Spokesperson: Bert De Munck, University of Antwerp
Co-organizer(s): Simon Gunn, University of Leicester
Keywords: Production | Urban development | Governmentality
Time period: Modern period
Topic(s): Economic | Architecture and urbanism
Study area: More than one continent
This session examines the long term shift away from productive activities in cities in an interdisciplinary and integrated way. The aim is to provide insight into the conditions of this shift beyond changing consumer preferences and economies of scale and agglomeration by taking into account transformations related to i.a. infrastructure, planning, policy making and technologies of governance.
While productive activities dominated the urban economic landscape in most of the pre-industrial period, modern (European) cities experienced a long term economic shift towards consumption, leisure, tourism, services and cultural industries from roughly the eighteenth century on. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the increasing dominance of non-productive activities in cities resulted in a rift between working and living and working and leisure, an increasing need for transport, spatial segregation, gentrification, etcetera. Today, urban policy makers and planners as well as other local urban stakeholders increasingly call for a return of physical production in the city. Proceeding from a preoccupation with sustainability and the short circuit economy, a more social economy and better labour market participation, they specifically point at the importance of such small-scale activities as craftsmanship and handwork, recycling and repairing, and urban farming and local food processing. The problem is that such a return is difficult to plan and steer, because it is contingent on many economic, geographic and infrastructural conditions.
Ideally, urban historians should be able to help out and provide insight, but they often fail to do so because they haven’t addressed these conditions head on. The shift towards consumption, leisure, services and cultural production is all too often seen as a natural process, resulting from changing consumer preferences (and the need for shops), technological evolutions (resulting in the concentration of productive activities in manufactories) or simply the penetration of Smithian economies of scale and agglomeration. Other such factors as infrastructure and architecture, transport systems, planning, and regulations and policy making have not been systematically addressed – and an integrated approach is altogether lacking. Our session therefore presents case studies in which the economic transformations in individual cities and urban districts are addressed with an eye at multi-causality, historical contingency and the broader issue of governmentality. Conceptually, we start from an approach in which such classic economic factors as consumer preferences, relative prices and the spatial distribution of capital are confronted with the city as a hybrid socio-technical and material-cultural assemblage in which economic transformations are deeply entangled with infrastructural, social, political, and cultural dimensions.