Tag Archives: late capitalism

Deutsche, R. (1998). _Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics_. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

In this book, Deutsche looks at “cities, parks, institutions, exhibitions, artworks, disciplines, identities” (xi) and “the less visible and the therefore more pressing struggles that…produce and maintain all spaces” (ibid). She names this exploration the “urban-aesthetic”/”spatial-cultural” field, and divides the book into three sections. (All chapters with the exception of “Agoraphobia,” an examination into the various public spheres, were published in the decade prior to 1998).

“…beauty and utility: weapons of redevelopment” (49).

The first, “The Social Production of Space,” maintains the dominant urban-aesthetic discourse obfuscates the city’s use of art to legitimize urban redevelopment. She upholds Lefebvre’s (1991) “appropriation of space,” as well as his characterization of capitalist space as “abstract” since it’s “pulverized,” hierarchical, fragmented by/for commodification, and made homogeneous for easy use/exchange. She affirms that late-capitalism urbanism, with its emphasis on property and exclusion for others’ comfort, shunts to the side those residents no longer useful in the city’s economy (see Castells, 1998; Smith, 1996; Zukin, 1989, 1995, 2010). Deutsche wants a counterpractice to this valorization of public art (which can be monumental, functional, ephemeral, digital) for its “usefulness” (64).

The second part, “Men in Space,” engages with the neo-Marxist geography discourse for forgetting gender altogether. Soja’s (1989) Postmodern Geographies, Harvey’s (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity, and even Davis’s (1990) City of Quartz, despite his using the noir trope, are utterly absent women. In “Boys Town” (1990), Deutsche corrects Harvey’s several mistakes/confusions, particularly his assertion there “is always a politics of representation” (230).

The third, “Public Space and Democracy,” interrogates exactly what is it we mean when we say “public,” and asserts that site-specificity should in fact be a critique of modern art. It is not autonomous, never undocked from arts, social, economic, and political operations. She argues that had Serra’s Tilted Arc (1981) defenders moved past artist/work hagiography and instead demanded actual dialogue about democracy, they might have gotten further. Further, claiming art is transhistorical neutralizes the shift in contemporary art. “Urban space is the space of conflict” (278). There is no absolute social foundation, and the premise that there is one unitary concept of urban space is a conservative one (e.g. notion of appropriateness). When someone has the right to name, they assume the rights of property.

“Conflict, division, and instability, then, do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are the conditions of its existence” (289).

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Wilson, W.J. (1987). _The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy_. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

William Julius Wilson, PhD Sociology from Washington State University, is one of twenty University Professors at Harvard University. He has taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Chicago; his expertise is in civil rights, the inner city, poverty, race, social policy, and urban policy. Much of his work has been controversial, particularly The Declining Significance of Race, the critique of which was the impetus for The Truly Disadvantaged. His book When Work Disappears has been credited as an inspiration of the second season of HBO’s The Wire.

In this astounding and devastating work, Wilson addresses the ghetto underclass in a comprehensive analysis, putting into “candid terms the social pathologies of the inner city” (viii), attributing the inner city’s plight to racial discrimination (historical more than contemporary), changes in the family structure, and misdirected public policy.

Part I discussions comprise: inner city social changes; the controversy surrounding the term “underclass;” an explanation of how the liberal viewpoint (i.e. the plight on disadvantaged groups can be related to the problems of broader society) ceded primacy to the conservative (i.e. where different group values are emphasized as are competitive resources to explain disadvantageds’ experiences); and the problems of the inner-city (e.g. violent crime, out-of-wedlock births, female-headed households), which can’t be explained by racism alone but are component to a complex web of factors including changes in the urban economy and class transformation in the city.

The structural economic changes of the postindustrial era have left African Americans of the inner city worse off than there were in the 1960s. Deindustrialization’s evaporation of manufacturing and demand for knowledge workers has resulted in stark male joblessness rates, particularly among young black men. Joblessness during youth, to Wilson, is indicative of structural weakness in the economy.

