David Harvey : biography
Harvey attended Gillingham Grammar School for Boys and St John’s College, Cambridge (for both his undergraduate and post-graduate studies). Harvey’s early work, beginning with his PhD (on hops production in 19th century Kent), was historical in nature, emerging from a regional-historical tradition of inquiry widely used at Cambridge and in Britain at that time. Historical inquiry runs through his later works (for example on Paris).
Life and Work
By the mid-1960s, he followed trends in the social sciences to employ quantitative methods, contributing to spatial science and positivist theory. Roots of this work were visible while he was at Cambridge, a Department that also housed Richard Chorley, and Peter Haggett. His Explanation in Geography (1969) was a landmark text in the methodology and philosophy of geography, applying principles drawn from the philosophy of science in general to the field of geographical knowledge. But after its publication Harvey moved on again, to become concerned with issues of social injustice and the nature of the capitalist system itself. He has never returned to embrace the arguments made in Explanation, but still he conforms to the critique of absolute space and exceptionalism in geography of the regional-historical tradition that he saw as an outcome of Kantian synthetic a priori knowledge.
Moving from Bristol University to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the USA, he positioned himself centrally in the newly-emerging field of radical and Marxist geography. Injustice, racism, and exploitation were visible in Baltimore, and activism around these issues was tangible in early 1970s East Coast, perhaps more so than in Britain. The journal Antipode was formed at Clark University; Harvey was one of the first contributors. The Boston Association of American Geographers meetings in 1971 were a landmark, with Harvey and others disrupting the traditional approach of their peers. In 1972, in a famous essay on ghetto formation, he argued for the creation of "revolutionary theory", theory "validated through revolutionary practice".
Social Justice and the City (1973) expressed Harvey’s position that geography could not remain ‘objective’ in the face of urban poverty and associated ills. It has been cited widely (over 1000 times, by 2005, in a discipline where 50 citations are rare), and it makes a significant contribution to Marxian theory by arguing that capitalism annihilates space to ensure its own reproduction. Dialectical materialism has guided his subsequent work, notably the theoretically sophisticated Limits to Capital (1982). LTC furthers the radical geographical analysis of capitalism, and several books on urban processes and urban life have followed it. The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), written while a Professor at Oxford, was a best-seller (the London The Independent named it as one of the fifty most important works of non-fiction to be published since 1945). It is a materialist critique of postmodern ideas and arguments, suggesting these actually emerge from contradictions within capitalism itself. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference (1996) focusses on social and environmental justice (although its dialectical perspective has attracted the ire of some Greens). Spaces of Hope (2000) has a utopian theme and indulges in speculative thinking about how an alternative world might look. His study of Second Empire Paris and the events surrounding the Paris Commune in Paris, Capital of Modernity, is undoubtedly his most elaborated historical-geographical work. The onset of US military action since 2001 has provoked a blistering critique – in The New Imperialism (2003) he argues that the war in Iraq allows US neo-conservatives to divert attention from the failures of capitalism ‘at home’. His next work, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), provides an historical examination of the theory and divergent practices of neoliberalism since the mid-1970s. This work conceptualises the neoliberalised global political economy as a system that benefits few at the expense of many, and which has resulted in the (re)creation of class distinction through what Harvey calls "accumulation by dispossession". His most recent work The Enigma of Capital (2010) takes a long view of the current economic crisis. Harvey explains how capitalism came to dominate the world and why it resulted in the current financial crisis. He describes that the essence of capitalism is its amorality and lawlessness and to talk of a regulated, ethical capitalism is to make a fundamental error. A series of events linked to this book across London academic forums, such as the LSE, proved hugely popular and sparked a new interest in Harvey’s work.