploitation. Both positions thus argue for minor reforms of the capitalist city instead of insisting on the need for the transformation of the fundamental economic contradictions of the city. Somewhere between the culturalist and financial positions is a third position, which might be called a "cultural realist" position which pragmatically argues that a combination of cultural venues for shopping, jobs to support people's ability to shop, and a range of employment opportunities for people to earn money to consume are necessary to meet the needs of people in the city.
For instance, representatives of the Port Authority have argued that the fundamental need is turning ground zero into a transportation mecca, as a means of economically reviving lower Manhattan and New York City in general. In contrast, emphasizing less the "financial" issues than the "memorial" aspect of the new design, Marshall Berman argues that "We need some way to keep those ruins alive, ruins that in some mysterious way were greater than their source. We need a memorial that can capture the vividness, spontaneity, and "narrative drive" of those signs. I want us to show New York's power not only to remember but to represent, in ways the world won't forget, the bond between the living and the dead" ("When Bad Buildings Happen to Good People" 10). Central to Berman's notion of the memorial is an ethical solution which seems to distance itself with the "financial" concerns of the metropolitan elite: more than redistribution of "wealth", what we need is "to learn new structures of feeling: recognize people less fortunate as you as 'your own flesh'" (9). This is a position also reflected in Daniel Libeskind's architectural plans that won the contest, which, as was widely reported in the media, were very popular for the way in which they not only symbolically honored those who died on 9/11, but made the still-standing foundational slurry walls an architectural metaphor for the enduring ideal of "democracy" itself.
However, despite the lofty (i.e., non-"material") appeals, the "memorial" is cynically used by capital and its representatives to suture over the class contradictions of the city. It is used to erase the increasingly sharp divisions that have always defined urban space (and especially New York) by conjuring up images of a spontaneously united society "healing" after what is constructed as an "excessive" trauma, the effects of which "in some mysterious way were greater than their source". The memorial claims to recognize something that has occurred, but at the same time, makes the knowable unknowable. It isolates facts from the conditions that make them possible, in effect mystifying history. The very historical consciousness—which comprehends things in terms of their interconnectivity—that would situate 9/11 within a historical framework of global conflicts are suspended in a Foucauldian "event"-izing of history: the separation of a local manifestation of conflict and its translation into a groundless phenomena that can only be subjectively experienced. Like the Foucauldian discourse of the "event", memorializing inoculates citizens against historical consciousness, rendering them passive in the face of existing power relations. It is not, then, a coincidence that the loudest propagandists of memorialization, the Bush Administration, have, at the same time, done everything possible to prevent inquiry into actual causes of 9/11, in order to prevent exposure of their complicity in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
memorial to 9/11, in other words, in the name of remembering a
destructive event and thereby bringing people together that have
previously been separated, deliberately overlooks the fundamental
economic divisions that separate the city by projecting an image of
cultural reconciliation. As Berman's own text indicates, this
discourse is not only used by those in the Bush, Bloomberg, Giuliani
and Pataki administrations, but even more strikingly in the
discourse of some of the most respected "left" urbanists.
In fact, a more recent text by Berman makes the class politics of
the "memorial" even more explicit. In "The City
Rises: Rebuilding Meaning After 9/11", Berman writes that
"everyday people" immediately after 9/11
out and filled up the downtown streets and squares; they hung around
the many clusters of 'missing person' signs, and brought candles and
stones; they resisted going home, and stayed up talking and arguing
with total strangers through the nights even when they had to get up
for work in the morning…lower Manhattan was more intensely
occupied, more filled with life than it had been in years. Many of
its grand old places were born again. My favorite was Union Square,
which overnight became the kind of thriving agora it was said to
have been a hundred years ago. (online)
The slippage here between the "present" spontaneous coming together of people in the wake of destruction and death, and the "past" of Union Square is of course significant. Like all nostalgic reflections, Berman's conjures up an idealized version of the past. The aim of such constructions of the past is to cover over the contradictions that continue today. The "thriving agora" of Union Square a hundred years ago was also the age of 1911 Triangle Shirt Factory fire, in which 146 workers—the majority of them young women who had also participated in one of the largest strikes of women workers in US history—were killed as a result of the employer's continued refusal to provide the workers with safe working conditions and the outrageous practice (which continues in factories and sweatshops to this day) of locking the workers in the factory. Under capitalism, then as now, there can be no "thriving agoras" that are not founded, at their roots, on the brutal exploitation of labor by capital.
Despite its intentions, such fetishing of people's response to tragedy under deeply alienating conditions is a means of reifying what caused the tragedy in the first place. The implication of such readings is that people are no more close than they are when they are experiencing trauma and tragedy. That, in other words, the people who lost family members and friends in the attacks are more in need of a place to remember an event, the cause of which remains a mystery, than an understanding of what caused the attacks, and how all such events—which happen on a daily basis in other parts of the world, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine—can be eradicated. The discourse of "memorial" is ultimately a theory of catharsis, a turning of history into an unfolding, tragic "drama" that cannot be changed but must be "coped with". And the real goal of such catharsis is, as Brecht argues in his critique of Aristotelian tragedy, a class goal. It is a means of driving the "hero" of the tragedy (and thereby the viewer) "into spiritual conflicts" which obscure the real relations behind social conflicts. Brecht is thus critiquing those portrayals of history which "bundl[e] together the events portrayed and present them as an inexorable fate, to which the human being is handed over helpless despite the beauty and significance of his reactions" (Brecht on Theater 87). The audience of such a drama is momentarily "liberated" from the harsh realities of bourgeois life into a world beyond class. But this is a deeply ideological world which, as Zavarzadeh and Morton argue in their analysis of "familiarizing" pedagogy as opposed to Brechtian "de-familiarizing" pedagogy, "lulls the audience into emotional submission and intellectual passivity" (Theory as Resistance 33). Brecht argues instead for a means of understanding social events and relations precisely to "study closely [this fate], showing it up as of human contriving" (87). That is, a means of (re)understanding the world that shows that what appear to be intractable events are actually the result of human actions and thus that these events have a historically knowable and transformable cause. In contrast to the cathartic effects of memorialization, which place social contradictions beyond the bounds of analysis and change, Brecht's de-familiarizing pedagogy situates the citizen as an active participant in society who can work in collectivity with others to bring about a more just society.
Sharon Zukin's writings on the rebuilding of downtown New York are ultimately as "familiarizing" as Berman's. But whereas Berman focuses on spiritualizing ground zero, Zukin argues, in a slightly different, more pragmatic discourse, that "Downtown has emerged as a place to lie and spend free time, instead of a traditional office district where work is done. Rebuilding plans must take this into account" ("River to River"). Leaving aside for now that the dominance of "living" over "working" is itself an effect of growing unemployment, layoffs and corporate relocations (a trend which is only expanding to include other sectors of the New York City economy), what Zukin is arguing is that ensuring the "vitality" of lower Manhattan "cannot be done if resources are spent to recreate lower Manhattan as a financial capital. By placing importance on culture over finance, there is potential to open the door to a more authentic, mixed-use community that stretches river to river and includes all of downtown". Contrary to her suggestion that she is speaking for the majority of workers when she argues for "culture" and "mixed use", Zukin is not speaking for workers but for the interests of capital. Capital needs workers in the city: it needs them to consume in order to realize profit and, more importantly, it can't do without them for creating profit. The "mixed use" argument, made famous by Jane Jacobs in the 1960s, when (primarily white) workers were increasingly moving to the suburbs, is a recognition by capital of its need for labor power (to exploit). It is also the recognition of the need to maintain a reserve labor force (of unemployed, underemployed, etc.) that can be called upon later at lower prices. Zukin's view is not surprisingly also echoed by Hugh F. Kelly, a real estate professor and consultant, who is concerned about creating a mixed-use (what he calls a "24-hour" community) in lower Manhattan. The main difference between Zukin and Kelly is that Kelly argues that employment in "office" jobs is a significant precondition for capital development (although not as significant as it once was): "The absence of an adequate office stock to accommodate job growth will retard or even reverse downtowns resurgence as a residential community, along with development of the attractive recreational and entertainment amenities that will flow from such a mixed live/work environment" (69).
