David Harvey, Consciousness and the Urban Experience: Studies in the History and Theory of Capitalist Urbanization, 1985

Marxist thinker David Harvey (what might be a better label, anthropologist? Social critic? etc.) wants to limit the privileged position scholars have designated time and history over space and geography. For Harvey, the emphasis on time and history, though valuable, ignores equally important developments, “Historical materialism appeared to license the study of historical transformations while ignoring how capitalism produces its own geography.” Too many works failed to truly conceptualize how “space is produced and how the process of production of space integrate into the capitalist dynamic and its contradictions …. The historical geography of capitalism has to be the object of our theorizing.” Harvey’s contribution in Consciousness and the Urban Experience is to utilize theory, cultural productions (mostly novels and similar literature from the periods he examines, mostly nineteenth century France with glimpses of England and America) and the “experiences” of Parisians from 1850-1870 to provide a catalog of capitalistic urbanization’s affects and as he noted, contradictions . Though the text remains a collection of essays, its held together at its core by a massive 125 chapter on the aforementioned Paris under the Second Empire.

As a leading Marxist, Harvey’s ideas regarding monetization and the pervasive influence of capital mobility should come as little surprise, “I argue that the very existence of money as a mediator of commodity exchange radically transforms and fixes the meanings of space and time in social life and defines limits and imposes necessities upon the shape and form of urbanization.” According to Harvey, the community of money imposes individualism along with “certain conceptions of liberty, freedom, and equality backed by laws of private property, rights to appropriation, and freedom of contract.” Transportation innovations improved aspects of urban life but also “profoundly changed the rhythm and form of urban life (though the idea of fixed time schedules over invariable routes at a fixed price had been around since the first omnibus routes in the 1820s).” Referencing Stephen Kern’s work on space and time under modernism (first twenty years or so of he 20th century), Harvey acknowledges new conceptions and temporal divisions, “the rise of mass circulation newspapers, the advent of telegraph and telephone, or radio and television, all contributed to a new sense of simultaneity over space and total uniformity in coordinated and universally uniform time.” Here one can locate Harvey’s attention to space as typical of the postmodern turn. For Harvey, money “concentrates social power in space” with little restraint which in turn commodifies space such that it brings “all space under the single measuring rod of money value.” The real danger here for Harvey lay in the commodification’s ability to undermine class relations where people identify themselves along differentiated lines of status that rarely illustrate inclusiveness, “the response is for each and every stratum in society to use whatever powers of domination it can command (money, political influence, even violence) to try to seal itself off (or seal off others judged undesirable) in fragments of space within which processes of reproduction of social distinctions can be jealously guarded.” Despite its obvious Marxist leanings, Harvey’s point resonates as such processes unfolded in nineteenth century France and post WWII America . This community of money fragments society while also subsuming other forms of solidarities. Circulation of capital or capital mobility as some writers might characterize it, functions to destabilize identities and memberships even fragmenting protest against it, “Movements of revulsion an revolt against capitalism, its social basis or particular effects, become as diverse and incoherent as the systems they arise in opposition to.” Harvey continues in this vein noting that, “Homeownership … invites a faction of the working class to wage its inevitable fight over the appropriation of value in capitalist society in a very different way. It puts them on the side of the principle of private property and frequently leads them to appropriate values at the expense of other factions fo the working class. With such a glorious tool to divide and rule at its disposal, it is hardly surprising that capital in general sides with labor in this regard against the landed interest.” In this context, the state functions to restrain the “disintegrating tendencies of money, time and space in the face of the contradictions of capital circulation.” Lack of money for some means they must resort to other methods in order to articulate their territorial privileges, “those without money have to define their territorial privileges by other means … low income and minority populations seek to define collective spaces within which they can exercise the strictest social control.”

