Capital, Global, And World Cities Research Paper

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1. The Global City: Introducing A Concept And Its History

Each phase in the long history of the world economy raises specific questions about the particular conditions that make it possible. One of the key properties of the current phase is the ascendance of information technologies and the associated increase in the mobility and liquidity of capital. There have long been cross-border economic processes—flows of capital, labor, goods, raw materials. Over the last century, these took place largely within the interstate system, where the key articulators were national states and colonial empires. The international economic system was ensconced largely in this interstate system. This has changed rather dramatically during the 1990s as a result of privatization, deregulation, the opening up of national economies to foreign firms, and the growing participation of national economic actors in global markets.

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It is in this context that we see a rescaling of what are the strategic territories that articulate the new system. With the partial unbundling or at least weakening of the national as a spatial unit due to privatization and deregulation and the associated strengthening of globalization, come conditions for the ascendance of other spatial units or scales. Among these are the subnational, notably cities and regions; cross-border regions encompassing two or more subnational entities; and supranational entities, such as global electronic markets and free-trade blocs. The dynamics and processes that get terrritorialized at these diverse scales can in principle be regional, national, or global.

We can locate the emergence of global cities in this context and against this range of instantiations of strategic scales and spatial units. In the case of global cities, the dynamics and processes that get territorialized are global. This research paper examines first some of the key theoretical and empirical elements of the global city model, followed by a brief history of the evolution of the literature on cities in the global economy. Section three is a more in-depth discussion of the organizing hypotheses of the global city model. Sections four and five discuss two specific features: the question of place in a global economy and the question of city-to-city networks in domains other than the economic.

2. Elements In A New Conceptual Architecture

The globalization of economic activity entails a new type of organizational structure. To capture this theoretically and empirically requires, correspondingly, a new type of conceptual architecture. Constructs such as the global city and the global-city region are, in my reading, important elements in this new conceptual architecture. Arrighi’s (1994) analysis is of interest here in that it posits the recurrence of certain organizational patterns in different phases of the capitalist world economy, but at gradually higher orders of complexity and expanded scope, and timed to follow or precede particular configurations of the world economy.

There are today several closely linked terms used to capture a particular intersection between global processes and cities (see Stren 1996 and Savitch 1996 for overviews). The most common is world cities, a term attributed to Goethe and then relaunched in the work of Peter Hall (1966) and more recently respecified by John Friedmann (Friedmann and Goetz 1982). Other related terms are ‘supervilles’ (Braudel 1984), informational city (Castells 1989). Choosing how to name a configuration has its own substantive rationality. The decision to formulate the term ‘global city’ (Sassen 1984) stemmed out of a recognition of the specificity of the current period. The term world city has precisely the opposite attribute: it refers to a type of city which we have seen over the centuries (Braudel 1984, Hall 1966, King 1990), and most probably also in much earlier periods in Asia than in the West. In this regard it could be said that most of today’s major global cities are also world cities, but that there may well be some global cities that are not world cities in the full, rich sense of that term. This is partly an empirical question; further, as the global economy expands and incorporates additional cities into various cross-border networks, it is quite possible that the answer to that particular question will vary over time. Thus the fact that Miami has developed global city functions beginning in the late 1980s does not make it a world city in that older sense of the term (Nijman 1996). (See generally Abu-Lughod 1999, Short and Kim 1999.)

3. The Elements Of A New Theoretical Framework

By the early 1980s a number of scholars had begun to study cities in the context of globalization ( Walton 1982, Ross and Trachte 1983, Sassen 1982, Rodriguez and Feagin 1986). But it is one article in particular, ‘The World City Hypothesis’ by Friedmann and Goetz (1982) on which attention centered. This research paper took a variety of elements that were emerging in the research literature on cities, on the global economy, on immigration, and a number of other subjects, and sought to formalize these into several propositions about the role of cities in the global economy. The key elements in this framework were the emergence of several cities as basing points for global capital, a hierarchy (albeit a shifting one) of such cities, and the social and political consequences for these cities of being such basing points.

