‘Clearly, everyday domicide is as systematic and widespread as the pursuit of economic interest. It has affected and will continue to affect large numbers of mostly powerless people, especially in the developing world. The murder of homes is an intentional act.’
Relatively comfortable readers, North and South, may read the first two sentences without too much discomfort. The third may arouse in some feelings of unease and dissent about mixed categories (do, for example, the notions of murder and intention belong to this context?). Comfortable readers, though uneasy, may accept this as a perhaps permissible exaggeration of ‘such things’ elsewhere but not a perspective that comes ‘home’ to them. We shall see.
Hyun Bang Shin begins his analysis of contemporary Chinese development, in this issue (1), with the full paragraph from which this epigraph is taken. It is from Qin Shao’s recent book, Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Mega-city.(2) Shin does not dissent. ‘While her findings are largely based on the city of Shanghai,’ he observes, ‘the stories of uprooted families and flattened dwellings are reminiscent of millions of other similar cases around the world.’
Shin does, however, present another perspective. He includes a photograph of slogans from the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The one in English is comforting, ‘Better City, Better Life’. And it is accompanied (to the right) by a cartoon-like character. It is ‘Expo’s mascot called Haibao holding a firecracker, a usual way of celebrating in times of new year’s eve, etc.’(3) The other slogan Shin translates (literally) as ‘City makes (your) life happier’, and comments: ‘While the slogan in ‘English was emphasising the importance of improved urban management, the slogan in Chinese was simply an emphasis on ‘city living’ itself. In other words all that is required for a happy life is to live in cities.’ Ultimately, without radical changes that are not on the public agenda, these two slogans are not opposed. ‘Better City, Better Life’ fits neatly within ‘City makes your life happier.’
There is, though, a possible, though complex, combination of ideological opposition and practical unity between the two perspectives presented by Shin. If one argues that ‘domicide’ is not only practised far away from the comfort zones of elitist exceptionalism and ‘democracy’ but also within them, then existing cities or urban/ised forms may not make our lives happier. But how can citizens be encouraged or forced into the acceptance of the slogan ‘City makes your life happier.’ And how can such seduction or enforcement be resisted and superceded?
Such possibilities are touched on here through a brief sketch and interpretation of some of the various contributions gathered together in this issue – two standalone papers, one on Vancouver, the other on urban governance, two special features, one on Northern Ireland, and the other on the ‘crisis-scape’ of Athens and beyond (including Mexico City and Shin’s powerful paper on Chinese urbanisation).
In supplementing and challenging mainstream readings of urbanisation and domicide, relevant attention is given here, as part of a continuing emphasis on the value of personal, artistic, fictional accounts of some of the processes at work, to the contribution of the humanities to a new paradigm for planetary urbanisation rather than to purely empirical or analytical approaches. See the brief references below to reflexivity in Andy Merrifield’s paper, to film and to Lefebvre’s dictum in Adele Lee’s contribution to the special feature on Northern Ireland, and in the crisis-scape Special Feature, to the attention given to their own film ‘Future Suspended’ and to Angelopoulos, particularly his film ‘Ulysses’ Gaze’. What follows are essentially notes towards future reading(s) and discussion.
As interpreted here, Shin’s contribution, ‘Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents’ suggests, first, the question of ‘urban’ forms shaped by speculative urbanisation, resistance to them, and their relation to notions of ‘the city’ and of domicide, to which is added consideration of what kinds of thought and action can represent them. A second question, is then a major ethical and practical question one about the planetary future, post-urbanised futures, and of what kinds of thought and action, urban and rural/agrarian (added at this point), might make us happier, if happiness is to be our major criterion. What can represent and reshape them, could and should contest and undermine domicide, ‘strategising discontents’, the second half of Shin’s title.
It is these two overlapping questions – of urbanised forms and of post-urbanised futures – that, haunted by the counterforces of domicide and resistance, shape this reading of the various papers assembled here. The preferred term in this issue is urbanised rather than urban as a pointer to the question of whether the city ideal has been and is being increasingly marginalised, distorted and undermined, urbanisation as a close companion of urbicide as well as domicide.
In the first of the two stand-alone papers Vancouver’s relatively recent development is presented through a revelatory use of Geertz’ concept of involution as ‘the over-driving of an established form in such a way that it becomes rigid through an inward over-elaboration of detail.’ Picking up further on, Jamie Peck, Elliot Siemiatycki and Elvin Wyly, refer twice to its ‘overdriven’ quality. It is, first, a ‘phenomenon [that] has been an involutionary one, rather than an evolutionary or revolutionary one, in the sense that it has been marked less by clean historical breaks or linear incrementalism, but by the continued “overdriving” of sub/urban patterns, processes and practices’. Secondly, on the urbanised, not urban, nature of this powerful form, the authors comment: ‘More than interurban reorganization, more even than postmodern juxtaposition, Vancouver’s development pattern reveals an “overdriving”, complexification and recombination of extant sub/urban forms.’ There seems no end to this continual churning except that, as the authors note, it is not stable.
Moving from the exotic quality of Vancouver and the appropriately exotic quality of its analysis, Northern Ireland presents another urbanised form, problematic both for its inhabitants and its social analysts. Crucial for the ‘cityness’ of a city are its spaces and their uses. It is the sharing of the spaces across religions and, latterly, with new ethnicities that constitutes the problem on the ground. For the first section of the feature, on policies and practices, it is also, with exceptions, the somewhat distanced and distancing discourse of standard forms of research that is the problem. In the second section on ethnic and cultural diversity, the distance narrows. The title of one of the papers, ‘Are you a Catholic Chinese or a Protestant Chinese?’, suggests a lightening of touch. It is, perhaps significantly, by a Lecturer in English Literature, Adele Lee who introduces the analysis of two narrative films from and about migrant communities referring to Henri Lefebvre’s dictum that ‘the most important thing is to multiply the readings of the city’, and that the city contains ‘plentiful detritus to construct different stories which can challenge and provide an antidote to dominant discourses’.
The second standalone is a characteristically deeply felt and acutely observed paper, a fine exercise in reflexive writing, on another aspect of urbanised forms, ‘accountancy governance’. Andy Merrifield even manages to maintain his narrative flow in the abstract to his paper:
‘A new nobility assumed the mantle of political and authoritative power, a para-state of accountants and administrators, of middle managers and think-tank “intellectuals”, of consultants and confidants who reside over our privatized public sector, filing the paperwork and pocketing the rents and fees, together with the interest payments and bonuses, in our ever-emergent rentier and creditor society.’
However, he omits one of the most important aspects of the paper; ‘a new urban collective consumption.’ In the last few pages, following discussion of Castell’s notion of collective consumption as a defining characteristic of the urban in ‘ The Urban Question ’ (1997 in English translation) , he builds a discussion of the possibility of and necessity for a people’s form of accountancy, partly building on Bourdieu’s critique (Acts of Resistance, 1998) of the new ‘state nobility’ and on his own experience and thoughts, leading to the proposed initiative, a movement rather than an institution, for ‘a new urban collective consumption’, correctly and importantly noting that his discussion has entered a normative zone:
‘We, on the Left, need to affirm another value yardstick, free from the cynics’ speculative grip, another form of human solidarity, one that might enrich urban life beyond wealth.’
Towards post-urbanised forms
‘Athens is already heralded in international media (even supposedly “progressive” ones for that matter) as a city that is about to be reborn from its ashes, the “investment opportunities” posed by the city, and so on.’ (Vradis)
Yet another urbanised form is ‘the city that is about to be reborn’. The slogans ‘Better City, Better Life’ and ‘City makes your life happier’ are not, of course, uniquely domiciled in China. Nor, indeed, is their partner, domicide.
Much, much has to be said about domicide. We need to refer to the full quotation (only the first part was used in the epigraph above) from Shao that Shin gives in his epigraph. It is a deeply disturbing account of domicide as a universal form of oppression and psychic destruction into which the apparently less threatening Western/Northern forms of gentrification and relocation fit:
‘Domicide … severs its victims’ lifetime attachment to homes and community and deprives them of the built environment that has shaped their tradition and identity. It also wounds their sense of dignity. Everyday domicide, in other words, in many ways cruelly redefines the existence of its victims and severely diminishes, if not destroys, the quality of their lives … ’ (Shao)
The two partners, in varying degrees of intensity, land wherever they are least needed by the many and are most needed by the few.
That partnership is tracked and resisted in our Special Feature, ‘Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond’, edited by Antonis Vradis on the basis of the conference in May 2014 organised in Athens with his colleagues in the crisis-scape research team whose productions included the film ‘Future Suspended’.(4)
Vradis provides a valuable introduction to the twelve contributions. He concludes with particular reference to discussion of their film and to one other film, Ulysses’ Gaze , and the illuminating gaze of its great director, Angelopoulos. Of the latter he refers to him as ‘easily the most important documenter of the turbulent recent political history of the Greek territory.’ It is a gaze, urbanists please note, that extends out to and back to the villages. Their film, too, ‘Future Suspended’ has a penetrating gaze as it looks into contemporary Athens. As Nasser Abourahme asks in his review of the film:
‘Is the anxious, authoritarian, militarized city of self-avowedly fascist police and pitched civil war our present-future? Is this the fate of urbanity itself in our millennial, post-historical times? Is Athens, the purported birthplace of those secular forms we came to so faithfully value — democracy, the polis, the public — the harbinger of their demise?’