Labor processes unfold within this context. However, as Harvey notes they tend to divide in two general direction: one that focuses on wages and the other on residential access or more specifically, “the second fought in the place of residence, is against secondary forms of exploitation and appropriation represented by merchant capital, landed property, and the like. This is a fight over the costs and conditions of existence in the living place.” Harvey places much of his attention on this latter issue. Harvey locates four general interventions: 1) private property and homeownership for labor 2) the cost of living and the wage rate 3) “rational,” managed and collective consumption, and 4) the relation to nature and imposition of work discipline (this last one is a bit amorphous as Harvey fails to define it in absolute terms). As with Anthony King’s history of the bungalow, Harvey points out the capital accumulation that develops in such a commoditized land market. Again, as with King, industrialization, capital mobility, and business profits combine to project the “community of money”, moreover, capital accumulation as with the bungalow, requires constant growth the creation of new social wants and needs, just as King’s bungalows supplied a site for this consumerist process. Capital must exert control over labor not only in work but also in consumerism. For Harvey, it appears to be a totalizing and inescapable force. In terms of its relation to the “built environment”, it becomes a central node of struggle as capital and labor battle over “what is good for accumulation and what is good for people.” With this in mind, capitalist forces depend on the obscuring of their own roles in the process, “The privatization of housing provision, the creation of a separate housing landlord class, the creation of innumerable intermediaries in the retail and wholesale sector, and government provision of social services and public goods all help to accomplish this. These measures also serve to socialize part of the costs of reproduction of labor power and to facilitate the mobility of labor. For all of these reasons, the industrial capitalists seek to withdraw entirely from any direct involvement in the provision or management of the built environment.”

Harvey applies his theoretical apparutus to Paris under the Second Empire (1850-1870). Without completely retracing every example Harvey marshals one might focus on a couple key points. The circulation of capital serves to spread the city outward allowing for small scale urban development along Paris’ periphery. Utilizing the person of Baron Georges von Haussman as an almost nineteenth century Robert Moses, Harvey attempts to illustrate how what one might call today Haussman’s “urban renewal/redevelopment” policies affected spatial, political and class relations in the city. Circulation of capital allowed Haussman to prevent the divergent interests of this redevelopment from pulling itself apart. Land valuation and rents “increasingly functioned to allocate land to uses according to a distinctly capitalist logic.” Financial systems, as those in 20th century America clearly favored upper and upper middle class interests. Still, though this worked against working class interests, the circulation of capital and growth of peripherial development meant state surveillance of suffered to an extent that, “The workers became les of an organized threat, but they became harder to monitor. The tactics and geography of class struggle therefore underwent radical change.” Interestingly, Harvey portrays Paris in this historical moment similarly to Saskia Sassen’s “global cities” of the 20th century (most strikingly with New York in both The Mobility and Labor of Capital and The Global City - Paris though not a subject of her book was designated as such within) especially when he speaks of the survival of small scale labor intensive industry in the face of larger commercial enterprises and as well, in reference to economies of agglomeration (which provide specialized services). Ultimately, transitions unfolding in labor did more to hurt workers than did political repression by state authorities. Again, as with Sassen’s twentieth century counterparts, gendered labor occupies an important position. Though Sassen notes the “feminization of work” and similar processes, Harvey finds corresponding evidence that women served as key players in the Parisian economy dominating domestic service while supplying cheap labor to manufacturers, “To the degree that the immigrants of the 1850s formed families in the 1860s, so the employment of women became more and more of a sheer economic necessity.” Women’s authority came to hold an acknowledged place in the home and through education, much like middle class North American women of the reform movement. However, most women who were unattached to a male figure or patron found themselves at the mercy of a severely gendered employment market. This led to the monetization and commodification of sexual relations and personal liaisons across classes. Prostitution and the various grey social areas around which it organizes emerges as common to Paris and American cities of late nineteenth century.

Haussman’s policies rent asunder traditional notions of community and class, while “transformations in financial structures and labor process had no less an impact upon the material baiss of class relations.” Within in this context the Paris Commune unfolded (Harvey calls it the “the greatest class based communal uprising in capitalist history”)

Finally, Harvey concludes with thought on the “urbanization of capital.” Locating five “loci” (individualism, class, community, state, and family) , Harvey notes they cannot be understood independently but in relation to one another, “It is the total patterning of interrelations between them that counts.” Urbanization of capital requires these relations to be structured in specific way. Thus, the urbanization of capital must be understood in its relation to the “urbanization of conciousness” (i.e. it is the structures of the “urbanization of capital” that help to impose the “urbanization of consciousness.”) Harvey advises readers to go beyond surface understandings (though he also acknowledges that as humans it would be impossible to operate without such understandings, here he seems to be saying that we should not be exclusively loyal to such surface understandings). Local urban class alliances and state interventions help to perpetuate capitalism by agreeing to pursue growth machine politics, encourage the circulation of capital, and the construction of new social and physical spaces that continually expand markets. Acceptable behaviors spread outward from such urban class alliances such that, “the urban milieu, considered as a physical and social artifact, mediates the production of consciousness in important ways, thus giving urban life and consciousness many of their distinctive qualities.”

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