With the books by Castells (1989), King (1990), and Sassen (1991 2001), what had been a hypothesis in the early 1980s became a full-fledged theorization and empirical specification. These three books add important and distinct propositions to the general framework: Castells’ proposition that globalization as constituted today has engendered a space of flows that reconfigures economic and political power; King’s enlargement of the frame of reference to show that the highest levels of internationalization had taken place in the cities of colonial empires rather than in the center of the world economy; Sassen’s proposition that it is not simply a matter of global coordination but one of the production of global control capacities and that an examination along these lines allows us to understand the role of global cities as production sites.

It is important to distinguish what is different about this literature from a broader, earlier literature on world cities prominently represented by the work of Peter Hall already in the 1960s, and a new literature on megacities especially focused on Latin America and Asia. These literatures do not have the fact of globalization and the centrality of cross-border networks connecting cities as crucial variables. The earlier literature on world cities is closer to the notion of capitals of empires: one city at the top of the power hierarchy.

In the current literature on global cities the determining factor is a cross-border, global network of cities that function as strategic sites for the management and specialized servicing of global economic operations. There is no such entity as a single global city, as there is with the capital of an empire; by definition, the global city is part of a network of cities. Similarly, an older literature focused on past world cities, as in the work of Braudel (1984), and earlier studies of major centers of world commerce and banking, as well as more recent work on urban hierarchies in the world system (Chase-Dunn 1984), are to be differentiated from the current literature if we historicize the world economy and specify what is distinct today. Finally, we need to distinguish between a narrowly specified literature on global and world cities today and various literatures that directly or indirectly contribute to our understanding of these cities, notably the research on producer services.

By the mid-1990s the subject had clearly emerged as a rather large field for research among scholars in many different disciplines and countries. We can see this in the variety of authors and themes in several state-of-the-art collections, notably by Fainstein et al. (1993), Knox and Taylor (1995), Noller et al. (1995), Lo and Yeung (1996), and several others that elaborate, critique, expand the empirical base, and generally advance this theoretical and methodological project. We can also see it in several new important books that set the stage for highly focused research on particular variables, notably Meyer (1991), Thrift and Leyshon (1994), Keil (1993), Eade (1996) among others. We also see the creation of several book series by various publishers in different countries: the series on World Cities edited by Knox for Belhaven Press, the series edited by Milton Santos and his colleagues in Sao Paulo for Hucitec, the series edited by Martin Wentz for Campus Verlag, are just some.

It is not only the growth of the research literature but also the growth of a body of critical responses and analyses that signals the strength and vigor of this field of inquiry. There is only space here for the briefest mention, a sort of guide to criticisms: Logan and Swanstrom’s (1990) critique of the excessive weight given to global structural processes in comparing internal vs. external factors that shape a city’s economic development; Hammet’s (1996) critique of Sassen’s proposition that globalization has contributed to social and economic polarization in global cities; Markusen and Gwiasda’s (1994) critique of the notion that New York is at the top of the US urban hierarchy and how a comparison with Washington shows that the latter has a higher level of specialization than New York in many advanced specialized services, notably in legal services; critiques of the literature for its neglect of grassroots transnationalism and the new kinds of politics and identitiy formation that this entails; Beauregard’s (1991) critique of the explanatory variables for changes in the built environment and the real estate industry; Simon’s (1995) critique of the neglect of the periphery, notably Africa; the debate in Urban Affairs (March 1998) on the concept of the global city and a similar one in Urban Studies (Summer 2001); the special issue on ‘Segregations Urbaines’ of Societes Contemporaines in 1995; the special issue of Urban Studies in 1996, and many others.

There are two types of scholarly literature that intersect with this body of research on cities and the global economy, and indeed often invoke or use it to develop their arguments. They are on the one hand a literature of anthropological and cultural studies on transnationality, globalization, and identity formation (Holston 1996, Low 1999). The other is the scholarship by regional economic geographers on the global economy, who have also focused on cities (e.g., Moulaert and Scott 1997, Gravestijn et al. 1999). In the last few years there has been a new interest in this subject by geographers (Veltz 1996, Scott 2001, Storper 1997).

In terms of method, a number of strategies have been developed. Even where there are data on intercity flows, it will take a lot of work to constitute the requisite data sets. In this regard, an ambitious initiative by the National Academy of Sciences of the US examines how we can construct better data sets at the scale of the city (NAS 2000).

