From Materialism to Anachronism

Juan Diego Ramírez de León

During the historical processes of civilizations, the morphology of cities has served as one of the most useful tools to study and analyze the social, political, economic, productive and cultural ethos of previous, and possibly posterior, societies. The materialistic condition of the cities brings together various abstract conceptions such as the political and the economic, whose dialectic foundation seizes a common ground towards and within the city.

If we scrutinize the emergence, development and consolidation of cities through the conceptual framework of historical materialism [Marx: 1959], we can argue that production and its subsequent exchange of goods is the basis of all social order. In all societies throughout history, goods distribution and the social division is determined by what the society produces, how it produces, and the mode in which the products are interchanged. This notion is subsequently transformed and shaped in the means of inhabitation, the city.

After revising this particular historical context, we can deliberate on the importance of the productive notion and its synergy with all the economic apparatus and how its abstraction reflects and materializes truthfully in cities. Nevertheless, how can we demonstrate this thesis in a collective or individual case study? In which society do we find a notorious and disruptive course, where the city morphology changed along with its production system?

The answer lies in the Latin American case, where after the establishment of the Spanish Viceroy (1542), the distributed and diversified production system of the native cultures shifted to a centralized economy, based on mercantilism and interventionism. This cultural and productive disturbances produced a standard layout for the intervened cities, whose contemporary reality and morphology share remarkable and disturbing coincidences; the result of obsolete economies in the contemporary context.

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