Was Jameson, now what?

Henry C.K. Liu hliu at mindspring.com
Fri Dec 25 21:44:14 PST 1998

I recall a Harvard Urban Design Conference in the early 60s with a theme on regional shopping malls as the new urban center, to which James Rausch (?) who developed the big mall outside of Philadephia, (Chery Hill?) who came with graphics and propaganda on how the regional mall is going to replace the downtown of small towns as centers of urban life. The thesis was categorically shot down by all kinds of obvious arguments, of which the issue of public ownership figured prominenetly. We consulted collegues at the Harvard Law School about the issue of civil rights whether activities otherwise protected by the constitution in traditional urban centers are similarly protected inside shopping malls. Harvard Law School lawyers general sided with private property rights even when private property assume public characters for profit. A small minority argued in favor of "portable" civil rights but did not get very far for lack of precedents. Rausch later went on to develop Columbia newtown in Maryland using his shopping mall eapertise as a formula. He aslo developed Boston's Fanneil Hall and New york's South Street Seaport, all with Disneyland type plastic reality of urbanism. The world is invaded by commercialized manufactured culture, another by-product of capitalism.

I am not sure shopping malls are good cases for discussions linking culture and political economy, because there is really no conflict of culture and not much political economic issues involved in shopping mall development.

Let me suggest an alternative, if I may.

The U.S. is protesting to China for exporting dog furs and skins to the U.S., under pressure from the American dog lobby which is very powerful. Chinese culture permits the use of dogs as meat which poses a major cultural clash that translates into a major trade confrontation that may lead to sanctions. Anyone wants to tackle that?


Chuck Grimes wrote:

> Oh yeah, also, most political economists don't know squat about
> culture or the psychic life of power, and are often hostile to the
> effort of understanding it, denouncing it as mystical or decadent. And
> most cultural radicals, Marxist or not, don't know squat about
> political economy - the name Jameson comes quickly to mind. One of the
> reasons I started this list was to get these two groups to talk to
> each other, since I think this mutually reinforcing ignorance is bad
> for intellectual and political life.
> Doug
> But what was really at stake for Sears (and other mall owners,
> particularly large dept. stores) was not the comfort or protection of
> their customers *or* mere desire to exclude radicals. They wanted to
> keep possible union pickets and leafletters at a distance. At least at
> the beginning stages, it could be much more difficult to organize
> union drive at a dept. store in the center of a privatized mall than
> one with an outlet on a public sidewalk.
> Carrol
> So, as young turks fresh out of Harvard, we adopted a strategy of
> excelling in the then new discipline of Urban Design, which focuses on
> the social and esthetic relationship between buildings in urban
> settings rather than on the buildings themselves as traditional
> architecture does. Harvard pioneered the discipline but the entrenched
> faculty opposed it. And within 4 years, we made UCLA into a leading
> institution of that new discipline and our graduates and faculty
> members were sought after by government and the private sector, and
> even Harvard itself, and many went on to achieve great things. I am
> sure this happened to many other disciplines in many other
> institutions.
> Henry Liu
> --------------------
> Doug wants to find the 'moment' where political economy, society, and
> culture intersect. Think about the next two quotes. Carrol gripping
> about malls, and Henry celebrating urban design. This is such a
> potential intersection--the mall vs. public space.
> Commercial development interests discovered in the
> concepts of urban design in the Seventies a perfect answer for how to
> focus commerce in suburban areas that had no focused or central
> business district. Mall development coupled with national franchises
> as their primary tenants was specifically undertaken as a way to focus
> commercial activity in a space that was nothing more than a homogenous
> carpet of housing and apartment tracks criss-crossed by six lane feeder
> boulevards.
> As a result of more than three decades of urban flight, suburban
> development, decline of small towns, and inner city decay we now have
> a socio-cultural space that resembles its own living space--a
> homogenous carpet intersected by feeders that in turn lead off to
> somewhere else. Not only is it next to impossible to organize tight,
> coherent, and powerful unions in such a diffused sprawl of small
> businesses, but it is also next to impossible to put together any kind
> of social or political organization from effective TA unions on
> suburban campuses to PTA meetings or student protests--even families
> barely exist as anything more than temporary evening gatherings in these
> bedroom communities. All of these forms dissolve in the horizontal
> homogeneity of nothingness.
> So, considering this landscape, this kind of living space, it is
> little wonder we postulate a poly-focal dispersal of power. In a
> related co-evolution, a corporation can distribute its material base
> across the globe in a horizontal format, which is made possible by the
> technology of communication, transportation, and information
> exchange. These are the same broad technological influences that make
> suburban sprawl possible, which in turn makes centralization and
> focused commercial activity irrelevant and perhaps not
> possible--replaced instead by poly-focal centers, laced together through
> transportation, communication and digital information networks.
> Along with these extremely general developments, there is the severing
> of corporations from any serious interest in their own manufacturing
> or material base, and any identification with the products they are
> supposed to 'make'. Thus they have become extremely attenuated
> entities, sewn together through contracts and subcontractors, and
> temporarily cemented together by the concept of their own imagined
> identity--which is held to be 'real' only in the minds of stock
> brokers and shareholders. And that 'reality' is embodied as a single
> old white guy and his court on the one hand, and a mystical icon--the
> corporate logo--the cartouche of Pharaoh on the other. Then turning
> downward into the distributed networks of divisions into the offices
> and whatever production facilities that are still state-side, within
> these there is a strange sort of dis-embodiment where it is assumed
> that somewhere in the great out there, the big guys are really running
> the show. Decisions seem to diffuse downward from the clouds with no
> rhyme or reason, that is with no apparent connection to the concrete
> or rational needs of either the people or the facilities effected. So,
> working in a corporation becomes a surreal experience. Benefits and
> punishments manifest themselves without respect to the what or why of
> people or place. The reality is that these decisions and their effects
> are all determined by market considerations and have nothing to do
> with the more physical world of production, efficiency, or tangible
> value.
> These are the concrete expressions of a so-called post-modern or
> post-structural society. None the less, while this conceptual frame
> exists as a sort of universal design signature, there still exists the
> same ugly old hierarchical manufacturing and production base, removed
> to horizontally isolated centers either amid the ringed urban decay of
> US cities, out in the middle of nowhere in former agricultural areas,
> or off in Asia or Latin America. While most of the same familiar
> hierachical systems exist in isolation, just as oppressive as always,
> and just as vulnerable to local efforts of revolt, because of their
> isolation, any result positve or negative has no effect in the networks
> or horizontal webs beyond. On the other hand, such hierarchical
> centers, can be dismantled and move elsewhere to further minimize local
> efforts. These fast pace moves of whole manufacturing hierarchies,
> resemble the technological and organizational techniques of off-shore
> oil drilling and pumbing rigs, as manufacturing facilites pick and move
> to new contexts of more easily exploitable labor and its socio-cultural
> matrix.
> The resulting socio-economic texture is much more complex and seems to
> build in, by design an automatic defeat of any rational centralized
> effort at both reform or modification. Since the flow of capital seems
> to be the only connection, the only form that a will to change
> (power?) can take, that also produces concrete results, then it
> appears to be the heyday of Capitalism, because it is--but only in
> this particular sense.
> So, that seems to me to be the common ground where theories of
> political economy, society and culture can meet--in the very living
> space we mutually inhabit. Within such a horizontally diffused space
> which is both a physical reality and a socio-cultural envelop it
> seems little wonder to me, there appears to be no coherent hierarchy
> of organization, value, thought, or judgment. I find nothing mystical
> about these socio-cultural, that is historical developments since they
> seem to merely reflect the concrete circumstances of daily living.
> When I say mystical, of course I am referring to the idea that there
> is a theoretical reason beyond concrete circumstance. To a large
> extent, I am convinced that whole great swaths of theory from various
> fields have completely dis-dissociated themselves from any connection
> to the very worlds they are supposed to articulate. That impression
> ranges from the physical sciences all the way through to social
> sciences, culture and the arts. The net effect is to create a world of
> theories that seems to exist on its own as a sort new life form, a
> meta-culture beyond mere practice. There in the meta-cultural domain,
> ideas, styles, fads, percolate through just as in mass media to the
> point that the world of theory is essentially nothing more than an
> extension of mass media and subject to all the same dynamic
> forces, in particular the dictates of capital investment. So, it is
> hardly surprising that the meta-culture of theory is in no serious
> position to mount a concretely meaningful critic of the very system
> that brings it into existence. Quibblings over morality, values, and
> the authenticity of one encampment over another is not my idea of
> serious intellectual business. At the same time, it is entertaining. But
> like entertainment as opposed to art, the very stuff that makes theory
> a meaningful threat to an established order, is diffused into a sea of
> chattering complaints, and mere postures of rebellion, the manque of
> revolt.
> While there are various camps who want to maintain that the
> abstraction of financial capitalism and its globalization has driven
> the development of this increased abstraction in socio-cultural
> domains, it can be argued the otherway. In either case, it seems they
> co-evolved with their mutually shared technological support and
> constitute at this point a contravening force, more often than not,
> pulling or pushing against a more concrete world of work and culture.
> Chuck Grimes

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