Among the quantitative methodological and data formation strategies are the efforts by Smith and Timberlake (2002) and by Taylor et al. (2002). Smith and Timberlake (2002) conceptualize urban areas as central nodes in multiplex networks of economic, social, demographic and information flows. They use the methodological logic of network analysis, using particularly two measures: one of these is structural or relational equivalence between actors (i.e., cities) in a network; the second measure is centrality. Both of these measures relate to a number of propositions developed in the literature on cities in the global economy.

Taylor et al. (2002) have developed a new and pioneering data set that makes it possible to map the global networks of offices of the leading firms worldwide in several specialized corporate services, such as accounting, law, advertising, and finance. These networks of offices can be used to classify cities in terms of their participation in cross-border networks. The data can be analyzed using a variety of hypotheses and statistical as well as other methods.

There are several other efforts, but space dictates singling out just a few. David Meyer (1991) has developed ways of analyzing international networks through which a variety of exchanges of capital take place. Castells (1989) and Sassen (1991 2001) have developed several techniques of analysis which range from methods to understand the place of cities in global markets to expanding the representation of the global. In The Informational City and The Global City the authors sought to establish rather broadly what is the array of data sets that can be brought into an analysis of this subject—from international flows of capital and information to very localized social effects. This was an effort to resist the simplification in mainstream accounts which emphasize the global dispersal of activities and telecommunications and exclude most social issues.

Techniques for data analysis traditionally used by economic geographers can also be helpful. For instance Wheeler’s (1986) examination of the dispersion of higher-order financial services throughout the US urban hierarchy—which he found had proceeded at a much slower rate than the dispersion of headquarters of other large corporations—can also be used for cross-border hierarchies. Wheeler found that corporations tend to proceed up the urban hierarchy for their advanced service and banking needs. Elliott (1999) developed a test for the socioeconomic polarization hypothesis in global cities.

4. The Global City Model: Organizing Hypotheses

There are seven core hypotheses that organize the data and the theorization of the global city model. There follows a brief discussion of each as a way of producing a more precise representation of the model. (See Sassen 1991/2001.)

First, the geographic dispersal of economic activities that marks globalization, along with the simultaneous integration of such geographically dispersed activities, is a key factor feeding the growth and importance of central corporate functions. The more dispersed a firm’s operations across different countries, the more complex and strategic its central functions—that is, the work of managing, coordinating, servicing, financing a firm’s network of operations.

Second, these central functions become so complex that increasingly the headquarters of large global firms outsource them: they buy a share of their central functions from highly specialized service firms: accounting, legal, public relations, programming, telecommunications, and other such services. Thus while even ten years ago the key site for the production of these central headquarter functions was the head- quarters of a firm, today there is a second key site: the specialized service firms contracted by headquarters to produce some of these central functions or components of them. This is especially the case with firms involved in global markets and non-routine operations. But increasingly the headquarters of all large firms are buying more of such inputs rather than producing them in-house.

Third, those specialized service firms engaged in the most complex and globalized markets are subject to agglomeration economies. The complexity of the services they need to produce, the uncertainty of the markets they are involved with either directly or through the headquarters for which they are producing the services, and the growing importance of speed in all these transactions, is a mix of conditions that constitutes a new agglomeration dynamic. The mix of firms, talents, expertise from a broad range of specialized fields makes a certain type of urban environment function as an information center. Being in a city becomes synonymous with being in an extremely intense and dense information loop. This is a type of information loop that as of now still cannot be replicated fully in electronic space, and has as one of its value-added features the fact of unforeseen and unplanned mixes of information, expertise, and talent; these can produce a higher order of information. This does not hold for routinized activities which are not as subject to uncertainty and non-standardized forms of complexity. Global cities are, in this regard, production sites for the leading information industries of our time.

A fourth hypothesis, derived from the preceding one, is that the more headquarters outsource their most complex, unstandardized functions particularly those subject to uncertain and changing markets and to speed, the freer they are to opt for any location because the more the work actually done in the headquarters is not subject to agglomeration economies. This further underlines that the key sector specifying the distinctive production advantages of global cities is the highly specialized and networked services sector. In developing this hypothesis I was responding to a very common notion that the number of headquarters is what specifies a global city. Empirically it may still be the case in many countries that the leading business center is also the leading concentration of headquarters, but this may well be because there is an absence of alternative locational options. But in countries with a well-developed infrastructure outside the leading business center, there are likely to be multiple locational options for such headquarters.

