GaWC Project 56

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Swedish Cities in 'The Space of Flows': National, European and Global Networks

Funded by: The Swedish Research Council Formas (2007-2010)
Grant Holder: Grant holder: Brita Hermelin (Stockholm University)
Consultant: David Evans (Loughborough University)
Research Assistant: to be appointed (PhD research programme at Stockholm)


This research project has been developed from the core idea that spaces of flows have become basic processes and elements in the development of cities and in the development of the space-economy. ‘The space of flows refers to the technological and organizational possibility of organizing the simultaneity of social practices without geographical contiguity. … However, the space of flows does include a territorial dimension, as it requires a technological infrastructure that operates from certain locations, and as it connects functions and people located in specific places' (Castells 2000: 14). From such thesis this project's aim is to describe and to analyse how Swedish cities are involved in national, European and global networks of interconnections and flows. The analysis will primarily consider flows related to the economic sphere and the endeavour is designed to contribute to the body of existing knowledge on the development of Swedish cities.


The distinction made by Castells (2000) - in terms of the ‘space of flows' and the ‘space of places' - between the conceptualisation of cities as networks of flows versus territories of nodes is an important point of departure for this research project. The ‘space of flows' refers to distant connections and interrelations while the ‘space of place' concerns localities and the localisations of meanings and functions (Castells 2000: 14). The argument by Castells (1996) is that networks are the basic morphology in our contemporary society. Network means space of flows and space of flows ‘carries' different types of ‘cargo': goods, capital, information, technology, images, sounds and symbols.

The important role of major city-regions in the social and economic development of western society is stressed by Jane Jacobs (1984) in her seminal work, Cities and the Wealth of Nations . Import-substitution is, argues Jacobs the ‘root of all economic expansion' (1984, p. 42). The economic dynamism of cities is conceived of as the outcome of the closely related processes of innovation and import-substitution, for which the trade flows are viewed as the triggering factor.

A city is internally related to the ‘outside' via interconnections, which involve flows of information, persons, and goods. This understanding of cities may be associated with the broad discursive discussion of the ‘relational turn' in economic geography, in which the central argument is that processes and elements, including places and regions, are only possible to understand and explain through a consideration of their external relations (Smith 2003; Yeung 2005). Although cities at different levels of the urban hierarchy and cities of different characters share the situation of being involved in spaces of flows in the context of a globalising capitalism, their roles in this structure may differ. That is to say, from initiating, developing and controlling to being the receiving part of the communicated or transported piece of information, goods or service (Massey 1991).

This conclusion about the importance of the situation (in relation to site) of places and cities is widely acknowledged and discussed by a large number of authors. A major trend in this discourse is that the geographical scale in focus has changed from the national to the international and global scales (cf. Robinson 2005). Concepts such as ‘world cities' (Friedmann 1986), ‘global cities' (Sassen 2001) and ‘globalising cities' (Marcuse and van Kempen 2000) have emerged. Although these concepts share a basic connotation with the transnational urban network, they are also divergent in terms of their distinct meanings and theoretical conceptualisation. (Derudder 2006: 5). ‘The world city hypothesis is about the spatial organization of the new international division of labour' (Friedmann 1986: 67). The world-city concept is related to Wallersteins's world-systems analysis (Derudder 2006: 7), and is thus also a political framework. Taylor (2004) explores this topic about the critical role of cities in the contemporary ‘metageographical transition' (p. 192). Saskia Sassen's concept of global cities focuses on the function of advanced producer services and their role in the development of the central cores of cities, i.e. the central business districts (Sassen 1991, 1995).

Similarly, the different concepts for the interconnections – for instance hierarchy, network and positionality – often mirror different theoretical and conceptual understandings. The concept of hierarchy may have connotations of stable and general structures, for instance in elaborations of the hierarchy of world cities (Friedman 1986). The idea of networks (in plural) of cities is conceptually developed by Allen et al (1999 referred to by Taylor 2005) stating that there are ‘various networks with different paths of development' (Allen et al 1999: 5, quoted in Taylor 2005) and developed for empirical study by Taylor (2005) in which economic, cultural, political and social connections and networks, are separately elaborated. Sheppard (2002), has argued for the term ‘positionality', which forwards as a concept that draws ‘attention to how connections between places play a role in the emergence of geographical inequalities within the global economy…' (p. 319).

