Andy Merrifield, Erik Swyngedouw, eds. The Urbanization of Injustice. New York: New York University Press, 1997. v + 245 pp. $20.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8147-5576-1; $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8147-5575-4.
Reviewed by Kevin Archer (University of South Florida)
Published on H-Urban (May, 1998)
In many ways, this is a remarkable book of readings. With separate chapters authored by well-known scholars in the field of urban studies, the book provides both a thorough survey of contemporary city life as well as a critical examination of the history and current state of urban theory. The chapters included were selected from papers delivered at a conference organized by the editors in 1994 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of David Harvey's path-breaking book Social Justice and the City (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973). As a result, the author of each chapter makes explicit contact with the sorts of issues, empirical and theoretical, that Harvey addressed so long ago. Yet, the remarkable thing about the current effort is that the book is not filled mostly with respectful or otherwise adulatory reminiscence as much as it includes quite serious and critical attempts to work through the still quite pressing issue of social justice and the city.
The editors do a fine job in their introductory chapter in providing the context within which the various chapters order themselves around the main theme of social justice. The introduction also contains a quite astute exploration of what the editors call the "contested terrain of justice," particularly in terms of the continuing inadequacy of theory, both right and left. Expanding on Harvey's earlier attempt to formulate a socialist vision while avoiding what they discern as the current, rather self-indulgent theoreticism of the post-structuralist turn, the editors seek to rekindle theoretical debate with the expressed goal of informing urban praxis. The critical discussion in this introduction well sets the stage on which the remaining chapters fill their roles.
The book is organized into three parts, each involving several chapters. What follows is only a brief sound bite from a very intense conversation. Part I, entitled, "The Contested Terrain of Justice," includes three chapters which explore the concept of social justice in some theoretical detail. In chapter 1, "Justice, Politics, and the Creation of Urban Space," Susan Fainstain surveys what she considers to be the three main theoretical approaches in critical urban studies: political economy, post-structuralism, and urban populism. Fainstain then attempts an inter-paradigmatic synthesis which she considers to be more useful in understanding social justice in today's cities. Similarly, in chapter 2, "Social Justice, Liberalism and the City: Considerations on David Harvey, John Rawls and Karl Polanyi," Ira Katznelson samples this varied theoretical terrain in order to provide a more varied theoretical conceptualization of social justice. Both Fainstain and Katznelson emphasize what they consider to be the missed junctions in Harvey's turn to socialism, particularly that of a more critical brand of liberalism, arguably at the foundation of Fainstain's call for a renewed populism. In a different direction, David Harvey sets out in chapter 3, "The Environment of Justice," to explore the intersection of political ecology and the city. Harvey critically surveys the dominant paradigms of political ecology, what he calls the environmental management approach, sustainability, and the environmental justice movement. Unlike the other approaches, the environmental justice movement explicitly includes a conception of uneven social oppression as well as the ecology of cities within its paradigmatic vision. This inclusion renders it possible for Harvey to marry in a theoretically sustained way ideas of social and environmental justice within a more comprehensive understanding of oppression and its causes.
Part II of the book, "City Injustices," includes three chapters the substance of which provides more concrete evidence of the injustices explored more theoretically in the first part. In chapter 5, "Space/Power, Identity/Difference: Tensions in the City," Doreen Massey explicitly sets local city injustices within the context of global urban processes. By emphasizing the intimate connections between power and the production of space, Massey is able to show how, for example, the construction of oppressive patriarchy in a local U.K. estate housing context is similar in nature to the production of oppressive urbanism in poor countries. A similar breadth of vision sustains chapter 6, "Social Justice and the New American Urbanism: The Revanchist City," where Neil Smith situates what he calls a growing "revanchism" represented by recent (anti)-public policy and sentiment in U.S. cities within the context of the increasing globalization of the U.S. economy. By critically linking such apparently contradictory yet quite concrete trends, Smith opens a less abstract space to discuss social justice and the city. Finally, in chapter 7, "Street Sensibility? Negotiating the Political by Articulating the Spatial," Michael Keith examines recent racist attacks on Bengalis in London's East End as a means to examine how political identities are formed and oppressions resisted within the wider context of commodity flows and fetish.
In Part III, "Justice and the Cultural Politics of Difference," the culture of contemporary urbanism is explored in four separate chapters. Marshall Berman provides a splendidly iconoclastic account of the ghetto politics of resistance of (mostly) New York City rap in chapter 8, "Justice/Just Us: Rap and Social Justice in America." Via an historical account of rap's rise from street talk to corporate walk, Berman quite ably explores the theme of justice from the vantage point of the perceived group oppression (just-us) in relation to that of other, equally oppressed, groups (justice). In chapter 9, "Margin/Alia: Social Justice and the New Cultural Politics," Edward Soja continues his work on post-modern urbanism by exploring the shattering of what he calls the "binaries" of modernist social theory and practice: that is, the failure of the search for the crucial "Big Dichotomy" such as labour-capital, white-black, male-female, etc., which, when overcome, supposedly will lead to a more just urban future. In modernism's place, Soja offers what he calls "thirding," or the constant offering of a third, "Other" alternative within the binaries. Andy Merrifield, in chapter 10, "Social Justice and Communities of Difference: A Snapshot from Liverpool," examines more concretely notions of justice put forth by Berman (in this text), Iris Marion Young, and John Rawls, within the context of the social and material ruins of de-industrialized Liverpool. Merrifield continues the discussion about political identity and group oppression explored in previous chapters, but, importantly, with a focused eye on how recent theory actually can or should inform street politics. Finally, in chapter 11, "Cultural Strategies of Economic Development and the Hegemony of Vision," Sharon Zukin extends her work on cultural strategies in city development, in this case with brief empirical descriptions of New York and North Adams, Massachusetts. In the end, Zukin argues, critical urbanists need to understand how various cultural strategies create, reinforce, or, potentially, can destroy social injustice as these strategies materialize in the production of urban space.
It is symbolic of the whole project that the editors refuse to provide a conclusion to this book. The chapters provide such a rich variety of possible ways forward that any conclusion to the discussion is quite premature. The book is literally bursting at the seams with ideas--like any good brainstorming session--and, yet, what keeps the discussion on task is the clear underlying theme of getting a theoretical and, then, practical handle on social justice and the city. In short, this is an exhausting book but, after having absorbed its contents, no reader will be left simply exhausted. As is clear from the contents, there is still much too much left to discuss, debate, and practice for this to be the case.
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