It is in this full context that we return to Shin’s paper ‘Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents’. He sums up his analysis as follows:
‘China’s speculative urbanisation is both an ideological and a political project that disrupts and/or destroys the lives of the masses, while it is the few that benefit from it. As the state and capital proceed with their heavy investment in fixed assets and rewrite the built environment, displacement becomes the norm for villagers and urbanites.’
As the reference to villages suggests, Shin is introducing a rural/agrarian dimension here as well as one that includes migrants and ethnicities, a key dimension of the Greek experience. The strategy that he puts forward is that ‘China’s particular trajectory of urbanisation requires the right to the urban struggles to be inclusive of the struggles by the new working class, who are fighting for their access to the “redistribution” of surplus value and for their “recognition” as legitimate citizens and not simply migrants … The alliance is in need of further inclusion of village farmers whose lands are expropriated to accommodate investments to produce the urban, and of ethnic minorities in autonomous regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang whose cities are appropriated and restructured.’
Not only in China but across the globe such alliances, urban with rural populations, are needed against the domicidal forms of urbanisation. The murder of homes and ways of life, though permitted by ruling ideologies, law and associated contained consciences, is intentional. City, without the rural/agrarian dimension, won’t make us happier. City takes note.
‘How does a global financial crisis permeate the spaces of the everyday in a city?’
An exploration through film, presentations, and discussion of Athens, a city in crisis and under authoritarian control. Are the same features appearing, if less starkly but just as insidiously, elsewhere? What is to be done? Check out the virtual special issue of CITY here for related articles – free access! http://explore.tandfonline.com/page/pgas/ccit-vsi-athens
Costas Lapavitsas, economist, SOAS
Lila Leontidou, geographer, Hellenic Open University
Dimitris Dalakoglou, anthropologist, University of Sussex
AntonisVradis, geographer, University of Durham
Adam Elliott-Cooper, geographer, University of Oxford
Bob Catterall, editor, CITY
Saturday, 11 October, 6.00-9.00pm, at the Khalili Theatre, SOAS
‘Is the anxious, authoritarian, militarized city of self-avowedly fascist police and pitched civil war our present-future? Is this the fate of urbanity itself in our millennial, post-historical times? Is Athens, the purported birthplace of those secular forms we came to so faithfully value— democracy, the polis, the public—the harbinger of their demise?’’
Nasser Abourahme in his contribution to a special feature ‘Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond’, a special feature in CITY, 18.4-5 (early October, 2014)
‘Planetary urbanisation has assumed significance in recent urban studies debates, given its provocative questioning of the precise nature of the city and the urban, especially the neat demarcations separating urban, suburban and rural zones.’
That is the way the debate about ‘planetary urbanisation’ is introduced in the abstract for this session, entitled ‘Reclaim the City and the Planet’, at the 2014 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference. The sentence seems to provide a straightforward introduction to the topic but for the attentive, critical reader doubts may begin to creep in. Is it the actual material process of planetary urbanisation on the ground or is it a particular academic discourse, ‘planetary urbanisation’, that has ‘assumed significance’? And do discourses actually assume or do they acquire significance, a significance that is not only assumed but also empowered by actual individuals, particular academic groups engaged as much in a struggle for recognition, influence and power as in a struggle for truth?
Introducing a selection of relevant material from nearly two decades of publication in CITY, this brief survey seeks to resituate two approaches to planetary urbanisation within wider debates, intellectual, cultural, and activist/‘political’ as well as academic, one led by Neil Brenner at Harvard and Christian Schmid of the ETH Zurich, the other led by CITY. The latter adopts a transdisciplinary approach (including biology and the humanities) rather than the interdisciplinary one (largely dependent on the socio-spatial ‘sciences’) of the former. CITY’s approach seeks to bring this expanding field of ‘planetary urbanisation’ closer to the actual human and material changes and struggles on the ground (the bio-social planet itself).
The tendency that ‘has assumed significance’ since Brenner’s inaugural lecture at Harvard in November 2011, entitled ‘The Urbanization Question, of the Field Formally Known as Urban Studies’, features in the very impressive and valuable compilation (34 chapters and over 570 pages) edited by Neil Brenner, ‘Implosions/Explosions: Towards a study of planetary urbanization (2014)’. Two founding figures in this tendency are Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey. The two key ‘historic’ texts in the first section, ‘Foundations – The Urbanization Question’, of the book, are by these two leading Marxist analysts/theorists, Lefebvre and Harvey. But Harvey’s piece, ‘Cities or Urbanization?’ (Item 1 here) is in fact reprinted from the first issue (1996) of CITY, whose early entry into the field of ‘planetary urbanisation’ was, or so it would seem, inconveniently premature.
CITY could, then, be conveniently located at the margins as not having ‘assumed significance’, with no specific university base and many non-academic contributors (including in that first issue a cartoonist as an irreverent historian, an opera director as a social commentator, and, among others, a developer, architects, journalists, and a social/communal entrepreneur). The project, led since 1996 by Bob Catterall, has had four figures in its background, gradually foregrounded later: Levebvre himself; the much travelled grassroots consultant and occasional academic, Adrian Atkinson, an anarchist; the major anarchist theorist, Murray Bookchin; and a mainstream urbanist with both capitalist and anarchist sympathies, the late Peter Hall (all represented in this issue). This unorthodoxy led some academics to suppose that CITY was not quite ‘kosher.’ Despite its re-establishment in 2000 as an academic journal published by Routledge it is still unorthodox and not quite ‘kosher’, and in fact challenging – not only in its range of contributors, now including independent scholars and activists, but also with its choice of themes and their treatment.
Planetary urbanisation, the theme that has now ‘assumed significance’, first emerged in this journal not only in Harvey’s article but, not with that label, also in the wide-ranging editorial in that first issue of 1996, partly influenced by the, evident to some, ‘urbanistic’ conditions on the ground and also by Bookchin’s work. The still partly marginalised theme of the extreme physical vulnerability of the city/urbanisation was introduced by Atkinson with reference to oil (item 2), an analysis not outdated (see 12) by the fact that fracking has ‘assumed significance’.
The need for critical (‘CUT’), rather than mainstream, urban theory (and action) was brought into the journal by Peter Marcuse (4), Neil Brenner and Margit Mayer in the context of the global North, applied to Palestine/Israel by Oren Yiftachel with an emphasis on the global phenomenon of urban ‘grey space’ (5), and has been presented with a continuing double challenge by Marcelo Lopes de Souza (9) in an assertion of the centrality of the global South to understanding the nature of cities and urbanisation and of the work of anarchists such as Bookchin to understanding and resisting urbanisation. A cautiously empiricist approach to understanding the nature of cities and urbanization in the global South is presented by Pushpa Arabindoo (11).
The move towards what can and should be done was taken up by a CITY panel at the American Association of Geographers conference in 2007, as reported here by Bjorn Surborg (3). In ‘Reclaim the City!’ was one version of this move, in relation to the ‘Right to the City’, it is taken up by Peter Marcuse (4) and Mehmet Baris Kuymulu (10). It was also considered by an early contributor (and since Associate Editor of this journal), Andy Merrifield (7), in a Lefebvrian re-conceptualization directed to what lies beyond … A pragmatic and imaginative approach to what can and should be done now is set out by Tom Bliss (6) in ‘The Urbal Fix’ (‘urbal’ as distinct from ‘rurban’).
The struggle towards the re-appropriation of the city, from a black and anti-racist perspective, is presented by Adam Elliott-Cooper (12). His conference blurb for this session , with its reference to ‘post-Duggan Britain’ – i.e., after the 2011 ‘disturbances’ arising from the police killing of a youth – echoes the work of Greek scholar-activists associated with CITY. Antonis Vradis and Dimitris Dalalakoglou, who refer to the subsequent period after the eruption following the police killing of a youth in 2008 as post-Grigoropoulos Greece. An important practice- related intervention, applying Guattarian insights, to our assemblage debate, was made by Bertie Russell, Andre Pusey and Paul Chatterton in their ‘Seven propositions for a more strategic and politicized assemblage thinking’ (8).
The moves towards reclaiming the land,’ transition’, are reported, analysed and enacted* by Adrian Atkinson and Julie Viloria (12), and are to be taken up in a future issue of the journal by Melissa Wilson (see her conference abstract, ‘Back to the Land’). The contrasting paradigms and/or epistemologies on urbanisation and its future are: in the approach to be presented by Brenner, a major associate of CITY, and Schmid, later this year (15); and by Catterall (14) who, returning an unsung late Marx (with Kropotkin and anarchism) to Russian communal struggles in the late nineteenth century, characterises the rural, the urban and the planet as biosocial phenomena, and argues for a transdisciplinary, rather than an interdisciplinary approach.
