Archipelago of Wonders

I ON CYCLES OF OBSOLESCENCE

Dominika Kopiarova

The relevance of recognising territories in obsolescence rests on the misleading dependency of progress on the perpetual obsolescence of space. The mechanisms underlying the cycles of production or abandonment of postindustrial landscapes and the means to theorise these territories in their present reality are of interest here—obsolescence as a productive process that contests their spatial identity. 

Joseph Schumpeter—its ardent defender—defined capitalism as the creative destruction with imminent obsolescence at its core. A fitting term for the process of continual industrial mutation necessary to successively revolutionise the economic structure from within—’Destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.’[2] 2 -  J.A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (London: Routledge, 1976 [1942]), p. 83. Schumpeter presented entrepreneurial innovation as the vital force behind the notion of progress and productive instability of capitalism, at once explaining the boom-and-bust cycles as much as the cycles of industrial construction and abandonment. 

As David Harvey argued, macro-economists tend to have a weak grasp on how to handle the production of space in their theories and models. At least beyond partitioning it into geopolitical entities and industrial zones. Harvey—a proponent of the notion that capitalism annihilates space to ensure its success[3] 3 - D. Harvey, Social Justice and the City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973).—considered the production, reproduction, and reconfiguration of space as central to understanding the political economy of capitalism. Harvey introduced the concept of a ‘spatial fix’ that bridges the gap between the abstract notion of capitalist progress and the core of obsolescence as being inherently temporal and locally embedded.[4] 4 - D. Harvey, ‘Globalization and the “Spatial Fix”,’, in Geographische revue, 2/2001, pp. 23–30.

The system of capitalism is dependent on geographical expansion as much as technological innovation and self-fulfilling expansion through economic growth. The ‘spatial fix’ then describes the contradictory tendency of this mechanismto fix’ economic infrastructure in a specific place and ‘to fix’ the crisis by liberating circulating capital from its local embeddedness. This results in an inherent tension between the demand to build an environment through which capital investments can circulate and the reflex to abandon it—along with a legacy of pollution and local economic recession—in a quest for increased profits.[5] 5 - D. Harvey, ‘Globalization and the “Spatial Fix”,’, in Geographische revue, 2/2001, pp. 23–30. This is achieved by rapid relocation in search of a cheaper labour force, favourable terms of trade, new pools of resources and raw materials, or sites with weaker environmental regulations. Following this logic of the ‘spatial fix’, the cycles of obsolescence are defined by the ‘deindustrialization here and reindustrialization there’ mindset.[6] 6 - D. Harvey, ‘Globalization and the “Spatial Fix”,’, in Geographische revue, 2/2001, p. 24.

The sole distinction between the industrial and the postindustrial becomes insufficient. In understanding the patterns of production, reproduction and abandonment of space, the need for the projected future state of the industrial landscapes must be recognised. Ergo, the industrial, the postindustrial, and the future postindustrial can be described as the process of becoming obsolete, obsolescence, and projected obsolescence—that is not to suggest a hard border between the pertinent territorial conditions which generally tend to overlap and coexist.

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TU Delft / Faculty of Architecture