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Lewis Mumford

Critic of Culture and Civilization

Li Shuxue

Lewis Mumford’s achievements as an architectural critic, literary critic and urbanist are well known. However, his contribution to the American studies movement and to cultural studies in general has almost been forgotten in recent years. By situating Mumford’s work in its contemporary intellectual context and by considering some of its legacies for the study of ‘culture and civilization’ – especially in the nascent field of American studies – this book considers Mumford as an ‘author’, drawing out some of the expressive, political and methodological significance of this term. In an attempt to counter frequent arguments that Mumford’s works are inconsistent, repetitive and derivative, the author argues that, taken as a whole, they demonstrate a consistent inter-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary critical project, and that Mumford’s thought is comparable with that of Marx and Weber. The book traces this critical project through Mumford’s works from the early twentieth century and also through his formal process of writing. The author aims to show that Mumford’s project was neither provincial nor reactionary, as some have argued, but was instead a dynamic juxtaposition of past and present that enabled him to imagine a future where humans might fulfil their potential in a more perfectly republican, even utopian, urban space.
Contents: Mumford as Writer-critic – Outopia or Eutopia – Past and Present – Reading Mumford with Reference to Marx and Weber – The Urban Dimension of Lewis Mumford’s Republicanism.