From the point of view of Wilson and Catterall the rural is not, as presented in the epigraph, a mere ‘zone’ but something fundamental to life that is threatened by over-urbanisation and associated capitalist and neo-colonialist/imperialist developments. The debate over ‘the land’ and ‘the city’ now has a new and vital urgency. It is not by ‘re-thinking the city’ that we can reclaim the city and the planet. The particularities of their joint significance cannot be assumed, they will have to be claimed and reclaimed in the fields and urban and post urban spaces by work, struggle and praxis.
by Bob Catterall and Melissa Wilson
* What the photograph shows (on the inset cover above) is the work of Atkinson and associates in the Philippines. ‘The photograph’, he notes, “is looking from the edge of a regenerated forest area, across one of the rice fields to one of the buildings built to house various training exercises (almost a laboratory) which, as is evident, is built out of bamboo with thatch roof”. Disturbed by an approach to revolution that seems to devote almost total attention to street battles, Atkinson suggests that such (spreading) alternatives (including the notion of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture as the bridge to a more balanced mix of urban and rural) may be ‘the real Revolution’. That issue and editorial were entitled ‘Reversing Urbanisation?’
CITY Panel at the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG) 2014
Sponsored by CITY: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.
Planetary urbanisation has assumed significance in recent urban studies debates, given its provocative questioning of the precise nature of the city and the urban, especially the neat demarcations separating urban, suburban and rural zones. While the questions raised by this discourse pose a fundamental challenge to basic epistemological assumptions, categories of analysis, and object of investigation, is it holistic enough to rethink the urban (and the non-urban) as a planetary condition, and more importantly, is it radical enough to provide adequate solutions, making sense of what is happening on the ground in the process? The objective of this panel discussion is to draw on the recent debates in the CITY Journal where by rethinking the urban, one is able to reclaim the city and the planet. But in order to do so, the journal recognises the need for a commitment to follow it out in the universities and on the ground. Thus, following this year’s theme of co-production, this session explores theoretical and empirical encounters across the global to reveal not just a comparative analysis but a disruption of prominent conceptual innovations. In arguing for a radical ‘post-urban’ analysis, it considers the kind of planning movement that will be necessary to facilitate this.
Friday 29 August 2014, Session 4
Convenors: Bob Catterall (CITY Journal) and Pushpa Arabindoo (University College London)
Gray space and the new urban regime
Oren Yiftachel (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel)
Using the concept of ‘gray space’ as both an analytical tool, and a description of an undeclared planning strategy, Yiftachel’s discussion will use examples from Europe, Africa and Asia (with a special focus on Israel/Palestine) to outline the emergence of new urban regimes across the globe. These accommodate and institutionalize late-capitalist, liberal, collective identity and legal forces to condemn vulnerable populations to a semi-permanent position between the ‘lightness’ of membership, approval and legality and the ‘darkness’ of criminalization, punishment and eviction. Gray spaces have become the hallmark of urbanization in the early 21st Century. The ‘gray spacing’ of contemporary cities forces us to rethink our traditional understandings of urbanizing societies, in the context of a ‘creeping urban apartheid’, and its social and political implications.
Back to the land
Melissa Wilson (CITY Journal)
Melissa Wilson will share from her experience as a scholar-activist working with ‘City’ on the transition from urban life to off-grid ecological living. In the context of contemporary urban struggles for autonomy and health, her work explores the bridge between urban and rural, including the potential of permaculture and ecological knowledge for living harmoniously and co-productively with nature. Given the current alarming developments in climate change and ecological degradation, a biological perspective on the industrial and centralised form of modern urban survival – and especially its implications for the agrarian world out of which it is reproduced – urges us to seek alternative forms of everyday living that restore content to active participation, especially in the realm of food production, localised economic development, reduced dependence on fossil fuels and building community resilience to systemic shocks. There is a growing agrarian and food movement worldwide (discussed by Adrian Atkinson in ‘City’) that acknowledges this challenge in practical terms, but challenges still remain on how to bridge the cultural and political communication mainly located in urban centers, and the ecologically restorative agrarian work to urban communities as well.
Reclaiming the city from the state: Race and activism in post-Duggan Britain
Adam Elliott-Cooper (University of Oxford)
As deindustrialisation tears apart industrial labour, it becomes replaced, and controlled, by securitisation. While G4S herald themselves as the world’s largest employer, state security, namely the police and prisons, intensify their control over both the unemployed, and the never-employed. It is Britain’s black communities face that the brunt of both labour-market exclusion and police repression.
Both capital and the state see black communities, still occupying potentially profitable urban neighbourhoods, as sections of a surplus population. As police stops, searches, strip-searches, ASBO’s, detentions and dispersal orders are a regular feature for black youth on Britain’s city streets, the police taser, charge and plan to water canon those who dare to revolt in signifiant numbers. While deaths in the hands of police continue to face organised resistance, the state sanctions spying, infiltration and smearing of black community campaigns. This paper looks not only at how London and Birmingham’s black inner-cities are policed, but how resistance is organised to defend and reclaim the cities these black communities once helped to build.
A planet of Asians
Pushpa Arabindoo (University College London)
Twenty-first century is not only ‘urban’ but it is also Asian if we go by the demographic claims of international financial institutions such as the UN and the World Bank. While more than fifty percent or nearly two billion will be Asian (with a billion plus living in Asia’s teeming cities), there isn’t much beyond this statistical construct that enquires critically about the nature of this urbanisation. This paper in reviewing the current theorisations within urban studies about the ‘Asian city’ also draws on the opportunities as well as constraints of a discourse such as planetary urbanisation, emphasising the need to, first of all, consider conceptually what is the urban in an Asian context, specifically the epistemological challenges posed by countries like India and China. Secondly, we will also need to consider more carefully struggles of the elite and marginalised groups to reclaim the urban, as such encounters tend to defy our empirical understandings of the urban.
Location: Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Imperial College London RGS-IBG: 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR (Registration & helpdesk) Imperial College London: Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2AZ Dates: Opening event and pre-conference workshops on Tuesday 26 August, then sessions running Wednesday 27 to Friday 29 August 2014 Theme: Geographies of co-production Conference chair: Wendy Larner (University of Bristol)
It was a tremendous gamble: the new neighbourhoods were speculated in as one speculates in stocks and shares.(1) Émile Zola
Finance is the web of intermediation binding economic agents to one another, across both space and time. (2) Martin Wolf
Robinson believed that, if he looked at it hard enough, he could cause the surface of the city to reveal to him the molecular basis of historical events, and in this way he hoped to see into the future.(3) Patrick Keiller
1. Introduction – the liquid terrain of finance capital
Written in 1872, Zola’s novel The Kill offers a vivid account of the marauding social and cultural forms finance-capital assumes in the process of urbanisation. Underneath the Beaux-Arts grandeur of Napoleon III’s new Paris, a ‘complicitous city’ begins to crystallise (Zola 2008, 133); where speculation and fashion replace enterprise and morality, and the immense improvement of the urban fabric, belies an intense degeneration of the human condition. But beyond the drama of a culture reaching its apex and nadir in a single moment, what strikes the contemporary reader most forcefully is the anti-hero’s entrepreneurial ascent. In an early part of the story Saccard arrives from the provinces utterly resentful towards the world because of his poverty. Whilst roaming the city’s newly minted boulevards he begins to see the city’s public realm as a boundless field of economic opportunity. Saccard feels wealth ooze beneath his feet, and as he walks the streets he hatches a plan to extract its liquidity.
He walked for the sake of walking, marching along the pavements as if he were in some conquered country. He saw very clearly, the battle that lay ahead, and was happy to compare himself to a skilful picklock, who by cunning or violence, was about to seize his share of the common wealth which so far had been cruelly denied him. (Zola 2008, 41)
In the same year, Friedrich Engels also reflected on the urban redevelopment of Paris. For Engels what was historically resonant was not the manner of Paris’s re-design, but the way in which the urban process offered the bourgeoisie with a method to wash its hands of social questions. By clearing slums and demolishing squalid housing, the bourgeoisie could ‘lavish self-praise…on account of th[e] tremendous success’ (1942, 71 4) of the more luxurious and civilised landscape they had produced. In reality, however, what this method – which Engels bluntly christened ‘Haussmann’ – created was a process through which the social problem of exploitation could be displaced to the periphery, so that the process of capital accumulation could be intensified at the centre.
Zola provides a fascinating account of the Haussmann method as Saccard takes ‘possession of the city’, worming his way into the municipal planning offices as a clerk. In the corridors of municipal power, he studies closely the ‘second network’ of favoured boulevards (traced by Napoleon III over Haussmann’s plans) and spots the most fertile sites to make a profitable ‘killing’ from the new land-parcels expropriated by the state. Here, Saccard assembles the capital he needs to construct a property portfolio through speculative deals built on what Zola calls ‘fictitious assets’ (137); fictitious, because the financing orchestrated via a complex network of French municipal and colonial banks, are backed by capital secured by institutions with no basis in reality. Thus, the luxurious apartments built by Saccard, become what Zola calls ‘the gilded facade of missing capital’ (138).
