David Harvey (b. 1935) is an influential urban theorist, and the world’s most widely cited geographer. He is a distinguished professor of anthropology at the City University of New York, and was formerly a professor of geography at Johns Hopkins, as well as Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at Oxford. Since earning a BA (1957), MA, and PhD (1962) at Cambridge, Harvey has been a central figure in every major transformation of geography’s philosophy, methodology, and politics. As the “spatial turn” became more influential across the social sciences and humanities, Harvey became a leading interdisciplinary theorist of how urbanization brings together a multitude of diverse economic, sociocultural, and natural processes. Capitalist production is urbanizing. So are social difference, diversity, and inequality. So are relations between humans and animals, plants, and viruses—all the diversity of more-than-human worlds of “nature.” Harvey first achieved prominence at the University of Bristol in the “Quantitative Revolution,” a movement in geography, planning, and urban studies challenging dominant historical, descriptive narratives of locally unique regions and cities. Harvey’s Explanation in Geography (London: Edward Arnold, 1969) was called “the bible” by a new generation committed to a spatial science of positivist analytical rigor, quantified precision, and the development of hypotheses and laws—sifting through the unique and particular to find what is general and universal. Harvey completed Explanation just as he took up a position at Johns Hopkins in 1969, as protests shook cities around the world. In Baltimore and other US cities thrown into crisis by generations of racism and white-flight suburbanization, protests intensified after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and with spreading rebellion against young men being drafted to serve in the neocolonial Vietnam War. Diving into research on the class and race segregation of Baltimore’s inner city, Harvey found Engels and Marx more reliable guides than modern urban economics. Harvey’s resulting Social Justice and the City (London: Edward Arnold, 1973) inaugurated a new, Marxist revolution in urban studies, geography, and beyond. In the subsequent half-century, Harvey has introduced successive generations to Marxist theory and praxis while adapting and refining Marx’s (somewhat) Eurocentric theory of industrial capitalism—making it relevant for understanding today’s planetary, urban, cosmopolitan, postindustrial, and algorithmic capitalism. Harvey has put his urban historical-geographical materialist methods into sustained dialogue with every generation of New Left academics (feminists, environmentalists, ecofeminists, anarchists, postmodernists, cultural studies theorists, posthumanists, and decolonization/indigenous theorists) as well as “Right to the City” activists fighting for housing and tenants’ rights and racial justice.
Harvey’s work has been influential throughout geography, urban studies, and many other fields of academic inquiry. His work has also shaped generations of those committed to radical transformation of academic structures of knowledge, and many of those organizing and mobilizing on the streets of cities around the world, from Gezi Park to Occupy Wall Street to Hong Kong. Jones 2004 is an excellent review of Harvey’s influence in geography and allied fields. The widest range of critical assessments of Harvey’s theoretical contributions is available in Castree and Gregory 2006. Moreno 2017 is an essential biography of Harvey’s contributions to both theory and activism in urban studies. Harvey 2001 and Harvey 2016 are indispensable collections of landmark articles on cities, capital accumulation, the politics of geographical knowledge, the tensions between academic theory and political activism, and the production of nature.
Castree, Noel, and Derek Gregory, eds. David Harvey: A Critical Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.
More than a dozen prominent contributors offer intellectual biographies and critical assessments of Harvey’s theories as they have circulated and shaped academic inquiry and urban social movements.
Harvey, David. Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. New York: Routledge, 2001.
An excellent compendium of articles written over a span of thirty years. A central organizing theme is that once Marx’s unfinished texts are put into a dialogue with contemporary conditions of transnational planetary urbanization, a critical Marxist urban theory reveals the ways seemingly neutral, scientific forms of knowledge serve as instruments for maintaining coercive political power. Includes a revealing, reflective interview from August 2000 with the editors of the New Left Review.
Harvey, David. The Ways of the World. London: Profile Books, 2016.
A panoramic selection of Harvey’s most influential articles, ranging from early-1970s analyses of America’s racialized urban crisis to theorizations of the production of nature and human-environmental co-evolution and 21st-century forms of imperialism.
Jones, John Paul, III. David Harvey. London: Continuum, 2004.
An analysis of the evolution of Harvey’s philosophy, methodology, and urban theorization across three decades, from Harvey 1969 (cited under Positivist Spatial Science) through his dialectical historical materialist analysis of the urbanization of capitalism, culminating in major theoretical treatises as well as panoramic historical urban histories (e.g., Harvey 2003, cited under Urbanization of Capital).
Moreno, Louis. “David Harvey.” In Key Thinkers on Cities. Edited by Regan Koch and Alan Latham, 117–122. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2017.
A concise analysis of Harvey’s role in revolutionizing conventional urban theory and building a spatialized, urban dimension in Marxism.
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