Behind each of these narratives (memorial, transport center, mixed use, etc.) is an articulation of ruling class interests. The arguments for the memorial reflect the intensified interest in the culture industry and consumption as a way to compete for capital investment. They are consistent with what Arthur Lubow has called the "new architecture" that is being called upon to help cities attract transnational capital. Unlike the earlier modern era of architecture, when "[a]partment blocks and houses [were] designed…[to explore] the capability of new technologies (steel frames, concrete slabs) to provide low-cost housing for working people", today's architecture is iconic, symbolic, experiential, and "manages to call attention to itself" ("How Architecture Rediscovered the Future"). Whereas "The goal then was to provide shelter and community; the aim now is to generate excitement or, maybe, to heighten awareness". Of course, even when capital was creating superblocks to house the working class it was still exploiting the working class. The issue is that capital today is no longer capable of spending public resources to help to reproduce the working class and continue to realize the same rates of profit. Capital takes public resources today in order to extract ever-larger shares of profit, and forces workers to shoulder even more of the costs of their own reproduction. It does so by creating, not "public works" funded by public resources, but publicly funded private works that conceal their private nature through the rhetoric of culture (memorial spaces, spaces for shopping, consumption, entertainment, etc.). Such architecture is being used worldwide in order to distinguish world cities from second tier cities and thereby grab larger shares of capital investment: larger shares of existing surplus value produced by exploited labor. Speaking of Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, for instance, Lubow points out that the museum "transformed an industrial Spanish backwater into a cultural mecca. Tourism quadrupled" and in 2002 the Guggenheim Bilbao "generated more than 162 million euros for northern Spain's economy" (ibid). At a time of record deficits and layoffs, the rebuilding of ground zero, corporate representatives hope, will be both a new source of exploited labor and a space to realize existing surplus value in cultural events and new spaces of consumption (i.e., the revival of tourism). Behind what Ludow calls "the contemplative state" the new architecture (such as Libeskind's and Gehry's) insists you enter into is the imperative of capital accumulation. This is, of course, the imperative that is driving the rent increase recently passed in New York City on rent stabilized apartments, calling for a 4.5% hike for one-year leases and 7.5% for two year leases—hikes that will surely raise the number of homeless in New York City, where in July a record number—39,000 people, many of them families—were forced to live in city shelters (Leslie Kaufman, "Prevention is New Focus for the Homeless").
Zukin's arguments for mixed use are, in actuality, more clearly a reminder that New York City is not simply a financial capital, but that finance capital has entered a significant crisis. And that previous financial centers must now turn towards other means to realize surplus value.
Beyond the differences, what all positions share is the assumption that it is possible to create a democratic and inclusive culture without addressing the economic fault lines that divide the city; that it is possible to change the totality of social relations by changing only a part of that totality. The Port Authority assumes, for instance, that it is possible to create a massive new transportation terminal using millions of public funds to do so, while at the same time increasing the fare rates for those most affected, and "forgetting" that hundreds of thousands of jobs in NYC have been lost (decreasing the need for the transportation, and the ability for people to pay for such transportation), while the cities richest have become richer. This is symptomatic of the fact that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (set up to rebuild ground zero) and the other metropolitan institutions are institutions for profit. They are funded by the labor of workers directly and through taxation. In other words, what is at stake here is the way in which public institutions under capitalism actually mask private appropriation for profit. The notions of "civic responsibility" and "public exchange" are exemplary of the cynical ways in which bourgeois institutions conceal the theft of surplus labor from workers. What is being passed as "public debate" is a ruse of "free exchange" that covers over exploitation.