Fifth, these specialized service firms need to provide a global service which has meant a global network of affiliates or some other form of partnership, and as a result we have seen a strengthening of cross-border city-to-city transactions and networks. At the limit this may well be the beginning of the formation of transnational urban systems. The growth of global markets for finance and specialized services, the need for transnational servicing networks due to sharp increases in international investment, the reduced role of the government in the regulation of international economic activity, and the corresponding ascendance of other institutional arenas, notably global markets and corporate headquarters—all these point to the existence of a series of transnational networks of cities. One implication of this, and a related hypothesis for research is that the economic fortunes of these cities become increasingly disconnected from their broader hinterlands or even their national economies. We can see here the formation, at least incipient, of transnational urban systems. To a large extent it seems to me that the major business centers in the world today draw their importance from these transnational networks.

A sixth hypothesis, is that the growing numbers of high level professionals and high-profit making specialized service firms have the effect of raising the degree of spatial and socioeconomic inequality evident in these cities. The strategic role of these specialized services as inputs raises the value of top level professionals and their numbers. Further, the fact that talent can matter enormously for the quality of these strategic outputs and, given the importance of speed, proven talent is an added value, the structure of rewards is likely to experience rapid increases. Types of activities and of workers lacking these attributes, notably in manufacturing and industrial services, are likely to get caught in the opposite cycle.

A seventh hypothesis, is that one result of the dynamics decribed in hypothesis six, is the growing informalization of a range of economic activities which find their effective demand in these cities yet have profit rates that do not allow them to compete for various resources with the high-profit making firms at the top of the system. Informalizing part or all production and distribution activities, including of services, is one way of surviving under these conditions.

The first four hypotheses qualify what has emerged as a dominant discourse on globalization, technology, and cities, which posits the end of cities as important economic units or scales. There is a tendency in that account to take the existence of a global economic system as a given, a function of the power of transnational corporations and global communications. According to the global city model, the capabilities for global operation, coordination, and control contained in the new information technologies and in the power of transnational corporations need to be produced. By focusing on the production of these capabilities we add a neglected dimension to the familiar issue of the power of large corporations and the capacity of the new technologies to neutralize distance and place. A focus on the production of these capabilities shifts the emphasis to the practices that constitute what we call economic globalization and global control.

A focus on practices draws the categories of place and work process into the analysis of economic globalization. These are two categories easily overlooked in accounts centered on the hypermobility of capital and the power of transnationals. Developing categories such as place and work process does not negate the centrality of hypermobility and power. Rather, it brings to the fore the fact that many of the resources necessary for global economic activities are not hypermobile and are, indeed, deeply embedded in place, notably places such as global cities, global-city regions, and export processing zones.

This entails a whole infrastructure of activities, firms, and jobs necessary to run the advanced corporate economy. These industries are typically conceptualized in terms of the hypermobility of their outputs and the high levels of expertise of their professionals rather than in terms of the production or work process involved and the requisite infrastructure of facilities and non-expert jobs that are also part of these industries. This in turn brings with it an emphasis on economic and spatial polarization because of the disproportionate concentration of very high and very low income jobs in the city compared with what would be the case at a larger scale such as the region or the country. A focus on regions, in contrast will lead to an emphasis on broad urbanization patterns, a more encompassing economic base, more middle sectors of both households and firms. Emphasizing place, infrastructure, and non-expert jobs matters precisely because so much of the focus has been on the neutralization of geography and place made possible by the new technologies.

Dealing with place brings with it the problem of boundaries. These are at least of two sorts, the boundary of the territorial scale as such and the boundary of the spread of globalization in the organizational structure of industries, institutional orders, places, and so on. In the case of the global city it is possible to opt for an analytic strategy that emphasizes core dynamics rather than the unit of the city as a container—the latter being one that requires territorial boundary specification. Emphasizing core dynamics and their spatialization (in both actual and digital space) does not completely solve the boundary problem, but it does allow for a fairly clear trade-off between emphasizing the core or center of these dynamics and their spread institutionally and spatially.

