Classical theorists were deeply concerned over the specialization and rationalization of the working class. Famously, Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, looked at the result of capitalism upon the proletariat as taking four colors. Roughly: alienation from the worker’s labor, from his product, from his fellow worker, and from his own ‘species being.’ Just in time to trigger feelings of guilt in the hearts of Wal-Mart holiday (or post-holiday, bargain) shoppers, the New York Times buzzkills yuletide cheer with a Christmas Eve story about ‘Sock City.’ According to the Times, the city of Datang, China “produces an astounding nine billion pairs of socks each year – more than one set for every person on the planet. People here fondly call it Socks City, and its annual socks festival attracts 100,000 buyers from around the world.”
It’s no joke. And it’s not the only ‘commodity town’: To the southeast of Datang there is the necktie capital, to the west is ‘Sweater City,’ and to the south is ‘Underwear City.’ I’m not sure how fun a socks festival can be, but I wonder if it could possibly balance out the alienation of an entire city producing hosiery. Yes, there were, and still are ‘company towns,’ but, is this a logical extension? Is it what geographer Neil Smith called the jumping scale of a particular condition of capitalism?
Evoking Marx, the NYT article continues:
The niche cities reflect China’s ability to form “lump” economies, where clusters or networks of businesses feed off each other, building technologies and enjoying the benefits of concentrated support centers – like the button capital nearby, which furnishes most of the buttons on the world’s shirts, pants and jackets.
David Barboza, author of the Times piece, writes that Marx couldn’t have imagined such developments. But of course he could have. Standing upon Marx’s shoulders, we might theorize a great deal, centering our inquiry around questions like: Is there a communality between the cities? Does the social network at the municipal level translate to a communal tie at the interpersonal level, or does it create a rift? Does the ‘imagined community‘ of the nation get undermined by the segmentation of industry writ large (a la the dissemination and reconfiguration of Germany’s industries post WWII)? Can there be municipal alienation – a kind of blue state-red state disjunction at the city level? Have the forces of ‘centralization’ and ‘concentration,’ so described by Marx (add Saskia Sassen and David Harvey, too) brought about a new wave of ‘commodity town’?
(Looking for more in the realm of Holiday Buzzkill? Don’t miss the story of a California father who sold his kid’s toys on eBay. Also for a great post on the nature of ‘the gift,’ check out PubSociology.