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Social Justice and the City (Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation Ser.) Paperback – October 15, 2009
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A penetrating analysis of contemporary urbanism which may indeed be the signal for a change of direction, if not a revolution, in geographic thought. The time is certainly ripe for this. But it will appeal to and stimulate many other disciplines and professions. It will be controversial for it brings into question concepts and values that are fundamental to our way of life.(Times Higher Education Supplement)
One of the most influential books in human geography, Social Justice and the City is a generative work that has influenced decades of urban studies scholars. Harvey skillfully demonstrates the material forces that produce cities, urban geographies, and the problems that are often associated with them. In so doing, he opened up new territory for understanding some of the fundamental and enduring problems of the city.(Laura Pulido author of Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles)
This book, in fact, provides the dimension that is almost entirely missing from the work of most critics, journalists, or historians who describe and discuss the contemporary city or the development of the modern movement in architecture.(Architects Journal)
A good book, by any standards, and it is to be hoped that even those many of the author's colleagues in geography, economics, and sociology, who may suspect that the dose of theoretical Marxism which we are offered here is too undiluted, may nonetheless ask themselves whether they can, either through some type of revisionism, or by starting elsewhere, offer a better or more comprehensive theory of the city.(Times Literary Supplement)
A solid and much-needed achievement.(George W. Carey Geographical Review)
Social Justice and the City has rightfully been an influential work, particularly among geographers. It is admirable not only in its systematic questioning of the traditional explanations of urban problems, but in insisting on a comprehensive view in explaining social phenomena. It is a refreshing work because of the paradigmatic change that is mapped in the course of the essays.(James L. Greer Ethics)
Establishes David Harvey as one of the most fertile and fruitful scholars working in the field of urban studies at the present time. It also makes quite clear that urban geography and non-Marxist urban economics can never be quite the same again.(Urban Studies)
The adage that we become more conservative as we grow older is but one of several comfortable notions that are profoundly shaken in this extraordinary book. . . . Social Justice and the City contains a wealth of convincing and unconvincing, disturbing and reinforcing, but usually provocative ideas.(Richard L. Morrill Annals of the Association of American Geographers)
From the Inside Flap
Harvey analyzes core issues in city planning and policy--employment and housing location, zoning, transport costs, concentrations of poverty--asking in each case about the relationship between social justice and space. How, for example, do built-in assumptions about planning reinforce existing distributions of income? Rather than leading him to liberal, technocratic solutions, Harvey's line of inquiry pushes him in the direction of a "revolutionary geography," one that transcends the structural limitations of existing approaches to space. Harvey's emphasis on rigorous thought and theoretical innovation gives the volume an enduring appeal. This is a book that raises big questions, and for that reason geographers and other social scientists regularly return to it.
Top Customer Reviews
The first section of the book contains somewhat of a struggle to conceptualize the urban system within a liberal framework, and throughout these chapters Harvey begins to develop a theory of location, the value of urban space, and the concept of urban justice that lead him towards a more critical stance. The themes touched upon in the first section come out strongly and in a more unified manner in the second section as Harvey draws on Marx's theory of value and rent to critically analyze the circulation of capital within the urban system, specifically the role of incomes and of rents in determining patterns of settlement and work for individuals of different classes. The inclusion of Harvey's essay "The Right to the City" is a bonus that complements recent work by Abdoumaliq Simone,Don Mitchell, Michael Keith, and other urban theorists (although of course this article is available elsewhere). Harvey's work differs somewhat by focusing primarily on the economics of settlement whereas others have zeroed in on public space or on the role of migration in the city, giving Social Justice and the City a bit of a one-sided conception of social justice (clearly in the end influenced by Marx). But I think Harvey's approach to the economic side of urban social justice is very coherent; in order to develop a more holistic theory of urban social justice, supplement your reading with Lefebvre's The Production of Space and Don Mitchell's more recent book, The Right to the City:Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space.
The bottom line: An essential book for those interested in urban theory or in justice and the built environment. If you are interested in urban studies and economics and want to think more deeply about the city and the relationships that take place within it, read this book.
Like the European urban theorists Mumford and Lefebvre who preceded him, Harvey argues that science always rests on a worldview which is intrinsically linked to the values of the society it occupies. Science, and especially social science, inevitably conducts its studies according to a certain value system, and in turn, concocts a notion of which patterns of societal organization and social behavior will return optimal results (according to the theory of value that is in use). However, reality itself is relational (in the Leibnizian sense), something which undermines most scientists' faith in their own political neutrality, and there is no better evidence for this than the modern city. The health and livelihoods of cities depend upon their relationships to other geographic locations, the social relations contained within cities themselves, and all matter of productive and political relations. Most mainstream social scientists are split between mechanical materialism and relativist idealism, but the scientific approach Harvey advocates could potentially be described as "relational materialism," or even better, by its historical title: Dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism is a material monist view which is skeptical of the ground it stands on. In dialectical materialism, not only are human beings inevitably social actors, but our worlds are always in flux. Modern human beings exist within forms of social organization that are radically different from organizational forms which existed millennia ago, and the current forms of social organization we experience in our societies bear the mark of history. As a result, dialectical materialism's categories are meant to arise out of the study of life itself, and not from a metaphysical foundation. But, it also attempts to emphasize a vigilant meta-awareness of the ways in which our categories deeply affect our relations with things themselves. It attempts to tell the story of the material motions of human society, and the different perspectival relations that those material phenomena create between different actors.
