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Harvey, David

Page history last edited by Robert Goldman 15 years, 4 months ago

David Harvey is a professor of geography at the Graduate Center in the City University of New York. He is well-known for his writing on globalization, urbanization, and Marxism. In The City in a Globalizing World (1996), Harvey explores the relationships between capitalism, globalization, and urbanization and argues that the final contradictions of capitalism are spatial. That is, they occur in our relationship to the places and spaces with which we interact.


Harvey opens with an account of the cities of the world in 1996. His dismal descriptions include the following observations.


  • People are moving to the cities: The world's population is becoming concentrated in cities and those cities are getting bigger. "The qualities of urban living in the twentieth-century will define the qualities of civilization itself." In 1900 there were just sixteen cities in the world with more than one million inhabitants, now there are more than five hundred. Several cities now boast populations over twenty million.
  • Many cities are not nice places to live: Judging superficially, cities are not particularly congenial places. "To talk of the city of the twenty-first century is to conjure up a dystopian nightmare in which all that is judged worse in the fatally flawed character of humanity collects together in some hell-hole of despair. Every city now has its share of concentrated impoverishment and human hopelessness..."
  • The suburbs are getting bigger: This is happening in the advanced capitalist countries. This trend of "endless suburbanization" defies the simple categorization of the world into urban spaces and rural spaces. Needy populations have been left behind in the cities without jobs due to deindustrialization, among other things. This process of suburbanization has also been driven by a permissive car culture, and the urge "to get some money and get out [of the city]."
  • All of these problems are exacerbated for ethnic and racial minorities: This claim is mostly unsupported by Harvey, but he writes that race relations are far worse now than they have been for several decades, presumably because of increased urbanization.


Harvey then outlines the direct connections between globalization and capitalism, arguing that they are intrinsically tied together. Modern industry not only creates the world market, but the need for a constantly expanding market "chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe so that it must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere" (Karl Marx). Globalization is thus a process rather a final product. It has not worked itself out to a "final state." "Globalization is a long-standing process always implicit in capital accumulation rather than a political-economic condition that has recently come into being." In "The City in a Globalizing World," Harvey seeks to clarify the process of globalization as it exists today and to uncover what the ramifications of this process may entail.


Harvey describes six major shifts that define the processes of globalization and urbanization occurring today, as opposed to the globalization of the past.


  • Financial deregulation: This is a movement toward a more decentralized free market society. This shift began in the United States in the 1970's after economic stagflation became a major problem. Deregulation opened capitalism up to more risk and instability, permitting both larger gains and larger losses. Shifting the authority over capital from government agencies to private businesses and investors ultimately allowed more international business deals, making it as Harvey puts it, so that "a Singapore bank can finance a local development in Baltimore with scarcely any mediation from other levels of territorial control (such as the nation state)." This transformation from an economic condition to physical space has transposed onto the face of the city so that the city itself appears subject to the market.
  • Moving people, things and information is becoming quicker and cheaper: Technology now allows the movement of information almost instantaneously, while people and commodities become ever easier to transport as well. Technological advancements in this direction have always occurred with developments like "the railroad and the telegraph, the automobile, the radio, and the telephone," and each invention has modified the process of globalization. These developments continue to move toward the "dematerialization of space." The network of global cities becomes larger and more complex so that physical location becomes less and less of an issue for businesses.
  • Dispersal of production and organizational forms: While businesses have converged power across national and state borders, the division of labor and systems of production have fragmented all over the world. Thus, different parts for one product come from multiple cities and countries to be assembled elsewhere. Because the importance of space has diminished, corporations have followed the trail of cheap production and embraced outsourcing as a mode of operation. This policy is analagous to Post-Fordism or flexible accumulation.
  • Growth of the world proletariat: According to Harvey, the global proletariat doubled from 1966 to 1996. This was partly due to population growth. However, as capital and production spread out across the globe, the proletariat also became more dispersed. This makes it very difficult for the proletariat to organize. However, if the proletariat were somehow able to coordinate an anti-capitalist movement, they would be very strategically placed.
  • A change in the territorialization of the world: Nations and states have become oligated to create a favorable business climate with economic regulations (or the lack thereof) at the expense of community-oriented operations like welfare. Many individuals within these nations and states have adopted or been indoctrinated with the globalization thesis - that globalization is synonomous with progress and will ultimately lead to unity. Thus, they see government as a primary promoter of business.
  • New opportunities for some states due to geoplitical democratization: The openness of the market allows many nations to compete on a global scale; however, the market also rewards those nations that have expendable labor and pay low wages to workers.


These trends have all come together to to create the process of globalization as we experience it today. Harvey says about this modern globalization that "if there is any real qualitative trend it is towards the reassertion of early nineteenth-century capitalist laissez-faire and social Darwinian values coupled with a twenty-first-century penchant for pulling everyone (and everything that can be exchanged) into the orbit of capital. The effect is to render ever larger segments of the world's population permanently redundant in relation to capital accumulation while severing them from any alternative means of support." Thus the majority of the population is brought to the city to live in destitution. In this way, the space of the city is determined by capital, although many modern movements are trying stop this process and structure capital around sustainable city living.

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