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collective consumption

  The consumption of services (see public services, geography of) produced, managed and distributed on a public/collective basis (see Dunleavy, 1980, pp. 52-3; Pinch, 1985, pp. 12-14; Pinch, 1989, pp. 42-8). This notion of collective consumption — associated especially with the French school of urban sociology and in particular with the writings of Manuel Castells and Jean Lojkine (see Pickvance, 1976) — is becoming increasingly displaced by systems of the targeted provision of \'public\' services often provided by private agencies operating within a market framework (Mohan, 1995; Pinch, 1996), challenged by \'consumers\' not buying into the discourse of development promulgated by the state and its agencies (e.g. Routledge, 1997), and reformulated in the light of the heterogeneity of the economic, social, cultural and institutional assets of the contemporary city (Amin and Graham, 1997).

Collective consumption \'takes place not through the market but through the state apparatus\' (Castells, 1977, p. 460). It involves the provision of the collective means of consumption of commodities, the production of which is not assured by capital because of their \'lower than average profit rate\' but which is, nevertheless, \'necessary to the reproduction of labour power and/or to the reproduction of social relations\' (Castells, 1977, pp. 460, 461). The collective means of consumption \'refers today to the totality of medical, sports, educational, cultural and public transport facilities\' (Lojkine, 1976, p. 121). A noticeable absentee from this list is public housing which, for Lojkine, is not collective as housing is not consumed collectively (cf. housing class; housing studies). This criterion is not so significant for Castells who is concerned mainly with state, i.e. collective, provision.

For Lojkine, the social expenses involved in the provision of collective means of consumption have the effect of lowering the rate of profit. Conversely, for Castells (1977, p. 461) the production of collective means of consumption \'plays a fundamental role in the struggle of capital against the tendency of the profit rate to fall\', as unprofitable investments are taken over by the state which thereby \'helps to raise proportionately the rate of profit attributed to social capital as a whole\'. In fact, both effects may well occur simultaneously, the net effect on the rate of profit being an empirical matter affected by specific sets of circumstances. Both accounts are, in any case, highly functionalist (cf. functionalism) and imply acceptance of the notion that the activities of the state are simply determined by the demands of capital. Nevertheless, the shift to privatized provision and targeting arises from the ideology of individualism and a belief in the superiority of markets and, in material terms, from the alleged effects of taxation (through which funds for collective consumption are raised) on profitability, and of public expenditure on interest rate differentials in global bond markets (cf. privatization).

The notion of collective consumption raises a range of issues for urban analysis. It has given rise to a number of attempts to classify the expenditure of the state, especially at the local level, but it has proved very difficult in practice to make theoretical categories of state expenditure (social investment, social consumption and social expenses) fit the concrete categories of state expenditure in precise terms. Nevertheless, the attempt to do so has produced some helpful insights into the role of the state and trends in its activities (e.g. Saunders, 1980; Dunleavy, 1984).

At a conceptual level the process of collective consumption has been used to define the city. For Castells (1976, p. 148) \'the “city” is a residential unit of labour power … defined as … a unit of collective consumption corresponding more or less to the daily organisation of a section of labour power\' which might be defined by patterns of commuting. This view of the city tends, however, to impose a one-dimensional unity founded solely on class relations.

The concept of collective consumption raises a range of political questions which, in Castells\' formulation, are central to the urban question. If the state assumes more and more responsibility for the provision of the means of collective consumption, rationality and fiscal crises affecting the provision become increasingly politicized and so involve sections of the population well beyond the working class alone (cf. crisis; critical theory). Crises in state provision therefore generate widely-based urban struggles from which urban social movements (e.g. Lowe, 1991) may arise to challenge capitalist social relations and/or the legitimacy of the current political order.

Two difficulties are immediately apparent in this account: the translation of contradiction and crisis into struggle; and the translation of struggle into an urban social movement. The individual consumption of services provided collectively may well undermine the development of a social consciousness of crisis, while divisions of collective interest in services provided both by the state and by private capital (e.g. housing, education and health care) will tend to fragment rather than to coalesce class interests. Such an argument lies behind the so-called dual theory of the state (Saunders, 1981, 1984). Furthermore, the broadening of the field of potential conflict with the increasing importance of collective means of consumption also complicates the relationships between individuals, groups and political action. Formal political activity may well become increasingly significant and possibly destructive of more radical political challenges (e.g. Pickvance, 1976, 1977).

