Below are the four finalist’s responses to the question posed by David’s publisher, Profile Books. After the hugely enthusiastic response to his London appearances and new book The Enigma of Capital, we wanted to find out more about why David was so important to the left in opposition to mainstream ideology. We had hundreds of responses, some personal, some analytical, and they were all a pleasure to read. The Enigma of Capital is available in hardback now, with the paperback to be released in the UK May. The four finalists will all receive signed copies of the book.
David Harvey conveys complex issues and analysis with clarity while allowing the reader flexibility and opportunity allowing us to reflect upon how his arguments underlie and represent our everyday experiences.
His work lets us question and lets us think, something that other writers on the left ignore or are determined to exclude. He illustrates that while being often trapped within an economic system which is increasingly destructive resorting to proposing solutions which enslave ourselves in yet another variation of capitalism or failed alternative is no answer. His work suggests that if human ingenuity put us where we are, it is also capable of taking us somewhere better.
Underlying his work is an awareness that the majority of human beings have potential to collectively be agents of change compared to those whose power interest, and sole intent, is continually based on convincing us otherwise and undermining human empathy with disdain. His work has breadth and depth of analysis but retains dynamism anchored in everyday experience compared to many other writers on the left, trades union and labour politics who no longer relate to what should be their natural audience. Their is a positive aspect to his writing about the future despite the often melancholic descriptions of where we have led ourselves to be. For all negative aspects of the way we lead our lives their is a sense of wonder, it may be only intellectual rather than be deed, but it is sustaining enough to be uplifting.
I first encountered David Harvey whilst studying for a degree in social anthropology. After a year of getting lost in forests of symbols, kinship diagrams and shamanistic rituals, Harvey’s description of the modern city in The Urban Experience hit me like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky.
I can remember being so excited to see for the first time the way in which technological and economical development could fundamentally affect the way we experience and understand the social world, and therefore how a materialist anthropology of modernity could be possible.
Reading Harvey in my second year shifted my interests to urban anthropology, urbanization and the politics of space. I chose a course in my third year on the anthropology of space, place and architecture and wrote a dissertation on the politicised uses of public space in London at the time of the major demonstrations against the war in Iraq.
This route led me into a sociology MA on the development of the modern city and globalisation. And here I remember getting bogged down in a lot of cultural studies theory that focused on the cultural diversity of cities. Complexity, difference and dynamics were the watch-words of the day, and any theorist that was seen as a reductionist or a positivist, or whose theories were concerned with fixed structures, was to be rejected as a sociological dinosaur. Marx, with his dialectics and modes of production, was one such dinosaur.
However, reading Harvey, and then sitting down and reading Marx’s Capital alongside his lecture series made me realise that our generation of students had been spoon-fed a very one-sided story of the development of social thought, one that centered around the slaying of monsters like Marx, Durkheim and Weber by postmodern heroes like Baudrillard, Lyotard and Derrida.
Harvey’s great achievement is to convince our generation not to take the stereotype of Marx’s theory at face value, but to go back to the text and discover (to our surprise and delight) nuance, complexity, dynamics, motion, paradox and contradiction. In short, everything we were told we could not find in the old theories. And suddenly Marx’s theories are alive again.
Having opted out of the UK political scene some 5 years ago, through a mixture of disillusion and a profound sense of pessimism regarding the chances of progressive change without a major economic and social collapse, I am now living in a backwater of rural France.
Nevertheless, old habits die hard. Stumbling upon David Harvey’s RSAnimate The Crises of Capitalism and in watching his clear-sighted and closely argued presentation, I was amazed that I hadn’t heard about him before. What have I been doing and where have I been that these revelatory presentations have passed me by? There can be no doubt that the seeds of a new social formation have been sown in the heart of the capitalist system by the system itself, and how much more of a perfect illustration of this that Youtube can present these ideas to the world at large, shining a light and indicating some kind of way forward.
David Harvey’s contributions are inspiring and demand to be shared. I will seek to share David’s analysis with others. How good it feels to be, once again, an active participant in the spread of the kind of message that might just ensure that the natural balance that so many of us desire has a greater chance of seeing the light of day. For having provided that opportunity, David, I thank you and take my hat off to you.
David Harvey has made a Marxist critique of contemporary capitalism accessible to the common public. He resists esoteric and obscure tendencies expected of other academics; his recent 21st century didactic works are not only clearly and easily read, but are also well articulated and well organized for the neophytes of Harvey’s critical style.
For those who must ‘reach the luminous summits’ of knowledge, David Harvey’s still monumental tome The Limits to Capital is of Biblical importance to those serious Marxist scholars.
As a theorist, David Harvey manages to reconcile a modicum of global events and circumstances into concise and nonpartisan terms; he has shown us the relevance of geography and the urban theater as it relates to capitalism’s constant change. As a teacher he makes history and political economy exciting and frighteningly relevant, he teaches how to think rather than what to think by teaching us how to question to world around us and extract meaningful analyses from it.
As a critic of contemporary economic thought and ideology, he fervently demands an open dialogue to further smoke us out from our Platonic caves, he has shown us how an inefficient crisis-prone system must be closely observed and scrutinized and must develop towards radical change.
As a result of exposure to Harvey’s work, my outlook has become more open-minded (in the sense of how things can be different- in the organization of society, and in the material that I continue to read) and more critical (of global capitalism, and of what I have been taught about it throughout my college and high school education). Reading his books has helped me to keep a clear grasp of social, political and economic events in the world, his ideas are difficult to displace. His books belong in every leftist’s library, next to a Noam Chomsky or a Slavoj Zizek. The physical presence of his books alone may be enough to induce Socratic tendencies…