Finally, the detailed examination of three particular cities (Sassen 1991 2001) brought to the fore the extent to which these cities collaborate through their very specific advantages rather than simply competing with each other. In focusing on global finance in the 1980s and 1990s it becomes clear that the growth of the major centers was partly derived from the growing network of financial centers. In looking at the broader network it also becomes clear to what extent it was and remains characterized by a pronounced hierarchy among the growing number of centers that make up the network.

The growth of networked cross-border dynamics among global cities includes a broad range of domains—political, cultural, social, criminal. There are cross-border transactions among immigrant communities and communities of origin and a greater intensity in the use of these networks once they become established, including for economic activities that had been unlikely until now. We also see greater cross-border networks for cultural purposes, as in the growth of international markets for art and a transnational class of art curators; and for non-formal political purposes, as in the growth of transnational networks of activists around environmental causes, human rights, and so on. These are largely city-to-city cross-border networks, or, at least, it appears at this time to be simpler to capture the existence and modalities of these networks at the city level. The same can be said for the new cross-border criminal networks. In brief, recapturing the geography of places represented by the network of global cities allows us to recapture people, workers, communities, and more specifically, the many different work cultures, besides the corporate culture, involved in the work of globalization. It also brings with it an enormous research agenda, one that goes beyond the by now familiar focus on cross-border flows of goods, capital and information.

Further, by emphasizing the fact that global processes are at least partly embedded in national territories, such a focus introduces new variables in current conceptions about economic globalization and the shrinking regulatory role of the state. That is to say, the space economy for major new transnational economic processes diverges in significant ways from the duality global national presupposed in much analysis of the global economy. The duality national vs. global suggests two mutually exclusive spaces— where one begins the other ends. One of the outcomes of a global city analysis is that it makes evident that the global materializes by necessity in specific places and institutional arrangements a good number of which, if not most, are located in national territories.

The two final sections examine two particular aspects that illustrate some of these issues concerning place in a global economy and city-to-city networks in realms other than the economic.

5. New Forms Of Centrality

Several of the organizing hypotheses in the global city model concern the conditions for the continuity of centrality in advanced economic systems in the face of major new organizational forms and technologies that maximize the possibility for geographic dispersal. Historically, centrality has largely been embedded in the central city. Have the new technologies and organizational forms altered the spatial correlates of centrality?

Today there is no longer a simple straightforward relation between centrality and such geographic entities as the downtown, or the central business district. In the past, and up to quite recently in fact, the center was synonymous with the downtown or the CBD. The spatial correlate of the center can assume several geographic forms. It can be the CBD, as it still is largely in New York City, or it can extend into a metropolitan area in the form of a grid of nodes of intense business activity, as we see for instance in Frankfurt and Zurich. The center has been profoundly altered by telecommunications and the growth of a global economy, both inextricably linked; they have contributed to a new geography of centrality (and marginality). Simplifying we can identify four forms assumed by centrality today.

First, while centrality can assume multiple spatial correlates, the CBD in major international business centers remains a strategic site for the leading industries. But it is one profoundly reconfigured by technological and economic change (Graham and Marvin 1996). Further, there are often sharp differences in the patterns assumed by this reconfiguring of the central city in different parts of the world, notably the United States and Western Europe (Veltz 1996, Kunzmann 1994).

In the United States, major cities such as New York and Chicago have large centers that have been rebuilt many times, given the brutal neglect suffered by much urban infrastructure and the imposed obsolescence so characteristic of US cities. This neglect and accelerated obsolescence produce vast spaces for rebuilding the center according to the requirements of whatever regime of urban accumulation or pattern of spatial organization of the urban economy prevails at a given time. In Europe, urban centers are far more protected and they rarely contain significant stretches of abandoned space; the expansion of workplaces and the need for intelligent buildings necessarily will have to take place partly outside the old centers. One of the most extreme cases is the complex of La Defense, the massive, state-of-the-art office complex developed right outside Paris to avoid harming the built environment inside the city. This is an explicit instance of government policy and planning aimed at addressing the growing demand for central office space of prime quality. Yet another variant of this expansion of the ‘center’ onto hitherto peripheral land can be seen in London’s Docklands. Similar projects for recentralizing peripheral areas were launched in several major cities in Europe, North America, and Japan during the 1980s. (See Marcuse and van Kempen 2000.)

