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Clarissa Rile Hayward and Todd Swanstrom (eds.) 2011: Justice and the American Metropolis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Article first published online: 21 DEC 2012
© 2012 Urban Research Publications Limited
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Volume 37, Issue 1, pages 353–355, January 2013
How to Cite
Davies, J. S. (2013), Clarissa Rile Hayward and Todd Swanstrom (eds.) 2011: Justice and the American Metropolis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37: 353–355. doi: 10.1111/1468-2427.12013_3
- Issue published online: 21 DEC 2012
- Article first published online: 21 DEC 2012
Social justice is a raison d'être of urban studies, having shaped the sub-field now for half a century or more. Invariably, changing times demand new thinking and this stimulating collection edited by Clarissa Rile Hayward and Todd Swanstrom confronts the challenge of redefining the object of critique (injustice), the object of transformation (justice) and the methods by which it might be enacted (policy). The editors constitute an interesting writing partnership in themselves, between Hayward's engaged political theory and Swanstrom's urban public policy. They assemble an impressive team of contributors, striking for its intellectual diversity. The resulting collection addresses four main themes: the roots of injustice; the nature of urban inequality; planning for justice; and justice and institutions.
Hayward and Swanstrom's premise is that, while urban injustice is as intractable as ever, the triumph of neoliberalism has relegated it from mainstream political consideration. Worse, multiple injustices are now so deeply embedded in the cityscape that they become invisible. Just as the privileged are unaware of their good fortune, so they are unable to perceive the misfortune of others as it is enacted and re-enacted in the routines of everyday life. They call this condition ‘thick injustice’: ‘unjust power relations that are deep and densely concentrated, as well as opaque and relatively intractable’ (p. 4). Their goal for the volume is to render thick injustice visible and tractable, thus bringing justice back to the forefront of urban politics.
Audaciously, Hayward and Swanstrom argue that many different theorists should be concerned about injustice, encompassing Marxists, egalitarian liberals, communitarians and libertarians. If wealth is fairly acquired, argued Nozick, then inequalities are also just. But, since asymmetric wealth today has historical roots in forced labour, slavery and segregation, it fails Nozick's fairness test. The problem with this argument is that, even if all philosophers somehow agree that a social outcome is unjust, there are fundamental differences over causes and remedies. Thus, while true libertarians regret the history of oppression in the United States, they reject self-defeating governmental measures to correct procedural and substantive injustice in favour of enterprise and self-help. The libertarian perspective is thus immediately at odds with Hayward and Swanstrom's demand that the political realm should recognize and address its responsibilities for justice. Vastly differing perspectives among the contributors only emphasizes the precariousness of this intellectual coalition.
In part 1, addressing the roots of injustice, Stephen Macedo argues that local institutions shape people's preferences and interests in a way that makes them ‘stakeholders in inequality’, what he aptly calls a ‘property owning plutocracy’ (p. 33). Benchmarked against Rawlsian principles, he sees building the just city as a formidably difficult exercise, but one that is worth attempting. Loren King develops a procedural diagnosis of injustice, challenging political leaders to consider seriously whether their decisions are warranted by due attention to the equal political standing and interests of all affected. He too recognizes the difficulties inherent in enacting urban justice, considering the respective merits of ‘direct public coercion’ and consensus-building approaches. He settles for the latter, arguing that any solution must not alienate the propertied classes and should somehow encompass the demands of both justice and capitalist entrepreneurship. Margaret Kohn, by contrast, argues for the cultivation of public space, where the privileged can be enjoined to question their good fortune and recognize the misfortune of others — an ‘Olmstedian’ democratic aesthetic. Contact, say social psychologists, fosters empathy, solidarity and trust. Kohn warns that ‘copresence’ is by no means sufficient for constructing a polity of equals, but argues the public park can itself be a symbolic and performative expression of the democratic ethos.
