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World City
World City
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World City

Doreen Massey

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📖 eBook - ePub

World City

Doreen Massey

About This Book

Cities around the world are striving to be 'global'. This book tells the story of one of them, and in so doing raises questions of identity, place and political responsibility that are essential for all cities.

World City focuses its account on London, one of the greatest of these global cities. London is a city of delight and of creativity. It also presides over a country increasingly divided between North and South and over a neo-liberal form of globalisation - the deregulation, financialisation and commercialisation of all aspects of life - that is resulting in an evermore unequal world.

World City explores how we can understand this complex narrative and asks a question that should be asked of any city: what does this place stand for?

Following the implosion within the financial sector, such issues are even more vital. In a new Preface, Doreen Massey addresses these changed times. She argues that, whatever happens, the evidence of this book is that we must not go back to 'business as usual', and she asks whether the financial crisis might open up a space for a deeper rethinking of both our economy and our society.


Part I
There is a buzz about London, as about so many big cities. As well as draining you, utterly, as you battle through crowded tubes and buses and grimly negotiate the hubbub, it returns that lost energy to you. Virginia Woolf’s evocations are as true as ever. And London is enriched now with an increased cultural diversity, and a sense that the city is going places. (And having ‘our own’ government again reinforces this.) There are shared understandings of how to behave, the mutual acknowledgements that are barely acknowledgements as we negotiate around and past each other in the flood. There is geographical variety, for London is also a constellation of local centres. Even the disputed skyscrapers and the maligned Canary Wharf give a thrill. I was at times involved in the battles against these latter developments (the class wars over what would be the future of the Isle of Dogs). But it was with a kind of guilty delight that with a friend, a visitor from ‘the North’, I rode round and round some years ago on the Docklands Light Railway. With a day-pass you can treat it like a funfair, its tinny precariousness making it feel even more like a ride in a fairground in and amongst the amazing concrete and glass. The ambiguities abound: I campaigned against this stuff! Yet even as we object, the very energy, the preposterousness of it all, enthralls. (I think of my home city – Manchester – now glowing again in its cleaned red brick, the great cliffs of buildings lining the central streets. We love them now, but they were once the commercial bases of imperial cotton and a working class in clogs. Will we come to love Canary Wharf – brash nodal point in an equally imperial new world economy – just as well?) And there is Westminster, and the walk along the South Bank, the great wheel of the London Eye, and Tate Modern, converted from power station to art and from where you can look across the river at St Paul’s and the City. God and Mammon. There is the expansive openness of the parks, and the endless passage of aircraft overhead. This is a city it is very easy to celebrate.
We have become accustomed to this dynamic, bustling London. Yet only a few decades ago the dominant images were different, as were the issues that headed the political agenda. Then, it was inner-city decline, and the collapse of manufacturing and of dockwork, that were the focus of economic attention. In the mid-1980s the radical Greater London Council, then ensconced in County Hall, famously displayed from its roof the city’s unemployment numbers, taunting the Houses of Parliament across the river, where Margaret Thatcher reigned supreme.
She reigned over a country deeply divided by geography, over a disappearing landscape that was utterly different from that of today: a nation of regions dominated by mining and manufacturing, in which trades unions and trades councils had serious social bases; a nation in which manufacturing regions were ‘global’ regions (Hudson, 2006b). It was the final crumbling of an imperial geography. The national spatial division of labour, the internal employment geography of a country, exists in intimate relation with the role of that national economy in the world beyond, its place in the international division of labour. Britain’s international role as imperial and colonial power had long been fading, its future was up for question. The same was true, in consequence, of the national geography. But while among the working class in the North and the West, and in London’s docklands, the decline of the production and material trading bases of Empire continued to create poverty and unemployment, the financial side of that imperial role in its tightly knit class cohorts, operating from London, had woven a basis of social relations and international lines of authority upon which it might reinvent itself.
