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Capitalism, cities, and the production of symbolic forms

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A striking characteristic of contemporary capitalism is the increasing importance (in terms of growth, employment, revenue, etc.) of sectors whose outputs are imbued with significant cultural or symbolic content. Sectors of these sorts are predominantly, though not exclusively, located in large cities. I describe how these cities function as creative fields generating streams of both cultural and technological innovations. Post-Fordist cities are shown to be especially fertile terrains of commodified cultural production. A number of these cities have become major centres of image-producing industries such as film, music recording, or fashion clothing, and this phenomenon is also often associated with profound transformations of their physical landscapes. I argue that the economic foundations of these trends reside, in part, in the structural characteristics of image-producing industries, marked as they frequently are by modularized, network structures of production and a strong proclivity to geographic agglomeration. At the same time, the main centres of the contemporary cultural economy are caught up in insistent processes of globalization. I suggest that after an initial phase of product standardization and concentrated development in only a few major centres, the cultural economy of capitalism now appears to be entering a new phase marked by increasingly high levels of product differentiation and polycentric production sites. I also submit that the contemporary cultural economy of capitalism constitutes a historical shift beyond consumer society as such.

Keywords: consumer society; creative field; cultural economy; globalization; urbanization

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Centre for Globalization and Policy Research, School of Public Policy and Social Research, University of California-Los Angeles, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2001


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