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David Harvey

David Harvey is a leading social theorist and geographer, noted for his theories of globalization, and more recently, the roots of the global financial crisis of 2009. Many of his ideas trace back to his interpretations of Marx and his theory of capitalism. For Harvey, as a scholar who studies how people use space and create places, capitalism presents something of an identity crisis. For Marx, it is the nature of the capitalist system to grow. And Marx writes in the Grundrisse:

Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange - of the means of communication and transport - the annihilation of space by time - becomes an extraordinary necessity for it. (Marx 1857: chap. 10)

A capitalist business owner only sees things in terms of what adds costs to her business, and distance is often a cost that cuts into profit. So capitalists invest their capital in creating new forms of transportation which overcome space.

Of course, for Marx, the capitalist system, driven for ever greater profits, is a runaway train heading for destruction. There are limits to capital's ability to overcome space and make more money. In his studies of cities, people's movements, and globalization, Harvey seizes on this point. He writes that it it is a law of capitalism that wherever capital encounters a limit of its own ability to grow, it works to transform this limit into a barrier that it can overcome (Harvey 2010). For the most part, capital does this through its influence over the state. In a capitalist system, the state serves the interests of the capitalist ruling class. Whenever capital encounters a limit to growth, it calls it an unfair restriction on the free market and demands that governments institute “free trade.” Capital has the power to erase lines on the map and bend space any which way to suit its needs.

Hence, for Harvey, the globalization of the capitalist system is characterized by a process of speeding up, driven by the capitalist logic of growth. The global order is defined by the feature of time-space compression through technology that facilitates the free flow of money to buy raw material and produce goods for sale (Harvey 1990).


Harvey, David. 1990. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.

Harvey, David. 2010. “The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis This Time.” Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey, August 30. Accessed August 5, 2014. http://davidharvey.org/2010/08/the-enigma-of-capital-and-the-crisis-this-time/.

Marx, Karl. 1857 [1973]. Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie. Economic Works of Karl Marx 1857-1861, Martin Nicolaus, trans. New York: Penguin. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch10.htm.

david_harvey.txt · Last modified: 2020/01/25 15:28 (external edit)