USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Systems of Cultural Mass Production

Spectators from around the world gather constantly to observe a phenomenon unique to the human settlement that has been objectified as the city skyline. Many of the spectators may be drawn to image of the skyline due to the immensity of the scale. Others may be drawn to the phenomenon as an acknowledgment of man’s ability to control, and create his surrounding environment. However, the power of the skyline has been tamed and domesticated. The spirituality of the city skyline has been simplified to a collection of copied symbols and pasted onto countless mugs, t-shirts and posters.  Furthermore, the inevitable system of commodification of the city skyline may be observed in countless of the world’s many cultural artifacts. The system of cultural commodification and production may be indiscriminately ruthless, but within the system emerges intelligence and power.

Culture has become a production industry of massive scale, which has permeated every modern society around the world. The industry functions just like any other globalized industry of mass production. Fashion, art, and design have all been copied and produced at high volume, and now the average man may derive enjoyment for the same cultural product around the globe at a reasonable price. Shopping districts of the world’s great cities: Tokyo, London, Paris, Shanghai, all have been infiltrated by the same international fashion brands. The same movies will be consumed around the world by an international base of spectators. The world’s cities may have unique symbols, but ultimately all of the skylines consist of an undulating silhouette of steel, glass, and concrete. Behind all of these observations the economic forces have commoditized culture for mass consumption.

The system of cultural production has impacts far beyond just clothes or movies. It impacts our immediate built environment.  Hand picking from a collection of personal observation, I would bring light to the example of Dafan Village. The southern Chinese village emerged from a homogeneous collection of Chinese industrial settlements as the actual production center of culture in the form of paintings. While the production of culture may often be shrouded within the obscurity of production, this example becomes clear as the actual physical production of a cultural product. Society’s notion of painting as tied to a specific cultural moment of time and place is in clear juxtaposition with the act of recreating the art on a Chinese factory floor. As Adorno writes in The Culture Industry, the consumer has demanded the reproduction of cultural commodities, even though they realize they are imitations. However this example is intriguing because, out of the initial act of cultural production Dafan has in fact produced its own unique culture. Dafan’s culture is tied not to the creation of new art, but instead glorification of the act of cultural reproduction itself. As a result of the creation of Dafan’s culture came a means of wealth for the artists, and eventually economy led to the commodification of the village’s culture in the form of urban gentrification. As seen with many instance of cultural production Dafan has been regenerated not as a site of production, but as an epicenter of consumption. Consequently, as often seen with systems of mass production a gap has again emerged between the consumption and production of culture in Dafan.


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Social Class Struggle

     Shifts within the global economy have generated the manner in which the land is used including the rearrangement of residential neighborhoods or in the case of Shenzhen, the urban villages. Urban villages are pre-existing villages where the city has infiltrated its surrounding by building around them. With aims to reform and improve rural living standards, urban villagers simply wanted to ease into the urban rather than have higher income and social influence. Whole villages are being torn down and replaced by redevelopment housing ranging from mid-rise to high-rise where in many cases migrant villagers cannot afford the new rent.

“Class struggle” where the government ignores the demands of the residents has established social hierarchies. Consequently urban development is affected by the class struggle. The speed of redevelopment reflects the desire of “wanting” to take over as a dominant role within the global economy. The market has invaded the way we live and what shapes our cities thus there is an immediate need to build. Speed acts as a conceptual driving tool for the market force. Yet the social construction of cities relies on a balanced ecosystem. There must be different socio-economic statuses in order to run a functioning system.

The city as a whole triggers the emotion attached to experiences. The city is constantly changing along with the social engagement. Culture shapes form similarly to the constant morphology of a city; both are ever changing. But one may ask how does one see through the layers over time to gain an authentic essence of the city? As cultural engagement changes including people and the architecture, the urban process becomes evident.

Initially an economic experiment with political intent, Shenzhen proved to redefine the definition of a city. Within thirty years, the population of Shenzhen went from 35,000 residents to 14,000,000, becoming an instant city essentially overnight. The land is fertile due to its close proximity to the Pearl River Delta, which made the area fall under a desirable condition of urban emergence. From rice fields the area was flattened out to provide land for factories and housing. The new metropolis came into existence with no intermediary paving landscape into large highways. The new expansion created transit features and access to capital. Globalization became an ultimate agglomeration. Improving the general standards of living, reforming collectivism and opening Chinese markets, Shenzhen became what it is today, a market driven urbanization that governs and sustains the economy. The question is, should this define or influence the future development of cities? As of now, a city that is inching its way closer to a utopian lifestyle is proving that this may be the route to take.

11/25/2013 Paula M Naarvaez

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The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu