The Spatial Fix Revisited

Harvey defines his notion of the “spatial fix” in terms of the junky that needs a “fix,” but that fix is entirely fleeting and never satiates the junky’s need for smack, or in this case capitalist expansion. The resolution is temporary and never permanent. Moreover, the spatial fix merely reproduces capitalism’s contradictions on an ever-expanding scale.

This sense of the fix also implies a technological component: “Capitalism, we might say, is addicted to geographical expansion much as it is addicted to technological change and endless expansion through economic growth” (24). This notion of fix relies on a notion of crisis as the product of the overaccumulation of capital. Another source of crisis potential is the inherent devaluation of fixed capital.

The dialectic of fixity and motion, which are intrinsic to spatial fixes and uneven development, even plays into the notion of fixed capital:

But a distinction must be drawn between fixed capital that is mobile and that which is not. Some fixed capital is embedded in the land (primarily in the form of the built environment or more broadly as ‘second nature’) and therefore fixed in place. This capital is “fixed” in a double sense (tied up in a particular object like a machine and pinned down in place). There is a relationship between the two forms. Aircrafts (a highly mobile form of fixed capital) require investments in immobile airport facilities if they are to function. The dialectic between fixity and motion then comes into play even within the category of fixed capital.

The notion of “fixity” into place is also implied in the spatial fix:

I note, for example, that capitalism has to fix space (in immoveable structures of transport and communication nets, as well as in built environments of factories, roads, houses, water supplies, and other physical infrastructures) in order to overcome space (achieve a liberty of movement through low transport and communication costs). This leads to one of the central contradictions of capital: that it has to build a fixed space (or “landscape”) necessary for its own functioning at a certain point in its history only to have to destroy that space (and devalue much of the capital invested therein) at a later point in order to make way for a new “spatial fix” (openings for fresh accumulation in new spaces and territories) at a later point in its history.

Through this quote, it’s easy to see how the spatial fix is deeply related to Neil Smith’s theories about uneven development through the contradictions of equalization and differentiation.

The “spatial fix” (in the sense of geographical expansion to resolve problems of overaccumulation) is in part achieved through fixing investments spatially, embedding them in the land, to create an entirely new landscape (of airports and of cities, for example) for capital accumulation.

Globalization, Harvey argues, has intensified the irreconcilable contradiction between the fixity and mobility of capital, which entails uneven development, but also implies more than that.

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