Urban Geography by Micheal Pacione – Chapter 1 Notes

An urban vista.
  • The distribution of population, the organization of production, the structure of social reproduction and the allocation of power.
  • Urban geography seeks to explain the distribution of places and the socio-spatial similarities within them.
  • 19thC capitalism was “competitive capitalism”, Fordism (mass production, assembly lines, mass consumption) was “mutually beneficial”, now it’s globalized advanced/disorganized capitalism (a shift to services, esp. financial and niche markets) and each phase has changed the urban environment.
  • “the new international division of labour in which production is separated geographically from research and development and higher-level management operations”
  • The command economy created the “socialist city” of urban industrial development and large estates of public housing whereas there are capitalist tendencies to “suburbanisation and social differentiation”.
  • In the global-local nexus, global forces are held to be more powerful but cities modify and embed globalization in local context.
  • Globalization has highly uneven impacts and the unevenness is apparent at all levels (booming vs. declining regions, social polarization in one city etc.).
  • “In labour market terms globalisation is of relevance only for a small minority of workers with the skills necessary to compete in international labour markets”.
  • “Changes in the relative importance of geographic spaces/scales are reflected in changes in the distribution of power among social groups”.
  • The “hollowing out of the state thesis” contends that the nation-state has been disempowered relative to the local and supranational.
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Byung-Chul Han on money, violence, mortality and capitalism

“The archaic economy of violence didn’t simply disappear in modern times. The nuclear arms race also conforms to the archaic economy of violence. The potential for destruction is built up like mana to create the impression of more power and invulnerability. At a deep psychological level, the archaic belief persists that the accumulation of the ability to kill will ward off death. More deadly violence is interpreted as less death. The economy of capital also displays a notable similarity to the archaic economy of violence. Instead of blood, it makes money flow forth. There is an essential proximity between blood and money. Capital behaves like modern mana. The more of it you have, the more powerful, invulnerable, and even immortal you consider yourself to be. Even the etymology of the German word for money, Geld, points to the context of sacrifice and cult. Thus it’s presumed that money was initially a medium of exchange with which sacrificial animals could be obtained. If someone had a lot of money, it meant that he could have many sacrificial animals, which could be offered up at any time. The owner also possessed an enormous, predator-like deadly violence. Money or capital is thus an instrument against death.

On a deep psychological level, capitalism actually has much to do with death and fear of death. This is also what gives it its archaic dimension. The hysteria of accumulation and of growth and fear of death are mutually dependent. Capital can also be interpreted as time spent, since others can be paid to work in one’s stead. Endless capital creates the illusion of endless time. The accumulation of capital works against death, against the absolute lack of time. Faced with a limited life span, people accumulate time as capital.”

Commodification, a 19th century case study

“…the emergence of large-scale grain markets in Chicago during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Before 1850, grain was bought and sold in large, open air marketplaces near the waterfront of Chicago. . . . Grain was sent by the sackful from a farm to a merchant, who would haggle face-to-face with buyers in an effort to obtain the best price. The merchant acted as a middleman for the farmer, who retained ownership over his grain and paid the merchant a commission for each sale.

“…the rise of the railroads transformed this mode of exchange and ‘transmute[d] wheat and corn into monetary abstractions.’ Railroads allowed crops to be efficiently transported from outlying farms into Chicago, rapidly increasing the amount of grain that entered the city’s market. When it became clear that bulk grain was more efficiently sold at market, traditional grain sacks were abandoned and farmers pooled their crops into freight cars. But combining grain from different farms raised the question of how to deal with the ownership of the grain that each farmer contributed to a given carload.

A private industry consortium, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), eventually solved the problem through standardization. The CBOT designated three categories of grain and four levels of quality (‘Club,’ ‘No. 1,’ ‘No. 2,’ and ‘Rejected’). Farmers putting grain into a train car re ceived a receipt indicating a quantity of grain and a quality level. The receipt was redeemable for an equal quantity of the same quality grain-not the same grain, but its func tional equivalent.

Once standardized, grain became abstracted into a commodity. The receipts could be bought and sold with out regard to the specific identity of the farmer who originally produced the grain. People with no interest in grain production could make a profit by buying and selling receipts. Famously, the CBOT also facilitated the rise of a vigorous trade in ‘futures,’ speculative contracts betting on the future price of grain.”

the zeitgeist (a first attempt)

What is the “spirit of the age” or “zeitgeist”? (In German zeit means time and geist means ghost). I’m not sure I understand the concept to be completely honest, but the following is based on a longstanding note I’ve kept tracking “whats in the air”.

