This course aims at building a genealogy of capitalism through the spaces it has produced. In a way, this is an attempt to revisit Leonardo Benevolo’s The Origin of Town Planning, a seminal study in which the Italian historian charted the evolution of Western urbanism in light of capitalistic development. While Benevolo located the beginnings of urbanism in the 19th-century reformist tradition, the course will examine the argument that the very ground zero of both urbanism and planning has to be situated in the English ‘Agricultural Revolution’ of the 18th century and concomitant colonial appropriation in Asia and in the Americas. Within these two events, not only were large masses of people dispossessed of their means of livelihood but the entire urban territory was re-configured in order to facilitate capitalism’s primary goal: the extraction of surplus value from the entire spectrum of social relationships.
The course rereads all the most important stages that followed this seminal event: the building of large infrastructural systems such as canals and railways, the commodification of domestic space, the rise of the factory and the technical construction of the labor force, the birth of the welfare state, and the development of reformist policies that attempted to soften or counter the consequences of capitalist development. The course maintains that the rise of urbanism and planning were parallel to both the increasing commodification of land use and the working class’s resistance to their subaltern position to capital. The seminar discusses subjects, politics, policies, and projects that are central to the formation of the contemporary hegemony of capitalistic social relationships, and look at how the engineering and building of urban space became a crucial step in ensuring the reproduction of capitalist urban space.