Here Zukin has compiled a book of essay about the rise of the symbolic economy, brought on by the concurrent decline of cities and expansion of abstract financial speculation, and the themes we must consider when discussing cities: the use of culture as an economic base, the articulation of culture to privatize and militarize public space, and how the power of culture is related to the aestheticization of fear.
The five essay chapters include: (1) “Learning from Disney World,” which details the multinational’s symbolic economy and its oft-copied visual strategies of coherence, tableaux, compression, condensation, invisibility, and facades. (2) “A Museum in the Berkshires,” which explores economic cultural strategies in historic, post-Fordist districts and the inherent contradictions. (3) “High Culture and Wild Commerce in New York City,” which covers several initiatives since the mid-50s’ decision to make New York a cultural destination and the city’s qualified dedication to the arts, often breaking down over issues of land, labor, and capital. (4) “Artists and Immigrants in New York City Restaurants,” a seminar-derived piece exploring both how restaurants are themselves cultural sites, as well as the rigidities of ethnic and social divisions of labor. (5) “While the City Shops,” a departure from the traditional postmodern critique of the consumerist economy and an investigation into how the shopping street is a site for overcoming alienation and building community. In “Remembering Walter Benjamin” (253), Zukin affirms, “shopping streets lead us toward a material analysis of cultural forms” (254), that they are linked not just to globalization, but to immigration, recession, continual adaptation, and reuse of the built environment for retail shopping.
Zukin ends the book reminding the reading there is no one transcendent culture, but that cities do share the symbolic economy, therefore, we must ask whose representation of whose culture is being enshrined in which institutions when cultural strategies are formed.