Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2002


Vagabond Capitalism, Social Reproduction and the Politics of Scale

Lecturers: Professor Cindi Katz & Professor Neil Smith,
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, USA
Dates: 29. July - 2. August 2002


Objectives
Much of the discussion of globalization in the last 20 years has emphasized the power of finance capital in remaking the geography of the world. In a particular version of self-flattery, representatives of finance capital propose that globalization's "vagabond" nature unhinges capital from place -- we are now confronting "the end of geography." This argument has been challenged by various scholars working on restructured geographies of economic production, but in this course we want to further that challenge by engaging questions of social reproduction.

Apart from anything else, massive numbers of workers have had to be made available in particular places for specific kinds of work, and the unprecedented levels of global migration since the 1980s remake as much as they overcome global geographies of uneven development. Globalization as a production strategy is matched by quite specific restructurings of social reproduction that have attracted little attention in contemporary research on globalization. Social reproduction is orchestrated via the household, capital, civil society and the market, and the balance among these influences, operating at different scales, varies historically and geographically. These issues lie at he heart of globalization and are mediated via a restructuring of social scales.

This course will examine the new intersecting geographies of capitalist modernity. It will challenge the idea that globalization is a novelty of the late 20th century, address the new and particular spatialities of global change, and attempt to reconnect questions of restructured relations of production with questions of social relations of reproduction. Seminars will focus on 'topography' and geographic scale as means of examining the new face of uneven geographical development, and will consider the geographical implications of the political movements challenging globalization. In particular we seek to ask in theoretical and practical terms how the restructuring of social reproduction bears on our understanding of the latest stage of capitalist development and to develop the connections between cultural and political economic analyses in ways that make clear that not all global impulses emanate from 'the West.'

To accomplish these goals, seminar participants will be asked to read widely and across disciplines drawing on literatures in geography, cultural studies, sociology, and literary theory offering marxist, feminist, postcolonial, and critical race theoretical perspectives. We will draw on our own research in New York City, Sudan and elsewhere to illustrate these questions with reference to conceptual issues such as rural cosmopolitanism, new nationalisms, gentrification, and the place of nature in social reproduction. These questions will be examined through the lenses of September 11th 2001, which especially affected New York, and October 7th when the so-called war on terrorism began, thereby initiating a global crisis that quickened the contradictions between production and reproduction, nationalism and internationalism.


Basic readings

Students are expected to be familiar with the following two basic books before attending the course:


Outline of Lectures

Lecture 1: Vagabond Capitalism and the Necessity of Social Reproduction
By "vagabond capitalism" we mean to capture the sense that capital, in the era of so-called globalization, seems free to roam the earth in pursuit of its own interests. The putative placelessness of capital, however, is a myth. This seminar has two objectives: to offer a critique of that myth and to introduce the ways in which the restructuring of social reproduction is central to the geography of the latest phase of capitalist expansion and crisis.

Readings:


Lecture 2: Scales of Terror: Manufacturing Nationalism and the Politics of Scale
In the minutes, hours and days following the World Trade center catastrophe on 11 September 2001, the US government and press combined in an intensive effort to construct these events as an "attack on America." These events demonstrate more vividly than anything else in recent history the ways in which geographical scales are produced and the production of scale is an intensely political matter. In this case, the scaling of the September 11th events was a direct prelude to the war initiated on October 7th. We use this case to introduce a broader discussion of the politics of scale.

Readings:


Lecture 3: Power, Space and Terror
Long before 11 September 2001, children in many parts of the world were increasingly confined by 'terror talk,' which frames them as imperiled or as perils themselves. This seminar examines the effects of 'terror' at the urban and household scales through the use of surveillance technologies, curfews, and various spatial restrictions on young people. These issues of 'hypervigilance' will be connected to the effects of neoliberal economics and the privatization of social reproduction that have become common in the global North.

Readings:


Lecture 4: The Fate of Nations and Regions
Many commentators have suggested that globalization marks the end of the nation-state. Others have argued for a reassertion of the state. In this lecture we work through some of these debates and attempt to reconstruct a more delicate argument about the changing power of nation states vis-a-vis both global production and social reproduction. The question of regions is introduced insofar as regions, in the traditional economic geographic sense, were the production platforms for national economies. That has all changed dramatically.

