Poli 349:Political and social theory and the city Course outline winter 2014.

This course focuses on the rise of the metropolis and its links to economic and technical change that underlay the beginnings of nineteenth and twentieth century industrial capitalism. The city has always played a central role in both conservative and radical social theory.The search for community and the overcoming of alienation and loneliness is at the heart of considerable social theory. The rise of mass society and its displacement of class society is also a central theme in much post modern literature and has a useful role to play in explaining the cultural and communicative nature of society in an increasingly globalized high tech world.

We explore these themes by carefully examining the work of a number of writers from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty first centuries.


The grade will be based upon a term essay due in class in the first week of March 50 % and a final test at the end of term.


Text: Harold Chorney, City of Dreams: Social Theory and the Urban Experience, Nelson Canada 1990. Lawrence Cahoone, editor From Modernism to Post Modernism.Blackwell publishing 2003.Selected chapters.

Lecture topics:

1. Introduction and overview: the rise of cities and the search for community. Post modernism versus modernism.

2. Alienation, class consciousness and urbanization: the work of Marx and Engels.

3. Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft :the work of Ferdinand Toennies

4.Georg Simmel: the Metropolis and Mental Life.

5.Urbanization and anomie and the conscience collective: the work of Emile Durkheim .

6.Max Weber: Modernism and Disenchantment. The economy of cities.

7.The Chicago School , mass society and American mainstream urban sociology. The early roots of post modernism.

8. Georg Lukacs and the theory of reification.

9. Walter Benjamin and the Theory of Technical Reproduction.

10. The Frankfurt School and the dialectic of enlightenment.

11. The phenomenology of the Urban:From social theory to public policy.

12. Toward a critical theory of urban policy and politics in the global metropolis.

Essay assignment:Write a 10-12 page essay on one of the following topics.Be sure that your essay is free of grammatical errors and has a bibliography and is properly footnoted . Use a manual of style like the University of Chicago or Harvard Manual in guiding your notes or footnotes and bibliography.

Essay topics: (Still under revision)

1.Explore modernism and post modernism as philosophical concepts and cultural movements. How are they usable in building a theory of social change in cities. Why is Marx a modernist and Benjamin more of a post modernist ?

2. Explore the work of Walter Benjamin in depth. How is it that he transcends political analysis and enters the realm of art and literature.

3. Select two writers in City of Dreams other than Benjamin and Marx and explore and compare their work.

4. Explain and analyze global metropolises . How does the phenomenology approach aid us in our understanding of a global metropolis ?

5. Use some of the theoretical perspectives developed in City of Dreams to analyze Montreal city politics in recent years.

6. Do an in depth analysis of the work of Jacques Derrida. Explain how it is the outgrowth of his rejection of Sartre’s conception of modernity.

7. How has modern technology facilitated the growth of community? Can the kind of community which this social media driven community has created be considered comparable to the community which writers like Toennies , Durkheim and Marx were searching for.

8. Explore the economic, philosophical and sociological aspects of Marx and Engels’ analysis of cities and capitalism. What if anything in their analysis is still relevant in the the 21st century.

Class notes:

A:Useful in conjunction with the lectures on Marx and the metropolis

1. The falling rate of profit. Major financial crises like the one we have just experienced and the tensions surrounding globalization raise fascinating questions about the structural problems of modern capitalism. In the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century many economists debated this question. Keynes was convinced that there was little value in returning to any debate that was wedded to the anachronistic labour theory of value. Instead, he approached the issue of crisis from the point of view of less than full employment aggregate demand and the failure of the classical labour market clearing mechanism to operate consistently to deliver full employment. The labour theory of value that originated in the work of David Ricardo and was built upon by Marx to develop his theory of crisis that was rooted in the tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time because of a tendency to increase the organic composition of capital, that is the ratio of embodied technology, physical plant and raw material that was a key ingredient in the production process. These increases were motivated by the entrepreneurial and corporate desire to increase labour productivity.If the productivity gains are large enough they can reverse the tendency for the profit rate to fall. This was the argument of Bortkiewicz .In a funny sort of way it is also the argument of those who argue that high end technological innovation will rescue the first world from the global outsourcing that is going on whereby production is being shifted from North America and West Europe to countries like China, India and Asia generally. The unresolved problem still remains that high end technology does not appear so far to generate enough jobs quickly enough to replace all those that are being lost due to outsourcing. In addition there is the very real problem of ensuring enough global effective aggregate demand to purchase all of the high end output generated by these high tech centres of activity. Keynes dismissed the labour theory of value as out of date controversializing, but members of his circle like Michal Kalecki were less certain. Even Keynes chose to use an hour’s employment of ordinary labour and the remuneration it received as his numeraire in the General Theory.(see ch.4 GT) Bortkiewicz and Bohm Bawerk in their work raised effective critiques of Marx’s doctrine, according to Sweezy, although Sweezy remained much more convinced that Bortkiewicz was closer to the truth than was Bohm Bawerk.( Bohm Bawerk, Karl Marx and the Close of his System, P.Sweezy editor, London , 1948; L.Bortkiewicz, “Value and price in the Marxian system” translated from “Archiv fur Socialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, ertrechnung und Preisrechnung in Marxschen System” Bd.xxlllHeft 1, 1906, International economic papers no.2.) Bortkiewicz argues that Marx was guilty of methodological inconsistencies and neglected the mathematical relation between the productivity of labour, dependent upon the organic composition of capital and the rate of surplus value.The rise in productivity may be such as to totally reverse any tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Roman Rosdolsky attempts not completely successfully to refute both Sweezy and Bortkiewicz and Keynes’s colleague, Cambridge economist Joan Robinson in their critique of the falling rate of profit in his work the Making of Marx’s Capital, (London, Pluto Press, 1980, pp.398-411). Meghnad Desai in Marxian Economic Theory, ( London, Gray Mills publishing , 1974) has pointed out that Michio Morishima (whose class I regularly attended at the L.S.E.) believed that it would be better to abandon the labour theory of value because of the very difficult technical complications requiring complex mathematics to resolve in order to transform values into prices.(See also Desai’s work Marx’s Revenge:The resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of statist socialism, London:Verso books 2004) Morishima wrote ” We conclude by suggesting to Marxian economists that they ought radically to change their attitude towards the labour theory of value. If it has to determine the amounts of labour which the techniques of production actually adopted in a capitalist economy require, directly and indirectly , in order to produce commodities, it is not a satisfactory theory at all.” M.Morishima, Marx’s economics, Cambridge University press, 1973 p.193. Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy attempted to do precisely that in their classic Monopoly Capital wherein they substituted the tendency for the surplus to rise and the problem of surplus absorption for the falling rate of profit.Piero Sraffa’s classic work The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities:Prelude to a Critique of Economic Theory, 1960, Cambridge University press, demonstrates a workable mathematical method for assessing dated labour in terms of its contribution to the value and price of a commodity which makes a very key contribution to this debate. Sraffa demonstrates convincingly how prices and values vary with variations in the rate of profit. Sraffa was a friend and colleague of Keynes who Keynes had helped rescue from fascist Italy before the Second World War by helping him secure a position at Cambridge. Sweezy in his classic Theory of Capitalist Development reduces the falling rate of profit to the following striking formulation; p=s'(1-q) where p is the rate of profit and q the organic composition of capital i.e. c/c+v (Marx in Capital vol 2 defines it as c/v rather than as Sweezy defines it c/c+v )p.625 chapter 23, vol.2 Dutton, Everyman’s library edition, London&N.Y. translated by Eden and Cedar Paul, introduction by G.D.H. Cole. &vol.3 p.214 ch xlll, progress edition, 1966.) He arrives at this as follows. p= s/c+v = sv/v(c+v) = sc+sv -sc/v(c+v) = s(c+v)/v(c+v) – sc/v(c+v) = s/v-s/v.c/c+v= s/v(1-1.c/c +v) = s'(1-q) (p.68) We won’t be pursuing this controvery further in the course but those who wish to read further about it consult the works cited above and also look at Ronald Meek, Studies in the Labour theory of Value, Jesse Schwartz, The Subtle Anatomy of Capitalism and M.Desai, Marx’s Revenge as well as Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes. Desai who is a former teacher of mine who may now want to revise his assessment about the success of globalization in the light of recent events has an interesting chapter on Marx, Hayek and Keynes.You might also want to look at my conference paper which I presented to the association for heterodox economics in London in 2001 which is part of the Deficit Papers, The Theory of the Business cycle in Keynes, Hayek and Schumpter:What do we know in the Age of globalization ? David Harvey, Limits to Capital, Verso 2006 is also very accessible and useful in integrating spatial and urban issues from a radical geography perspective.

Perspectivism:One of you brought up this approach which is identified with Nietzsche’s view of the relativity of belief according to the perspective of the individual , as opposed to the objective circumstances of reality. You are right , of course, to suggest a close affinity between the views of the post moderns, relativism and those of Nietzsche. However, in City of Dreams I drew not upon Nietzsche but rather upon the phenomenology of Husserl, Merleau Ponty, Schutz, Mead and Berger and Luckmann among others, as well as my own observations about the metropolis and the work of Benjamin.Clearly the approaches are related.

Jurgen Habermas: for those interested in exploring the work of Jurgen Habermas and the culture of communications in more detail you can start by checking out the references in footnote 34 on pp.52-53. see also Harold Innis’s Bias of Communications. See also, Jurgen Habermas’s prolific writing for example: Knowledge and Human Interests; Toward a Rational Society;Legitimation Crisis(available on the internet)The Theory of Communicative Action; also Thomas McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas.


About haroldchorneyeconomist

I am Professor of political economy at Concordia university in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I received my B.A.Hons (econ.&poli sci) from the University of Manitoba. I also completed my M.A. degree in economics there. Went on to spend two years at the London School of Economics as a Ph.D. student in economics and then completed my Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Toronto. Was named a John W.Dafoe fellow, a CMHC fellow and a Canada Council fellow. I also was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1968 after completing my first class honours undergraduate degree. Worked as an economist in the area of education, labour economics and as the senior economist with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for the Government of Manitoba from 1972 to 1978. I also have worked as an economic consultant for MDT socio-economic consultants and have been consulted on urban planning, health policy, linguistic duality and public sector finance questions by the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. I have also been consulted by senior leaders of the British Labour party, MPs from the Progressive Conservative party, the Liberal party and the New Democrats on economic policy questions. Members of the Government of France under the Presidency of Francois Mitterand discussed my work on public sector deficits. I have also run for elected office at the municipal level. I first began to write about quantitative easing as a useful policy option during the early 1980s.
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