David Harvey’s recent book, Justice, nature and the geography of difference (JNGD), engages with a central philosophical debate that continues to dominate human geography: the tension between the radical Marxist project of recent decades and the apparently disempowering relativism and ‘play of difference’ of postmodern thought. In this book, Harvey continues to argue for a revised ‘post-Marxist’ approach in human geography which remains based on Hegelian-Marxian principles of dialectical thought. This article develops a critique of that stance, drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
I argue that dialectical thinking, as well as Harvey’s version of ‘post-Marxism’, has been undermined by the wide-ranging ‘post-’ critique. I suggest that Harvey has failed to appreciate the full force of this critique and the implications it has for ‘post-Marxist’ ontology and epistemology. I argue that ‘post-Marxism’, along with much contemporary human geography, is constrained by an inflexible ontology which excessively prioritizes space in the theory produced, and which implements inflexible concepts. Instead, using the insights of several ‘post-’ writers, I contend there is a need to develop an ontology of ‘context’ leading to the production of ‘contextual theories’. Such theories utilize flexible concepts in a multi-layered understanding of ontology and epistemology. I compare how an approach which produces a ‘contextual theory’ might lead to more politically empowering theory than ‘post-Marxism’ with reference to one of Harvey’s case studies in JNGD.