Such descriptions of architectural forms cladding corrupt practices and ‘mortgage-loan machine(s)’ yielding ‘useless luxury and real penury’ (ibid.) finds a peculiar symmetry in 21st Century London. With fields of ‘super-prime’ real estate providing a safe haven for overseas wealth, spatial infrastructure paid by the public, but benefiting ‘high-net-worth individuals’, the new urban landscape appears in thrall to the same process of accumulation which gripped the Second Empire. Until very recently, however, the notion of the global city has been largely accepted as a structural fact of ‘advanced’ economic growth. Policies have been shaped, theories developed, and urban infrastructure laid on the promise that large agglomerations of financial and business services are essential engines of wealth creation and distribution. This agenda has given a platform for a new style of urban politics, based on a competition to attract, capture and monopolise the resources needed to dominate the ‘global technological frontier’ of financial and human capital.
Through the looking glass of the financial crisis, however, the triumphalist rhetoric of the global city is being seen in a darker light. With capital reversing into London’s property markets in flight from social upheaval, economic turbulence and climate change, the notion of ‘wealth preservation’ suggests something different to ‘wealth creation’. In the media the charge that London since 2008 has become increasingly ‘a kind of ‘City-State’ within the national economy’ (Ertürk et al. 2011, 3; 5), has been widely voiced.(6) Even the Business Secretary, admits that the capital is like some ‘giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country’ (BBC 2013). But for urban theorists what contemporary London represents is a far more extensive process of value extraction. In a stimulating and provocative work Merrifield argues that what the financial city represents is a new kind of urban apparatus of capture, consisting of nothing less that ‘Haussmannisation’ on a planetary scale.(7)
The thesis of ‘neo-Haussmannisation’, as Merrifield notes, has its roots in a line of thought which sprung from a few paragraphs Henri Lefebvre wrote in The Urban Revolution and developed, in sporadic form, in later work. Where the economist Joseph Schumpeter saw Keynesianism’s collapse as laying a path to authoritarianism, the urbanist Lefebvre argued that capitalism could survive in a new competitive form: urbanisation offered a vehicle to provide a new medium of global accumulation. ‘Such is the context,’ Lefebvre said,
“…of an unfolding ‘economic’ process which no longer answers to classical political economy and which indeed defies all the computations of the economists. ‘Real property’ (along with construction) is no longer a secondary form of circulation, no longer the the auxiliary and balanced branch of industry and financial capitalism that it once was. Instead it has a leading role, albeit it in an uneven way, for its significance is liable to vary according to country, time or circumstance. The law of unevenness of growth and development so far from being obsolete is becoming worldwide in its application – or, more precisely is presiding over the globalisation of a world market…” (1991, 335; 8).
Drawing on Marx’s notion of the circuits capital needs to negotiate to realise a surplus, Lefebvre considered what would emerge from the crises of production and consumption that destabilised the post-war model. In moments when, ‘the production-consumption cycle slackens or when there are freak recessions’ (1976, 34; 9) Lefebvre claimed there was nothing stopping the primary circuit of productive investment, becoming geared towards the dominance of a secondary circuit of money and commercial capital capturing the production of urban space. ‘Capital investment,’ Lefebvre speculated, would find ‘a place of refuge in the real estate sector, a supplementary and compensatory sector for exploitation’; realising a systemic inversion where the proportion of the global capital ‘formed and realized in industry would decline’ while ‘speculation, construction and real estate grows’ (Harvey 1974, 239; 10). Half a decade on from a global crisis triggered by the multi-regional collapse of speculative real estate markets, this forty year old hypothesis feels like a fresh take on a process known today as financialisation.
Finance has always played a fundamental role in the spatial development of world markets. Well before the industrial revolution the worlds of banking and commercial lending used urban centres to shape, influence and mould the political and economic structures of trade, production and consumption (Braudel 1984; 11). But in the mid 1990s, political economists highlighted the disproportionate influence of financial capital in global economic growth. The ‘revolutionary transformations undergone by world capitalism,’ Arrighi said, indicated a strong connection between the comparative expansion in financial accumulation relative to productive activity since the 1970s (2010, 309; 12). The ‘growing weight’ of financial activity in the US economy, Krippner elaborated, suggested a break in the way capital was being accumulated in mature industrial economies. The leading trend of capitalism in the early 21st Century was ‘a pattern of accumulation in which profits accrue primarily through financial channels rather than trade and commodity production’ (Krippner 2005, 174; 13). Similarly, over the 2000s a host of influential accounts came to the fore identifying financialisation to be a complementary trend to neoliberalism and globalisation. (see Duménil & Lévy 2011, 14; Glyn 2006, 15; French et al. 2011, 16) Yet, as Krippner points out, the study of financialisation has taken such a variety of forms it becomes difficult to define in clear terms what in fact this process represents.(17).
Perhaps a reason for this lack of clarity lies with an ambiguity in the historical and geographical account of financialisation. For Braudel financial domination was a recurrent feature of any ‘world-system’ of capitalism. But as Arrighi notes, Braudel’s analysis lacked a singularly ‘consistent explanation of the patterns of recurrence and evolution’ involved in the financialisaton of capital (2001, 120; 18). Arguably, this problem reappears in contemporary presentations of the spatial structure of financial activity. Analyses of ‘global city’ systems tend to be descriptive in their outlook, interpreting the stratified, nodal structure of financial and business service networks. What is rarely tackled, even in Sassen’s (2001) comprehensive work The Global City, is an account of the urban process that enables finance-capital to colonize not only global space but also that of everyday life. It was only at the latter level, Lefebvre suggested, that we could appreciate the molecular capability of capital to not only transform material use-values into immaterial exchange-values (and back again), but that this constant turnover of value into wealth could transform the very conditions of daily life; turning urban society from a solid industrial form to some more liquid state.
In short, while contemporary studies have tended to describe the institutional context, cyclical nature and social impacts of finance, what has been withheld is an account of the underlying process that creates the conditions of financial growth. But in a recent account of financial capitalism, Lapavitsas (2013, 19) contends that to grasp the enormity of the crisis, the intellectual challenge is to explain financialisation as an unprecedented transformation in the way capital reproduces itself as a global system; one which has been globally unfolding and locally evolving over the last three to four decades, and has changed the ‘molecular’ relations of capital’s production, consumption, distribution and exchange. Specifically, Lapavitsas highlights an interactive process where non-financial companies increasingly make profits by speculating in capital markets; banks in turn have transformed acting largely as agents converting assets into loanable funds for producers and consumers; and workers have sought assets and credit to finance consumption as wages have stagnated. The result, the shocks of 2007 and 2008 and aftershocks like the Eurozone crisis, has illuminated an apparatus of financial accumulation extending across all levels and dimensions of social and economic life, based on the essential principle of profiting without producing.
On the surface, Lapavitsas’s analysis corresponds with Harvey’s own approach to analysing capital as a ‘molecular process of capital accumulation in space and time’ (2003, 26). In the 1970s and 1980s, Harvey developed and expanded Lefebvre’s strategic hypothesis about the urban circuits of accumulation by examining how monopoly-rent and finance capital merge in the urban process. Following an analysis of the way financial institutions and property development form a secondary circuit of accumu- lation in urban housing markets, Harvey concluded that within the investment process there were abundant opportunities for finance to take a controlling influence. In Limits to Capital Harvey (1982) said that the transformation of ground-rent into interest, mediated via real estate, meant that the production of space could be synched to the production of credit looking for its highest and best spatial fix. In other words, the financial system working within the production of built environments could find ways to extract profits from the income circulating through, and wealth incorporated in, social space. Thus, it was certainly conceivable, Harvey concluded, that cities could be restructured into financial ensembles of social relations, whose spaces could be fixed and liquidated according to the need to ‘realize value without producing it’ (1974, 254).
Yet while Lapavitsas’s critique of financialised capitalism – perhaps the most systematic theorisation yet given – has clear resonances with Harvey’s pathbreaking theorisation of finance-capital as a spatial entity, problems of geography and urbanism enter only at the edges. This perhaps reflects the fragmented picture of financialisation within the field of urban studies. As one literature review (French et al. 2011; 20) concludes the spatial study of financialisation is loosely defined, fragmentary, and has failed to develop the implications arising from Harvey’s theorisation of finance-capital’s spatial fixity and fluidity. (21) Aspects of financialisation occur in urban studies of mortgage markets, the regulatory conditions of neoliberalism, geographical concentrations of finance, the complex ways architecture embodies the cultural logic of accumulation, and the rise of gentrification as an urban economic strategy. (22) All of these touch on important urban aspects of financialisation as a political and cultural phenomenon. But with a few exceptions (23) outside of Harvey’s own evolving molecular analysis of ‘accumulation by dispossession’, there has been less interest in connecting financialisation and urbanisation as a systemically inter-dependent process.