The essays in part 2 focus on the nature of inequality. Douglas Rae argues that the greatest problem is spatial inequality between metropolises. Provocatively, he believes that reducing this gap may necessitate increasing inequalities within them, by seeking to entice high-income earners as the medium of revitalization. Clarence Stone, by contrast, argues that there is no necessary trade-off between efficiency and justice. He develops three case studies arguing for the utility of a social investment approach — the kinds of human capital programmes that will be familiar to students of the third way.
In part 3, which addresses planning for justice, Susan Fainstein argues that postwar urban development programmes were guilty of perpetrating the very injustices they sought to counteract. This is because they erroneously thought justice could be cultivated through reordering and growth. Instead, Fainstein argues for a new development policy reoriented explicitly towards the outcomes of equity, democracy and diversity: ‘justice, not growth should be the operative rhetoric surrounding development policies’ (p. 170). Thad Williamson proceeds to consider the means by which the public sector might be revived, arguing that this would require a conception of the public interest capable of driving public action and cultivating a flourishing and socially just urban polity. Practically, Williamson argues, the challenge is to forge coalitions strong enough to enact these principles.
Part 4 is on urban justice and institutions, and begins with an essay by Dennis Frug arguing that voting laws are unjust. Current definitions of eligibility exclude felons, homeless citizens and others, thereby perpetrating and compounding injustices. Richard Thompson Ford also focuses on the juridical dimensions of injustice, particularly how institutions foster ‘racism without racists’ (p. 235) even where there is otherwise interracial good will. Background legal rules, he argues, are a ‘failsafe recipe for racial segregation’ (p. 234). For Ford, federal and urban governments both have responsibilities for confronting the consequent marginalization of the disproportionately black urban poor. Margaret Weir returns, finally, to the topic of locational disadvantage, arguing that the conditions of injustice produce ‘extrusion’, a form of multiple deprivations arising from the combination of spatial and political injustices. She therefore argues for spatially redistributive policies that also enhance the voices of working-class communities.
The collection is very successful insofar as it draws attention to an enormous range of injustices, teasing out the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which injustice becomes embedded and unquestioned. It should certainly contribute to the editors' goal of making injustice more visible. How far it contributes to making it tractable, however, is a moot point. This reader was struck by a number of gaps and silences, perhaps a consequence of the underlying normative approach and the enormous political divergence among the contributions. First, some of the essays cover familiar ground, such as the alleged merits of gentrification, trickle-down and human capital, which (in the UK at least) have had little or no traction on injustice and may even aggravate it. Second, there is little sense in this collection of the crisis engulfing the world economy, the new movements taking shape against it, or the urban locus of crisis and resistance (Harvey, 2011). For example, Hayward and Swanstrom present Marxism as a theory of outrage against the injustices of capitalism, which of course it is. But it is far more than a theory of moral outrage. Marx produced a historically grounded diagnosis of capitalist modernity, the tendency of capitalism towards deeper and increasingly contagious crises and the need for the labouring masses to overthrow it, together with the state apparatus that sustains it. One does not have to accept any or all of this worldview to recognize that achieving social justice requires us to confront difficult questions about the conditions of its possibility, certainly at a time when governments are executing yet another massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in order to pay for the crisis of market fundamentalism. Many of the essays, including the editorial, are strangely abstracted from this dire conjuncture and what it means, practically, for justice in the American metropolis. This reader is left with several questions. What does it mean to talk about urban justice in the context of a major crisis of Western capitalism — including US capitalism? What kind of traction can city activists have on urban and supra-urban manifestations of this crisis? Is it currently possible to achieve even modest local reforms without seismic confrontations between subalterns and the privileged? Must the struggle for justice in the metropolis be scalable to the national and international levels, if it is to be sustained? For the most part, Justice and the American Metropolis steers clear of such incendiary debates. Nevertheless, there is a great deal in it for urbanists to enjoy and reflect upon. Certainly, in provoking us to think again on fundamental questions, the editors and contributors have done the sub-field a valuable service.
- 2011) The urban roots of the financial crisis: reclaiming the city for anti-capitalist struggle. Socialist Register 2012, 1–35. (