During the Cold War period, global flows associated with the move from internationalization to globalization were gaining momentum. The impact was especially strong on cities — especially in the less developed world. Here, as a contest between the global and the local was surfacing, thought leaders began talking about social inversion, a process whereby individuals once thought of as marginal take over public space and services in the world’s urban areas.
Social inversion is not the same as contamination, an idea that dominated the early Cold War years. Contamination reflected the predominant belief that those who were marginalized and disadvantaged were undesirable inhabitants of urban environments.
In contrast, according to Richard M. Morse in his work on “Cities as People,” social inversion refers to a
people’s invasion that appropriates the city center, creates its own space for commercial activity, causes deterioration of tourist hotels and promenades, and in seaboard locations appropriates the beaches. For the first time since the European conquest, the city is not an intrusive bastion against and control center for the rural domain. The nation has invaded the city . . . . Cities are now nodal points for the nation and not its citadels of control.’
In capitalist cases, the ‘people’s invasion’ could not occur in a vacuum. It was supposed to arise as a response to the austerity programs and structural adjustment policies imposed by global forces like the International Monetary Fund in response to demands for new borrowing and restructuring of past debt. Sound familiar? Take a look at these photos of what’s happening with the Euro crisis today. The problem now is that austerity is impacting the whole of society, not just those at the fringes.
There are lots of questions relating to both past and present. Regarding capitalist cities:
- Does the people’s participation in protest activity such as food riots, general strikes, or political demonstrations infer rejection of both the economic and political aspects of the neoliberal project.
(If you’ll remember, the neoliberal project was promoted by America’s liberal grand strategy during the Cold War conflict and supported by the International Monetary Fund. You can read more ‘grand strategy’ here.)
What about socialist cities? In the case of Havana, a people’s invasion has reportedly materialized as a reaction to the collapse of Soviet grand strategy. You can read more about rural-urban migration in Cuba here. Will social movements follow in Havana as in the capitalist world?
- What is the relationship between the global and the local in socialist cities?
And more broadly:
- Does the contest between the local and the global have universal significance?
- Or is the notion of globalization that is now being promoted a mask for the advancement of US interests worldwide?
If you’re interested in these questions, you might want to take a look at The Making of Global Capitalism by Sam Grindin and Leo Panitch. The book provides an in-depth account of the making of global capitalism through the organization of a global financial system under US hegemony throughout the Cold War period and beyond. I read the book over the recent holidays and learned a great deal about the origins of the recent financial bust and the problems we’re facing now. It’s a challenging read though. Another illuminating book is Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis. It’s a lot shorter and easier to get through, but also illuminating.