In the 1980s, however, the future still seemed so open. On the one hand there was defence against the destruction. In the coal regions the miners came out on strike. In the east of London, the battles over what was to become of the docklands figures now as a condensation of the terms of the struggle over the future of the capital city. On the other hand there were also the beginnings of the formulation of a different, alternative, future. In the cities a new urban left began to do battle against the domineering new orthodoxy. The GLC itself was working to formulate a way forward that was neither a simple defence of the old nor a capitulation to the emerging neoliberalism of Margaret Thatcher (see especially GLC, 1985; Mackintosh and Wainwright, 1987). At the very moment when it seemed, so briefly, that these political wings, of resistance and of an alternative future, might seriously join forces, each was defeated – the cities amid recriminations occasioned by the brutality of the personalisation of liability for ratecapping, the miners by a concerted onslaught of fair means and foul, the GLC (along with the other – also radical – metropolitan councils) quite simply abolished.
It is out of this that has emerged the London of today. As the Greater London Authority reported in 2004, ‘London has reinvented itself’ (GLA, 2004a, p. 13). The regrowth is registered even in the simple terms of population numbers: from a peak in 1939 of 8.6 million, the population of Greater London had fallen to 6.8 million in 1981, but began to rise again in the late 1980s to reach an estimated 7.3 million in 2003 (Hamnett and Randolph, 1982; GLA, 2004b).
The usual account of this reinvention describes it in terms of a change in balance between sectors of the economy and revolves around that shift from dockwork and blue-collar manufacturing towards finance and business services that was at the heart of the battles over the East End. Between 1978 and 2000 finance and business services grew by 81 per cent in Greater London (582,000 jobs) while manufacturing declined by 63 per cent (432,000 jobs). The trends were similar in the Outer Metropolitan Area (166 per cent and 385,000 jobs in contrast to -48 per cent and a loss of 283,000 jobs) (Buck et al., 2002, p. 97). And, in social terms, even these figures underestimate the change, for, as Banks and Scanlon (2000) document, possibly over half of those recorded as employed in ‘manufacturing’ in London work in the head offices of manufacturing companies that ‘produce’ elsewhere (cited in Hamnett, 2003), and that too is a characteristic that has been reinforced over the same decades. Nor were such shifts unique to this city. Fainstein and Harloe were referring to both London and New York when they wrote of the 1980s:
While other economic sectors were dispersing geographically, certain advanced service industries centring around financial activities intensified their presence in the centres of these cities. This intensification resulted primarily from the enlarged role of financial capital in co-ordinating the world economy and the extremely active deal making that accompanied this role. The decade witnessed the birth of new financial markets for the exchange of arcane financial instruments and the raising of huge pools of credit to underwrite speculative activities in property development, mergers, and leveraged buy-outs, as firms themselves became negotiable assets. (2000, p. 155)
However, to talk of sectoral shifts is to register only some particular, measurable, outcomes of more complex processes. As Fainstein and Harloe indicate, what was under way was a shift in the world economy – the beginnings of the assertion of what has come to be called neoliberalism. And integral to that shift was its spatial reorganisation, an essential element of which, in turn, was the emergence of what came to be called world (or global) cities.1 Nomenclature does not, however, necessarily indicate rigorous definition, and there has been much debate over what it is that makes a place a world city. Beaverstock, Smith and Taylor make an initial distinction between ‘a demographic tradition which is largely interested in the sizes of cities and a functional tradition which treats cities as part of a larger system’ (1999, p. 445). As they say, there may well be overlap between these classes of cities: ‘New York and Mexico City, for instance, are both mega- and world cities’ (ibid.), but it is nonetheless a crucial distinction: ‘Calcutta is a mega-city but not a world city, Zurich is a world city but not a mega-city’ (ibid.). It is also a distinction that evokes again the stark contrast between some cities of command and some cities of the majority world (and Davis’s cities of slums).2
Even within the functional tradition, there are different possible sets of criteria. Beaverstock et al. adopt a two-pronged approach, both scanning the whole range of definitions and rankings in the literature and constructing their own ranking by following Sassen’s argument ‘that it is advanced producer services which are the distinctive feature of contemporary world city formation’ (1991, p. 446). (It is worth pausing for a moment here, to consider this adjective – ‘advanced’. It is also deployed by Fainstein and Harloe, and is indeed in general use. But the effect of its mobilisation is nor mative – it implies an inevitability of direction; it naturalises what in fact happened, implying that there was no other way in which the economy might have developed. ‘New’ might be a more neutral term.) Anyway, what this ‘advancedness’ is taken to denote in this context is banking, accountancy, law and advertising. Through their two-pronged approach, Beaverstock et al. demonstrate an exact coincidence between the four cities identified by all the sources in their review and the four cities with maximum scores in their own inventory. These cities are: London, Paris, New York and Tokyo.
