Theory and Society

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 717–735 | Cite as

Explaining the capitalist city: an idea of progress in Harvey’s Marxism

  • David ChampagneEmail author


What allows theories to evolve, to progress? A contentious notion, progress still haunts a number of contemporary theories. However, little research invites us to rethink progress in a comprehensive way. In this article, I contribute to this issue by considering the paradigmatic case of David Harvey’s Marxism. A pathbreaking thinker in geography, sociology, and urban studies, Harvey claims his theory intrinsically surpasses its inherent contradictions. However, numerous authors suggest otherwise, as it fails to engage with essential urban processes such as those based on state, gendered, racial, or environmental dynamics. These aspects of social life challenge his dialectical ambition. I argue that Harvey’s attachment to an orthodox Marxism ultimately limits his claim to theoretical progress. Reviewing Harvey’s overall body of work, I focus on his metatheory regarding space and his examination of the Paris Commune. I argue that his ideas on the progress of theory follow from his dialectical assumptions, which in turn inhibit his portrayal of practical realities and a continuous dialogue with concrete cases.


Geographical Marxism Paris Commune Political economy Social theory Theoretical progress Urban studies 



This article is greatly indebted to the insights and guidance of Seth Abrutyn, Thomas Kemple, Trevor Barnes, and Louis Jacob. In addition, I owe many thanks to Charles-Olivier Simard and Michel Verdon for decisive epistemological inspirations. Finally, I extend my very special thanks to the Theory and Society Editors and reviewers for their generous comments and critiques.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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