Aside from Harvey's more "raw" philosophy of science, the first chapter mainly outlines a new approach to the study of space, particularly urban space. Harvey carefully explains the complicated ways in which space plays out in human life. When we usually think of "space," we usually think of the space that physicists speak of, i.e., "objective" space. But, the moment we utter the phrase "over there," we have entered into the constantly amorphous world of social space. The third level of space Harvey describes is phenomenological space, which is the sense-experience of space itself. Each of these three levels exists in a dialectical relationship with the others. Changes in one lead to changes in the others. The discovery of an objectively-existing landmass called "North America" by Europeans led to the founding of new urban spaces. Because of reasons relating to the European sense of social space, certain people settled in these lands (after displacing the natives), and built their city a certain way. Social space impacted objective space in the form of the physical changes that resulted from the growth of new cities. The Anglo-capitalist social space of the city imposed class divides onto the city, which also led to differences in phenomenological experiences of space: Living next to a dirty factory became a part of daily life for a working class resident of the city, but pollution also became an indication of undesirability for the petite bourgeois resident. The behavior experienced in these phenomenological differences helped inspire other dialectical changes, and have never ceased to do so, even in our own era.
The second chapter is of a more empirical bent. It applies ideas laid out in chapter one to the urban social problems of Harvey's day which, sadly, have hardly changed at all since the original publication of "Social Justice and the City." He uses real social phenomena to prove that different levels of spatial experience flow through the modern urban landscape, and that the social spatial relations reveal the concrete workings of capitalist economic forces and the local bourgeois political organization of cities. Here, Harvey begins his critique of John Rawls, and of equilibrium political theory in general. Rawls proposed that a capitalist society is perfectly capable of achieving social justice if government policies maintained a certain distribution of living standards. The problem, Harvey argues, is that the spatial-relational nature of capitalist society demonstrates why such an equilibrium will always be elusive, if not totally impossible. Both spatial class divisions and competitive pressures show us the various ways in which tax burdens, public utility burdens, and environmental pollution are shoved onto specific social spaces and the people who inhabit them. In a way, Harvey is also critiquing his fellow Marxists in this passage. As with Rawls, Marxist socio-economic thinkers, at least since after Marx & Engels, and especially the analytical Marxists, have viewed the contention over the distribution of value within society as the only focal point of social ethics. Harvey demonstrates that a spatial war is just as fundamental to capitalist social relations, even though this conflict is intrinsically tied into the functioning of value within capitalist society anyways.
Section two serves as a more philosophical critique of Rawls, and also as a critique of Thomas Khun, as well as an explanation of the necessity of "revolutionary" social science. According to Havey, Rawls' liberalism is damned to uselessness because of its inability to recognize the necessary importance of productive relations in the continual regeneration of inequality, which is also intrinsically tied into Rawls' lack of spatial awareness, which allows liberals such as Rawls to treat the actual physical manifestations of inequality as a matter of pure value-distribution. The inequality of political power and economic autonomy which are intrinsically connected to income inequality are left entirely out of the picture in the Rawlsian thesis, which, to say the least, is a shortcoming on equilibrium theory's part. Harvey then engages in a third critique of equilibrium theory which is truly brilliant. He demonstrates that if we were to accept Rawls' notion of social justice as a starting point for the imagining of a just society, that we could arrive at a Marxist version of equilibrium theory by thinking through its consequences. Rawls argued that modern societies need to enable the economically weakest strata of society to maximize their potential. Harvey shows that in order to accomplish this, the "lowest" stratum of society requires real political power. Rawls' equilibrium theory rested on the notion that cross-class conflict was not an intrinsic aspect of capitalist society, something which many would agree is a fantastical hope. As Harvey points out, even if capitalist societies propagate only modest amounts of economic antagonism between citizens (which they obviously do), then the only way to ensure the well-being of the masses is for the masses to seize power. From there, it makes the most sense to define the masses as the lowest strata, so as to allow the majority of society to achieve power. Then, Harvey demonstrates that majoritarian political power on behalf of the dispossessed masses depends on control of productive forces. Thus, Harvey ends up at the dictatorship of the proletariat.
