The Limits to Capital (1982): David Harvey
The Limits to Capital was first published in 1982. It is a book with epic ambitions. It aims to explain how a raft of geographical phenornena - such as city-regions, nation states and transportation networks within and between them - are integral to the functioning of the world's dominant economic system (capitalism). Harvey is arguably the most famous contemporary geographer, known for his politically engaged scholarship beyond, as much as within, the field of professional geography. Author of over a dozen major works (including The Condition of Postmodernity: see Woodward and Jones, Chapter 15, this volume), The Limits to Capital is Harvey's 'favourite text' (2001: 10). The book, which was nearly a decade in the making, was written for two audiences. As the leading Marxist geographer of his day, Harvey hoped that The Limits to Capital would influence research and teaching among what, at the time, was a small group of like minded geographers (such as his former students Neil Smith and Richard Walker). As a geographical Marxist, Harvey also wrote Limits to Capital in the hope of persuading a fairly large community of academic Marxists outside geography to take geographical questions more seriously than they had previously. In short, The Limits to Capital was intended to be a paradigmatic contribution: nothing less than a modern geographical equivalent of Karl Marx's magisterial work Capital (upon which Harvey's book is in large measure based). The one important contrast with Marx's own writing is that Harvey's book was largely an academic contribution, a significant fact to which I will return later. I will structure my account of The Limits to Capital as follows. In the next section I will set the book in its original context and explain the significance of its status as a largely academic work. I will then attempt to summarize the book's arguments for the benefit of student readers who, with few exceptions, would not get far if they tried to read The Limits of Capital unaided. In the penultimate section I will consider the book's impact within and beyond professional geography between 1982 and the date of its first reissue (1999). My brief concluding section relates The Limits of Capital to the immediate circumstances of our time and likely future scenarios for humanity worldwide.