Capital’s Consumption Spatiality

Capital makes space not just for accumulation. Spaces of consumption are also important without which value will not be realized. But spaces of consumption are also usevalues that labor demands. For example, housing is an important working class demand. Capital, however, uses it as a means of investment: housing and the like can absorb a lot of surplus capital staving off the overaccumulation crisis. Homeownership can also create political stability (through the cultural discourse of homeownership).

Spaces of accumulation also influence spaces of consumption. As Marx observed of cities of his time: the greater the centralization of the means of production, the greater is the corresponding 'concentration of workers within a given space'; and therefore the faster the capitalistic accumulation takes place, the more miserable the working class housing situation. Indeed capital's production of space in its own image leads to particular implications for working class spaces of consumption. 'Improvements' of towns accompanying the increase of capital accumulation take the form of the demolition of badly built districts, the widening of streets for business traffic, for luxury carriages and so on, and all this obviously drives the poor away into even worse and more crowded corners, with state's complicity, of course. Housing estates in New York City and slums in Mumbai are great testimony to this.

The production and consumption of commodities produce and presuppose a spatial form. By exploiting the world market, capital gives a cosmopolitan character not only to production but also to consumption in every country. Our old wants, satisfied by products of our own countries, are replaced by new wants which are satisfied by the products of distant lands made by 'distant strangers'. Spaces of commodity circulation are arguably connected to the spaces of commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism occurs when relations between persons appear as relations between products they exchange. A fundamental reason for this is the lack of labor's control over the production of commodities. The spatial form of commodity exchange contributes to, although it is not a fundamental cause of, commodity fetishism because commodity markets conceal social–geographical information and relations. We cannot tell from looking at a commodity whether it has been produced by exploited child or women laborers in a poor country, or by wage laborers protected by adequate labor legislation in a rich country. In a sense, the specifically capitalist character of commodity–space contributes to a certain erasure of the footprint of space on commodities, especially when commodities represent ever more complex encounters involving ever more people over ever greater distances. The spatiality of commodity fetishism is capital's 'spatial veil', through which the rule of capital is culturally reproduced. If it is true that as Lefevre argued, the very survival of capitalism depended on the creation of a socially mystified spatiality, the latter must include the spatiality of the fetishism of the commodity.


Capital is the name given to a 'process' of production of value and of exploitation of labor by owners of capital. Capital is also a process manifested as things, as means of production, and as commodities. It is also a 'relation' between labor and owners of capital. Capital is both capital in general, the total social capital as well as individual capitals, including those whose operations tend to be based in specific regions and sectors.

The inner contradiction of capital is expressed through the restless formation and reformation of the spatial landscape. In order to overcome spatial barriers, that is, to annihilate space with time, spatial structures are produced which themselves ultimately act as a barrier to further accumulation of capital. These spatial structures are partly expressed in the fixed and immovable form of transport facilities, plant, and other means of production and consumption which cannot be moved without being (partially) destroyed/devalued.

Implicit in the foregoing discussion is the fact there are two moments to the production of space under the rule of capital. Capital produces space, its built environment (this is the first moment of capital's production of space) but in a spatially uneven way thus producing space in the sense of spatial unevenness (the second moment of capital's production of space). This second moment of production of space – spatial unevenness – happens due to uneven penetration of capitalist relations, which happens partly because of a geography of class struggle against the penetration of capital into noncapitalist spaces. Even the current tendency towards 'accumulation by dispossession', including the process of dispossession of people from their land, progresses unevenly. Further, the physical transformation of the landscape (cities, transport system, factories, shopping malls, etc.) also occurs unevenly over space. And this second moment of the production of space – the spatial unevenness of capital relations and development of productive forces under the rule of capital – happens at different scales, leading to uneven spatial development at local, regional, national, and global scales. The actual forms of spatially uneven development and their mechanisms must be investigated.

The production of space under the rule of capital is not entirely an economic affair. Indeed social relations of gender and race and sexuality, and subsistence based economic relations and local cultural traditions influence the ways capital produces and makes use of space. For example, at an abstract level, an owner of labor has one unit of labor power and whether, therefore, a labor is a man or woman, whether the owner of capital is a man or woman, makes no difference to the mechanism exploitation. But the gendered or racialized nature of labor, for example, 'does' make a difference at the level of competing capitals, to the rate of exploitation and to the possibilities of political opposition to it. The location of particular kinds of capital is partly determined by the social–ideological construction of women labor as being docile and as having soft and nimble fingers (useful in concrete labor practices in units producing and processing new agricultural commodities such as flowers, and in assembly plants). Indeed, specific fractions of capital based in specific places and in mutual competition for excess profits can appropriate above average profits by using women labor and racially minority workers socially construed as vulnerable and who indeed are made vulnerable; consider tribal laborers or non white immigrant laborers in advanced countries. The ways in which the production of space occurs through the intersection of the logic of capital with noncapitalist logics, the logics of race and gender, need detailed analysis. The spaces that capital creates are most definitely gendered and racialized.

Not only does capital produce space. The spatial structure of capitalism produces positive benefits for capital as well, as indicated earlier. Capitalists in the developed regions/countries use superior technology and cheapen their goods and services below the average cost and thus sell these above the value in competition with commodities produced in technology poor regions. This will allow them to obtain excess profits from the regions using inferior technology. Individual fractions of capital make use of spatial differentiation – differentiation in rate of profit and wage rates, in sharing technology, in incidence of class struggle, etc. – to increase profits. Center–periphery relations between powerful developed nations and less developed less powerful nations – a specific form that capital's space takes at the global scale – are reproduced through new imperialist practices, and this requires serious analytical attention. Very briefly, analogous to technology, control over low cost locations in the periphery is a strategy employed by core country capitals backed by their states militarily to cut costs, derive excess profit, and remain globally competitive. The process of production of space by capital – spatially uneven development, for example – has also an important ideological function for capital. Uneven development means that some spaces are developed and others are not. It is the developed spaces of the spatial equation that creates the idea that other spaces currently underdeveloped 'can' achieve development and if they are less developed now, the reasons must be 'in these spaces themselves'. Capital's space acts as a veil for it.

Capital revolutionizes productive forces, including spatial relations. But one must not lose sight of the irrationality of the space making processes of capital. On the one hand, we observe the overaccumulation of spaceshrinking technologies and spatial infrastructures (airports, highways, etc.), but at the same time millions of people are in absolute and relative isolation from one another, from centers of employment, and so on. This realization is an important precondition for struggles against capital's space making project.