Image: ‘London Calling’—Banksy's graffiti on the entrance to the Jungle (Source: Oli Mould).

Volume 21/ Number 3-4 / August 2017

Date published online: 20171107

CITY 21/3-4

...the special feature in this double issue 'Enclosure and discontents' revisits Marx's primitive accumulation thesis to understand new and reworked forms of dispossession and enclosure being forced in the global present... to show how such dispossessions can kindle new and reworked forms of resistance, from marronage and secret cultivation by plantation labourers to other forms of communing as colonial-capitalist refusal, akin to what Arboleda sees as the ‘emancipatory promise of planetary urbanization’. Pushpa Arabindoo

Shortlink: bit.ly/CITY-21-34 ( i )

Editor in Chief: Bob Catterall

Issue Editor: Pushpa Arabindoo

Editorial: A geology of Marx?

Editor: Pushpa Arabindoo

Not many would have heard of Neduvasal, a village in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu where, since February 2017, farmers and environmental activists have been protesting against the Central Government's decision to award contracts for development and extraction of hydrocarbons to 31 sites across the country, a vaguely defined 10 km2 of land in Neduvasal being one of them. While the government has maintained that the protestors are ill-informed about the nature of the project, given the history of the national oil conglomerate, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) extracting hydrocarbons in this fertile delta region for decades, fears of oil exploration and production taking over farmers’ fields, livelihoods and future is not unfounded. Against a context of broad rural distress, this particular area has retained a comfortable agrarian economy, but has been fighting environmental threats (mostly around groundwater pollution) from crude oil leaks and abandoned oil wells for a while. The particular proposal that triggered agitations early this year comes out of the Discovered Small Fields initiative, part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship energy policy (within the much trumpeted ‘Make in India’ enterprise) to reduce the country's dependence on oil imports by 10% by 2022. Within a 100 km distance of Neduvasal there are around 600 wells with only 200 in production. The remaining, barring a few that are used as injection wells are abandoned, resulting in the desiccation of nearly 2000 acres of fertile land (based on an estimate of roughly 5 acres per well), which have now been overrun by the invasive species Prosopis Juniflora, one that has triggered a parallel controversy around the ecology and economy of wastelands in India.

For development studies scholars this might be a familiar narrative, where the need for an affordable stream of raw materials, energy and food dictates an exploitative extraction economy. Increasingly, there is an acknowledgement that these resource geographies are closely intertwined with the unfolding processes of extended urbanization involving new dynamics of terrritorialisation, one that scholars drawing on Lefebvre describe as planetary urbanization. Even as the latter evolves and unfolds as a discourse, we need to ensure that we go beyond a morphological preoccupation with this new epistemology of the urban for a more rigorously framed understanding of this latest version of capitalist urbanization. This requires a careful reconsideration of the appropriateness of analytical tools at hand and their ability to explain fully what is happening around us, one that is more than a classic or even a new economic geography of capitalism. Such reservations are not without good reason, given the way planetary urbanization debates can be susceptible to an overtly literal Marxist framing. Thus, as Wilson and Bayón in an earlier issue in this journal have argued there is an urgent need to contribute to the impossible representation of capital by looking awry at the phenomenon of planetary urbanization.

In metaphorically reimagining planetary urbanization as blackhole capitalism, they seek to redress the inadequacy in current literature to grasp the material and ideational dimensions of planetary urbanization restrained by an economic rationale.

It is in this spirit that the special feature in this double issue Enclosure and discontents: Primitive accumulation and resistance under globalised capital revisits Marx's primitive accumulation thesis to understand new and reworked forms of dispossession and enclosure being forced in the global present. Rejecting a sedate or obsequious employment of primitive accumulation, it boldly asks if such a concept has continued analytical purchase in the present, not in a vain sense of playing devil's advocate, but to subject it to scrupulous scrutiny and necessary adjustments, which its contributors do by applying additional filters of race/indigenous subjectivity, feminist and other critical postcolonial approaches. They rely on the authenticity of local narratives to generate an analytical theory of primitive accumulation, not in the least deterred by the specificity of concrete historisations. They also show how such dispossessions can kindle new and reworked forms of resistance, from marronage and secret cultivation by plantation labourers to other forms of communing as colonial-capitalist refusal, akin to what Arboleda sees as the ‘emancipatory promise of planetary urbanization’.

It is not sheer coincidence that over the last year two prominent scholars have undertaken an exhaustive engagement with Marx and Marxist ideology. Against Gareth Stedman Jones’ biographical approach that seeks to put Marx back in its nineteenth-century surroundings restraining its contemporary usefulness and subsequent canonization as an orthodoxy in the 1920s, Harvey is convinced that now is as good a moment as any to review Marx. Amidst valid concerns of univeralising particularisms, we need to be careful about dismissing the applicability of broader conceptualisations simply on the basis that capital lodges itself in diverse sites across the globe in a multitude of ways and cannot be reduced to a singular interpretation. Instead of an outright rejection we need to discuss the limitations inhibiting the effective use of these concepts. Thus, while there is no dearth of scholarship that has considered (and dismissed) the usefulness of primitive accumulation in various localized contexts and have even come up with their own versions of it, most notably Harvey's accumulation by dispossession, we need to remind ourselves that we are still trying to make sense of the logic of capitalism. If for this reason alone, it would be too dangerous to reduce Marx or Marxism to a spectre.... (Read more)


Contents for this issue on Taylor & Francis