So although critical urban theory has deep political economic resources available – vis-à-vis concepts like the circuits of accumulation, the spatial fix, monopoly-rent, and so forth – the emergent forms and tendencies of ‘planetary urbanisation’ (Brenner 2013; 24) have yet to be fully explored in terms of the implosive/explosive dynamics of financial accumulation. On one level this reflects the fact that the social forms finance takes arise through institutional mediations which are geographically and historically contingent; making theorisation fraught with difficulty. But given the relative ease with which financial and business services have made ‘the global city’ the normative expression of international financial domination, re-loading the spatial critique of political economy seems crucial. Particularly, if Lefebvre’s concept of ‘planetary urbanisation’ is to have real traction in confronting the ‘urban age’ of global finance. (Brenner & Schmid 2014; 25)
The rest of this paper examines how financialisation has taken shape as an urban process in recent decades. Theoretically it draws on Marxian political economy as a frame of reference with the intention of tightening the ‘molecular’ bonds of Harvey and Lapavitsas’s accounts of finance-capital. I start by putting the role of financial intermediation in capital accumulation in context, and examine how systemic changes enabled finance to permeate the conditions of everyday life and enabled a huge shift in the share of wealth being absorbed in capital markets. The following two sections try to explain this transformation by tracing some points of intersection between Lapavitsas and Harvey’s theorisation of financialisation and urbanisation. To conclude I develop this syn- thetic framework to try to define what is specifically spatial and ‘contemporary’ about the urban question of financial capitalism, the revival of interest in ‘rentiership’ and underline the important role of critical urbanism in confronting financialisation.
See the following recent BBC TV and radio programmes first broadcast in 2014: ‘Mind the Gap: London vs. the Rest’ and ‘The Country Formerly Known as London’. ↩
“What happened to mid-nineteenth century Paris,” Merrifield writes, “is now happening globally, not only in big capital cities and orchestrated by powerful city and national political-economic forces, but in all cities, orchestrated by transnational financial and corporate elites everywhere, endorsed by their respective national governments. While these class forces in and out of government aren’t always consciously conspiring, they nonetheless create a global orthodoxy, one that’s both creating and tearing apart a new urban fabric that clothes the whole wide world.” (Merrifield, A. 2014. The New Urban Question. London: Pluto Press.) ↩
Lefebvre, H. 1991. The Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell. ↩
Lefebvre, H. 1976. ‘Reflections on the Politics of Space.’ Antipode, 8(2) : 30– 37. ↩
Harvey, D. 1974. ‘Class-monopoly rent, finance capital and the urban revolution.’ Regional Studies, 8: 239–255 ↩
As Braudel succinctly put it: “Towns spelled money, the essential ingredient of the so-called commercial revolution” (1984, p94–5); a proto-urban revolution that laid the spatial infrastructure for industrialisation and market expansion in the 19th Century. Braudel, F. 1984. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: The wheels of commerce. New York: Harper & Row. ↩
Arrighi, G. 2010. The long twentieth century: money, power, and the origins of our times. London: Verso. ↩
Krippner, G.R. 2005. ‘The financialization of the American economy.’ Socio-Economic Review, 3: 173–208. ↩
Duménil & Lévy, 2011. The Crisis of Neoliberalism. Dume Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ↩
Glyn, A. 2006. Capitalism Unleashed: Finance, Globalization, and Welfare. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ↩
French, S., Leyshon, A. & Wainwright, T. 2011. ‘Financializing space, spacing financialization.’ Progress in Human Geography 35(6) 798– 819. ↩
Some highlight the dominant trends surround the problem of ‘shareholder’ value, others technical and institutional innovation in the financial system. A hybrid Marxian and Post-Keynsian tradition links the phenomenon to the rise of neoliberal restructuring making way for a new social form of rentiership (see Krippner 2005 and Lapavitsas, C., 2011. ‘Theorizing Financialization.’ Work, Employment & Society, 25(4): 611–626. – for an overview of the debates) ↩
Arrighi, G. 2001 (1994). ‘Braudel, Capitalism, and the New Economic Sociology.’ Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 24(1):107– 123. ↩
Lapavitsas, C. 2013. Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All. London: Verso. ↩
French, S., Leyshon, A. & Wainwright, T. 2011. ‘Financializing space, spacing financialization.’ Progress in Human Geography 35(6) 798– 819. ↩
See Walker, R. 2004. ‘The Spectre of Marxism: The Return of The Limits to Capital.’ Antipode, 36: 434–443.; French et al. (2011) for a commentary on this. ↩
See Aalbers, M.B. 2009. ‘The Sociology and Geography of Mortgage Markets: Reflections on the Financial Crisis.’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2) : 281– 290.; Zeller, C. 2007. ‘From the gene to the globe: Extracting rents based on intellectual property monopolies.’ Review of International Political Economy, 15(1) : 86 – 115.; WójcikD. 2009. ‘Geography of Stock Markets.’ Geography Compass, 3(4) : 1499 –1514; Jameson, F. 1998. ‘The Brick and the Balloon: Architecture, Idealism and Land Speculation.’ New Left Review, 228: 25 –46.; Smith, N. 2002. ‘New globalism, new urbanism: gentrification as global urban strategy.’ Antipode, 34(3) : 427–450, respectively. ↩
See Christophers, B. 2011. ‘Revisiting the Urbanization of Capital.’ Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 101(6) : 1347 –1364.; Kaika, M. & Ruggiero, L. 2013. ‘Land Financialization as a ‘lived’ process: The transformation of Milan’s Bicocca by Pirelli.’ European Urban and Regional Studies; Merrifield, A. 2014. The New Urban Question. London: Pluto Press. ↩
Brenner, N. (ed). 2013. Implosions /Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Berlin: Jovis. ↩
Brenner, N. & Schmid, C. 2014. ‘The ‘Urban Age’ in Question: The ‘urban age’ in question.’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(3) :731– 755. ↩
” ‘A lichen is a symbiotic hybrid of a fungus and a green alga or photosynthesising bacterium, sometimes all three. Lichens are examples of mutualism, in which all the partners benefit from their association. They are the dominant life-form on about 8% of the earth’s land surface. Many live in extreme environments. Some lichen are believed to live to be about 5,000 years old, and among the oldest living things on earth.’ “In this context, the lichen, it is reasonable to propose, are, or are part of, the network of non-human intelligences, as posited by Robinson/Keiller in the film, that had sought refuge in marginal and hidden locations. They were ‘determined to preserve the possibility of life’s survival on the planet’ and have enlisted Robinson. They are ‘examples of mutualism’ which we may also recognise in the form of comradeship and communalism.’ p.370
The project for the series was introduced in 2011 in these pages under two successive headings: ‘From the spectre of communism to the spectre of democracy’; and ‘Back to Marx?’ in an editorial response to our somewhat inconclusive series of professional debates between assemblage theory and a Marxian-inspired critical theory.(1) It can be suggested, that according to taste and/ or conviction, a preponderance of points can be awarded to either side but that neither was the overwhelming victor.
Looking beyond this academic dispute there is the global struggle between the spectre of ‘democracy’, recently damaged by its financial near-collapse but now apparently acceptable, and the re-emerging but troubling (to the universal claims of ‘democracy’) spectre of communalism and revolution, in a global struggle that has yet to be decided.
Both debates, it is suggested here, require much deeper and more extensive discussions and struggle than is provided by either. These two areas of debate – over the adequacy of Marxism as an analytical tool, and over the relative merits of ‘democracy’ and communalism as socio-economic and political forms – have to be connected to an emerging, but still largely silenced debate over the nature of the relationship between the bio-social environment, the planet, and urbanisation. But where and what is the planet itself in much of the work on ‘planetary urbanisation’? Where featured at all it is reduced to dehumanised and apparently nonsentient (mainly male, if gendered) actors and actants.
Such an approach cannot do justice to the nature of life on the planet and therefore cannot provide an adequate account or critique of planetary urbanisation. It is, in fact, in danger of becoming an accomplice in that imperial(ist) project. An alternative paradigm, outlined here, is one in which the biosocial and gendered nature of culture, including its relationship to agriculture and ‘the rural’, is central to its explorations of the full geo-spatial field and their implications for action.
To achieve justice with and for sentient beings and the planet, that misrepresented biosocial entity has, first, to be earthed, materialised, gendered, and cultured. This approach, then, enters the house of urban and urbanisation studies by the groundfloor and basement and finds that the building is not well-founded. This approach leads to a strange entry into the study of urbanisation in that it appears initially not to be about urbanisation at all but instead about earth, soil, material, gender – and now culture. But foundations should not, as they have been, neglected in any enterprise if it is not to lead to disaster. This entry-point and concern does lead to what may seem to be a somewhat marginal account of two major projects in urban and urbanisation studies, the work of Andy Merrifield and of Neil Brenner and associates, but it is a necessary though much neglected step. The journey does lead to the first and other floors, even if it concludes that the building is unsound. Subsequent episodes reconsider ‘the city’ in this neglected context and then science as partly normative notions.
Such concerns also lead back to the debate over Marxism and to the subject of the disciplinary base for understanding the relationship between urbanisation and the planet. It should be noted that it is not satisfactory to take up the term transdisciplinary, rather than interdisciplinary, without indicating and justifying, in any particular case, in what ways and for what reasons the work in question transcends interdisciplinarity.
