A New Urban and Regional Hierarchy? Impacts of Modernization, Restructuring and the End of Bipolarity: conference, Los Angeles, April 1992

A New Urban and Regional Hierarchy? Impacts of Modernization, Restructuring and the End of Bipolarity: conference, Los Angeles, April 1992
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  A New Urban and Regional Hierarchy? Impacts of Modernization Restructuring and the End of Bipolarity: conference Los Angeles April 992 zy HILARY SILVER This conference was sponsored by Research Committee 2 1 of the International Sociological Association in cooperation with the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Comparative Social Analysis Program of UCLA. It was co-organized by Susan Fainstein and Ivan Szelenyi and its aim was to examine whether there is ‘a new urban and regional hierarchy’. The main theme was the urban impact of third world modernization global economic restructuring and the end of political bipolarity with the collapse of eastern European communism. zyxwv   Panels on these three trends tended to be segregated with separate discussions of changes in eastern Europe Latin America and East Asia. Mediterranean Australian and what Ryszard Luter called cities of ‘the middle nations’ were also subjects of independent panels. This organization made .it somewhat difficult to learn about effects of changes in one region of the world on another. It also gave the impression that a new international urban and regional hierarchy was already a zyxw ait accompli The initial plenary session was an exception. There was a lively debate between Jiri Musil Saskia Sassen and Janet Abu-Lughod about the continuing relevance of international political relations nation-states and nationalism for global urban hierarchies. This debate carried over to a session on ‘planning the global city’ in which John Mollenkopf Takashi Machimura Hank Savitch and Edmond Preteceille compared New York Tokyo and Paris along the same dimensions. After comments by Susan Fainstein an interesting discussion developed about the assumptions underlying the notion of ‘global cities’ and the criteria distinguishing them from cities lower in the ‘new’ urban hierarchy. I suspect that this concept will continue to be the subject of controversy in the future. The systems approach characterizing ‘global cities’ perspectives in which specialization in multinational service industries or corporate command looms so large flirts with functionalism. It draws heavily on neoclassical analyses of international financial markets which according to flexible accumulation and flexible specialization models are incidental to the true engines of capitalist growth. Indeed another panel highlighted ‘the downturn in the world economy’ which has affected global and non-global cities alike. Moreover the approach largely neglects political and cultural rationales for location decisions. Half in jest someone suggested that the very term ‘global cities’ was a public relations gimmick taken over wholesale from urban economic development efforts. Since the conference included 25 sessions with four running simultaneously the view of the conference presented here is inevitably zyxwvut   selective one.  652 zyxwvusr vents and debates Interestingly enough a session asking ‘where is urban and regional theory?’ did not subscribe to the global cities approach. Rather Nigel Thrift discussed ‘neo-Marshallian nodes in global networks’ concentrating on both the spatial agglomeration and zy ispersion of flexible production sites. Marco Cenzatti sought to accommodate flexible specialization with flexible accumulation by historicizing and drawing on both postmodern and post- structuralist theory. John Short’s typology of ‘fun’ ‘dream’ ‘cultural’ and ‘pluralist’ cities rested on postmodernism and Neil Smith argued for a theory of ‘scale’. In retrospect the global hierarchy theme of the conference was overshadowed by subsequent events which highlighted the secondary theme of racial and ethnic relations. Within a week of the conference riots broke out under the same southern California sun so enjoyed by the participants. With its strong emphasis on political economy RC21 has typically given short shrift to racial and ethnic inequality or has reduced it to yet another aspect of class struggle social movement politics or postmodernism. Yet the politicization of immigration in western Europe and the dominance of nationalism in eastern European politics have made increasingly apparent the need to analyse ‘status’ or ‘identity’ on its own terms. This conference initiated such a discussion which will surely flower in the years to come. Two panels in particular addressed the issues of minority urban poverty particularly in the zyxwvuts SA. One was on ‘Race ethnicity and mobility’ billed as a ‘workshop’ to encourage audience participation. It was there that RC21 members confronted for perhaps the first time the American debate over multiculturalism. Michael