Working Classes Map the City

Ira Katznelson

in Marxism and the City

Published in print September 1993 | ISBN: 9780198279242
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191601910 | DOI:

Series: Marxist Introductions

 Working Classes Map the City

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For Marxism, the main issues of social theory within the industrial phase of capitalism focus on the formation of working classes, and this subject is best treated, in significant measure, as an urban one. The spatial requirements of industrial capitalism shaped nineteenth‐century cities – their patterns of growth, interconnections, built environments, and social geographies – and, in turn, the experience of such cities, and attempts to make sense of their properties, were decisive elements in the early histories of Western working classes. The cost to Marxism of its neglect of cities is especially pronounced with regard to these issues, and the new urban Marxism of the 1970s and 1980s has been important precisely because of its attempts to put an end to the tradition's urban and spatial elisions – what Marxist social theory badly requires but has never secured is the systematic inculcation of an urban–geographical imagination into the analysis of working‐class formation. This chapter sketches an example of such an effort, which entails three related steps: a specification of the structural determinants of city growth and development; a presentation of the spatial configurations characteristic of these new spaces; and a systematic, contingent, and comparative account of how the new working classes made sense of these spaces in the different Western countries. It does so by comparing and contrasting the cases of working‐class formation in nineteenth‐century England and the United States, although most of the discussion of spatial reorganization focuses on English cities.

Keywords: capitalism; cities; England; formation of working classes; industrial capitalism; Marxism; Marxist social theory; social theory; spatial reorganization; spatial requirements; structural determinants; United States; urban development; urban Marxism; working classes

Chapter.  20350 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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