Friday, December 14, 2012

Climate Studies as More Than Urban Studies

In a really interesting post called Whither Urban Studies?, Andy Merrifield ruminates on the state of urban theory with some insightful remarks. He looks at the proliferation, once again, of empiricism in urban studies:
The point here is that philosophy, the city, and political engagement went together. Within the field of urban geography, particularly in UK urban geography, there are certain things that today militate against this noble philosophical tradition. One is the dominance of the positivist-empiricist tradition. Why so? The reason may be obvious in our age of “experts” and “technocrats,” in this era some describe as “post-political”: positivism has always tried to rid itself of politics behind the shield of quantification and “objectivity.” In that sense, positivism/empiricism is a convenient methodology for technocrats trying to find consensus without conflict. After all, their opinions are neutral and expert; their knowledge isn’t value-laden, right? Yours, if it’s critical and theoretically partisan, is warped, ideological. 
The second reason for the prioritization of empirical data — which ties in neatly with the first reason — is that it can raise money for the corporate university, can more easily capture grant money, more easily produce a “knowledge commodity,” a knowledge that may be calculated and evaluated in an institution’s competitive yearnings and chart-topping desires. Very little money, if any, is doled out to work on theory, therefore theory/philosophy is unimportant because it is financially unimportant. To be sure, it is extremely difficult to evaluate and judge its “impact” on any spreadsheet.
And he states something that's actually rather obvious. Namely, that urban studies remains stuck in superimposed borders often passed down from the development "experts," the demographers, the economists, and so on. Yet this bears repeating:
Still, a reloaded urban studies doesn’t mean middle-ground: it suggests a thorough reframing of the urban question, of dealing adequately with the ontological question, that of being in the world, of being in an urban world. Within this conceptualization we need to dispense with all the old chestnuts between North and South, between developed and underdeveloped worlds, between urban and rural, between urban and regional, between city and suburb, and so forth. (Just as we need to dispense with the old distinctions between public and private, state and economy, politics and technocracy.) From this standpoint, frontier lines don’t pass between any North-South or urban-rural divide but reside “within the phenomenon of the urban itself,” as Lefebvre says in The Urban Revolution. Hence the need to conceptualize and politicize how the globe is no longer demarcated through definitive splits between strict opposites: all demarcations and frontier lines are immanent within urban society, between dominated peripheries and dominating centers that exist all over the planet. 
He reminds us, instead, that the "city"is nothing but a fetish—an apparition—that is only the capstone or a fuse of a much larger and planetary urban society. The city is celebrated in newspapers, books, and media as some kind of environmental benefit, contrasted against other forms of spatial waste or development. But the city constitutes instead a partial calcification in an artery (pardon the biological metaphor), and quite connected, in fact, to profitting from all the destruction which happens beyond its borders. He says: "Neo-Haussmannization tears into the entire planetary urban fabric, and fronts the progressive production of core and periphery, of centers of power and wealth and of spaces of dispossession and marginalization; and this everywhere, with little concern for either city or countryside." And in this condition, we find ourselves somewhat suspended in an ether, unable to identify the source of rule or power. Merrifield adds, tantalizingly putting his finger on the present moment:
Urban society will somehow be a “post-work” society in the sense that Marx hinted at in the Grundrisse, when we all eventually get “suspended” from the “immediate form of production,” giving rise to a latent political constituency whose only real terrain left for struggle won’t be the workplace but the urban itself.
And I might take this even a step further, to think if the terrain for struggle isn't only the urban, but something that's literally so diffuse and expansive as the climate itself. In the latent terrain of #climateurbanism, we might begin to think about the work of entire atmosphere, fluids, winds, as well as streets, squares, and workplaces as sites to jam the form of production.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments can be moderated for quality.