Global Cities Essay

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The term ”global city” was popularized by sociologist Sassen in 1991; however, the origins of the discourse on global/world cities began decades before. Hall’s 1966 The World Cities was a pioneering study that investigated world cities in a broad context, including economics, demographics, culture, management, etc. He was among the first to define the role and formation of world cities.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s Lefebvre, Castells and Harvey were advancing critical urban theories that linked the processes of city formation to historical capitalist development and free market forces. By the 1980s Friedmann introduced his ”world cities hypothesis” and became among the first to describe urbanization in a specifically global context. As mentioned, in the 1990s Sassen designated certain world cities as ”global cities” and leading urban scholars such as Taylor, Brenner, and others continued the discourse. The analysis made famous by Friedmann, Sassen, and others is sometimes called the ”market-driven approach” because it views global city formation as resulting from the global expansion of capitalist relations. This concept of a global city is primarily economic, with the term ”world” or ”global” city applied to urban areas that are central to the accumulation, control and organization of international finance, trade, and production services, such cities as New York, London, and Tokyo. This conventional discussion of global/world cities has been challenged on occasion and there is a growing consensus that in the new millennium the discourse of the 1980s and 1990s is increasingly too narrow. While most scholars of global/world cities acknowledge the central importance of this perspective, there is mounting agreement that other viewpoints should be considered and jointly employed. A more recently proposed ”agency-driven approach” views global city development as resulting from the active and knowledgeable actions of human agents, whether operating in state, corporate or civil society sectors, and views all major urban centers as being affected by globalization. Therefore, the discourse on global/world cities should increasingly encompass a broader array of important urban areas around the world in order to arrive at a fuller understanding of globalization. It is argued that this can be achieved by examining locales in varying stages of development, not just the economically prominent cities.

Global/world cities literature enhances the globalization discourse by analyzing its spatial causes, manifestations, and requirements. It sheds light on the spatial dimensions of globalization and serves as an important contribution to the study of both globalization and contemporary urbanism, as it facilitates the understanding of actual global forces operating through and producing spaces and places in relation to real social actors and institutions.


  1. Amen, M. M., Archer, K., & Bosman, M. M. (eds.) (2006) Relocating Global Cities: From the Center to the Margins. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, MD.
  2. Brenner, N. & Kiel, R. (eds.) (2006) The Global Cities Reader. Routledge, London.
  3. Sassen, S. (2001). The Global City, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

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