Similarly, those positions which emphasize culture and the need for a memorial suggest that culture is the answer to the city's problem's (as if the "wounds" of the city are symbolic not material ones)—yet the intensification of exploitation and the eradication of social programs, growing by the day, create new "wounds" for the majority that are not going to be healed by a building, no matter how thoughtful. Those who want a combination of "culture", "commerce" and "finance" to allow for more "diversity" and "democracy" in the city, disregard the deeply anti-democratic process that determined the plans, among other things. Writers such as Zukin are for instance not so much concerned with ending the class relations in which the few own enormous social resources at the expense of the many, as they are with making the accumulation of private wealth less ostentatious: "Let's make the wealthy less visible" ("Our World Trade Center" 21).
What all of the positions have in common is that they are localist analyses that isolate the rebuilding of the WTC as a special case and present it as a practice of cultural memory, unity, loss, mixed use planning, etc… in order to cover over and legitimate the deeply undemocratic practices which are at the root of all urban planning in capitalism. The arguments thus set up a binary between the "old" urban renewal and the "new"—they suggest that the rebuilding of WTC (today) represents a moment of unity and coming together (a "promise" for the city and its inhabitants), while they conceal that the building of the WTC itself took place under the most undemocratic processes, and favored the exclusive needs of that sector that seemed in the 1960s and 1970s to represent the most economic promise to capitalists: financial capital. But, the same interests driving the building of the WTC also drive the rebuilding of WTC.
When we look at the way in which the "public" interests have been taken into account, it becomes clear that, from the start, the "public" participation has been orchestrated by corporate leaders to result in a "democratic" decision that reflects the exclusive interests of capital. For instance, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) was set up after 9/11 by Giuliani and Pataki to oversee the rebuilding of the WTC. As a corporation established by two of the most relentless defenders of business interests in New York, its main concern, of course, is the accumulation of surplus value, and thus determining which projects will be most profitable. Similarly, the Port Authority, which owns the WTC site, also has significant say in the choice of plans, along with the mayor and the governor. The Port Authority, which has always operated behind a shroud of secrecy, and has therefore a history of unaccountability to the public for its practices, has a known history of putting the needs of capital before the needs of the people who work and live in the city. In other words, the same institutions that have been for the last several decades stripping social programs, increasing the force and legal power of the police over citizens, and transferring public wealth and public spaces to private hands, are the same institutions now attempting to persuade the people who work in the city that whatever is rebuilt in the place of WTC will take place on "democratic" terms, because the "public" is being allowed to voice their opinions in public forums. "[W]hile the public's views have been taken into account", an article in The Guardian (UK) reports, "there is no structure to make their voices count" (Younge). To put this differently, the radical "play" and "indeterminacy" in contemporary urban studies (its flows), it turns out (when one sees how it works out in the "free flows" of "public debate"), is merely a way to mask the unfreedom in production.
In this, although Marshall Berman argues, "New Yorkers need time to sort it all out. We should try to open forums where people can say what they think and feel. We need a world-wide competition. Those first buildings were lousy, but there was something grand and inspiring in the global vision that underlaid them…But maybe we can symbolize New York in ways that are more imaginative, playful, and humanly sensitive next time around" ("Bad Buildings" 10), it becomes clear that without addressing the material conditions which prevent the voices of working people from actually mattering, all calls for democratic "expression" are mere ruses. It becomes clear, in other words, that the "left" has very little to say that is not more or less consistent with what the ruling elites are saying today. The left has retreated to substituting comforting and cathartic discourses of "community" and "feeling" for a rigorous critique and collective organization against the capitalist appropriation of all social resources in the city. The economic imperatives driving the rebuilding—the fact that what has always been of top priority is the question of what will be most profitable—has been entirely eclipsed in the dominant published debates over what is to be done.
the materialist architect and city planner Morris Zeitlin argues in American
Cities: A Working Class View, although the role of government
seems to be more clearly seen in the age of industrialism, when the
city government was the "essential protector of local
capitalist growth," financing huge public works programs in
cities to foster the economy, even in later, more
"sophisticated" periods like the present moment of
transnational capital (and the whole sale de-regulation of the
state), the role of government
the same to this day: it is the key to our understanding why the
provision of city services to the people have been so meager and
stingy compared with the generous, even lavish, expenditures on
business. The organic ties between government and the ruling class
explain the limits on capitalist democracy beyond which politicians,
even those "friendly" to labor, dare not, or can not, go.
