David Harvey – Spaces of Hope

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David Harvey, Spaces of Hope, U of California Press, 2000.

We have dealt with the body (subjectivity and citizenship) as something to be captured and marked up in the network of diverse forces on the social surface as well as in the intimate depth. How to understand this body and where to locate its position is a critical issue in the body politics. Whether it is the task of critical project of society or the optimistic prophecy of the future, it is impossible for the contemporary political theories to disregard the issue of the body.

Though this might be rough, we may classify those theories into several groups according to their scales and levels which might vary with their perspective on the social subject. One of those groups focuses on the formation and construction of the subjectivity in the form of social and political body. Agamben, under the influence of Foucauldian biopolitics, finds the essence of modern politics – in accordance with modernity and capitalism – at the “inclusion of zoē in the polis” or, in other words, the “politicization of bare life as such.” Rancière inquires into the problem of democracy and equality by showing how real democratic participation is and should be “the invention of that unpredictable subject… the invention of a movement born of nothing but democracy itself”(61). As a part of a project to achieve “a radical and plural democracy,” Mouffe tries to articulate how citizenship could and should be constructed as a new form of subject who will “organize the forces struggling for a radicalization of democracy”(60).

The other group – especially, feminist and queer studies – focuses on the problem of the inner body and its intimate relationship with other bodies – family, community, and state. Berlant investigates the secret mechanism in which citizenship is produced and proliferated in the intimate – and private – way but via the imagined public sphere. Warner’s question is how to make sex public and how to make the personal political, suggesting the concept of counterpublics, as a performative alternative in acquiring agency in relation to the state. Probyn, seemingly influenced by post-structuralist body politics, pays her attention to the new possibility of thinking about the location of the body, arguing that “the outside … is more adequate figure for thinking about social relations and the social than either an interior/exterior or a center/marginal model” (11).

In Spaces of Hope, Harvey’s position is somewhat different from those groups and a little deviated from the classification mentioned above. Following Marx’s analysis of capital, what Harvey is trying to investigate is the body located in the core of the accumulative process of capital and dynamic of class struggle. His major concerns in this book are how to understand those new generations of Marxism – body politics under the name of cultural studies and other postmodern theories – and how to connect them with the traditional political-economic perspective. To sum up, he wants to “connect the microspace of the body with the macrospace of what is now called ‘globalization’”(49).

Harvey understands the body as caught by “an accumulation strategy,” on the one hand. The body is a source of labor (power) as commodity and productive consumption of this commodity labor power is essential in the capitalist accumulation and circulation system. That is, as Marx sees, why “the maintenance and reproduction of the working class remains a necessary condition for the reproduction of capital”(114). However, Harvey also wants to see the body as an emancipatory site, on the other hand. While the body is required to be docile in the capitalist system, “the transformative and creative capacities of the laborer always carry the potentiality … to fashion an alternative mode of production, exchange, and consumption”(117). Thus, for him, “the human body is a battlegrould within which and around which conflicting socio-ecological forces of valuation and representation are perpetually at play”(116). But, his hasty critique on the other attempts to theorize the body (130) could unwillingly lead his theory to the dogmatic and reductionist, thus ironically abstract, politics.


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