The Premature Demise of Postmodern Urbanism

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

The articulations of the global and local have long exercised geographers, anthropologists, and others concerned with the spatial structure of society. This global-local dialectic has recently been rendered acutely problematic by the burgeoning postmodern "hyperspace," the coordinates of which are, according to Jameson (1984), so far only "dimly perceived." Thus it is of some consequence that two prominent Marxist geographers have recently published books on postmodern urbanism. The appearance of Edward Soja's Postmodern Geographies: The Reas- sertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (1989) and David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (1989) provide an opportune template for examining the prospect of a postmodern urban theory.

Marxists have, by and large, been highly critical of the postmodern turn (see, for example, Callinicos 1990). In keeping with this heritage, Harvey mounts a sustained, hostile attack on postmodernism and postmodernists; by contrast, Soja celebrates the cross-fertilization between the two realms. Both authors ultimately devise a thoroughly modernist reconstruction of urban theory. What interests me in this article are the ramifications of their responses. How were these modernist reconstructions achieved? What emasculations of postmodern thought were necessary to enable the authors to rescue the modernist project? And what are the principal consequences of Soja's and Harvey's encounters with a postmodern urbanism? I shall attempt to answer these questions by examining the authors' respective readings of postmodernity; their representations of contemporary urban process; and, finally, their reconstructions of a modernist urbanism via Marxian social theory. In concluding, I shall argue that Soja and Harvey have obtained their coherent visions of urban theory by adopting Enlightenment strategies that effectively foreclose on the promise of postmodern urbanism.' (Dear, 538)

About the Author

Michael Dear is professor of City and Regional Planning at CED, and Honorary Professor in the Bartlett School of Planning at University College, London (England).

Michael’s current research focuses on comparative urbanism, and the future of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. He is also co-editing a volume on transdisciplinary work in geography and the humanities. He has recently taught courses on urban theory, the state, social theory, and the borderlands.

Michael was founding editor of the scholarly journal Society and Space: Environment & Planning D, and is a leading exponent of the Los Angeles School of Urbanism. His books include:From Chicago to LA: making sense of urban theory, Postborder City: cultural spaces of Bajalta California, and The Postmodern Urban Condition, which was chosen by CHOICE magazine as an “Outstanding Academic Title” in 2000. His latest edited volume, entitled Geohumanties: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place, will be published by Routledge in 2010.

Michael has been a Guggenheim Fellowship holder, a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and Fellow at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy. He has received the highest honors for creativity and excellence in research from the Association of American Geographers, and numerous undergraduate teaching and graduate mentorship awards.

He has been engaged in professional planning practice in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States, where his work has focused on homelessness.

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