Indeed, Castells (1983) shifts attention away from the structural generation of crisis and conflict towards a concern for the diverse role of consciousness and social action in the transformation of the conditions of everyday life (Smith and Tardanico, 1987). This shift is prescient as it reflects the emergence of \'the multiplex city\' (Amin and Graham, 1997, p. 417) but it also opens up the possibility of displacing social justice from the agenda — especially as the search for capital investment dominates the discourse of development in the contemporary city under conditions of intensifying globalization. For Ash Amin and Stephen Graham (1997) then

a project seeking unity or solidarity across the diverse fragments and complex relational webs of the contemporary city needs to do much more than this. It has to be a project of restoring social justice in the city in such a way that it responds to genuine social needs and, at the same time, unlocks social capabilities through the empowerment of autonomous groups. This makes it a much more far-reaching project centred around reforms including the democratization of the state, an associationism that expects democratic practice from intermediate organizations, and projects of civic empowerment that are not confined to Machiavellian republican ideals.The presumption of class relations dominating the social relations of cities and so shaping collective consumption can no longer be sustained but neither can they be displaced. Deregulation, individualism and globalization (Castells, 1997) — exposing not only state agencies but also economic geographies to fierce and increasingly deregulated competition — and the growth of the multiplex city pose questions not only for the concept of collective consumption itself but for the trajectory of urban development in an increasingly polarized society under conditions of intensified inter-urban competition. (RL)

References Amin, A. and Graham, S. 1997: The ordinary city. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 22 4: 411-29. Castells, M. 1976: Theoretical propositions for an experimental study of urban social movements. In C.G. Pickvance, ed., Urban sociology: critical essays. London: Methuen, 147-73. Castells, M. 1977 [orig. pub. 1972]: The urban question: a Marxist approach. London: Edward Arnold, 437-71. Castells, M. 1983: The city and the grassroots: a cross-cultural theory of urban social movements. London: Edward Arnold. Castells, M. 1997: End of millennium The information age: economy, society and culture, volume III. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Dunleavy, P. 1980: Urban political analysis. London: Macmillan. Dunleavy, P. 1984: The limits to local government. In M. Boddy, and C. Fudge, eds, Local socialism? London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 49-81. Lojkine, J. 1976: Contribution to a Marxist theory of urbanization. In C.G. Pickvance, ed., Urban sociology: critical essays. London: Methuen, 119-46. Lowe, S. 1991: Urban social movements: the city after Castells. London: Macmillan. Mohan, J. 1995: A national health service? The restructuring of health care in Britain since 1979. London: St. Martin\'s Press. Pickvance, C.G., ed., 1976: Urban sociology: critical essays. London: Methuen; New York: St. Martin\'s Press, 1-32; 198-218. Pickvance, C.G. 1977: Marxist approaches to the study of urban politics. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 1: 218-55. Pinch, S.P. 1985: Cities and services: the geography of collective consumption. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Pinch, S.P. 1989: Collective consumption. In J. Wolch, and M. Dear, eds, The power of Geography. Winchester, MA. and London: Unwin Hyman, 41-60. Pinch, S.P. 1996: Worlds of welfare. London: Routledge. Routledge, P. 1997: The imagineering of resistance: Pollock Free State and the practice of postmodern politics. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 22 (3): 359-76. Saunders, P. 1980: Urban politics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 103-97. Saunders, P. 1981: Social theory and the urban question. London: Hutchinson; New York: Holmes and Meier, ch. 8. Saunders, P. 1984: Rethinking local politics. In M. Boddy and C. Fudge, eds, Local socialism? London and Basingstoke: Macmillan. Smith, M.P. and Tardanico, R. 1987: Urban theory reconsidered: Production, reproduction and collective action. In M.P. Smith and J.R. Feagin, eds, The capitalist city. Oxford and New York: Blackwell, ch. 4.

Suggested Reading Amin and Graham (1997). Pinch (1989).



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