Second, the center can extend into a metropolitan area in the form of a grid of nodes of intense business activity. One might ask whether a spatial organization characterized by dense strategic nodes spread over a broader region does in fact constitute a new form of organizing the territory of the ‘center,’ rather than, as in the more conventional view, an instance of suburbanization or geographic dispersal. Insofar as these various nodes are articulated through digital networks, they represent a new geographic correlate of the most advanced type of ‘center.’ This is a partly deterritorialized space of centrality. Indeed much of the actual geographic territory within which these nodes exist falls outside the new grid of digital networks, and is in that sense partly peripheralized.

This regional grid of nodes represents a reconstitution of the concept of region. Far from neutralizing geography the regional grid is likely to be embedded in conventional forms of communication infrastructure, notably rapid rail and highways connecting to airports. Ironically perhaps, conventional infrastructure is likely to maximize the economic benefits derived from telematics. This is an important issue that has been lost somewhat in discussions about the neutralization of geography through telecommunications.

Third, we are seeing the formation of a transterritorial ‘center’ constituted, partly in digital space, via intense economic transactions in the network of global cities. These networks of major international business centers constitute new geographies of centrality. The most powerful of these new geographies of centrality at the global level binds the major international financial and business centers: New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Zurich, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong, among others. But this geography now also includes cities such as Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, Sao Paulo, Mexico City. The intensity of transactions among these cities, particularly through the financial markets, trade in services, and investment, has increased sharply, and so have the orders of magnitude involved. At the same time, there has been a sharpening inequality in the concentration of strategic resources and activities between each of these cities and others in the same country, a condition that further underlines the extent to which this is a cross-border space of centrality.

The pronounced orientation to the world markets evident in such cities raises questions about the articulation with their nation-states, their regions, and the larger economic and social structure in such cities. Cities have typically been deeply embedded in the economies of their region, indeed often reflecting the characteristics of the latter; and they still do. But cities that are strategic sites in the global economy tend, in part, to disconnect from their region. This conflicts with a key proposition in traditional scholarship about urban systems, namely, that these systems promote the territorial integration of regional and national economies.

In the case of a complex landscape such as Europe’s we see several geographies of centrality, one global, others continental and regional. A central urban hierarchy connects major cities, many of which in turn play central roles in the wider global system of cities: Paris, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Zurich. These cities are also part of a wider network of European financial cultural service capitals, some with only one, others with several of these functions, which articulate the European region and are somewhat less oriented to the global economy than Paris, Frankfurt, or London. And then there are several geographies of marginality: the East–West divide and the North– South divide across Europe as well as newer divisions. In Eastern Europe, certain cities and regions, notably Budapest, are rather attractive for purposes of investment, both European and non-European, while others will increasingly fall behind, notably in Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Albania. We see a similar differentiation in the south of Europe: Madrid, Barcelona, and Milan are gaining in the new European hierarchy; Naples, Rome, and Marseilles are not quite.

Fourth, new forms of centrality are being constituted in electronically generated spaces. For instance, strategic components of the financial industry operate in such spaces. The relation between digital and actual space is complex and varies among different types of economic sectors. But it is increasingly becoming evident that the highly complex configurations for economic activity located in digital space contain points of coordination and centralization.

6. The Global City As A Nexus For New Politico-Cultural Alignments

The incorporation of cities into a new cross-border geography of centrality also signals the emergence of a parallel political geography. Major cities have emerged as strategic sites not only for global capital, but also for the transnationalization of labor and the formation of translocal communities and identities (Smith 1997). In this regard cities are sites for new types of political operations and for a whole range of new ‘cultural’ and subjective operations ( Watson and Bridges 1999, Allen et al. 1999). The centrality of place in a context of global processes makes possible a transnational economic and political opening for the formation of new claims and hence for the constitution of entitlements, notably rights to place. At the limit, this could be an opening for new forms of ‘citizenship’ (Isin 2000, Holston 1996).

