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The Urban Process under Capitalism

The Urban Process under Capitalism



Burgess’ article sought to describe social development and urbanization in terms of its growth, growth both in its geography and its population. This article by David Harvey seeks to explain the “urban process,” the process by which rural areas have developed into advanced cities, in more economic terms, specifically in terms of capitalism. This capitalist view is examined from two interrelated points of view, “accumulation” and “class struggle.”  Harvey states, “the two themes are intrgral to each other and have to be regarded as different sides of the same coin-different windows from which to view the totality of capitalist activity.” (Harvey, p101) Accumulation refers to the expansion of a community’s labor force, and thus its basis for profit. The rather tautological reasoning behind the idea of accumulation may be viewed as such: we want to grow bigger so that we will be able to grow bigger; we want to expand so that we will be able to expand further. Class struggle here, as a concept, refers to the dynamic relationship between a community’s labor force and its capitalist need to continually expand its means of profiting from that labor force.

Capitalism, of course, refers to a form of economic and political organization within a group whereby a community’s resources and labor force are controlled by private individuals rather than by the state. Capitalism is, in other words, the opposite of communism. Harvey describes the contradictory nature of capitalism in the sense that while capitalism promotes freedom of the individual to be creative, innovative, and ambition, yet through its competitive nature, the urban process under capitalism generates an overall effect of power over the community as a whole.

Harvey describes three phases of capital. The first is represented by the drive to create more (and more valuable) capital, the mechanics of which lie within the competitive nature of capitalism. Capitalism, as an accumulative process, may also result in “too much of a good thing.” Harvey calls this “overaccumulation,” whereby “too much capital is produced in aggregate relative to the opportunities to employ that capital,” resulting in an excessive supply of one or more commodities, falling rates on profit, and surplus capital and/or labor. The secondary phase of capital deals with the process of consumption, which perpetuates the first phase. The capital market must function in order for the capital to flow into the second phase of consumption. The tertiary phase of the flow of capital deals with the need for a community to invest in itself by spending money on researching technological advancements and civic projects. This phase naturally flows from the second, which naturally flows from the third. The role of the community as a whole, or the state, is vital to this role because of the nature of capitalism. Individual capitalists will most likely be reluctant to invest their money in projects which require such long-term foresight. The capitalist individual will be much more concerned with investing in things that will more immediately yield positive results.


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