Wilson’s terms, per below, demonstrate this is not a “culture of poverty”:

  • concentration effects — the significance of the social transformation of the inner city; increasing joblessness has the most cataclysmic effect in areas of highest concentrations of poverty
  • social isolation — “the lack of contact or of sustained interaction with individuals and institutions that represent mainstream society” (60) Castells (1998) later refers to Wilson’s research in his social exclusion and Fourth World sections.
  • male marriageable pool — the viable marriageable pool of African American men is shrinking, leading to the increase in out-of-wedlock and female-headed homes
  • social buffer — when the middle and working class families left the declining neighborhoods, they took with them the critical institutions that buffered the neighborhoods from degrading into extreme poverty
  • social organization — “working arrangements of society…that specifically involve processes of ordering relations with respect to given social ends and that represent the material outcomes of those processes” (133)

In Part II, Wilson advocates for universal policies, noting that the most race-focused programs, such as affirmative action, in fact assist the already advantaged. He agrees with Fishkin’s (1973) “principle of equality of life chances,” that if we can confidently predict a person’s fate in society just by knowing their race, sex, or family conditions, “then the conditions under which their talents and motivations have developed must be grossly unequal” (116-117).  Therefore, he argues, a “program of economic reform characterized by rational government involvement in the economy” (112) is needed. Education and jobs for minority mobility are needed. Poverty should be seen as a reflection of insufficient education and skills delivered by a flawed economic system. Minorities in inner cities are vulnerable to recessions and structural economic changes. Wilson’s hidden agenda is a move from group-specific policy to a macroeconomic policy for better economic growth and a tight labor market (e.g. on-the-job training, apprenticeships).

We need “to improve the life chances of truly disadvantaged groups such as the ghetto underclass by emphasizing programs to which the more advantaged groups of all races and class backgrounds can positively relate” (155).

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Smith, N. (1996). _The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City_. London and New York: Routledge.

Neil Smith, Geography PhD from Johns Hopkins University, is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center department of CUNY. He studied under David Harvey, so he shares a Marxian perspective of political economy, urban social theory, space, nature-culture, and history and theory of geography. He examines globalization and consequent uneven development at the local and global scales.

In The New Urban Frontier, Smith confronts the term “frontier” and demythologizes the use of it and “pioneer” in contemporary American (and global) development. He views gentrification as a decidedly bad thing, the “product of political economic shifts in local and global markets” (92), which has been vigorously undertaken by production-side, capital interests since the 1960s. These revanchist (from the French revanche, “revenge”) city interests are aggressively re-taking the city, regenerating it, cleansing it, and re-infusing it with middle-class standards.

This gentrification process takes place at the frontiers between improving and disinvested communities. It “infects working class communities, displaces poor households, and converts whole neighborhoods into bourgeois enclaves” (17). Smith proposes the rent gap as the functional tool. Producers (e.g. builders, developers, landlords, mortgage lenders, government agencies, real estate agents, etc.) use the “disparity between potential ground rent level and actual ground rent capitalized under present land use” (67) as the justification for their development.

This is an economically, not culturally, driven process of collective social action — proponents call it “urban renaissance” — manifests in distinctly uneven development patterns. These local contingencies are also global: they reflect the implications of global capital flows and are becoming standardized (with local flavorings, of course) all over the world.

Things to note:

  • governments are active agents of gentrification (recall Logan & Molotch, 2007)
  • current residents are in Catch-22 positions: they like seeing their neighborhoods improve and thus welcome investmentyet they will be promptly priced out once improvements are completed
  • gentrification flows up unnaturally, against filtering down (see Zukin, 2010)
  • “degentrification” will likely not happen

Smith believes:

“…we can expect a deepening villainization of working-class, minority, homeless, and many immigrant residents of the city, through interlocking streams of violence, drugs, and crime” (230).

Finally, an interesting point about the arts: its role in gentrification has been no accident. Per Deutsche and Ryan (1984), it “has been constructed with the aid of the entire apparatus of the establishment (as cited on 18-19). Some have remained progressive political agents, but some avant-garde artists have behaved as “brokers” (19) between the culture industry and artistic hopefuls. “Good art and good locations become fused. And good location means money” (20).

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Mitchell, D. (1995). The End of Public Space? People’s Park, Definitions of the Public, and Democracy. _Annals of The Association of American Geographers_, 85(1): 108-133.

Don Mitchell, PhD Geography, Rutgers University, is Distinguished Professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. His specialties comprise: cultural, urban, and historical geography, public space, landscape, labor, social theory, and Marxism. His publications are grouped thusly: on landscape and laborers; on public space, radical politics and marginalized peoples; on culture, geography, and general trouble making. He approaches these three areas of study through a broadly Marxist, and certainly radical and materialist, framework, starting from the position that scholarship and political commitment cannot be divorced.