The emphasis on the transnational and hypermobile character of capital has contributed to a sense of powerlessness among local actors, a sense of the futility of resistance. But an analysis that emphasizes place suggests that the new global grid of strategic sites is a terrain for politics and engagement. The loss of power at the national level produces the possibility for new forms of power and politics at the subnational level. Further, insofar as the national as container of social process and power is cracked (Brenner 1998, Taylor 1995) it opens up possibilities for a geography of politics that links subnational spaces across borders. Cities are foremost in this new geography. One question this engenders is how and whether we are seeing the formation of a new type of transnational politics that localizes in these cities.

Immigration, for instance, is one major process through which a new transnational political economy and translocal household strategies are being constituted (Portes 1997, Skeldon 1997). It is one largely embedded in major cities insofar as most immigrants, certainly in the developed world, whether in the US, Japan, or Western Europe, are concentrated in major cities. It is, in many regards, one of the constitutive processes of globalization today, even though not recognized or represented as such in mainstream accounts of the global economy. This configuration contains unifying capacities across national boundaries and sharpening conflicts within cities. Global capital and the new immigrant workforce are two major instances of transnationalized actors that have unifying properties across borders, and thus internally to each, and find themselves in contestation with each other inside cities. Researching and theorizing these issues will require approaches that diverge from the more traditional studies of political elites, local party politics, neighborhood associations, immigrant communities, and so on through which the political landscape of cities and metropolitan regions has been conceptualized in urban studies.

One way of thinking about the political implications of this strategic transnational space anchored in global cities is in terms of the formation of new claims on that space. The city has indeed emerged as a site for new claims: by global capital which uses the city as an ‘organizational commodity,’ but also by disadvantaged sectors of the urban population, frequently as internationalized a presence in large cities as capital. The ‘de-nationalizing’ of urban space and the formation of new claims by transnational actors, raise the question ‘Whose city is it?’

This is a space that is both place-centered in that it is embedded in particular and strategic locations; and it is transterritorial because it connects sites that are not geographically proximate yet are intensely connected to each other. If we consider that large cities concentrate both the leading sectors of global capital and a growing share of disadvantaged populations— immigrants, many of the disadvantaged women, people of color generally, and, in the megacities of developing countries, masses of shanty dwellers—then we can see that cities have become a strategic terrain for a whole series of conflicts and contradictions (Allen et al. 1999, Tardanico and Lungo 1995). We can then think of cities also as one of the sites for the contradictions of the globalization of capital, even though the city cannot be reduced to this dynamic.

7. Conclusion

An examination of globalization through the concept of the global city introduces a strong emphasis on strategic components of the global economy rather than the broader and more diffuse homogenizing dynamics we associate with the globalization of consumer markets. As a consequence, this also brings an emphasis on questions of power and inequality. And it brings an emphasis on the actual work of managing, servicing, and financing a global economy. Second, a focus on the city in studying globalization will tend to bring to the fore the growing inequalities between highly provisioned and profoundly disadvantaged sectors and spaces of the city, and hence such a focus introduces yet another formulation of questions of power and inequality.

Third, the concept of the global city brings a strong emphasis on the networked economy because of the nature of the industries that tend to be located there: finance and specialized services, the new multimedia sectors, and telecommunications services. These industries are characterized by cross-border networks and specialized divisions of functions among cities rather than international competition per se. In the case of global finance and the leading specialized services catering to global firms and markets—law, accounting, credit rating, telecommunications—it is clear that we are dealing with a cross-border system, one that is embedded in a series of cities, each possibly part of a different country. It is a de facto global system.

Fifth, a focus on networked cross-border dynamics among global cities also allows us to capture more readily the growing intensity of such transactions in other domains—political, cultural, social, criminal.

Global cities around the world are the terrain where a multiplicity of globalization processes assume concrete, localized forms. These localized forms are, in good part, what globalization is about. Recovering place means recovering the multiplicity of presences in this landscape. The large city of today has emerged as a strategic site for a whole range of new types of operations—political, economic, ‘cultural,’ subjective. It is one of the nexus where the formation of new claims, by both the powerful and the disadvantaged, materializes and assumes concrete forms.


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