Marxist Political Ecology Of Urban Hunger

Though infrequently discussed and difficult to statistically explicate, urban hunger requires an analysis separate from that of world hunger, or regional/rural hunger (see Sen 1981; Dreze and Sen 1989; Grigg 1993). As Swyngedouw and I suggest elsewhere (2003:907): "[I]t is on the terrain of the urban that [the] accelerating metabolic transformation of nature becomes most visible, both in its physical form and its socioecological consequences." However, the politics of urban hunger are too often couched within the discursive construction of an "urban social problem". This perspective too easily obfuscates the environmental ramifications of urban hunger. There is no doubt that hunger is, as Sen (1981) suggests, a socio-economic problem. For instance, the twenty-two most food-deficient sub-Saharan African countries could meet their food needs with just 11 percent of the food surplus held by neighbouring countries (Lappe et al. 1998). However, hunger is also a socionatural problem that requires analysis within the context of urban metabolic processes in order to excavate the interactions and interdependencies among cities, human beings and nature.

As most explicitly discussed in Chapter 2 of this collection (and elsewhere in Peet and Watts 1993; Swyngedouw 1996; Keil and Graham 1998; Laituri and Kirby 1994), socio-spatial processes are always related to the circulation and metabolism of physical, chemical, or biological components and as such are tied to the production of material reality. These metabolisms generate both enabling and disabling socioecological conditions that often embody contradictory relations. It is within the logic of these contradictions that we must situate the political ecology of urban hunger.

At the heart of Marx and Engels' (1845:37) conception of reality was the notion that humans must meet their material needs through the appropriation of nature to be able to "make history". Related to this, they suggest (1845) "[The] conception of history depends on our ability to expound the real process of production, starting out from the material production of life itself. ..as the basis of all history." Obviously, the fact that humans need food to survive does not mean this is all they need. However, the point is they must have food and many other material "things" to live full lives. The importance of a Marxist approach to urban political ecology is that it maintains the importance of the natural foundations of human life and attempts to build upon it.

As Marx's primary interest was focused on investigating capitalism, he only touched sporadically on the fundamental processes of metabolization and social reproduction, and moved more directly to the processes of commodity production and other processes inherent in capitalism. We need to return to the point of the dialectical interdependencies between nature and social reproduction (see Katz 2004; Marston 2004; Mitchell et al.

2003). As the demoralizing consequences of capitalism have proliferated, there is a need to take several steps back for the sake of investigating the ramifications of how material needs, metabolization and social reproduction all play out within cities.

Swyngedouw (1999) suggests the material and social conditioning of human bodies and of the metabolic transformation of nature is constituted in and through temporal/spatial social relations that operate over certain scalar extents. As such, the socioecological processes of need/desire that produce urban hunger must also be situated within an explicitly scalar context. In order to engage urban metabolization in such a way as to inform discussions both about the production of urban space and of urban nature, we must, just as Marx did from his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 onward, ground our ontological and epistemological arguments in sensual bodily interaction with the world. By starting at the scale of the body, or the stomach in this case, it then becomes possible to "jump scales" (see Smith 1993) to the urban. This can then facilitate excavating the socionatural relations that fuse bodies to urban nature and provide a lens through which to understand urban environments, as both produced by, and consisting of, human bodies.

While not explicitly engaging the scalar relations of hunger, Marx (1964:181) suggested "Hunger is a natural need; it therefore needs a nature outside itself, an object outside itself, in order to satisfy itself, to be stilled. Hunger is an acknowledged need of my body for an object existing outside it, indispensable to its integration and to the expression of its essential being." Marx's notion that "it [hunger] therefore needs a nature outside itself, an object outside itself, in order to satisfy itself..." has myriad scalar ramifications directly connecting bodily scales with extra-bodily socionatural scalar processes.

From this perspective, we see that socionatural nested scales of hunger explicitly link the essence of human life (food), through individual human lives, to the extra-bodily scales at which the needs of hunger can be met. Harvey (1998:402-403) also suggests that: "the metabolic processes that sustain a body entail exchanges with its environment. If the processes change, then the body either transforms and adapts or ceases to exist. Similarly, the mix of performative activities available to the body in a given place and time are not independent of the technological, physical, social, and economic environment in which that body has its being." Thus, the power relations inherent to urban food systems cannot be divorced from the political ecological systems they operate within, nor can they be considered as only bodily processes, rather, they must be thought of as interrelated urban, regional, national, global, etc. processes. The scalar dialectics of hunger help us elucidate the socionatural relations that both produce bodies, and in turn, enable bodies to produce environments.

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