One of the most influential geographers of the later twentieth century, David Harvey, was born on 31 October 1935. He earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge University and was formerly a professor of geography at Johns Hopkins, the London School of Economics and Oxford University. Harvey is a Marxist geographer and is commonly referred to as the greatest living Marxist geographer. Marxist geography is a strand of geography that uses the theories and philosophy of Karl Marx. It focuses on the analysis of the geographical conditions, processes and outcomes of socio-economic systems, primarily capitalism, using the tools of Marxist theory. (http://geography.ruhosting.nl/geography/index.php?title=Marxist_Geography) Harvey discusses his interest in Marx in an interview with Geographical Magazine in 2014, Harvey said “I became very active in the anti-war movement, which led into the question of how we understood imperialism. We started reading all kinds of theories of imperialism and began reading Marx to help us understand how such incredible impoverishment could exist within the richest society in the world.” (http://geographical.co.uk/people/i-m-a-geographer/item/121-david-harvey).
By the mid-1960s, Harvey followed trends in the social sciences to employ quantitative methods, contributing to spatial science and positivist theory. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Harvey#Life_and_work). In 1969, Harvey wrote “Explanation in Geography” . At the time, this was an incredible text that illustrated the different methods, philosophies and approaches of Geography. However, soon afterwards Harvey began to focus his work on issues regarding social justice and capitalism, which have become hallmark themes of his career, often being contextualised within urban spaces. (https://prematuregeographers.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/david-harveys-contribution-to-geography/). When Harvey moved from Bristol University to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, he soon emerged himself in newly founded field of radical and Marxist geography. Social issues such as racism, exploitation and injustice were more prevalent in 1970s Baltimore than in Britain. Harvey also contributed in writing the radical journal of geography, “Antipode”, at Clark University in 1969.
In Harvey’s book “Social Justice and the City” (1973), he expressed his opinion that geography could not remain “objective” in the face of social injustices such as urban poverty. This book contributes significantly to Marxian theory by arguing that capitalism destroys to ensure its own reproduction. “Everywhere I go in the world, moderately incomed people can’t afford to live in city centres. In Istanbul, the only affordable housing is 30 kilometres from the centre. The centre of cities is being taken up by a speculative boom that’s going to crash at some point. It’s a crazy system.” (http://geographical.co.uk/people/i-m-a-geographer/item/121-david-harvey)
The Boston Association of American Geographers meetings in 1971 were a landmark, with Harvey and others disrupting the traditional approach of their peers.
David Harvey is widely recognized as a foundational scholar in urban geography.
On the 26th of April 2010, Harvey gave a speech on the “Crises of Capitalism”. In it is he addressing the question – “Is it time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that could be responsible, just & humane?”. He is discussing the recent economic crisis of the 2008 recession and states that there are several sorts of explanatory formats and genres for the crisis. For example, one genre is that “Human Frailty” is the cause and that we cannot change human nature and weakness. There are many explanations for this so-called theory of human frailty – predatory instincts, instincts for mastery, delusions of investors, greed. Harvey himself says “The more we learn about the daily practises on Wall Street, we figure there’s a great deal of truth in all of that.”. The second genre is that institutional failures are to blame and therefore must be re-configured in a global effort. The third genre states that everyone was “obsessed with a false theory” by believing in the efficiency of markets; that we ought to return to the writings of John Maynard Keynes and Hyman Minsky in order to open our eyes to the inherent instability of financial activities. The fourth genre is that of cultural origins. In which, certain countries tend to adopt an attitude of “it’s got nothing to do with us” or “that’s not our problem” when watching these crises unfold elsewhere in the world. That is, until the crises eventually spreads to them too. We saw this in the financial crash in Greece when German press responded by insisting it was caused by “defects in the Greek character”. Cultural features have led into these crises – for example, the US has a fascination with home-ownership, which is supposedly a deep, cultural value. 68% of US household are home owners as opposed to 22% in Switzerland. The fifth genre is the “Failure of Policy” in which people believe the problem is too much regulation of the wrong kind. Harvey says that all of these theories have a certain truth to them. He says “Skilled writers will take one of those perspectives and build a story about it. And I thought to myself, what kind of story can I write which is none of the above? And its not hard to do, particularly if you’re coming from a Marxist perspective because there aren’t many people who try to do this.”. Harvey describes an event that happened at the London School of Economics which the Queen of England essentially sked the economists how they did not realise that this crisis was coming. Their answer was that they did not consider systemic risk. Harvey translates this so-called “systemic risks” as the internal contradictions of capitalism. And so, he decided to write about this topic and figure out the role that crises play in the history of capitalism.
In this mission, he decided that the cause of the current crisis was dictated by how the last crisis of the 1970s and how that was subsequently solved. The problem in the 1970s was excessive power of labour in relation to capital. Therefore, the solution to this crisis was the discipline of labour – which was done by offshoring by use of Neo-Liberal Doctrine. Harvey criticises the fact that no one, at tis stage, had cited greedy unions and the excessive power of capital as the root of the problem. It was decided that the problem of continuous wage repression would be overcome by encouraging everyone to get credit cards. Harvey says that this is yet more proof that capitalism never solves its crisis problems, but instead moves them round geographically. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOP2V_np2c0)
In an interview with Geographical magazine he explains that he wrote his book “Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism” because “I felt there was something to be said about where the crisis of 2007–08 came from, and why we’re having such difficulty exiting from it. While formally, it seems we came out of the crisis in 2009, there are still plenty of signs that we’re in difficulty.” (http://geographical.co.uk/people/i-m-a-geographer/item/121-david-harvey)
“Any sensible person right now would join an anti-capitalist organisation. You have to. Because otherwise we are going to have a continuation of all sorts of negative aspects……..we have a duty to change the mode of thinking”