With this example in mind, Harvey shifts to his critique of Khun's theory of paradigm shifts. Khun described scientific evolution as a process that is marked by periodic leaps between new categorical structures in knowledge. However, Khun paid virtually no attention to the social forces which allow these changes to occur. In both the natural and social sciences, theories engage in an examination of the material world. However, theories often begin to exhaust their usefulness once their categories have been thoroughly explored, and they begin to encounter anomalies, which are difficult to explain within the reigning theory. Often, but not always, new theories challenge the reigning social order, just as when the bourgeoisie were more willing to accept purely materialist scientific paradigms than the crumbling feudal order. Analyses in all sciences are always framed by values, and whether one likes it or not, these values have social, political, and economic content. This content is not "merely subjective," but ultimately relates back to the reigning socio-economic order of society. From here, we can see why paradigm shifts aren't always epistemologically progressive. Economics shifted from monetarist to Keynesian economics in the 1930s when the Great Depression created a tremendous anomaly for monetarist economic science. Keynesianism itself experienced an insurmountable anomaly in the 1970s, which logically should have led to an even greater paradigm shift away from bourgeois economics, but instead simply resulted in a reversion to monetarism without any real resolution of the anomalies of monetarism, which simply played themselves out again in 2008.
"Urbanism and the City" represents the longest essay in this collection, and is an application of geographic dialectics to both the history of the capitalist city and its modern social contradictions, both of which are intractable from one another. Harvey applies the categories of Marxian value to urban spatial relations. This has a twin advantage. The Marxian concepts of value within capitalist relations traditionally denote a divide and contradiction between "use value" and "exchange value." The definitions are fairly intuitive, and probably mean exactly what one assumes they mean. However, Marx also held that they contained contradictions which have ramifications across society, and for the process of capitalist production itself. In order to create exchange value, the "use value" of a commodity must be melted down and foregone in favor of a more fluid kind of value. The reverse is also true. Harvey argues that this is equally true for the use and exchange of urban spaces. In urban areas, the usefulness of space is frequently sacrificed in order to make space more marketable for private interests. A logical ordering of urban space would link work, daily life, and positive environmental conditions in such a way that secured productivity while maximizing human happiness. Despite the fact that this may sound like an enviable form of social organization to just about anyone, the contradictions of capitalist space inhibit the existence of such a city, or at least any such city which doesn't parasitically feed off of the other urban areas through rent-created class segregation between cities, such as San Francisco and New York. The sacrifice of use value in favor of exchange value doesn't just make more money for city governments and landlords, but also plays a vital role in reproducing class divides, both in their political and economic forms. Conservative and liberal social scientists attempt to get around this problem by melting use value into exchange value, or vice versa, but these one-dimensional spatial analyses time and time again fail to meaningfully represent reality. As Mike Davis proved in "Planet of Slums," granting a certain portion of an urban population a monopoly over space will only ensure that the more economically powerful portion will harvest rent from their monopoly power, and that there is virtually no inventive (or overarching tendency) to maximize utility or equality in such an economic framing, a flaw resulting from the contradiction between the use and exchange values of spaces.
Harvey introduces the roles surpluses in value play in the capitalist society, and the manner in which urban surplus distribution affect the transition from the feudal town to the capitalist city. Citing the work of Karl Polyani, Harvey argues that market phenomena, once a mere parasite to the hierarchical and egalitarian distribution economies of the Middle Ages, eventually overtook the feudal city. The rise of protestant values, in conjunction with technological advances, allowed for the merchant class to gain an unprecedented level of political power. This, in turn, initiated a sea-change in urban life. Urban centers, already oriented around the extraction of surplus value from the country, went into overdrive and began to suck resources, people, and political power away from the country at an unprecedented rate. The life of most people in capitalist societies became one of urban class divides, where the political-spatial control of the bourgeoisie became central to the process of accumulation.
In the conclusion, Harvey comes to a critically important point about urbanism as a social process. Urbanism long predates capitalism, and even possesses continuous characteristics across multiple epochs. However, the organizational form of urbanism in the modern era is unprecedented, and more importantly, is an essential expression of the capitalist mode of production. So, what exactly is space and urbanism with regards to the process of historical transformation? Harvey proposes that "urbanism" should be thought of in a similar manner to "science." Most civilizations, at least for millennia since before our time, have had some form of science. At the same time, no one would deny that "our" science is far more advanced and efficient than all previous forms of science, and that in order to affect social change, science must be heeded and incorporated into any revolutionary understanding of capitalism, as we all know Marx himself advocated. Harvey claims that urbanism should be examined and incorporated into both social science and left-wing movements in a similar manner. Just as the expansion of industrial capitalism and scientific-technological practices across the globe heralds the final stages of capitalism's conquest of humanity, so does the victory of the city over the country herald the progressive evolution of capitalism. Our response should neither be fluffy optimism nor hopeless cynicism. The urban process contains the essence of capitalism's evils, but also the possibility for confrontation of these same evils. The collection concludes with the 2008 essay "The Right to the City," Harvey's now famous manifesto against the world-wide authoritarian control of capitalist cities across the world by bourgeois political forces, and the necessity of viewing urban authoritarianism as a characteristic of capitalist modernity.
This essay collection is possibly the most essential work ever written by David Harvey. Many of my liberal friends praise Harvey for his studies on imperialism and neo-liberalism, but his most challenging works, "Social Justice and the City" and "The Limits to Capital," are certainly essential readings for anyone with an interest in social science, or even philosophy of science. Really, no aspiring student of society has any business ignoring Harvey.