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Mike Davis (born 1946) is an American social commentator, urban theorist, historian, and political activist. He is best known for his investigations of power and social class in his native Southern California.

Contents

Life

Born in Fontana, California and raised in El Cajon, California, Davis' education was punctuated by stints as a meat cutter, truck driver, and a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) activist. He briefly studied at Reed College in the mid-1960s but did not begin his academic career in earnest until the early 1970s, when he earned BA and MA degrees but did not complete the Ph.D. program in History from the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a 1996-1997 Getty Scholar at the Getty Research Institute[1] and received a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 1998[2]. He won the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction in 2007.

Career

Davis is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, and an editor of the New Left Review. Davis has taught urban theory at the Southern California Institute of Architecture before he secured a position at University of California, Irvine's history department. He also contributes to the British monthly Socialist Review, the organ of the Socialist Workers Party of Great Britain. As a journalist and essayist, Davis has written frequently for, among others, The Nation and the UK's New Statesman.

He is a self-defined international socialist and "Marxist-Environmentalist".[3] He writes in the tradition of socialists/architects/regionalism advocates such as Lewis Mumford and Garrett Eckbo, whom he cites in Ecology of Fear. His early book, Prisoners of the American Dream, was an important contribution to the Marxist study of U.S. history, political economy, and the state, as well as to the doctrine of Revolutionary integrationism, as Davis, like other Trotskyists such as Max Shachtman, Richard S. Fraser, James Robertson, as well as French anarchist Daniel Guérin, argued that the struggle of blacks in the U.S. was for equality, that this struggle was an explosive contradiction fundamental to the U.S. bourgeois republic, that only socialism could bring it about, and that its momentum would someday be a powerful contribution to a socialist revolution in the U.S.

Davis is also the author of two fiction books for young adults: Land of The Lost Mammoths and Pirates, Bats and Dragons.

Criticisms and reviews

Reviewers have praised his prose style and his exposés of alleged economic, social, environmental and political injustice. His book Planet of Slums inspired a special issue of Mute Magazine on global slums.[4] City of Quartz is notable for predicting some of the tensions that would lead into the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Davis is not without detractors, however. Veronique de Turenne, in a Salon article entitled "Is Mike Davis' Los Angeles All in His Head?" (December 7, 1998), cites an allegation that Davis distorts or makes up facts to overdramatize his case against the contemporary capitalist city. The claim was made by Malibu Realtor Brady Westwater (a pseudonym for Ross Ernest Shockley), and subsequently repeated by commentator Jill Stewart, who in addition called Davis a "city-hating socialist" in the New Times Los Angeles.[5] According to one critic, Davis "has acknowledged fabricating an entire conversation with a local environmentalist, Lewis McAdams, for a cover story he wrote for L.A. Weekly a decade ago; he defends it as an early attempt at journalistic scene-setting."[6] Jon Wiener, however, in the Nation has defended Davis from the charges of poor scholarship, arguing that these charges are made by big city "boosters."[7] Kevin Stannard, in his October 2004 Geography article "That Certain Feeling: Mike Davis, Truth and the City", has argued for the defense that "much of the controversy is explained by Davis's ambiguous balancing of academic research and reportage, which can act as a prism through which to evaluate interpretations of the postmodern city."[8]

From the liberal-Left, following Jane Jacobs's attacks upon Lewis Mumford in her Death and Life of Great American Cities, Andy Merrifield (MetroMarxism, Routledge 2002) has attacked him as "harsh", (p. 170) and his work, particularly Planet of Slums, has been criticized by urban studies professor Tom Angotti, and Merrifield as "anti-urban" and overly "apocalyptic." Such critics also charge that Davis ignores what they see as the potential of activist groups among the poor and working class to address the problems he raises with the contemporary metropolis on a local or citywide basis, as advocated by Manuel Castells and Marshall Berman.[9] Davis, however, is less interested in such local reforms of the existing city as an end in themselves, than he is moving toward a fundamental, revolutionary transformation of the city, along with capitalism itself, by the global working class to become ecologically sustainable, and much of its population decentralized through a socialist regionalism, as Mumford and Eckbo advocated in the past.

Works

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Books

Nonfiction
  • Beyond Blade Runner: Urban Control, The Ecology of Fear (1992)
  • Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class (1986, 1999)
  • City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990, 2006)
  • ¿Quién mató a Los Ángeles? (1994, Spanish only)
  • Casino Zombies: True Stories From the Neon West (1999, German only)
  • Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (2000)
  • Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US City (2000)
  • Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2001)
  • The Grit Beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas, edited with Hal Rothman (2002)
  • Dead Cities, And Other Tales (2003)
  • Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, with Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew (2003)
  • Cronache Dall’Impero (2005, Italian only)
  • The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005)
  • Planet of Slums: Urban Involution and the Informal Working Class (2006)
  • No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border, with Justin Akers Chacon (2006)
  • Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (2007)
  • In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire (2007)
  • Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism, edited with Daniel Bertrand Monk (2007)
Fiction
  • Islands Mysterious: Where Science Rediscovers Wonder – a Trilogy, illustrated by William Simpson
    • 1. Land of the Lost Mammoths (2003)
    • 2. Pirates, Bats, and Dragons (2004)
    • 3. Spider Vector (forthcoming)

Articles and essays

References

Bibliography

Notes

  1. ^ Getty Research Institute. Scholar Year 1996/1997. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  2. ^ John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. MacArthur Fellows July 1998. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  3. ^ Book review, Journal of World History, Vol. 14 No. 3, December 2003 (accessed 2008-05-29)
  4. ^ Mute, Co. 2 No.3, August 2006 (accessed 2008-05-29)
  5. ^ "Is Mike Davis' Los Angeles all in his head?", salon.com Website (accessed 2008-05-29)
  6. ^ Todd S. Purdum: "Best-Selling Author's Gloomy Future for Los Angeles Meets Resistance", New York Times, January 27, 1999. (accessed 2008-05-29)
  7. ^ Jon Wiener: "LA Story: Backlash of the Boosters", The Nation, February 22, 1999. (accessed 2008-05-29)
  8. ^ Kevin Stannard, "That Certain Feeling: Mike Davis, Truth and the City", Geography, October 2004. (accessed 2008-05-29)
  9. ^ See Merrifield, MetroMarxism, and Tom Angotti, "Apocalyptic Anti-Urbanism: Mike Davis and his Planet of Slums", International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 30, 4 December 2006, pp.961–7. (accessed 2008-05-29)

External links

Reviews
Interviews

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