All entries for Saturday 29 March 2008

March 29, 2008

Cities and Social Change DD201 Dayschool 2008

Cities and Social Change DD201 Dayschool 2008

Cities, The Networked Society and resisting the Space of Flows


Let’s think about Cities historically in terms of their position in the world and in terms of how they functioned.

Historically we can think of Athens / Rome / Carthage / Florence / London / Paris / Vienna / Berlin / New York / San Francisco / Los Angeles / Tokyo

Now over half the people in the World live in Cities and they seem to be changing faster than ever before.  

The emergence of “New Super-Cities” : Mexico City,  Sao Paolo with many more emergent in China and South East Asia. By 2050 we are looking at cities with populations of over 50 million people. 

Tate Modern logo

This Tate Modern hyperlink above will take you to the Tate Modern exhibition of 2007 on global cities. When you arrive there check out the flash video which is also possible to download.

Favela in Brazil

Paraisópolis Favela in Sāo Paulo, Brazil 2005

I remember this image above especially well from when I visited the exhibition. The juxtaposition of wealth and power in immediate proximity to poverty stricken areas is particularly noticeable. It was in Brazil that the first gated cities were designed to protect the superwealthy inhabitants. Now a common mode of transport in and out of them is by helicopter. So there are many helicopter pads in these areas. Bullet proof cars are quite normal.

Above you can make out tennis courts and a swimming pool with exoctically designed luxury flats only a few metres away (and a very high wall - maybe hi-tech wall!)

Cities then, are centres of wealth and power as well as poverty and social exclusion. Have things changed radically since Engels' time we are led to ask ourselves? Here he describes Manchester in the 1840s: 

The town itself is peculiarly built , so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working people's quarter or even with workers, that is so long as he confines himself to his business or to pleasure walks. (Engels 1987 / 1845, pp85 cited Social change ed Jordan p 40) 

The Increasing Size of Global Cities

The following quotations are taken from the Tate Modern Exhibition on the global city 2007 from the "Size" section.

The Greater Tokyo area in the Kanto region now accommodates over 34 million people in a consistently dense and multi-centred urban region that is well served by an integrated system of trains, underground and buses, used by nearly 80% of daily commuters.

Sprawling across a high plateau framed by mountains and volcanoes, Mexico City has expanded tenfold in both population and area since 1940. With a population of 18 million plus, the city region generates nearly a quarter of Mexico's wealth, attracting people – many of them young – from the rest of the country to the Aztecs' original 'floating city'.

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s largest and richest city, with a metropolitan region the size of Los Angeles or Shanghai. Its population has nearly doubled in the past 45 years, and growth in the last decade was 9.2%. As the country’s financial capital, with a constituency the size of some European countries, Sao Paulo plays a key role in national politics.

Size Isn't Everything 

Despite the fact that cities in the developing world are far outstripping the size of global cities such as London and New York these cities along with Tokyo remain the global hubs that dominate the present day world as Manuel Castells has argued. With the increasing pace of globalisation and the deregulation of markets which accompamied this process Castells sees cities as being arranged into a global hierarchy which reflects the underlying shift of contempory capitalism to be organised as a networked / informational society.

New York, London, Tokyo are the world's most important financial centres. Here it is important to note that Hong Kong's stock exchange is becoming increasingly important as China's economy continues to expand at a phenomenal rate.  Here intensification of the processes of capitalism take place.  The space of flows described by Castells trades vast amounts of money every single day far in excess of the value of the physical goods travelling around the world on the same day. 

What is the Space of Flows?  