The city and federal governments, working hand and hand in determining the direction of "ground zero", are not "neutral" bodies with the best interests of all "at heart". The state, in all its forms, is what Marx and Engels call the "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" (The Manifesto of the Communist Party 486); its representatives conceal the real interests they systematically serve by representing themselves as guarantors of the "public" good (a discourse of "classlessness," of class "reconciliation"). The ruling class and their representatives have been able to represent the rebuilding of ground zero as a "public" matter precisely by representing the "concrete" of urban space as its architectural design and, then, orchestrating the final decision for the design as a matter of "public debate" over this design in which citizens were allowed to "participate" by publicly viewing the models and voicing their opinions on them (without providing them any actual say in the decision). Democracy, once again, is reduced by the forces of capital to the superficial politics of "voice" and not the more fundamental right of the producers to determine the way in which the products of their labor are used. In the same way post-al theory abstracts "technology" from the labor relations in which it is produced, dominant discussions about ground zero isolate "architecture" from class relations, and suggest that changing architecture is a "democratic" way to achieve progress in the city.
But, as Zeitlin argues, "urban renewal must follow social renewal" (160). Without addressing the roots of social inequality, all attempts at urban renewal will be mere reforms of existing inequality. In the city of labor, the role of the humanities is not simply to train a literate labor force but critical citizens who do not simply accept what is, but critique what is, in order to collectively change it. Following Zeitlin and Brecht, the humanities and urban theory need to explain the objective truth about the wage-labor/capital relation behind contemporary culture. They need to show that it is the exploited labor of the international working class that makes all forms of living and working in the city possible. They need to insist that the future direction of the city should be determined by the collective interests of the city's workers, in ensuring education, healthcare, safe working conditions, transportation, healthy food, etc. to all people, and why the extraordinary lack of resources available to most citizens is the result of the current arrangement of social relations of production: the private appropriation by owners of the socially produced resources by workers that is at the basis of capitalism.
humanities and red urban studies need, in short, to explain what
bourgeois theory cannot: why, behind the parades of
"unity", "patriotism" and a new sense of
"civic responsibility", the rich continue to get richer
and the poor poorer. This is the role of theory, to question why the
existing is as it is, in order to get at the root of social
relations, to build a just society. The
humanities of this city asks why with such capacities of labor, and
with such extraordinary advances in technology today, are so many
millions of people die of starvation? Why the vast majority of
people on the earth are denied access to basic healthcare? Why, in
cybercapitalism, only an elite few benefit from computer networks
that have the potential to unite working people around the world?
What has become possible, more than ever before is a world in
which people's labor is developed to meet the needs of all; a world
which is no longer organized around exploitation. Unlike the
citizens-as-cartographers produced by Harvey's theory of urban
space, or the citizens lulled by memorializing into emotional
submission and intellectual passivity by
Berman, the humanities in the city of labor educates those
who work in the city to always insist that the goal of human labor
should be freedom of the city from necessity and not its
commodification for profit.
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 In fact, one could argue that it is not possible to talk about the humanities without talking about the city, and that one can't talk about the city without talking about labor. The city has always been the subtext of the humanities, because, as the most concentrated space of production, consumption, population, etc., the city is the basis on which the humanities has been able to prefigure a subject in constant contact and interaction with others.
