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urban origins

  The origins of urbanism are as problematic as its definition, but four broad explanations have been proposed:

Ecological models, which typically associate urbanism with the production and concentration of a \'surplus\' of some kind through, in particular, the construction of large-scale irrigation schemes (see urban ecology).

Economic models, which, although they typically focus on changing forms of economic integration and, in particular, on the transition from reciprocity to redistribution, are especially concerned with the ways in which such systems of exchange are \'embedded\' in non-economic institutions. Most of these models are indebted to Polanyi\'s substantivist anthropology but Harvey (1973) has attempted to give them a Marxian gloss and to elucidate the concentration of a socially designated surplus product, defined via the labour theory of value, \'in a few hands and in a few places\'. In his view, urbanism may arise with the emergence of redistribution, necessarily arises with the emergence of market exchange, and in both cases is causally connected to the alienation of the surplus.

Cultural models, which typically examine the formative influence of religion on urban genesis. \'The religious component is almost alone\', Wheatley (1971) argued, \'in having left in several of the realms of nuclear urbanism [see figure 1] a more or less continuous success of surviving material traces through … to fully evolved urban life.\' In his view, \'the earliest foci of power and authority took the form of ceremonial centres, with religious symbolism imprinted deeply on their physiognomy and their operation in the hands of organised priesthoods\'. Wheatley made much of the cosmo-magical symbolism or iconography of the ancient city, which \'projected images of the cosmic order on to the plane of human experience, where they could provide a framework for [and legitimation] of social action\' (see figure 2; and see also Sack, 1980).

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urban origins 1: Urban genesis in space and time (after Wheatley, 1971: Carter, 1983)

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig83.gif }

urban origins 2: The ancient Chinese city as the pivot of the four quarters (after Wheatley, 1971)

Politico-military models, which typically conceive of the first cities as both fortresses and refuges. Many of these models are, of course, compatible with the arguments of the previous paragraphs — the supposed conjunction between \'hydraulic society\' and \'Oriental despotism\', for example, or the centring of \'political and military power … first in theocratic and later in monarchical control\' (Giddens, 1981; see also Giddens, 1985) — but they usually go beyond those claims to emphasize the decisive importance of military power exercised through a grid of cities for the creation of empires.

Most modern debates, at least in geography, have fastened on the relations between the second and third of these, but the relations between urbanism and the origins of the state also mark out the fourth as an arena of considerable interest. (DG)

References Carter, H. 1983: An introduction to urban historical geography. London: Edward Arnold, 1-17. Giddens, A. 1981: A contemporary critique of historical materialism, volume 1, Power, property and the state. London: Macmillan. Giddens, A. 1985: A contemporary critique of historical materialism, volume 2, The nation-state and violence. Cambridge: Polity Press. Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. London: Edward Arnold; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Sack, R.D. 1980: Conceptions of space in social thought: a geographic perspective. London: Macmillan; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Wheatley, P. 1971: The pivot of the four quarters: a preliminary inquiry into the origins and character of the ancient Chinese city. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; Chicago: Aldine.

Suggested Reading Adams, R.Mc.C. 1966: The evolution of urban society. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Carter, H. 1977: Urban origins: a review. Progress in Human Geography 1: 12-32. Kostof, S. 1985: A history of architecture: settings and rituals. New York: Oxford University Press, chs 3-5. Wheatley (1971), part two. Wheatley, P. 1972: Proleptic observations on the origins of urbanism. In R.W. Steel and R. Lawton, eds, Liverpool essays in geography. London: Longman, 315-4 5.



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