The series itself, ‘Towards the great transformation’(2) , has taken up the question ‘Back to Marx?’, with some references to Deleuze and more particularly Guattari, in the not entirely estranged but largely marginalised company of anarchism, animal imagery, literature, sentience (human, plant and animal), soil, and increasingly at this point, culture.
Culture – the generic cluster of meanings as distinct from the various professionalised reserves to which it has been confined – is, as the great cultural materialist Raymond Williams claimed and demonstrated, ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language . . . (3) This is so not only because it carries the imprints of several European languages and social and intellectual movements but also of the extending uses to which it has been put in what can now be seen as a struggle to understand the engagement of sentience (human, plant, animal) with the planet, the actual, material planet as distinct from the one presented as a result of the clipped concepts and reductive procedures within which much social science and now much of the discourse of ‘planetary urbanisation’ has sought to represent it. (4)
Some early meanings, which Williams notes but whose importance he does not fully bring out, can now be seen as crucial (despite the implications for gender apparently attached to the first of them): ‘husbandry, the tending of natural growth’, ‘the tending of something, basically crops or animals’(5). The notion of ‘tending’, though, is not enough unless one connects it to the notion of tenderness – the dimension of emotions, which does not, of course, belong exclusively to psychology. What is required in order to further social understanding and practice is a sensuous materialism that sees the essentially overlapping categories of nature, culture and the rural as in fact central to the new paradigm for biosocial knowing/knowledge, one that is the product of images as well of ‘facts’, of the university of the streets and fields as well as new media, of praxis as well as theory and empirical investigation.
Towards sensuous materialism and praxis
But the established social and socio-spatial sciences, extended a little but not really challenged by sanitised and professionalised versions of Marxist critical theory and Deleuzian (but not Guattarian, only slowly admitting Guattari to the academic circle) assemblage, remain largely impervious, unprepared to acknowledge that there is an alternative or a need for one.(6)
The two concluding sections of the Editorial in 15.6 (December 2011): ‘From the spectre of communism to the spectre of democracy’ and ‘Back to Marx?’ (pp. 614– 617). Reference was made here particularly to the two concluding statements in the Assemblage debate, by McFarlane and by Wachsmuth, Madden and Brenner. The series of four, Assemblage and Critical Urban Praxis ran from City 15.2 ( APRIL 2011), through 15.2 and 15.3–4 to 15.6. ↩
Williams , R. (1983) Keywords: vocabulary of culture and society 2nd edition. London:Fontana, p. 87. ↩
This critique of ‘much of the discourse of “planetary urbanisation”’ is applied here to early presentations of their work by Brenner and Schmidt, notably their 2011 article, particularly the claim on p12 that ‘even spaces that lie well beyond the traditional city cores and suburban peripheries. . . have become integral parts of the worldwide urban fabric’, (One could get some way beyond the binary logic if one added to Brenner and Schmidt’s sentence: but some such spaces can still be significantly agrarian and rural). Their later work, particularly Brenner’s huge and very valuable compilation (2013), is taken up in subsequent episodes of this series. ↩
A series of preliminary attempts to invite and further such discussions, have been met with very little in the way of explicit response, occasional enthusiastic general endorsements of the work of the journal as a whole but no specific citation or discussion. This problem has become so serious, both intellectually and practically, that it may be time to name names and occasions.These, somewhat awkwardly for professional relationships, are, in the main, the names of friends and colleagues but it seems more likely that the attempt to open up discussion with them will bear fruit rather than with those working with an even more unsatisfactory version of the old paradigm. The point is not to seek to convert colleagues. Some of them lack the background reading and expertise that would enable them to engage with, for example, some relevant work in the humanities (for example Raymond William’s The City and the Country or S.S. Prawer’s Karl Marx and World Literature, introduced earlier in this series.) The point, however, is to encourage colleagues to acknowledge work that seems to lie outside their paradigm and at times to engage in collaborative projects across their patrolled borders. At the moment the field within socio-spatial studies seems at times to consist of incestuous and powerful ingroups that not only dominate and define the field but also exclude other work. (See also, in this issue, Alex Schafran’s ‘Debating urban studies in 23 steps’). On the plus side in developing this work there has been the strong support, despite intellectual differences at times, of Neil Brenner and Ed Soja, the dialogue with Melissa Wilson, Pushpa Arabindoo, Marcelo Lopes de Souza, Elvin Wyly and Nasser Abourahme, leading members of City, and with the Greek and Occupied London combine of Antonis Vradis and Klara, also leading members of City, and the inspiration of the films of Ross Dominey (see their forthcoming feature, 18, 4– 5, on ‘crisis-scape’). ↩
at Darwin Lecture Theatre, Darwin Building, UCL
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
Our Anniversary Conference is the highlight of a year of celebrations marking the DPU’s 60 years of education, training, research, consultancy and knowledge sharing in urban and regional development policy and planning in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.A range of speakers drawn from academia, practice and community organisation will be brought together with DPU staff, past and present, students, alumni, and others to deliberate on critical issues that guide the field of development planning. The themes of the conference are:
- A future for urban development planning? Thinking across boundaries
- A future for urban development planning? Approaches to urban inequality and informality in cities of the global south
- Participation and contested practices in urban design and planning: rights, needs and urban imaginaries
- Re-imagining socio-environmental trajectories of change: Radical practices and approaches to environmental planning and governance
- Forging new relationships in governance and planning: the state, market and society in a post economic crisis world
- Urban Development and development assistance
- Gender, intersectionality and socially just futures: Planning in an era of social polarisation
- Positioning planning learning in an urbanizing world: the challenge of practitioner formation and the co-production of knowledge
The present dominant paradigm in much writing on ‘planetary urbanisation’ with its exclusive emphasis on ‘ the urban’ and consequent neglect/denial of ‘the rural’, thereby of the planet itself, and its minimal deployment of the concept of culture and of the humanities, reflects the somewhat ramshackle condition of urban studies and socio-spatial sciences with their uncritical and undertheorised notion of interdisciplinarity (sometimes incorrectly labelled recently as transdisciplinarity). Where and what is the planet itself in much of the work on ‘planetary urbanisation’? Where featured at all it is reduced to dehumanised and apparently nonsentient (mainly male) actants. It cannot do justice to the nature of life on the planet and therefore cannot provide an adequate account or critique of planetary urbanisation. It is, in fact, in danger of becoming an accomplice in that imperial(ist) project. An alternative paradigm, outlined here, is one in which the biosocial and gendered nature of culture, including its relationship to agriculture and ‘the rural’, is central to its explorations of the full geo-spatial field and their implications for action. To achieve justice with and for sentient beings and the planet, that misrepresented biosocial entity has, first, to be earthed, materialised, gendered, and cultured. (subsequent episodes reconsider the city in this neglected context and then science as partly normative notions). This series, developing a multidimensional, transdisciplinary(rather than interdisciplinary) approach, providing some necessary infilling and new/old orientations to the now outmoded paradigm, sets out a claim for this new paradigm for the biospatial sciences and the humanities. It seeks, in this episode drawing particularly on Marx’s studies of the Russian commune and beyond (in space and time), Chernyshevski’s work, particularly his novel What Is To Be Done?, and on earlier work in the series, to contribute to the identification of a partly agrarian and fully ‘encultured’ path to the reclamation of the now acutely over-urbanised planet.
‘‘Financialisation has not only produced a space conducive to the needs and requirements of wealthy individuals, this process has used real estate as a medium to harness and regulate the way urban value is socially constructed. Urban space now provides, in other words, a complex apparatus through which the interlocking forms of landed, financial and technological capital construct a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’.’’(Moreno)
How do we fill out this portrayal of a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’, usefully labelled perhaps as ‘neo-urbanism’? How do we fill it out so that we can begin to grasp and transform it? Is it necessarily a landscape without figures?
Louis Moreno sets out a portrayal of neo-urbanism, as a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’, in this issue, drawing particularly on work by Costas Lapavitsas and David Harvey. This seminal contribution is acknowledged, supplemented and challenged in this issue with papers and articles which, though not brought together for this purpose, present an opportunity to explore and test it, and considered in the light of the three questions posed above, to take it and related work forward. This exploration is undertaken in three stages that also serve as an introduction to the new material assembled here : first, in a section headed ‘Portrayals of landscapes without figures’, by reference to Moreno’s and three other lenses with a more specific focus, on eco-housing assemblages, the ‘Singapore model’, and ‘smart cities’; second, under the heading, ‘Towards alternative stories and oppositional figures’, to consider alternative and/or supplementary narratives that include (oppositional) figures; and third, under the heading ‘Towards a paradigm for a planetary and conflictual approach to rural-urban socio-spatial studies’, to the new episode in our series of endpieces, Towards the Great Transition, that includes in its landscape ‘the land’, not just that reductively economistic notion of ‘land’, and the figures of its workers and dependents as well as its urban enemies and allies.