 To take one example, the "Excavator" is an enormous digger used for clearing dirt in the excavation of coal in Germany and other regions. Only two men working this machine now accomplishes the work of what 40, 000 workers with shovels would accomplish (Discovery Channel). Moreover, this machine can be used around the clock. Although this machine costs millions of dollars, and even though the two operators of the machine may receive relatively high wages, it saves the employer who puts it to use many millions of dollars in wages he would have had to pay without such advanced technology, and since the machine can be used around the clock, the work can also be done in a faster amount of time. Yet, while this enables the excavation of an incredible increase in the amount of dirt removal, it simultaneously makes the excavation less valuable, because less labor (the source of value) is used. More excavation is accomplished with less labor, which is spread out over more tonnage of dirt removed. More capital thus has to be spent on fixed capital relative to variable capital.
 See, for instance, Steven Lohr's article in the New York Times, "Has Technology Lost Its 'Special' Status?" and Darin Barney's Prometheus Wired.
 This is of course also the ultimate articulation of the issues in theorists such as Antonio Negri (Labor of Dionysus) , Jeremy Rifkin (The End of Work) and Stanley Aronowitz (The Jobless Future).
 For instance, Robert Reich, who vigorously supported the knowledge society, and the role that the new economy, with its need for new knowledge and technical training, would play in giving the working class a better economic footing, recently argued in a New York Times editorial that college graduates should neither pursue more advanced degrees, nor seek the jobs that their college degrees had prepared them for, since the information society job market can no longer absorb them. He actually suggests that students entering the workforce should take jobs for which they are over-qualified (like serving "coffee", or alternatively working for free, in internships).
 For instance, Sassen argues in The Global City that "It is necessary to go beyond the Weberian notion of coordination and Bell's (1973) notion of the postindustrial society to understand th[e] new urban order" (5).
 On this issue it is important to note that Sassen's postindustrial theory of class is also identical to Melvin Webber's, despite their divergent conclusions about the role of "space" in the global economy. Both argue that cities are "becoming interchange junctions within the international communications networks" (Webber 538), and within this framework of the "network", class is theorized not structurally in terms of working class and capitalist but in terms of "elite" and "lower-class" workers. Webber, for instance, talks about the emergence of what he calls the "new cosmopolites" who are "intimately involved in the communications networks that tie them to their spatially dispersed associates" (537). They are "the producers of the information and ideas that fuel the engines of social development" (537). Similarly, "the new cosmopolites belong to none of these metropolitan areas, although they use them" (538). In short, "At one extreme are the intellectual and business elites, whose habitat is the planet; at the other are the lower-class residents of city and farm who live in spatially and cognitively constrained worlds" (537). The only thing that differentiates Melvin Webber's early analysis from Sassen's is that whereas Webber sees an increasingly diminishing role for cities with development of global economy, Sassen sees cities as increasingly important "anchoring" sites in globalization. Other than this, their analysis of the economy and cities are virtually indistinguishable in their post-industrial assumptions.
 Even when the idealism is made more "complex", by for instance arguing that our sense of space is the result of experience in the world (not just thinking), thus presenting itself as more "materialist", what is bracketed is precisely the objective world that is the object of bodily feeling and thinking. This more complex idealism is what Engels calls "agnosticism"—it argues that experience is the basis of knowledge, implicitly attributing the cause of experience to the world in which the subject lives, but concluding that the actual world can never be known except locally, individually.
 I leave aside here the immanent fact that Baudrillard has also argued in the same interview that we have moved "beyond" the modern period of attempting to determine the meaning of signs, thus performing the very historicizing—determining definite relations between present and past—he suggests is no longer possible.
 A recent article by Peter Hall, "Bend the Rules of Structure" in Metropolis Magazine (June 2003) foregrounds the scientific developments required to produce such form- and gravity-defying structures, and the new directions science and technology are being taken to achieve highly dynamic structural forms of the future. However, his reading of form (i.e., steel), couched in the biotechnological discourse of "genetics" (the "DNA" of metallic structures), also works to obscure the labor that makes such developments possible, reducing the ability to create intricate folds in enormous sheets of various metals to the "inherent" qualities of the metal itself. It is however only through the advance of the productive forces that these qualities of metal are able to be realized.
