Hinterlands of the Capitalocene

How, then, to decipher the role of hinterlands in supporting and buffering the metabolic dynamics, rifts and crisis tendencies of urbanization under capitalism? This challenge is, on the one hand, a conceptual one insofar as it requires us to rethink the very nature of hinterlands in the age of capital, or “Capitalocene.”11 The hinterland concept is not only a technical term of art within economic geography but also has been thoroughly intermeshed with racialized historical geographies of colonization, land grabbing, enclosure, territorial dispossession and institutionalized violence against indigenous people, enslaved Africans and other subordinated, displaced and “surplus” populations.12 The exploration of such issues will require rigorously historical analysis since the social, infrastructural, institutional and environmental geographies of “hinterlandized” regions have been dramatically transformed during the process of capitalist industrial development, in close connection to state spatial strategies to shape and reshape patterns of spatial inequality within and beyond their territories. Indeed, much like the term “city,” the inherited notion of the hinterland implies a static, context-transcendent universalism that belies the extraordinary variegation and dynamism of the spaces it purports to demarcate while occluding the relations of imperial power, racial domination and unequal ecological exchange through which they are constituted. As such, even within the definitionally specific parameters demarcated earlier, the hinterland concept should be used only with utmost reflexivity and precision, and as no more than a “first cut” towards a broader inquiry into the problematique of extended urbanization.

Investigating the hinterlands of the Capitalocene will also require a systematic reengagement with classic questions about cities and empire. Much of the inherited scholarship on such issues emphasizes the role of cities as “spearheads” for colonial territorial conquest, plunder of resources and ideological domination.13 While our approach affirms the contributions of this classical line ofanalysis.it also directs attention to the intrinsic connection between accelerated city-building processes under capitalism and what we might think of as the “hinterlandization” of the world— that is, the large-scale enclosure, colonization and operationalization of non-city zones within and beyond capital Euro-American heartlands into subordinate zones of extraction through which successive historical “cheap natures” are appropriated.14 From this expanded point of view, urbanization involves not only the role of city-building in grounding imperial projects of territorial expansion but also variegated processes of hinterlandization through which non-city zones are operationalized, both economically and ecologically, to support agglomeration-centric processes of geographical transfer of value in both metropole and colony alike.15 In this sense, the project of superseding narrowly Eurocentric formations of the urban question must not only explore the decidedly «оп-derivative theoretical significance of urbanisms beyond the West but the coloniality of urbanization itself—that is, the multiscalar, intercontinental force fields of extraction, surplus value transfer and thermodynamic imperialism that underpin, animate and result from city-building processes under modern capitalism.16

Confronting the hinterland enigma is, finally, a challenge that will require critical appropriations of newly available sources of geospatial data, which may offer a powerful basis for investigating the historical and contemporary rearticulation of land uses, built and unbuilt environments and political ecologies around the world.17 It is not sufficient simply to posit that such non-city “outsides” are constitutively important for citv-building processes or to focus on measuring the role of such spaces as “taps” and “sinks” for the metabolic dynamics of capitalist urbanization. While this vast planetary hinterland covers nearly 70% of the earth’s terrestrial surface and is densely layered with productive, extractive, circulatory and informational infrastructure, it has remained an obscure background to the study of contemporary urbanization. It is precisely in this sense that the “black box” of the hinterland must be opened and systematically rearticulated to the central agendas of urban studies. What is required is a framework that can connect historically and geographically specific forms of city and non-city space (and associated relations of domination) as coproduced, coevolving moments within the combined, uneven, variegated and crisis-riven world ecologies of capitalist urbanization.

Agglomerations and the “used area” of the planet in the early 21??

FIGURE 4.4 Agglomerations and the “used area” of the planet in the early 21“ century.This map juxtaposes a demarcation of the worlds metropolitan agglomerations (red zones) onto a rendering of the total “used area”ofthe entire planet (black and grayscale).Agglomeration zones constitute only a miniscule percentage of the planets operationalized landscapes, which are mostly devoted to primary commodity production (agricultural cultivation, grazing, forestry), resource extraction, logistics and waste disposal (Source:Visualisation by the authors based on the following sources and publicly available datasets: European Commission Joint Research Center, 2016, Global Human Settlement Layer; K.-H. Erb.V. Gaube, F. Krausmann, C. Plutzar, A. Bondeau and H. Haberl,“A comprehensive global 5 min resolution land-use dataset for the year 2000 consistent with national census data,” Journal of Land Use Science 2,3 (2007): 191—224; Vector Map Level 0 (VMapO) dataset released by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), 1997)

The development of such a framework requires systematic elaboration elsewhere. Here it must suffice to offer some initial generalizations regarding four key mutations of city/hinterland relations that have been particularly pronounced during the last half-century. These relatively abstract propositions are not intended to foreclose more contextually embedded, historically specific lines of inquiry, but to stimulate further reflection, investigation and debate regarding the restlessly churning dynamics of planetary urbanization. We aim not to subsume all aspects of social life in non-city zones under the latter rubric, but rather to mobilize the methodological tactics proposed here as a basis for investigating historically and geographically specific processes of hinterlandization and their far-reaching implications for the political-economic and environmental geographies of capital. For present purposes, we continue to deploy the term “hinterland”, even as our analysis demarcates various ways in which its analytic usefulness has been ever more narrowly circumscribed through the vicissitudes of capitalist uneven spatial development.

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