Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Urbanization of Injustice / Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Urbanization of Injustice / Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference

Article excerpt

The Urbanization of Injustice Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1996, pp.245. ISBN 0-85315-842-8 (pbk) 14.99

David Harvey

Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference Blackwell, Oxford, 1996, pp.468.

ISBN 1-55786-680-5 (hbk)50.00

ISBN 1-55786-681-3 (pbk) 12.99

Reviewed by Vincenzo Ruggiero

Many authors have tried to make sense of the sometimes frightening aspects of city life, which requires that individuals be constantly aware of, and cope with, the fragmentation of social roles caused by a complex division of labour. Cities have also been studied as heterogenous environments requiring frequent interaction with those who do not share one's beliefs and values. This `presence of difference' has been seen as a potential for human creativity which may counteract the destructive force of the modern city. Students of urbanism have focused on the way in which such potential is attacked or neutralized by planners through the construction of both material and metaphorical barriers. Think of Benjamin's description of the efforts of architects to secure the city against civil war by dividing spaces and segmenting routes. Such divisions, in Benjamin's analysis, were aimed to let armies move easily against rebels, on the one hand, and to make the `erection of barricades' in Paris impossible, on the other. Also consider a contemporary version of this analysis in the somewhat dystopian work of Mike Davis, who after describing the militarization of the urban landscape has gone on mapping the `ecology of fear' in Los Angeles, with barriers consisting of `electronic guardian angels' dividing the city.

The Urbanization of Injustice approaches the study of the city from a dynamic, rather than dystopian, perspective, one inspired by the search for empowering urban politics leading to social change. One senses that the authors are inspired by the need to make the `erection of barricades' yet again possible, at least metaphorically, in the contemporary urban landscape. From the observation that the debate on social justice has been relegated to the hinterlands of academic inquiry, the book moves on to describe the ways in which cities have witnessed an alarming increase in homelessness, unemployment, deprivation and violence, much of it against ethnic minorities and women. `Indeed, the speed and depth of the urbanization of injustice urges critical analyses not only to rethink the relationship between spatiality, power and justice, but also to push for a political and intellectual agenda that rallies around the development of socially just urban practices' (pp.2-3). However, it is exactly on this aspect that the analyses offered by the different authors of this book are unaccomplished, in the sense that while descriptions of injustice, reproduction of power and inequality are thorough, those of the responses to such injustices and their reproduction are scant. The space devoted to political action, in other words, fails to justify the somewhat `intellectualistic anti-intellectualism' expressed in the lament that `Those committed to practical activism have always operated in environments where exclusion and oppression aren't just concepts and metaphors for deconstructive enquiry' (4). …

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