Portrayals of landscapes without figures
Of the four portrayals of landscapes included in this section, each begins to turn towards grasping and, with varied emphases, perhaps to transforming them. Of the portrayals none presents figures in their landscapes, though Moreno does do so for an earlier urban age, that of ‘the Belle Arts grandeur of Napoleon’s III’s new Paris’, in which he picks out from Emile Zola’s novel, The Kill, the ‘the entrepreneurial ascent’ of the anti-hero’, Saccard, who as Zola put it: ‘marching along the pavements as if he were in some conquered country . . . saw very clearly, the battle that lay ahead, and was happy to compare himself to a skilful picklock, who by cunning or violence, was about to seize his share of the common wealth which so far had been cruelly denied him.’ Some such figures have been marching along our pavements today but who tells not only their story, most of all with Zola’s ironic force, and the addition of oppositional figures, but also that of the ‘conquered country’ of the new urbanism so that we can grasp and release it from the grip of those who are making a killing? How can it be done?
Of the three other portrayals, each one has something to tell us, seeking to reach beyond the limits of those versions, positivist and quasi-positivist, of narratives that do not see the need for landscapes with figures. First, Anders Blok brings together architectural and other eco-housing practices from diverse cities on three continents—Kyoto (Japan), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Surat (India). His aim is ‘to conjure a more cosmopolitan research imagination on how climatic solidarities may emerge in the face of multiple urban differences and inequalities.’
In a second portrayal Choon Piew Pow illustrates how ‘stylized models’ – including a physical model in the case of Singapore (see on the previous page, the Urban Redevelopment Agency’s representation of the city) – ‘of ‘‘successful’’ paradigmatic cities [that] have been assembled and circulated widely around the world, providing supposedly ‘‘best practices’’ and ‘‘tried and tested’’ policy solutions for a variety of problems.’ But, he notes: ‘Far from being neutral and objective, these traveling models and policy assemblages are deeply embedded in power relations and animated by urban imaginaries of ‘good places’ to live and work.’
In a third portrayal, Ola Soderstrom, Till Paasche and Francisco Klauser look at IBM’s smarter city campaign finding it ‘to be story- telling, aimed at making the company an ‘‘obligatory passage point’’ in the implementation of urban technologies’. The authors’ aim is to address ‘two critical questions raised by this discourse: technocratic reductionism and the introduction of new moral imperatives in urban management; and second, by calling for the crafting of alternative smart city stories.’
Towards alternative stories and oppositional figures
The quest beyond positivistic accounts involves in the case of the first two papers of the now established practice of taking over the counter-positivistic notion of imagination (a practice often associated with the technocratic and reductive re-use of ‘vision’, extended in Blok’s case to the practice of ‘conjuring’) once deployed as a critical term in the work of Romantic writers in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and re-appropriating it, without a critical edge. In the third case study, Soderstrom, Paasche and Klauser seem to put ‘storytelling’ to similar uncritical re-appropriation in their account of IBM’s ‘smart cities’ campaign but conclude with ‘two critical questions’, one about technocratic reductionism and new moral imperatives, and the other about the need to craft alternative stories.
Three oppositional figures, neither technocratically nor ‘morally’ reductionist, each crafting alternative stories (ones that also seek alternative outcomes) are presented in the articles that follow: a Polish rapper, Peja, a founding member and producer of Slums Attack; the late Stuart Hall, a cultural and sociological scholar-activist of Caribbean origin; and a posited critical urbanist scholar- activist or, rather, posse of them. Each figure, and their scribes, defines themselves in relation to a particular time-space or time- spaces, a temporal landscape.
Peja’s location, as introduced by Agata Lisiak and clearly articulated by him, is one seen from a corner, one that he is nevertheless seeking to navigate:
‘On my corner nothing ever changes Even though I’m no longer there, though my shadow’s gone Time speeds like fuck, but here it is Frozen . . . ’
Adam Elliott-Cooper’s ‘dedication’ to Stuart Hall (also personalised by Les Back and Monica Moreno Figueroa) moves away from the common presentation of him as a bland figure, as ‘the godfather of multiculturalism.’ There was an element of that in the relaxed and usually but not always good-humoured manner with which he navigated the soporific nature of established British culture. But Elliott-Cooper points to his passionate commitment – so evident in the photograph of Hall speaking at a public meeting (included here and in our earlier review of the BFI dvd The Stuart Hall Project) (1)– to ‘agitating for radical transformation’, a task he also refers to as being undertaken in this journal, in relation to anti-imperialist struggles worldwide, and in relation to domestic struggles, particularly those of black youth, against oppression . That commitment must not be separated from his work as a cultural theorist.
The posited posse of critical urbanist scholar-activists is invoked in Alex Shafran’s ‘Debating urban studies in 23 steps’. Schafran presents his necessarily hard-hitting critique of established urban studies in the context provided by two 50th anniversaries: that of Ruth Glass drawing our attention to the notion of gentrification in her ‘observation about the shifting class geographies of a small sliver of London’; and that of the US War against Poverty which ‘quickly devolved into a fight against concentrated poverty…, a fight against public housing and ultimately a fight with the very (poor) people who lived in them.’ What we need, picking just a few, seven in fact, of the necessarily clear and forceful 23 point recap of his opener to a new series of debates is to act on the recognition that:
‘We must come to terms with the fact that critical urban studies is smart, correct and weak. ‘‘Critical urban theory’’ is itself not a sufficient aspiration. As urbanists in particular we need to shift the conversation towards a very specific debate about land and profit. Reimagine sustainability as a failed coalition that must be made to succeed, rather than as a project of neoliberal urbanism, bourgeois environmentalism or global greenwashing. We must remember just how hard it is to do things, to make the institutions and politics and structures and systems that we all need to live our daily lives, let alone better ones. Critical urban studies needs to shed the baggage of 20th-century social science if we are to establish ourselves as more central to the production of space in the 21st century. What we need is a different and partially separate urban academy, one linked to 20th-century institutions of higher education but which is located at the intersection of all the actors responsible for the production of space.’
Where, then, does this all leave us? Some might argue that, in common parlance, it leaves us ‘up shit creek without a paddle’. Not so, as the committed spirit of this journal, as identified by Adam Elliott-Cooper, suggests. A further episode in our series of endpieces, ‘Towards the great transformation’, that owe much to contributors to CITY, both in agreement and disagreement, points further not only to a set of paddles and oars but even to a refurbished and extended flotilla, an occasional motor, and to the necessary direction.
‘Towards a paradigm for a planetary and conflictual approach to rural-urban socio-spatial studies:
‘Urban space now provides, in other words, a complex apparatus through which the interlocking forms of landed, financial and technological capital construct a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’.’’(Moreno)
Echoing but extending Moreno’s conclusion that ‘urban space is a complex appararatus through which the interlocking forms of landed, financial and technological capital construct a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’, it has to be added that this kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’ is one in which the planet, including all sentient life, is not only super-exploited but also denied anything but a marginalised, sentimentalised and ultimately terminal existence . A paradigm for a plane- tary and conflictual approach to rural-urban socio-spatial studies, has to refer, it is argued, to one that includes in its landscape ‘the land’, not just that reductively economistic notion of ‘land’, and the figures of its workers and dependents as well as its urban enemies and allies. This has to be a time, updating Zola, for the entrepreneurial and existential ascent of the people marching along the pavements as if they were in some reclaimed country, seeing very clearly, the battle that lies ahead, and happy to compare themselves to skilful locksmiths, who through foresight, persistence and force, moral and physical, are about to open the doors which will give access to the share of the common wealth which is being oppres- sively and destructively denied them.
The image in this article of Stuart Hall giving a public speech was used in Adam Elliott-Cooper’s review ((17.6, pp. 827–34) of the BFI dvd,’ The Stuart Hall Project’, and is reproduced here by permission of the BFI. ↩
‘We see the global financial crisis as an impetus for the City of London and other business-purposed urban districts, to consider using design as a method of productively responding and reconnecting to its surrounding urban fabric. We imagine opportunities to create hybrid, multi-scalar and multi-programmed public spaces, complemented by an equally responsive and dynamic residential intervention.’
The authors (1) of ‘Reordered publics: Re-imagining the City of London’ ‘re-imagine the City of London (‘and other business-purposed urban districts’) as ‘a true public city for the 21st century’, captioning their re-imagined City/city (see image) ‘Vision of the 2025 public city’. With its hybrid, multi-scalar and multi-pro-grammed public spaces … and dynamic residential intervention’, this would indeed be an intensively re-ordered city but would ‘a true public city’ require not just physically re-ordering but also socio-economic and political, perhaps even ethical, re-making?
‘Vision of the 2025 public city’ from Guy Trangoš et al (2014) "Reordered publics: Re-imagining the City of London".
Re-ordering or remaking? The distinction between the two terms is not absolute but it is nevertheless a useful pointer to crucial dimensions of urban and planetary transformation and survival now essential for public urbanism. Can a physical re-ordering remake cities? Or is it essentially a deceptive, whether intentional or naive, operation that in fact further entrenches the established order, another case of the increasingly manic re-arranging of furniture on the Titanic. Is it really, as the ironic title to Sarah Barns’ review of Antony Townsend’s Smart Cities implies, “Plus ça change? Remaking the city, ‘one site, one app, one click at a time’”? The phrase Barns quotes is Townsend’s but is that, too, ironic, as the subtitle to his book suggests: ‘big data, civic hackers and the quest for a new utopia’? Such questions echo throughout this issue with an emphasis on the means – re-order or remake – and/or on ends, the objectives, involving active critique and redefinition of the public realm, not a static utopia but, with periodic re-settlement, an ongoing process of radical socio-economic change.