The Demand for Relational Data and GaWC - Study Group and Network

Short et al. (1996) criticised the world city literature for its lack of relational data, with this research field being described as ‘impressionistic' (Alderson & Beckfield 2004, c.f. Smith 2003). A similar argument is found in Taylor (2004), as he argues that the world cities literature is characterized by ‘theoretical sophistication and empirical poverty' (p. 33). This ‘finding' has been the main starting point for the research work developed within the framework of the Globalization and World Cities - Study Group & Network (GaWC). Extensive studies about the global geography of city networks have been carried out in this context, and a database covering 315 cities on a global scale, and how they are involved in the global networks of transnational firms, has been produced (Taylor, no year).

Research in relation to this study group has also been based on qualitative investigations involving interviews with senior business practitioners (Pain, 2005, p. 7). Beaverstock (2005) has analysed ‘the role of the firm in making inter-city relations and world city networks through the example of international labour mobility within global investment banking' (p. 1). The proposed research project, ‘Swedish cities in space of flows' outlined in this application is developed in discussion and collaboration with GaWC (described in greater details below).

The GaWC Study Group & Network is centred on the Geography Department at Loughborough University, in the UK, with Professor Peter Taylor being the main inventor and the co-director of GaWC, together with Jon Beaverstock. This study group maintains a website where projects, publications, models and data and partners are listed. More than 100 researchers from all over the world have contributed to the various publications on this website. Nevertheless, thus far, this list lacks researchers from the Nordic countries. The aim then of this study group is to conduct and present research and to co-operate with professionals and city-managers.

Studies on the Position of Swedish Cities

In our search for studies focussing on Swedish cities from the point of view of relational data, little that was useful was discovered. The research work done by Törnqvist (1970, 1993/96), does however have relevance for our research question on Swedish cities. Törnqvist has elaborated on the connections and flows from the basis of different sets of data. In these studies of relations and flows Törnqvist stresses the role of the city. The Öresund Institute has recently (Olshov 2006) published a report which considers the situation of the Nordic capitals in a wider international and world city network. The report comprises an article which uses the results from the GaWC inventory (Matthiessen 2006).

It may not be by chance that the world city research strongly influenced by Friedmann's world city concept and Saskia Sassen's global city has thus far, not really captured much interest among researchers studying city regions in Sweden, as this concept has brought with it a strongly hierarchical perspective and a primary focus on the top-rank cities. Questions however have been raised over the neglect of smaller scale cities (McCann 2004; Rae 2005). Indeed, in this light it should be noted that a current GaWC research project on regional cities in the UK is being undertaken. Moreover, the hierarchical concept, as such, may be problematic. Instead, a network approach is proposed which puts the connections and relations between cities in focus (Beaverstock et al 2000a; Taylor 2004). This then is the approach we wish to develop in this proposed study on Swedish cities.


In this proposed study the external connections and flows of Swedish cities will be studied and analysed at different geographical scales (the national, the European, and the global) and for different economic activities and organisations.

We will on the one hand follow the methodological design in the GaWC. This means that we can compare our results to those of a rich database dating from 2000 (including 315 cities and more than 100 corporations). On the other hand, from an understanding of networks in plural (Taylor 2005), and that the particular geographical setting matters, we will also use different sets of data, making particular adaptations in the design to cover what we think are the particular features of the Swedish context. These adaptations will concern the choice of industrial sectors and firms and the definitions of urban regions. We will also consider cities and towns of a smaller size.

Among the methods developed to analyse inter-city relations this particular study will use an organizational measure, looking more closely at the geographical organization of transnational corporations. This is the approach developed by GaWC, with city networks seen as ‘interlocking networks' where cities are connected into networks through the agency of multi-city firms (Taylor 2004). The research objective is to analyse city networks in which the Swedish cities are important nodes in relation to national, European and global city networks. Such a multi-scale approach is inspired by the GaWC project Polynet (Taylor & Evans 2005). The research design involves quantitative and qualitative data analyses.

Quantitative Analyses of Inter-City 'Connectivities'

The quantitative data analyses will primarily use data gathered on the office location of major international corporations, in a similar procedure as adopted in the GaWC Polynet project. The advanced producer services (APS) sectors in the Polynet project will be the starting point here. Secondly, using Statistics Sweden's Business Register the 200 largest companies in Sweden (with offices in at least two cities) will be selected. These firms are assumed to play the most important roles in producing the city networks. Thirdly, the office networks of these firms will be mapped, both in Sweden and abroad. As the information about the location of offices has an important marketing function for firms (Beaverstock et al 2000b), this information is frequently available through their homepages, or it is available from Statistics Sweden's Business Register.