As I’ve written before, “we live in a ‘psychological age’ meaning everyone is preoccupied with mental health”. Reduction in the stigma around mental health problems is a good thing in itself, but who would deny some odd effects?

Words like trauma, anxiety and dissociation have escaped any bounds of agreed meaning and are used haphazardly. “Therapy” is prescribed for virtually any problem. The more “psychological” things get, the more the actual “terrain” of human life (class, politics, economics, geography) is neglected. Hopefully that last sentence isn’t true.

Diversity, empathy and inclusion are promoted. People themselves are “empaths”, diverse and included or not. If you want a “primary document” testifying to these feel-good notions in combination with the therapeutic trend noted above, watch an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “Instagram Live”.

We live in an age of “distraction”. Viral Tweets and TikToks make light of the extent to which people will avoid thinking “a single thought”. It’s incredible all the media we have at our disposal, is it for that reason?

Capitalism is without challenge worldwide so as striving individuals, humanity is united. Within this global regime there is personal freedom, especially if you’re lucky enough to be mobile. For the unlucky, a “cold face” of persecution and control is daily reality.

Meritocracy is the ideological justification. Accordingly, competition and status have infected everything. It is up to you to succeed, self-help “is now so ubiquitous as to constitute a kind of ambient noise. It is the unofficial language of Instagram”. Do you have a “growth mindset”? “You can change your life, but you can’t change anything else.”

Cultural revenge by losers is the natural reaction to the “clout chase”. “Deplorables”, Jokers and others considered disordered, dysfunctional, disagreeable or inefficient now have their own perverted appeal. Is the phenomenon of political populism, rather than representing a particular class interest or coherent social force, simply a matter of “losers” crying out?

Relatability and authenticity are prized superficially. Quite often this means that the mediocre are put forward, and they satisfy the losers. Losers are just another group to be marketed to after all. Shamelessness is a super power.

“Dystopia” (in Ancient Greek a bad, hard place) is a concept intuitive to everyone and too appealing to many. There is some evidence that things are better than ever, but if we take dystopia to be our accepted “destination”, the corollary is that people are all too ready to acquiesce to cultural narratives of decline. And a culture of pessimism is a very bad sign.

Bourgeois individualism vs. universal personal development

“People commonly see individualism emerging alongside capitalism in the seventeenth century, but the concept itself is of more recent origin. It arose in France in the aftermath of the Revolution, and was first used by French monarchists and Catholics to condemn the ascendancy of private judgement and the dissolution of traditional hierarchy. In 1820 the monarchist de Maistre spoke of ‘this deep and frightening division of minds, this infinite fragmentation of all doctrines, political protestantism carried to the most ultimate individualism’. Lammenais deprecated the individualism ‘which destroys the very idea of obedience and duty, thereby destroying both power and law; and what then remains but a terrifying confusion of interest, passions and diverse opinions’. The philosophy of the Enlightenment had, in the opinion of these French conservatives, subverted the fixed order of the estates, the family, the church and the monarchy, and had unleashed upon society a turmoil of individual wills. Social harmony, they held, depended on the subordination of personal judgement to doctrinal authority and on the restriction of individuals to their proper station in life.

Although the word was invented by reactionaries it was soon taken up by socialists, who used it to describe the disorder of bourgeois society. The influence of French socialism was so great that this usage has passed into the modern socialist vocabulary. Some French socialists, however, recognised that individualism meant not only a war of wills but also the full development of individuals, and they held that individualism in the latter sense could be achieved only under socialism. Louis Blanc contrasted individualism with fraternity: individualism was a rebellion against traditional authority and therefore contributed to human freedom, but it was incomplete if it did not pass into fraternity. Fraternity transcended individualism, retaining its virtues and eliminating its vices, and it made individual freedom possible without competition and selfishness. Fourier denied that there was any conflict between socialism and individualism, and Jaurès held that ‘socialism is the logical completion of individualism’. From the first, the word ‘individualism’ has had subtle nuances, implying on the one hand the ruthless pursuit of individual self-interest, and on the other the self-development of individuals. It is important to appreciate these nuances and to recognise that individualism does not always mean competitiveness.