The critiques of the largely ‘development’-led urban political economy and the envisioning of alternative publics and processes here range from Willian Tabb on the wider context of austerity urbanism, and Peter Marcuse’s related examination of aspects of the Right to the City, to Stephanie Butcher and Alexandre Apsan Frediani on insurgent citizenship in Nairobi, Kenya, and Erbatur çavuşoğlu and Julia Strutz on contesting corporatism in Turkey.
Is it that increasingly development-led urban politics that ultimately lies behind the planning system with which Richard Lee and Sharon Hayward are struggling in the quest for Just Space in London? Or perhaps the emerging neoliberal political economy which the late Stuart Hall and others struggled to understand in their path-breaking Policing the Crisis thirty-five years ago, a study revisited here by Vincenzo Ruggiero and others?
Looking at the sources for such analysis and looking beyond them for new and neglected sources and insights, we first return to Tabb’s paper on the wider context of austerity urbanism (touching aspects of Jamie Peck’s work and its implications), and move on to a discussion, ‘How to change the post-crash economy’ (2), following up on Costas Lapatvit- sa’s recent book on financialisation, Profiting without Producing. Concluding with Marcelo Lopes de Souza‘s notes on the past and future of radical urban research and praxis, we take ‘a libertarian turn’ and talk of resurrection in the City of London.
From zombies to structure (and beyond?)
‘The temptation to attribute to zombie neoliberalism a will of its own needs to be countered by greater focus on structure. In the current stage of capitalist development the dominant moment is found in the global gaze of transnational corporations and international financial institutions.’ (Tabb) ‘Once this new social layer associated with finance emerges, it achieves policy capture and then begins to put new measures in place that favour its own interests. But the transformation is fundamentally structural and, therefore,the policies we need to confront it are actually structural, not simply re-regulating finance. The change is actually deeper and has to do with balance of power and ownership in the economy.’(Lapatvitsas)
Both Tabb and Lapatvitsas focus on financia- lisation and structure in a move away from the obsession with neoliberalism as a catch- all and thereby catch-nothing term.
The change is, Lapatvitsas argues, too deep for simple re-regulation to reach. How deep? Perhaps as deep as ‘balance of power and ownership in the economy’? Or even deeper? He moves a step nearer to that dimension when he refers elsewhere in the discussion to ‘a new spirit of public service’ and again to the need for ‘new associational and communal, as well as other forms of organisation of the economy.’ In trying to catch that essentially ethical dimension Tabb refers, in his concluding section, ‘Re- embedding the social (and the urban)’, to the continuing importance of Karl Polanyi’s work (as does Mariana Mazzucato in her con- tribution to the Post-Crash Economy discus- sion), drawing also on Jamie Peck’s parallel thoughts.
Still sketching in this dimension, Tabb brings in Peter Marcuse’s argument about Lefebvre’s notion of the Right to the City, that it is not a literal call but one that needs, rather, to be read in the tradition of the ‘moral economy’ and indeed of a new stage in the development of civilization:
‘For Lefebvre, the call for the Right to the City was a revolutionary call, a call produced by and justified by the urban revolution of which he wrote as a new stage in the historical development of civilization.’ (Peter Marcuse)
A resounding call but are there too many imponderable inevitabilities here? A call that is ‘produced by’, ‘justified by’ ‘the urban revolution’? What is the new stage? How will it come about? Two remaining contribu tors to the Post-Crash Economy discussion offer an answer to each of these questions. Paul Mason’s characterisation of the new stage is that an Information Age but one with a strange economy, one where (para-phrasing Paul Romer) information technology is ‘destroying the price mechanism … , driving the price of information goods towards zero unless there is a monopoly … it cannot be a market economy.’ Seumas Milne’s answer to these connected questions about what this new stage is and how it will come about is that there are ‘developments happening in Latin America, in China, in the European mainland … which are assembling a new way of doing things’ but that ‘like previous social and economic models’ it will have ‘arisen out of particular historical circumstances’ and not ‘have come off the shelf.’
Two further models of change remain to be considered (3) , one of resurrection without tears and the other, an anarchist (libertarian) one that includes a period of suffering and is without a certain conclusion.
Resurrection with or without crucifixion?
‘We’ve had the fall, now it’s time for the resurrection’ (Headline to an article by Ken Costa in the London ‘Evening Standard’, 17 April, 2014)
‘Future social struggle will not only be increasingly complex, but probably to a large extent also a multifaceted, ‘molecular’ and longterm confrontation between on the onehand an increasingly alienating, oppressive and liberticidal capitalism, supported by quasi-fascist state repression and flanked by quasi-fascist forms of behaviour and socio-political patterns, and on the otherdecentralised, horizontal, self-management oriented forms of insurgence and resistance.’ (Marcelo Lopes de Souza)
In arguing for a ‘libertarian turn (in theory and practice) Marcelo Lopes de Souza pre- sents stark alternatives in which he sees the anarchist as opposed to the Marxian tradition as having the edge in relevance and effective- ness. Ken Costa, former Chairman of Lazard International, writing about the forces of change he now sees at work in the City of London, states: ‘During the past five years, post-crash, there has been a significant shift in the attitude and practice of the City. And it has been values driven … I am not saying that the entire City has undergone an Easter conversion, rather that market forces, enlightened self-interest and old-school conscience are now driving long- needed cultural change.’ This is a bland statement but though not effective sources of radical change, such shifts of opinion, even, perhaps particularly, among elites are not insignificant. While the struggle to which Souza refers is being conducted, the ‘particular historical circum- stances’ to which Milne refers could include a crucial flash- and turning-point. In such circumstances remaking and re-ordering could and should begin to come together.
Guy Trangoš , Ilana Adleson, Nicolas Palominos, Adriana Valdez Young and Sharifa Alshalfan ↩
Costas Lapavitsas, Paul Mason, Mariana Mazzucato, Seumas Milne, and Ben Chew (chair) ↩
new model discussed in these pages involves, crucially, an agrarian dimension (see Adrian Atkinson, Readjusting to reality 2 Transition, City 17(5), pp.580–605, and, involving as well a new paradigmforurban/socio-spatialstudies,particularly uncritical notions of ’planetary urbanisation, is Catterall, ‘Towards the Great Transformation:(11) Where/what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm’, forthcoming, City 18(3)). ↩
Two grand narratives, somewhat haltingly, seek to ride, right and write the world. Each seeks to represent itself and its rival in similar ways. Neoliberalism likes to present itself, as it ‘recovers’, as rising from what it sees as a momentary lapse, as compelling, with an assured though austere (for some) immediate future. It presents its rival(s), forms of what are perhaps most accurately referred to as communalism, as either naive, well-meaning schemers whose best features can anyhow be incorporated in a slightly wiser capitalism or as threatening, past-encrusted, grandiloquent spectres that have to be kettled, disabled or eliminated. The communalist alternatives present themselves as a rising, not tainted, compelling movement with a future in which austerity will be moderated or abolished. They increasingly distrust the blandishments of capitalist incorporation, and seek transformation, sometimes an apocalyptic variety.
Both narratives present ways of writing and supposedly righting a now universal accumulation of interlinked problems. How beyond the labels, neoliberalism, capitalism, communalism, apocalypse, is our situation to be written, characterised, and righted, improved or superseded?
In this issue Caroline Knowles offers a characterisation of a somewhat indistinct form of global capitalism drawing on research among migrants on Beijing’s periphery. Michele Lancione, reacting against grand narratives of capitalist oppression in common with many assemblagist respondents on other occasions, considers the homeless in Turin, a social situation which he chooses not to characterise as other than unsatisfactory. Andrew Wallace examines the riots of 2011 in England, as a situation of imposed and mystifying ‘alchemical austerity’.
Moving on to attempts at improvement or supersession, Lancione seeks better intentioned and better designed assemblages of care. Marie Huchzermeyer, referring particularly to South Africa, and Peter Marcuse, on the other hand, engage with the assertion of rights, picking up on the Lefebvrian notion of the Right to the City as applied and misapplied in current confusions, debates, and struggles. But is this all there is to writing and righting the city? And is it enough? Welcoming ‘the multiplicity of readings’ that Jim Pine’s The Art of Making Do in Naples lends itself to, reviewer Pascal Menoret nevertheless observes of Naples and beyond:
‘The city is under deconstruction, torn by free-market policies, deindustrialization, European symbolic and economic violence, and the growth of informal strategies of making do. But make no mistake: this is not a peculiar southern European story … ’
But clearly adding in ‘a multiplicity of readings’ will not be enough. Is there, rather, an alternative way, a new paradigm? Adding in previous and subsequent material from CITY and elsewhere(1) we address these questions in our next issue.