 For a critique of the new celebration of "design" see Kimberly DeFazio, "Designing Class: Ikea and Democracy as Furniture".
 It should be clear, in other words, that my critique differs from those who seek to represent Harvey as "dogmatic" and not "pluralizing" enough, because of his continued emphasis on the conflict between capital and labor. Whereas these critiques stem from an interest in rendering Marxist categories infinitely complex and complicated, my argument is that such "complexifications" are a means of evacuating them of their explanatory power, and thus limiting the scope of struggles for social emancipation.
At the same time, capitalist economic expansion does not
necessarily result in only one spatial tendency or form. As
Earnest Mandel argues, "the extraordinary rise in the
production of durable consumable goods in world capitalist
production during the past fifteen years [i.e., 1955-1970] was
not at all due to any geographic expansion of the capitalist
market; on the contrary, it was accompanied by a geographic
reduction in the capitalist market, since a whole series of
countries were lost to it during this period. There are few, if
any, automobiles of French, Italian, German, British, Japanese
or American manufacture exported to the Soviet Union, China,
North Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, or the countries of East
Europe. Nevertheless, this expansion did take place, thanks to
the fact that a much greater fraction of the available
purchasing power, which had increased absolutely as well, was
used for buying these durable consumer goods" (An
Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory 40). What Mandel is
foregrounding in this augment is that geographic expansion
presupposes economic expansion. For instance, it was only
because capital could no longer achieve the same rates of profit
in local markets that new means of transportation and production
were needed. And it is only with the subsequent development of
railroads, fast navigation, telegraphy, etc, he reminds us, that
it became possible in the 19th century for the whole
world to be marshaled into a real potential market for the great
capitalists: "The idea of an unlimited market does not,
therefore, merely imply geographic expansion, but economic
expansion, available purchasing power, also" (40). But his
argument is also significant because it points to a blind spot
in Harvey's emphasis on the spatial expansions of capital. In
focusing only on geographic expansion (with
"expansion" being implicitly equated with the market,
with circulation), he is unable to account for the fact that
immediately following WWII, the geography available for capital
markets actually contracted. But the economic development of
production expanded nonetheless, within and between national
borders in the West. In fact, the US economy expanded so
extensively immediately after the wars that, before the crisis
of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the US was the strongest
economy in the world. As Mandel suggests above, the markets for
national production were also (largely) national, and this was
in part due to the rising wages and standard of living of US
workers, especially in industrial production/manufacture. The
main point in addressing Mandel here, however, is to point out
that economic expansion can take place without the geographic
expansion that Harvey fetishizes. In fetishizing the spatial
tendencies of capital in the era of postindustrial capital, his
argument cannot account for the development that Mandel refers
to. Rather, it takes the later developments of capital in its
transnational (postindustrial) phase—especially since the fall
of the Soviet Union—as given. And there is, I am suggesting
here, an integral theoretical relation between Harvey's
reduction of space to circulation and his inability to account
for the economic expansion that developed in the postwar period
of geographic contraction. This is a theoretical effect of the
evasion of exploitation that is the basis of all economic
development in capitalism (whether it expands geographically or
not). And the political consequences of this theoretical
evasion, regardless of Harvey's intentions, means that one sides
with the "spaces of capital" not the needs of the
One might add here that the fare hike, which has gone into
effect, is based on faulty accounting by the MTA, which mis-reported
a deficit in order to get support for the hike. It was, in
short, fabricated. And even though a judge over-ruled the fare
hike, the MTA contested it and has instituted the hike anyway.
See, for instance the introduction to Michael Sorkin and Sharon
Zukin's book, After the World Trade Center—a collection
of essays which, despite its emphasis on the deeply unjust
relations in the city, nonetheless concludes, quite safely, that
all that is possible are local reforms: more justice for a few