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  An interruption in the reproduction of economic, cultural, social and/or political life.

The most systematic theories of crisis and crisis formation are provided by historical materialism, which contends that social life is underwritten by the operation of opposing principles of societal organization (\'contradictions\'; see dialectic). A number of Marxist historians have spoken of a crisis of feudalism in these terms (though in different ways), but most discussion in human geography has centred on crisis in capitalism conceived as a mode of production: indeed, in conventional Marxian economics a crisis is an objective interruption in the accumulation of capital. There is, however, no single (let alone simple) theory of crisis in Marx\'s writings, and in The limits to capital (1982) D. Harvey went some way beyond Marx to distinguish the following:

A \'first-cut\' theory of crisis. Here, so Harvey claims, Marx sought to disclose the underlying rationale for the instability of capitalist production. This is usually exemplified by the falling rate of profit, and in particular by the tendency for capitalism to produce both a surplus of capital (\'overaccumulation\') and a surplus of labour power (unemployment and underemployment).

A \'second-cut\' theory of crisis which focuses on temporal displacement: on the ways in which surpluses of capital and labour power can be absorbed through new forms of circulation and, in particular, through financial and monetary arrangements which are themselves structurally implicated in subsequent financial and monetary crises. This second cut enabled Harvey to differentiate \'between periodic crashes … and long-run problems … [which] are strongly affected by the increasing socialization of capital itself, first via the agency of the credit system and ultimately through socially necessary interventions on the part of the state\' (Harvey, 1982).

The introduction of the state into the analysis is of considerable importance since, Harvey emphasizes, once \'we drop the assumption of a closed system and consider international aspects to crisis formation, then it becomes clear that the struggle to export inflation, unemployment, idle productive capacity, excess commodities, etc., becomes the pivot of national policy. The costs of crises are spread differentially according to the financial, economic, political and military power of rival states\' (Harvey, 1982). This leads directly to:

A \'third-cut\' theory of crisis which focuses not only on \'temporal dynamics\' but on the possibility of a spatial fix: that is, the ways in which surpluses of capital and labour power might be inscribed in the built environment and, still more important, \'be disposed of and remunerated by entering into external relations with other regions\'. This is one of Harvey\'s central insights; Marx\'s formulations, in his view, are \'powerful with respect to time but weak with respect to space\' and Marx\'s political vision is thus \'undermined by his failure to build a systematic and distinctively geographical and spatial dimension into his thought\' (Harvey, 1985a; see also Marxist geography). Harvey has therefore been concerned, first, to integrate the geography of uneven development into crisis theory (Harvey, 1982, 1985b) and, second, to incorporate the state into crisis theory through an analysis of the geopolitics of capitalism (Harvey, 1985a).

In these discussions capitalism is held to be both crisis-ridden and crisis-dependent. Insofar as this understands crisis as a mechanism of auto-regulation, however, there is undoubtedly danger of a covert functionalism in some of these formulations. To blunt the force of these objections, J. O\'Connor (1981; see also 1984) insisted that crises are not limited to system integration but also threaten social integration. Such a claim evidently owes something to J. Habermas\'s programmatic reformulation of historical materialism which treats not only economic crises but also (and more particularly) \'rationality crises\' and \'legitimation crises\' (Habermas, 1976). But O\'Connor argued that Habermas did not break sufficiently with classical Marxism. In his view, crises \'originate in the emancipatory practices of human beings\': \'the essence of crisis is not social disintegration but social struggle\'. In fact, although Habermas has used a model of crisis formation and resolution to account for the evolution of modern societies, he subsequently argued that contemporary social struggles are provoked not only (or even primarily) by spasmodic economic or political crises but by the colonization of the lifeworld by economic and political-administrative systems (see critical theory). In any event, it seems clear that these various struggles have their own geographies whose contours cannot be read directly from a map of economic crisis. It is equally clear that social struggles are not always automatically translated into political or even para-political forms because, as Morgan (1983) accentuated, \'formidable integrative mechanisms [can] prevail within the most radical restructuring process [to produce] what might be called a subdued social crisis\'. And, as Morgan showed, one of the most powerful ways in which such struggles can be contained is through their fragmentation and localization (see also Massey, 1984).