The space of flows is an essential component of the Networked Society which Castells argues characterises the current phase of capitalist development. In different phaeses of capitalist development time and space have been radically reconstructed in order to allow change to take place:  

The network society is a social order embodying a logic which Castells characterizes as the `space of flows' in contrast to the historically created institutions and organizations of the space of places which characterized industrial society in both its capitalist and statist variants. (Simon Bromley Review of Castells Radical Philosophy)

The historical and social development of the network society, according to Castells, is rooted in a new, global socio-economic structure of informational capitalism. To characterize this socio-economic structure, Castells argues, we must focus on both its (capitalist) mode of production and what he terms its (informational) mode of development or technological system. (ibid)

Castells takes for granted that much of the logic of contemporary global society is capitalist: capitalist restructuring in response to the worldwide economic crisis of the 1970s played a central role in shaping the development of societies, both nationally and globally, including the formation of the informational mode of development itself; the purpose of this capitalist restructuring at the most general level has been to escape from those social, cultural and political controls placed upon the economy in the era of essentially nationally based industrial capitalism (ibid)

Time and space in the space of flows as conceived of by Castells is a space of organisational elites who are operating the global network which has come about as a result of globalisation.  This  operates within a  space of Timeless Time.

What is Timeless Time?

Castells notes that many sociologists and social geographers have discussed the ways in which clock time gradually took over space and society. Wher Giddens talked about Time - Space distanciation (the ability to communicate over greater distance faster) as modernity developed so David Harvey discusses the notion of Time-Space compression. In this formulation time becomes a part of the intensification of the processes of capitalism so that more profit can be extracted. Castells' notion of timeless time delineates the time of the networked society which allows both of the above processes to take place simulataneously. Thus the notion of real-time (now-time) can happen globally. This happens in the space of flows and can't necessarily be understood or clearly recognised within the space of places:

What I call timeless time is only the emerging, dominant form of social time in the networked society, as the space of flows doesn't negate the existence of places. It is precisely my argument that social domination is exercised throughtthe selective inclusion and exclusion of functions and people in different temporal and spatial frames. (Castells Rise of the Networked Society p 434).

Cities as Technopole in the Networked Society

Franke and Ham point out the importance of the technopole as a part of the process of creating a networked society:

High-technology-led industrial milieux of innovation, which are called ‘technopoles’ come in a variety of urban formats. In most countries, the leading technopoles are contained in the leading metropolitan areas. (Franke and Ham see link below)

Currently despite the massively growing power of China's economy  it still isn't a key player in the 'space of flows', precisely because it is the beneficiary of technology transfer rather than being innovative.

Castells notes that the Space of Flows isn't simply cyberspace although this is an important component of the whole concept. Rather the space of flows comprises of networks of interaction however specific areas such as banking or arts and culture will organise their own specific space of flows.

Castells argues that a space of flows operates on a logic of nodes and hubs. For Castells a node is somwhere like Wall Street which structures connections and activities in a key area.  Hubs are communication sites such as airports. What characterises them differnetly is that they are dependent upon the whole network for thier position. 

The space of flows is also about the space for the social actors. These can be residential spaces near the nodes or 'global corridors of social segregation separating these corridors from the surrounding places around the globe'.  VIP suite, virtual offices and international hotels are the examples Castells uses to describe these in the Global Resistance Reader.

The fourth componet of the space of flows is the realm of electronic spaces of communication such as websites whether interactive or not.

Dominant activities are organised around the logic of the space of flows which can be understood as something different to the space of places. Place is increasingly fragmented and localised in relation to the space of flows. 

Spaces of Resistance / Grassroots

People are increasingly a part of the space of flows and from this springs resistance. Networks of solidarity are organised through the internet. News of opression comes through the internet. 

Increasingly people are organising knowledge construction and  dissemination through the internet. Wikipedia is of course a fantastic example of global cooperation with regard to this. When Castells was writing about grassroots resistance in 1999 Web 2.0 hadn't been invented. Web 2.0 is the world of Wikis and blogs, information sharing and social network sites. These may well be forming the basis of what many at the start of the era of the World Wide Web were hoping would become an electronic public space.


Franke and Ham: Castells and the Space of Flows

Here the concept of social theory through the work of Castells is strongly critiqued:

Peter Abell and Diane Reyniers: On the Failure of Social Theory 

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