The sort of individualism I have been describing is often confused with competitive individualism, and is thrown out with it. All forms of individualism are condemned indiscriminately. From time to time one finds this indiscriminate anti-individualism in collective organisations where self-assertiveness, personal judgements, the nurturing of individual abilities or dissent from the collective consensus are discouraged as competitive. But these kinds of individualism are not competitive at all.

Competitive individualism — the capitalist doctrine of unfettered economic competition — embraces the following principles: the best interests of society as a whole are served if individuals pursue their own private interests; material inequality is a good thing because the prospect of exceptional rewards is the only guarantee of exceptional achievement; the market is the best social regulator and permits greater individual freedom than economic planning; the activities of government should be limited as far as possible; and collective bodies should be discouraged because they restrict economic activity.

Several of these principles were first expounded in the seventeenth century by political theorists like Hobbes and Locke, and they found their fullest expression in the views of the Manchester school in the nineteenth century. Milton Friedman is their most passionate publicist today, and his role as the guru of right-wing governments has elevated him from the obscurity of the American academic community to the stardom of a television series. This is real bourgeois individualism. Bourgeois in dividualists pay lipservice to the other sorts of individualism, we know that well enough. But that is not the important thing. It does not matter what they say. What counts is that a regime of unfettered competition cannot respect individuals and cannot allow them autonomy. We should not be misled by high-sounding phrases and good intentions. Inequality, competition, and self aggrandisement prevent large numbers of people from leading the lives they want to lead. Capitalist society treats people as means rather than ends.
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Faced with the unfulfilled ideals of individualism, some people adopt a curious attitude towards them. The ideals have been hollow under capitalism, they say, therefore we will have none of them; individualism in all its forms is a capitalist creation, so socialists must reject it; the ideas of personal autonomy, self development and economic competition are bourgeois to the core, so out with them all. Saying this is like saying that industry is a capitalist product, therefore we should go back to the horse plough, or that science is a capitalist product, therefore we should go back to superstition. It would be more sensible to recognise that the reason why individualism is an unfulfilled ideal is that it actually subverts capitalism and points the way towards a socialist society.

The fact that personal development has been possible for those with wealth shows its incompatibility with bourgeois individualism. The inequality praised by bourgeois individualists allows personal development to only a few. If it is to become possible for everybody, then there must be greater material equality. Without a reasonable standard of living one has little opportunity to develop because one’s energies have to be put into sustaining life.”

Vilfredo Pareto on bourgeois balance

Legendary Italian social analyst Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) asserted that there are two kinds of middle class or “bourgeois” people, Rs and Ss. The first group, the Rs, are adventurers who represent dynamism, change and economic progress. R’s speculate, they have the savvy and confidence to triage significant economic opportunities.

The second group, the Ss, are much more conservative and tend to be content with a “fixed income.” The humble small business owner is a classic S-type. Pareto said that both Rs and Ss are necessary for an economy to function and that balance between the two must be maintained. 

If we take Pareto’s analysis forward to the present day what do we see? Perhaps the greatest threat to Pareto’s notion of balance between the two groups is the ambient threat to the dignity of the second group, the Ss. Who wants to humbly generate a modest fixed income anymore? That’s not exactly the middle class zeitgeist. Accordingly, suspect schemes and dreams are ubiquitous. R types are inherently volatile and that’s good according to Pareto, but we may be in situation where too many Ss also feel the need to be Rs.

C. B. Macpherson on democracy, liberalism and the market society

“So democracy came as a late addition to the competitive market society and the liberal state. The point of recalling this is, of course, to emphasize that democracy came as an adjunct to the competitive liberal society and state. It is not simply that democracy came later. It is also that democracy in these societies was demanded, and was admitted, on competitive liberal grounds. Democracy was demanded, and admitted, on the ground that it was unfair not to have it in a competitive society. It was something the competitive society logically needed. This is not to say that all the popular movements whose pressures resulted in the democratic franchise, and all the writers whose advocacy helped their cause, were devotees of the market society. But the bulk of them were. The main demand was for the franchise as the logical completion of the competitive market society.

In short, by the time democracy came, in the present liberal-democratic countries, it was no longer opposed to the liberal society and the liberal state. It was, by then, not an attempt by the lower class to overthrow the liberal state of the competitive market economy; it was an attempt by the lower class to take their fully and fairly competitive place within those institutions and that system of society. Democracy had been transformed. From a threat to the liberal state it had become a fulfilment of the liberal state.”