Readings:


Lecture 5: Nature as Accumulation Strategy
Nature as an accumulation strategy suggests the broadened purview of capital's interests in nature that occurred in the 1970s. Among other things, this conceptualization marks a view of nature as an 'investment' in the future. To secure that investment, nature has been commodified and privatized at a number of scales. In addition, with many of its traditional means of access to nature foreclosed, metropolitan capital has refashioned key channels of access to control nature and environmental resources and reasserted its claims to these differentiated resources. These issues and the shifts that heralded them will be addressed in relation to questions of social reproduction.

Readings:


Lecture 6: New Globalism, New Urbanism
While recognizing that globalization is far from a new phenomenon, it is important also to decipher the very real changes that have taken place in the last 2 or 3 decades. In this session we argue that in concert with very real shifts at the global scale, a "new urbanism" is appearing that is not well captured in the literature on global cities. In fact, this new urbanism is part of a wider restructuring of scale and it involves a recalibration of the relations of production and social reproduction as definitive of the urban scale.

Readings:


Lecture 7: Generalizing Gentrification
The process of gentrification, which began in the postwar period in a few of the largest cities of western Europe, North America and Australia, has, under the aegis of the new globalism, been generalized into a global urban strategy pursued by cities on all continents. On the one hand, gentrification is a strategy for creating surplus value by the transformation of urban landscapes. On the other hand, gentrification radically reorganizes the geography of social reproduction in the city. As the case of the Lower East Side in New York suggests, the politics of scale are integral to the conquest of the city.

Readings:


Lecture 8: Alternative Cosmopolitanisms: The View from Howa, Sudan
From Daniel Bell to David Harvey, it has been proposed that "postmodern" or "postindustrial" geographies are marked by a "time-space compression," a "shrinking world," and so forth. Such perspectives are very much the view from the metropolitan center. In this session we examine the question of "alternative modernities" and the possibility of different, competing and intersecting cosmopolitanisms. We will look at the world from the perspective of young adults as they came of age in the 1990s in Howa, a small agricultural village in northern central Sudan. From that standpoint we have to also come to recognize processes of "time-space expansion."

Readings:


Lecture 9: Critical Topographies of Globalization
As an alternative to the placelessness of the globalization discourse, whether emanating from the halls of financial capital or proponents of Empire, and at the same time as an antidote to certain protectionist impulses in the anti-globalization literature, we propose the notion of "topographies" as a way to reconstruct a political internationalism that at the same time recognizes the profound, if shifting, importance of geographical space and spatial difference to politics. 'Counter-topographies' provide alternative strategies of organization directed at what we might think of as 'counter-globalization.'

Readings:


Lecture 10: The Endgame of Globalization - The Impossible American Empire
The present period of so-called globalization is actually the third moment of US global ambition. The first came in the period between 1898 and 1919; the second was marked by Franklin Roosevelt's ambition for a "new world order" in the context of World War II. The rhetoric of globalization since the 1980s and the so-called war on terrorism represent the finale of the third moment. This final session pinpoints the contradictions between vagabond capitalism on the one side and the nationalist self-interest that guides the terror involved in "war on terrorism." The result is a massive war on the ability of ordinary people - from Kandahar to New York, Howa to Jenin - to organize the means of their own social reproduction.

Readings:


The Lecturers:
Cindi Katz is Professor of Geography and Deputy Executive Officer of Psychology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York where she teaches in Environmental Social Science and Women's Studies. Her work concerns social reproduction and the production of space, place and nature; children and the environment, and the consequences of global economic restructuring for everyday life. She has published widely on these themes as well as on social theory and the politics of knowledge in edited collections and in journals such as Society and Space, Social Text, Signs, Feminist Studies, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, and Antipode. She is the editor (with Janice Monk) of Full Circles: Geographies of Gender over the Life Course (Routledge 1993) and recently completed Disintegrating Developments: Global Economic Restructuring and Children's Everyday Lives forthcoming in 2003, University of Minnesota Press. She is currently working on a project called Retheorizing Childhood, and a broad research initiative concerned with the social wage.

Neil Smith is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) and Director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics. He works on the broad connections between space, social theory and history, and his books include New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (1996) and Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space (1991). He is author of more than 100 articles and book chapters, sits on numerous editorial boards, and his newest book is Mapping The American Century: Isaiah Bowman and the Prelude to Globalization (california, 2002). He has received Honors for Distinguished Scholarship from the Association of American Geographers and has been a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. He is also an organizer of the International Critical Geography Group.