restricted access Introduction: Global Cities of the South
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Global Cities of the South

At the dawn of the new millennium, humanity is rapidly approaching a significant but insufficiently acknowledged milestone: by 2007, UN demographers say, more than half the world's population will live in cities.1 On a scale that dwarfs previous experience, urban spaces have become cosmopolitan entrepôts through which vast quantities of capital, goods, information, and people flow daily. Contemporary cities, it should be noted, are also the primary sites for natural resource consumption and environmental pollution. The cradles of civilization, cities now lie at the core of a potential ecological crisis.

In her scholarship on the "global city" (initially focused on New York, London, and Tokyo), Saskia Sassen has noted the destabilizing impact of the city's increasing centrality on older spaces of governance such as the nation-state.2 Over the past fifteen years, the global cities model has influenced much social science research on the global economy as a network of overlapping flows between urban spaces. But the global cities of the developed world are an increasingly anomalous embodiment of the urban realm and public space. In fact, 95 percent of urban population growth during the next generation will occur in cities of the developing world. By 2010, for example, Lagos is projected to become the planet's third-largest city, after Tokyo and Mumbai. By 2025 it is predicted that Asia will contain nearly a dozen "hypercities" (with populations of 25 million or more), including Mumbai, Jakarta, Dhaka, and Karachi.3 Such predictions suggest the inadequacy of recent attempts to theorize globalization by focusing on cities in the developed world. Many of the twenty-first century's gravest ecological, political, and social issues will gestate and mature in the urban spaces of the developing world.

This is not to imply that global cities scholarship has been content to focus only on Sassen's original examples. Indeed, much recent scholarship has been devoted to the expansion of the model to such urban spaces as Mexico City, Beirut, Hong Kong, Shanghai, São Paulo, and Buenos Aires.4 The articles collected in this special issue approach the global cities paradigm from an interdisciplinary perspective (including anthropology, sociology, performance studies, history, subaltern studies, literary studies) not simply to expand the repertory of sites but, more pointedly, to question [End Page 1] the focus on economic explanations that have characterized global cities scholarship. For Sassen, it is necessary to analyze the global city because of the role of urban spaces as "command points" in the expansion of capitalist globalization,5 as indispensable bases for the most powerful transnational corporations, finance companies, and information industry firms. Global cities scholarship has often concentrated on a few examples because of a concern with the few developed cities that have been able to provide the advanced corporate services crucial to transnational capitalist organizations. That is, New York, London, and Tokyo have garnered a disproportionate level of attention because they have been the "most advanced production sites" of high-level business services,6 alone able to provide what Sassen calls the "central functions" that accompany capitalist expansion, including accounting, banking, law, finance, advertising, public relations, telecommunications, and security services.7

Given such a focus on the pinnacle of economic globalization, it is not surprising that global cities scholarship has tended to approach cities in the global South either through a developmental narrative or through a pluralistic framework. One can either look at global cities of the South to track "a dynamic in formation"8 among those cities ranking "in the mid-range of the global hierarchy"9 or identify secondary networks of global economic flows, turning from the highest order of capitalism to "new geographies of centrality" that foster capitalism on lower levels, which may be continental and regional rather than global.10 In both cases, this approach is limited by assuming that the telos of economic dominance and centralization defines all activity within globalization; moreover, it evaluates global cities in relation to a normative model defined by the handful of cities that are "most advanced" in their roles in economic globalization. If a turn to a discourse of the...