It is difficult to dispute, in its own terms, this characterisation. A Financial Times report in 2006 on The new City revelled in its dynamism, inventiveness and success: ‘There is a certain swagger about the City of London these days’, writes Martin Dickson in its opening article (Dickson, 2006). The City of London’s website begins its ‘Key facts about the City and Corporation’: ‘The City of London is the world’s leading international financial and business centre – a global powerhouse at the heart of the UK’s financial services.’ It goes on to document some relevant information: that in London each day takes place over 30 per cent of global foreign-exchange turnover, over 40 per cent of the global foreign equity market, 70 per cent of all eurobond trading. There are markets in international insurance, international futures, derivatives, metals. There is the management of pension funds, the arrangement of international bank lending, and there is the maritime industry. There are over 250 foreign banks in London, and over 550 foreign companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. Three quarters of the Fortune 500 companies have London offices (City of London website, accessed 22 November 2006). And around this financial core there is a vast and intricate constellation of other business services, expanding in employ ment terms over recent decades even faster than is finance.
London reinvented itself, then, as a global city. But this too is a formulation worth pausing over. It is, for one thing, a quite different evocation of world citydom from that notion of ‘the whole world in one city’ (Livingstone) and ‘Here lives the great music of humanity’ (Okri) that was appealed to in the aftermath of the bombing. The two different narratives of London-world-city sometimes run in parallel and sometimes intersect – a pattern that will be investigated in what follows. However, even this notion of global citydom based on finance and business has itself been challenged. There are a number of reasons for this. It has been challenged for a Euro-American bias (King, 1990, 2000; Robinson, 2002; Olds and Yeung, 2004; Godfrey and Zhou, 1999) which sets up certain Western cities (including London) as norms against which others then come to be judged. It mobilises universalist assumptions that obscure the fact of situatedness. Its rhetorical force, what Douglass, reflecting on Pacific Asia, calls ‘“world city” as the new shibboleth of global achievement’ (1998, p. 111), pressures urban governments and managers around the world into striving for this self-same thing. And it dooms to invisibility, to ‘structural irrelevance’, cities which do not rank on its hierarchial league-tabling of the planet (Robinson, 2002). Robinson goes on to argue that the concept itself, along with the panoply of categories that accompany it, should be abandoned in favour of a recognition of the specificity of each and every city. All of them are ‘ordinary cities’ (see also Amin and Graham, 1997). This is a strategy that chimes well with the argument in this book – we need to value and build on the diversity between cities – and it is strongly reinforced by other criticisms of the notion of global cities.
For instance, this a characterisation of world citydom that prioritises place in the world economy and that makes a claim for dominance, in terms of command and control, within that world economy, of finance and business services. This too is a characterisation that has been challenged. Thus Smith questions ‘the common assumption that the power of financial capital is necessarily paramount’, and ‘the criteria according to which cities come to be dubbed “global”. If there is any truth to the argument that so-called globalization results in the first place from the globalization of production, then our assessment of what constitutes a global city should presumably reflect that claim’ (2002, p. 437). Or again it could be argued that cities can be world cities in all kinds of other ways too, as dominant foci in particular spheres of activity: Jerusalem as a world city in the sphere of religion, Sydney perhaps in lesbian and gay networks, Hollywood and Mumbai for film. Indeed, as we have already seen, London can itself claim to be a world city in more than one way. That the unqualified denominator ‘world city’ is usually applied to financial and service centres is precisely a sign of the material and discursive dominance of a particular reading of what Sassen calls ‘the current phase of the world economy’ (1991, p. 126). Were such debates to be taken more seriously, one small effect might be, through the recognition of what else is happening in the world, to reduce just a little that ‘certain swagger’ of London-global-city.
Let us, for a moment though, take this global citydom on its own terms. To define it in this way is, then, to make reference to an aspect of its current role in the contemporary world economy. London is undoubtedly a significant centre of coordination of that economy. Indeed, it is on the basis of establishing this role that the city reinvented itself after its mid-twentieth-century decline. It was this future that won out over all alternatives, from the understandable but perhaps unrealisable desire to cling on to or even rebuild an economy of dockwork and manufacturing to the more radical and politically challenging possibilities hinted at by the GLC.
Even here, however, there can be different emphases. Hamnett, for example, emphasises the classic aspect of internationalisation as the foundation of London’s new surge of growth:
in order to understand the basis of these changes, we need to understand London’s changing role in the global economy and financial system. During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s London has strengthened its role as one of the major control centres for the global economic and financial system. It functions as one of the major ‘world cities’ (Friedmann, 1986) or ‘global cities’ as Sassen (1991) prefers, and exercises a leading role in the organisation and control of the world’s economy, trade and financial flows. (2003, pp. 4–5)
