The Dialectic of Rationality and Irrationality of Urban Growth in Post-Socialist Urban Development and the “Classic” Capitalist One

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: 311+312
Distributed Paper
Elena TRUBINA , Institute of Social and Political Sciences, Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg, Russia
It was during the 1970s that urban studies scholars began to analytically investigate the dialectic of rationality and irrationality related to urban growth. These pioneering analyses were a response to the early stage of the post-Fordist transition of major Western economies and the emergence of consumption-based economic development. Having admitted “the general irrationality of the present urban system” (1978: 329), Molotch described the American urban system of the second half of the twentieth century, in which cities retained relative autonomy from the central government. For his part, David Harvey called cities “the irrational rationalizers” within the capitalist mode of production (1976: 112) and demonstrated why “the capitalist laws of accumulation” remain, for the time being, the only known laws of history. While both scholars emphasize a recurrent reconfiguration of urban alliances in order to cope with difficulties in financing the development of cities, Harvey, in his later work, described how neoliberal urban policies found a strong friend in the central state via neoliberalization of the state itself. Drawing on these path-breaking scholars, I argue that it is an irrational rationality which unites postsocialist urban development and the “classic” capitalist one. Today it is neoliberalism that figures as the global political rationality. It promotes market logic across all spheres of life. Part of this rationality is the expansion of state institutions. These act to broaden their administration into the practices of all societal spheres. Urban growth machines in Russia and elsewhere have embraced neoliberal policies and promoted global, market-led urban development. Since these processes have recently unfolded in the context of the global financial crisis, the growth machines often go awry. Yet this does not impede authorities at any level from investing, symbolically and economically, in the new iconic projects—by continually putting forward the rhetoric of efficiency and growth.