GaWC Project 24

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Global Governance from Below: NGOs in World Cities

Funded by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech (2002)

Researcher: P.J. Taylor

Research Assistant: T. Gravitt (Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech)



Globalization has had a profound effect on the study of international relations. Whereas students of IR used to research inter-governmental relations, today they have to consider ‘global governance’. The linguistic move from ‘government’ to governance’ is a recognition that to understand IR it is no longer possible to deal only with states and their relations. Contemporary global governance consists of the many networks of organisations that govern behaviour at the global level: governments remain important through inter-governmental groups of states but there are also many thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many studies of global governance (e.g. Cable 1999) focus on the former (UN, the G7/8, EU, NAFTA, WTO, etc.) which we can call ‘top-down’ governance; this project focuses on NGOs or ‘bottom-up’ governance.

There has been little or no research on the geography of NGOs beyond the common reference to North-South contrasts in types and quantities. Thus we have no notion of the spatial organisation of NGOs across the world. There could be no greater contrast with inter-governmental organization whose spatial organisation is embedded in our modern consciousness: the world political map of countries. Many NGOs claim to be trans-national in their work so that it would seem inappropriate to use states as the organising units for researching NGOs. In this project we consider the world city network as an alternative spatial organisation of global governance through NGOs.

At GaWC we have been studying the world city network through researching global service firms. The networks of offices these firms have created to service global capital have been used to specify (Taylor 2001), measure (Taylor et al. 2002a), and analyse (Taylor et al. 2002b) the world city network. We realise, of course, that these business service networks are not the only manifestation of global spaces of flows. The basic purpose of this project is to see whether the methods and techniques used to study the world city service network can be used to study the world city governance network.


There are two basic requirements:

  1. Choosing NGOs. The basic source is the Yearbook of International Organizations. We need to select categories: initially investigation will explore Human Rights Organizations, Humanitarian Organizations, Development Organizations and Environmental Organizations. We also have to be selective in terms of size and geographical range to ensure we focus on global NGOs.
  2. Finding individual NGO office networks. Once a list of suitable NGOs is produced then the focus of the investigated turns towards websites. Our final list of NGOs will consist of those from step 1 that have websites detailing their office network.

If the above explorations prove to be successful then we will be able to produce a global governance matrix of NGOs on one axis and cities the other wherein the cells show the importance of a city to an NGO’s global operations. With this in place NGO global governance can be studied as a form of world city network formation. As such we will have a new handle on a particular spatial organization of global governance.

Concluding Comments

This is the first time we have attempted to extend GaWC’s quantitative world city network methodology beyond private business enterprises. The advantage of our approach is that we do not reify the cities in the development of a world city network: agents, in this case NGOs, are deemed to ‘interlock’ the cities to create a network (Taylor 2001). Thus, this small pilot study is vital for seeing how well our methodology travels across different spheres of urban-global activities.


Cable, V (1999) Globalization and Global Governance London: RIIA

Taylor P J (2001) ‘Specification of the world city network’ Geographical Analysis 33, 181-94

Taylor, P J, Catalano, G, and Walker D R F (2002a) ‘Measurement of the world city network’ GaWC Research Bulletin 43

Taylor, P J, Catalano, G, and Walker D R F (2002b) ‘Exploratory analysis of the world city network’ GaWC Research Bulletin 50

For results of this project, see GaWC Research Bulletins 119, 144 and 149.

For data created in this project, see GaWC Data Sets 17, 18, 19 and 20.