Peter Smith who presided presented narratives of Salvadoran migrants to California. Roger Waldinger argued that the experiences of Irish Jewish black and Korean immigrants to New York are best understood as collective searches for mobility an explanation integrating the apparently contradictory assimilation and ethnic conflict perspectives. Steve Erie discussed the dispersion and fragmentation of Asian-Pacific communities in Los Angeles and their tentative unification as they enter the local political arena. Finally in a paper that will receive wide attention Norman Fainstein again took on William Julius Wilson’s theory of the declining significance of race. Based on meticulous data analysis emphasizing the limited socio- economic gains and continuing residential segregation of the black middle class he showed how class means one thing for whites and another for blacks. These excellent papers were followed by a lively discussion over the social composition of the conference panels on race and ethnicity and the extent to which personal identity creates bias in analyses of these subjects. Clashing viewpoints resonated with recent American debates about ‘political correctness’ and ‘freedom of hate speech’ in which such values as academic freedom and the quest for objective truth vie with cultural relativism and poststructuralist critiques of the academic enterprise. For some intelligent critiques by white males were preferable to their silence on race and ethnic relations. Others attacked multiculturalism itself as another instance of the new ‘identity politics’ and of the competition between established and socially mobile groups in the academy. As might be expected from the divergent epistemological and ideological assumptions underlying such views no consensus emerged. But it is clear that RC2 will be forced to devote greater attention to inclusiveness in the social composition of panels. Hopefully to prevent the ‘ghettoization’ of minority viewpoints inclusion will extend beyond the subject of race and ethnic relations. A second panel on ‘Comparative trends in urban inequality’ moved beyond the American context and focused in particular on the ‘new’ poor in advanced capitalist societies. Peter Marcuse discussed six essential changes in urban social structure including the rise of homelessness abandoned ghettos and luxury enclaves which need to be recognized in order to effect political change. Lydia Morris and Enzo Mingione examined the long- term unemployed in Britain and Italy respectively arguing that it is inappropriate to speak of an ‘underclass’ as distinct from the working class. Loic Wacquant contrasted two poor neighbourhoods in Chicago and Paris. He found that despite French concerns over the rise of an immigrant ‘underclass’ minority conditions in La Courneuve were better and  Event zyxwvus 5 improving while South Chicago was undergoing ‘hyperghettoization’ zy   Hilary Silver contrasted sociological interpretations of similar socio-economic trends in Britain France and the USA attributing analytic differences in rhetoric about poverty to national political struggles. Summing up Ivan Szelenyi noted the continuing importance of social classes and nation-states and linked the new significance of long-term poverty to the withdrawal of welfare states from redistributive and urban programmes. The notion of an ‘underclass’ was tied to a particular political and ideological project. A far from parochial panel on ‘Social forces shaping southern California’ provided a useful orientation to the conference’s setting. Although it seemed as though everyone had brought along a copy of Mike Davis’s ity ofquartz I do not know how many of the conference participants actually toured the poorer sections of Los Angeles discussed in this session. But as one who happened to be in South Central LA just hours before the Rodney King verdict and the subsequent disturbances I can only recommend that future conferences highlight such sessions and encourage guided inconspicuous visits to such neighbourhoods. It seems ironic that scores of urban experts missed an opportunity to see at first hand the conditions underlying a conspicuous instance of the urban unrest many of us study. Two successful aspects of this conference should be mentioned. One is the small- scale conference dinner that encouraged participants from diverse countries and with diverse interests to meet one another before dispersing for the evening. Dinners like these are an excellent way to integrate new members and rejuvenate the research group. Another useful innovation was the recording of conference sessions. The sale of tapes makes it possible to avoid painful choices between simultaneously scheduled sessions. It is also a way to bring parts of the conference home to students or colleagues who could not attend. z ilary Silver Department of Sociology Brown University Providence zy I 02912 USA
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