Other attempts to theorize crisis-formation and — resolution in both economic and social terms have been made by the Regulation school, whose work was very influential in economic geography during the 1980s and 1990s. From this perspective, capitalism\'s crisis tendencies are managed by a mode of regulation — a unique set of social and political norms, rules and regulations — that stabilizes and maintains a particular combination of consumption and investment (a regime of accumulation). Thus the Fordism that dominated western economies between 1945 and 1970 was made viable through the installation of a mode of regulation defined by Keynesian economic policies and the welfare state. Crises can still occur when the mode of regulation and the regime of accumulation are no longer appropriate to one another: hence the transition to so-called flexible accumulation and its stabilization through a neo-liberal mode of regulation. There is a danger of functionalism in these formulations too, however, and several proposals have been made to guard against it. Hence Webber and Rigby (1996) insist that the so-called \'golden age\' of Fordism was an illusion, and that its stereotypical stability was in fact pock-marked by a series of crises that were time- and place-specific. Schoenberger (1997) moves the analysis away from the usual identifications between the nationstate and the space-economy to understand the internal logics — and above all the cultures — of the large corporations that dominate capitalist economies. When those organizational cultures fail, she argues, then crisis unfolds in complex ways. Other studies have explored the international elaborations of crisis, in particular as these are expressed through the fractured geographies of the international debt crisis (Corbridge, 1992) and within systems of monetary exchange and transformation (Leyshon and Thrift, 1997; cf. money and finance, geography of): here, too, questions of culture (and the politics of culture) loom large. Indeed, Harvey (1989) has himself sought to explore the political and cultural implications of the contemporary crisis of capital accumulation by connecting it to a crisis of representation brought about by time-space compression (see figure; see also Gregory, 1994).

Whatever one makes of these particular claims, however, they thread out into a wider discussion of modernity and its constant, \'creative destruction\' of a world in which, as Marx put it, \'all that is solid melts into air\' (see Berman, 1982; Gregory, 1989). Marx\'s own concerns were the economic and political crises of nineteenth-century capitalism, of course, but the multiple crises which have been inscribed within the trembling foundations of our own fin-de-siècle world have such vitally important cultural and ecological dimensions (Emel, 1991; Jackson, 1991) that they pose considerable challenges both to our established ways of thinking and to our established forms of political practice. (DG)

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References Berman, M. 1982: All that is solid melts into air: the experience of modernity. London: Verso. Corbridge, S. 1992: Debt and development. Oxford: Blackwell. Emel, J. 1991: Ecological crisis and provocative pragmatism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 9: 384-90. Gregory, D. 1989: The crisis of modernity? Human geography and critical social theory. In R. Peet and N. Thrift, eds, New models in geography, volume 2. London: Unwin Hyman, 348-85. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Habermas, J. 1976: Legitimation crisis. London: Heinemann. Harvey, D. 1982: The limits to capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1985a: The geopolitics of capitalism. In D. Gregory and J. Urry, eds, Social relations and spatial structures. London: Macmillan, 128-63. Harvey, D. 1985b: The urbanization of capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Blackwell. Jackson, P. 1991: The crisis of representation and the politics of position. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 9: 131-4. Leyshon, A. and Thrift, N. 1997: Money/ Space: geographies of monetary transformation. London: Routledge. Massey, D. 1984: Spatial divisions of labour: social structures and the geography of production. London: Macmillan. Morgan, K. 1983: The crises of labour and locality in Britain. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 7: 175-201. O\'Connor, J. 1981: The meaning of crisis. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 5: 301-25. O\'Connor, J. 1984: Accumulation crisis. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Schoenberger, E. 1997: The cultural crisis of the firm. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Webber, M. and Rigby, D. 1996: The golden age of illusion. New York: Guilford.

Suggested Reading Gregory (1989). Harvey (1985a). Schoenberger (1997).



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