Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Latin American Cities and Capitalist Development

Hi class,

Today’s readings offered a good summary of most of the research and most of the policies carried in Latin America in the last 40 years.

Portes’s reading is relevant not only because of the literature review he offers, but also because of the way in which he connects the (mis)adventures of Capitalist development with the attempts to plan and regulate the growth of Latin American cities.

Angotti’s piece is relevant because it connects at one level with Portes’s in stressing the role that capitalist development has in shaping the city as a privileged space for the exercise of different forms of power, but also because of the consideration of the kinds of constraints that such type of development puts on the city.

Rosie’s question regarding the ability of the governments to plan or not the development or the growth of the city it is relevant at many different levels. On the one hand, it can be answered by saying yes, there is planning, plenty of it. The budgets of Latin American cities are filled with studies and analysis seeking ways to improve the quality of life, the goods provided, and so on. However, of course, the problem is that almost all those plans require money to be carried and money is not easy to find, especially if you are under severe fiscal constraints.

Moreover, it could be argued that Latin American cities (as any cities in the world) provide good examples of the kinds of contradictions, tensions, and unexpected consequences that capitalist development generates. Back in the 1970s, French philosopher Michel Foulcault (I can see Matthew scared and running away from this one) came up with the concept of Governmentality as a key tool to try to address the complexities that attempts to regulate the use of physical space have all over the world.
Of course, the unexpected consequences are most evident in cities in fragile fiscal shape for obvious reasons, but the problems exist regardless.

Foucault coined the notion of governmentality as an attempt to encompass in one single concept the uses, tensions, intentions, contradictions, unexpected consequences, and strategies to challenge and to resist power.

I know is big as a bomb. However, one way we can breakdown such concept is by thinking of governmentality as 1) a research strategy, and 2) a conception of governing. As research strategy governmentality «seeks to explore power relations, particularly in the domain of what constitutes conduct» (Lechte, John Key Contemporary Concepts. Sage, 2003, p. 98). As a conception of governing, it is connected with the concept of government, but is not reduced to it. That is to say, not only the government has strategies of governmentality: firms, small and large; churches; sports organizations, and so forth and so on. Any organization that has some goal or aim needs to display some form of governmentality at some point.
It is important to stress that, unlike Marxist thinking and some other radical approaches to power; Foucault’s radical-ity when dealing with power resides in the fact that for him power is not «a limit to freedom … governmentality must be understood as a set of actions or practices enacted over free individuals, actions realized only to the extent that individuals are free» (Lechte 99).

Moreover, Foucault’s governmentality «points to a domain which covers more than the legitimate forms of politics and government; it is imbricated in all the actions of people; for this is what the art of government entails. In itself it is neither good nor bad, desirable nor undesirable. Rather is the very field of contestation itself, should there be contestation, as it is the very field of acquiescence, should there be acquiescence» (Lechte 99).

I do not think that is necessary to elaborate too much on how the policies and plans to regulate the development and growth of the city (Mexico City, New York, London, or Beijing) fit nicely for analyses based on this approach. Mostly, because it is there in the endless battles to shape the form and the function of areas of the city that is possible to see contestation and acquiescence.

Now, when we analyze processes like those considered by Portes and Angotti, using governmentality it is necessary to identify within each interaction between individuals and the power three different sub-processes:

a. Technologies of domination
b. Technologies of self
c. Both unexpected and expected consequences coming out of the interaction between both technologies

(In this section, I will be using and adapting extensively Jennifer Smith-Maguire’s article “Michel Foucault: Sport, Power, Technologies and Governmentality” in Theory, Sport and Society. All the portions in quotation come from this article.)

a. Technologies of domination

The technologies of domination seek to «optimize the use of resources» of all type, from the resources of the body to the resources of polity. To achieve such optimization one follows what Weber would have called a rationally oriented (social) action: one tries to find the optimal means to achieve the stated goals or aims. The operations required to select such means involve «systematic, specialized forms of classification and categorization of human life» (censuses and the like) reflecting relations of power. Such relations of power will never generate zero-sum outcomes and are positive exercises of power, at least theoretically, technologies of domination seek to «constrain choices, such that individuals more often than not are productive and active in ways that more often than not, reproduce the social order. As the range of choice narrows, the degree of domination rises.»

Technologies of domination (or power) «fall within two broad modes, reflecting the ongoing tension between, on the one hand, the state indirectly relying upon individuals to maintain social order» (the market), and on the other «the state directly governing the productivity of the population as a whole» (the law). That is, «technologies of domination work in both individualizing and totalizing modes, producing different, interrelated bodies of knowledge that work through the same rationality of optimization through normalization» (plans to regulate urban growth or development).

b. Technologies of self

Technologies of power or domination aim at shaping individual and collective choices among those targeted by such technologies. According to Foucault technologies of self: «permit individuals to effect, by their own means or with the help of others, a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, immortality» Michel Foucault (1988) “Technologies of Self” in Technologies of Self: a Seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst UMA Press.

Technologies of self are useful, as one of many possible examples, to explain the decision of many Latin Americans to leave their towns of origin heading to Mexico City, Buenos Aires or Río de Janeiro, and in some cases, from there to Los Angeles, Madrid, or Lisbon. They are useful to explain also autopoietic initiatives that seek to articulate groups or organizations in trying to improve their lives even if it is only at the level of survival strategies. Often times, technologies of self involve doses of conscious and deliberate resistance and rejection of the technologies of domination or power.

Moreover, technologies of power (think of many laws here in the US or elsewhere) have what Smith-Maguire calls «contradictory or ambivalent effects … lying at the heart of opportunities for resistance» (p. 304). That is the case of laws or planning and development programmes that aimed, with the best imaginable intentions, at solving or at least taming specific problems or issues, but that in the end create «new and different problems. »

c. Unexpected and expected consequences coming out of the interaction between both technologies

Here is where governmentality becomes problematic and critical to understand the successes of some policies (beautification of urban spaces or gentrification, as an example) and the failure of others (annihilation of local traditions and knowledge, social conflict, and the like).

Both Angotti and Portes provide good solid examples of technologies of power, of technologies of self, and of governmentality as this random interaction between technologies of self and domination.

If any of you are interested in exploring more the concept of governmentality let me know, I will point you in the direction of some interesting articles.

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