Buck et al., in contrast, emphasise deregulation:
Though some boosts to London’s growth have come from seemingly unrelated sources (notably from new flows of international migrants, . . . ), there is clearly some connection between the city’s current affluence, productivity and dynamism and the great liberalization of markets that occurred in the 1980s – as well as some connection with internationalization. (2002, p. 135)
There is a battle here over representation. The different geographical imaginaries in play can be used to support distinct political arguments. As Gordon writes, ‘different representations of a city’s role can be mobilised in support of alternative political strategies and claims for resources’ (2004, p. 4). In a number of forensic analyses, he has disaggregated and refined these claims.3 ‘Currently’, writes Gordon, ‘the fashion is to characterise London as, first and foremost, a “global city”. Sometimes this means that its population and workforce have become (particularly since the late 1980s) remarkably cosmopolitan, by most international as well as British standards. More often, however, “global” refers to the significance of transnational command, control, financing and service-providing roles which it undertakes within an increasingly integrated world economy’ (ibid.). However, he argues, this characterisation needs investigating. It is certainly true that these are London’s most distinctive functions, distinguishing it not only from other cities in the UK but also from other global cities.4 But it is not these global command and control functions that have been ‘the main driver underlying the city’s growth since the 1980s’ (ibid., p. 5). Nor do these functions represent the major element of London’s export base.5 Rather, London’s main export market is in fact the ‘rest of the UK’. This is true for the London economy as a whole, from which the rest of the UK (RUK) takes 28.5 per cent of all exports, compared with 12.33 per cent going abroad. Moreover it is equally the case for those central activities of London’s world citydom: financial services and business services. For financial services, the comparable percentages are RUK 39.88 per cent and international 31.46 per cent and, for business services, RUK 32.89 per cent and international 12.08 per cent. Gordon adds the nice observation that ‘On an income basis, the “global” share would be rather higher, since workers in the “City” finance centre typically earn half as much again as the London average – but the point about the dominance of the national market still remains’ (ibid.). As Gordon concludes:
Wider processes of globalisation – including the financial and labour market deregulation which it has provoked – have clearly had pervasive, and economically favourable, effects on London since the early 1980s, . . . But the narrower process of ‘globalcityisation’ does not seem to have contributed disproportionately to this shift, . . . Even within the City’s ‘wholesale’ financial services, rising domestic demand has been a factor of comparable importance, over a period when people have been encouraged/required to take much greater financial responsibility for their own housing, pensions, health care and education. (Ibid., emphasis in the original)6
It is important to be clear about the argument here. First, this analysis gives the lie to any notion that London, in economic terms, is floating free from the rest of the UK economy into an international arena of its own. This is plainly not the case. This directly contradicts the conclusion of Dorling and Thomas (2004) that in a globalised economy London does not need the markets of northern Britain. As a London School of Economics study puts it, ‘the London economy is still closely integrated with the overall UK economy’ (LSE, 2004, p. 103). This is an important point to establish because it leads on to a further set of questions – about what, then, is the nature of that integration (on which regions’ terms? to which regions’ benefit?) – which will be the focus of Part II.
Second, however, and to return to the characterisation of London itself, none of this means that London is not a global centre of command, playing a crucial role in framing the world economy in neoliberal form. That is agreed by all. It is also the case that finance and business services have been of crucial significance in the resurgence of London in recent decades. What is important is that, third, the constant repetition of the importance of London’s global export role is also a performance for internal, national, consumption. It is a claim, and a legitimation. It is mobilised, for instance, to justify the untouchability of London’s financial and business sectors. It is mobilised, as we shall see, in the constant battles for resources. And yet, as we have seen, the specifically international role of these sectors is not overwhelming. It is not the basis of London’s reinvention and resurgence. Rather, fourth, it is deregulati...

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APA 6 Citation
Massey, D. (2013). World City (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2013)
Chicago Citation
Massey, Doreen. (2013) 2013. World City. 1st ed. Wiley.
Harvard Citation
Massey, D. (2013) World City. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Massey, Doreen. World City. 1st ed. Wiley, 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.