Mitchell recounts the controversial decision for UC Berkeley leadership to partner in 1989 with the City of Berkeley to wrest the People’s Park from its marginalized users and turn control over to middle-class and student interests, who believe the conservative argument that in order for public spaces to work, they must be safe, orderly. From the 60s through 80s, Cal students became increasingly conservative, actively avoiding the space, though one official admitted the park was no more dangerous than anywhere else. It was just a matter of perception.

“Activists see places like the Park as spaces for representation. By taking place, social movements represent themselves to larger audiences” (125).

Following Lefebvre’s (1991) two visions of public space, Mitchell argues this is a battle between the City’s desired the park’s representations of space — planned, controlled, orderly — and the park’s experienced representational space — appropriated, lived-in, used for and by the homeless. Without this park and like public spaces, these and all similarly affected homeless struggle and fail to “represent themselves as a legitimate part of ‘the public'” (115). Theirs is a “double-bind” (118) in that they are at once too visible and too defenseless against the interests of late capitalism.

Bringing Fraser’s (1992) subaltern counterpublics to earth, Mitchell avers public space “constitutes an actual site, a place, a ground within and from which political activity flows” (117). In the contemporary city, meanwhile, privatization has been prioritized, evoking Sorkin’s (1992) “disneyfication” of the United States. Boyer (1992) proposes that even diversity in a public space is often artifice: “territorial segregation created through expression of social difference has increasingly been replaced by a celebration of constrained diversity” (120).

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Logan, J.R. and Molotch, H.L. (2007). The Social Construction of Cities (Ch.1); Places as Commodities (Ch.2); The City as a Growth Machine (Ch.3). In _Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place_. 20th anniversary ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

John Logan, PhD Sociology from UC Berkeley, is Professor of Sociology at Brown University. Prior to this post he was Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Administration at the University of Albany, SUNY; Director of the Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research; and Director of the Urban China Research Network. His current research includes the sociospatial implications of Hurricane Katrina; immigrant routes to political incorporation; immigration, ethnicity, and the family in the early 20th century; group boundaries in early 20th century New York and Chicago.

Harvey Molotch, PhD Sociology from the University of Chicago, is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, Sociology at New York University. His areas of interest include: urban development and political economy; the sociology of architecture, design, and consumption; environmental degradation; and mechanisms of interactional inequalities.

The market, just like space, is a social construction. Logan and Molotch seek to understand the tension between “use and exchange value in cities” (2). Component to this is a move away from the neoclassical economist and the Marxian determinist perspectives, and toward an “authentic urban sociology” (49). For the former, its public choice model “trivializes” (42) sociospatial inequalities by chalking them up to matters of choice, and the latter’s missing explorations into human ecology and community studies.

“Places are not simply affected by the institutional maneuvers surrounding them. Places are those machinations” (43).

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Debord, G. (1983). _Society of the Spectacle_. Detroit: Black and Red.

Co-founder of the Letterist International and later the Situationist International (SI), which played a considerable part in the Paris Uprising of 1968, Marxist philosopher and artist Debord articulates a bleak and totalizing view of modernity in 221 theses.

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles” (#1).

The spectacle for Debord is the overwhelming and distracting power not of images, “but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (#4). Whether it is concentrated, as in the totalitarian regime revolving around a sole figure/state, or is the diffuse antipode, as in the market economy-embedded society where acts of liberty are performed through purchase power, “the spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable, inaccessible” (#12). Not only is the spectacle inaccessible, it is enduring. Since revolutionaries generally operate within the logics of the spectacle, efforts to overthrow it are doomed. Complicating matters further, Debord insists a successful revolution is “a unitary critique of society” (#121). This critique is manifest action, exemplified by the SI’s favored activities, the dérive (“drift”) and détournement.

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Crow, D. (1993). _Philosophical Streets: New Approaches to Urbanism_. Washington D.C.: Maisonneuve Press.

Dennis Crow, AICP, received his BA, MS, and PhD in Public Administration and Urban Planning all from UT, Austin. He also did post-doctoral work at Dartmouth in interpretive methods and architecture; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in history, social theory, and cultural significance of space and place in philosophy and literature, and UC Irvine in philosophy and literary criticism. At the time of publication, Crow was working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and is currently information architect at USDA Farm Service Agency.

This book is a challenge to both architects and planners to reevaluate their positions on the relationship between planning, theory, and the contemporary humanities, as well as provoke humanities scholars to critique their home cities/regions. Space is not a place, but “the relationships among places” (17). The “political implication of philosophical streets is that engagement for use and resistance of street-level bureaucracy is more important than ever to the life of theory and the practice of social change” (21).

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