This exercise will produce a hierarchy of Swedish cities, in respect of their ‘office intensiveness' (for the selected corporations). The 15 Swedish cities at the top of this hierarchy are selected for further analysis. These 15 cities constitute the national city network for the analysis of interconnectivity. The global and European levels are defined based on previous GaWC analysis of 315 cities from across the world, based on the office locations of 100 multinational APS-firms (Taylor 2004, Taylor & Evans 2005). Stockholm will be part of both the Swedish and the European level. In a similar way some cities, for example London and Paris, belong to both the European and the global levels. This only illustrates the multilevel character of cities and does not pose any analytical problems.

The next operation will be to measure the intensiveness of the inter-city connectivity between the selected cities. The network analysis rests on the assumption that the magnitude of intra-firm relationships between offices depends on the ‘service value' of these offices. The higher the service values of two intra-firm offices the higher the ‘connectivity', i.e. the degree of interaction, between the two. The evaluation of offices' service values will be based on information through internet searches and phone calls to the firms.

Qualitative Analyses of Inter-City 'Connectivities'

In the context of the project we also want to undertaken more qualitative research, including interview studies with firms to learn more about their ‘interlocking networks' (Taylor 2004) between corporations' offices and the spatiality of firms' and offices' markets and resource territories. This involves inquiries into the geographies of the markets for sale, the labour market and the location of co-operation partners, exchange programmes and knowledge resources for a selection of offices and firms. Previous studies on professional business services firms in Sweden illustrate acquisitions of small and medium sized Swedish APS-firms by transnational firms and that firms in this sector tend to have rather geographically extensive networks (Hermelin 1997; 2001). The quantitative and qualitative empirical studies mean economic expenses in terms of costs for registers of firms and travelling for the undertaking of personal interviews.


The research work to be undertaken in the context of this research project will be presented at different international conferences, with papers readied for publication in international journals. In addition, the results will also be presented more extensively, possibly for use in follow up and comparative studies, in the form of a monograph (either in a series published by the Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University or at Nordregio). The results will also be presented in appropriate format for practitioners in relevant fields for the project, including urban policy and planning and strategic development planning. Tornberg's work will lead to a PhD-thesis.


This research project has been developed in discussion with researchers at GaWC, based at Loughborough University (UK). David Evans, researcher at the Geography department in Loughborough, is a partner in this research project. If ‘Swedish cities in the spaces of flow' receives funding it will be listed on the website, and the Stockholm group will automatically become a working node in the GaWC website. This research project will also have access to other GaWC research and results before publication. The budget for the project involves travel expenses to meet researchers at the GaWC in Loughborough.

The research project will also be developed in cooperation with Nordregio and we are investigating different possibilities to expand the research project to include a Nordic perspective while also involving studies to be conducted in Denmark, Norway and Finland. In this context, we will also investigate the Nordic arena as one scale for an urban network.


The project lead is managed by Associate professor Brita Hermelin, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University. Her research background is in economic geography with a special interest in the urban economy. David Evans, Loughborough University, will have a consultation role in the work with the collection of empirical data and as partner in comparative analysis of the results from the Swedish study with studies in UK and other countries in the GaWC Polynet research project. We apply for means to Patrik Tornberg to do a PhD programme. Brita Hermelin will be the head supervisor for Tornberg's PhD work.


The just recently published territorial review of Stockholm by OECD (2006) aimed attention towards “the lack of a comprehensive metropolitan policy from the central government” (p. 146) in Sweden. This is argued to be problematic for Sweden as a whole since the development of major urban regions may have positive impact, through interconnections and “spaces of flows” on the growth of other cities and regions in the country. In this research project, we will be able to analyse to what extent the geography of relations between cities and city-region are nationally bounded networks. We assume a complex picture and that the Swedish cities have different positions in different ‘sets' of relations – the national, European and global – and that the disaggregate picture will also illustrate the importance of medium sized city regions in a wider international networks.

In the discourse of globalisation and from the concept of the network society, the external relations of sites become central for the analysis. Through the collection and analysis of data in this project a picture may be generated about how the development of cities in Sweden reflects their external network and spaces of flows, in Sweden, Europe and globally.


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