GaWC Research Bulletin 197

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32 (2), (2007), 133-150.


Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Problematizing City/State Relations: Towards a Geohistorical Understanding of Contemporary Globalization

P.J. Taylor*


This essay explores the contention that to understand contemporary globalization it is necessary to problematize city/state relations. Since the relation is unproblematized in modernity – cities are just parts of states – a transhistorical approach is adopted based upon Jacobs’ identification of contrary ‘moral syndromes’, commercial and guardian. The practices guided by these syndromes create different social spaces, spaces of flows and spaces of places respectively. Thus are cities interpreted as constellations of commercial practices, and states as constellations of guardian practices. Salient theories of cities and states are found in Jacobs’ description of cities as complex entities that expand economic life and Scott’s description of states’ simplifying social relations in order to better control them. This abstract discussion is concretised through the specificities of modern cities and modern states. Six vignettes of city/state relations are sketched straddling the whole modern temporality. The conclusion rules out the popular ‘city-state’ scenario as a globalization outcome.

Key Words

Cities, City/state relations, city-states, globalization, moral syndromes, states

Over the eight or ten millennia since the couple first appeared, cities and states have oscillated between love and hate. Armed conquerors have often razed cities and slaughtered their inhabitants, only to raise new capitals in their place. City people have bolstered their independence and railed against royal interference in urban affairs, only to seek their king’s protection against bandits, pirates, and rival groups of merchants. Over the long run and at a distance, cities and states have proved indispensable to each other (Tilly 1990, 2)

Nation-states construct their own image of the past to shore up their ambitions for the future … Other futures may require other pasts’ (Mazower 2004, 474)

Now that development is being driven more by globalization than by nationalization, the role of cities is increasing, … To wit, as global society expands, the role of cities increases and the role of nations decreases.’ (Knight 1989, 327)


For over a hundred years, the statue of Boudicca in London has been one the most famous pieces of public art in Britain. Boudicca was a Victorian romantic icon, a ‘British heroine’ who resisted the Romans. Defeated then, in the nineteenth century her time had finally come: for a great imperial nation ruled by another great Queen, Boudicca in triumphant pose on a chariot cut the ideal nationalist figure. Sculptured by Thomas Thornycroft, the bronze figure was presented to London by his son and placed on the Victoria Embankment near Westminster Bridge by London County Council at the beginning of the twentieth century. Not an usual happening for what were militant nationalist times you might think, but I have always found this statue and its location highly problematic. On her route to historical glory, Boudicca’s raised London to the ground and slaughtered its residents. London is honouring its destroyer!

This is a clear case of victory of one history over another. The mind set that created and located the statue is a nationalist one. Nationalist history is about searching the past for heroes. They provide a narrative of tragedy and greatness to legitimise the present and to launch the future. Hence London, capital of the British Empire, proudly boasted the statue of Boudicca. This lack of empathy towards its own past residents indicates the subordination of a ‘city mind set’; the lack of such an English ‘civic consciousness’ - a revered urban historical narrative - is precisely what D.H. Lawrence famously lamented a generation later (Hunt 2004, 450). Thus approximately 1800 years after the massacre, modern Londoners welcomed back the heroic warrior-queen Boudicca, and forget the humdrum officials and traders who were her victims. More generally, this is indicative of arguably the most important geographical attribute of modernity: the subordination of cities to territorial states.

Although the processes of territorial centralization that produced modern states have been thoroughly researched in modern history, the outcomes that are modern city/state relations have not been adequately problematised in either studies of cities or of states. The fault appears to lie with the division of social knowledge into relatively discrete disciplines and sub-disciplines. For instance, in human geography, scholars identify themselves as urban geographers and political geographers with consequent focuses upon city and state, leaving their relations neglected. On a broader front, in social sciences in general, sociology is where urban studies are concentrated while study of the state has its own discipline, latterly called political science. Once again, little intellectual space seems to have been allocated to city/state relations. This essay is, perforce, trans-disciplinary.

There has been one group of scholars who formulated city/state relations, but in a largely non-problematic way. From the late 1950s to the early 1980s in human geography/regional science, a national urban systems research school delineated and studied the operation of ‘national urban hierarchies’. The latter were conceptualised as concrete geographical manifestations of ‘national economies’. In this way inter-city relations were treated as intra-state so that city/state relations were specified as an unproblematic premise: cities are contained within states. This is, of course, a way of thinking that privileges the state, a position that was by no means accidental. It paved the way for making national policy prescriptions. Typically the idea was to inform domestic economic policies (Berry and Meltzer 1967, Bourne 1976) but, inevitable in the Cold War era although somewhat less publicised, this was also a knowledge for military foreign policy – where to bomb the enemy first to ‘decapitate’ its operational abilities, both economic and military (Bunge 1988).

With the huge benefit of hindsight, we can interpret the national urban systems school as a group of scholars deeply embedded in their times – perhaps the last episode in urban geography to be so state-centric in its conceptualisation (Taylor 1996, 2004). Ironically in the final vestiges of their work, this school did broach the subject of city/state relations with its concern for revised central/local government relations. With increasing pressure on state finances in the 1980s, one solution was to transfer responsibilities from central to local state without the concomitant transfer of resources. While remaining an important issue, this local governance was soon to be overwhelmed by a scale change in the other direction: economic globalization. From the very beginning of the burgeoning literature on this new ‘keyword’, cities were treated as ‘winners’ in the emerging ‘global era’. For instance, one very influential book announced that ‘(t)his is a historic period: cities are now able to position themselves in the global society’ (Knight and Gabbert, 1989, 19). So much for state as container: cities, it seemed, had escaped!

With the national urban systems school’s basic spatial premise undermined by global-level processes, the need has arisen for a concerted effort to re-specify city/state relations. This has not really been forthcoming over the last decade and a half but two authors have been particularly important in trying to kick start this necessary intellectual exercise: Saskia Sassen (1991, 2001. 2006) has carefully delineated her global city concept in relation to states, and Neil Brenner (2004) has brought globalization into central-local government debates. In what follows I take a different, more historical, route to city/state relations despite the attractions of the work of these two authors.1 I start with Manual Castells (1996) distinction between a space of places and space of flows. But contra Castells, I treat these alternative spatial logics trans-historically as representing state and city productions of space respectively. This has led me to search for a theoretical underpinning of these ideas resulting in discovery of Jane Jacobs’ (1992) moral syndromes. This essay is an application of her ideas to understanding cities and states in globalization, starting from a trans-historical perspective. The latter encompasses two sections; first, outlining Jacobs’ commercial and guardian syndromes and, second, explicating them as salient theories of cities and states respectively. The focus then turns to the modern world-system in order to ‘ground’ the argument geohistorically. This also has two sections; first, defining the nature of modern cities and states and their relations, and, second describing six vignettes to illustrate changing city/state relations. The conclusion harnesses the previous arguments to inform thinking on city/state relations under continuing conditions of contemporary globalization. My basic premise is that the latter cannot be adequately understood without problematizing city/state relations.

Cities and states as constellations of commercial and guardian practices

The usual way of treating both cities and states trans-historically has been to invoke an evolutionary progression. Such evolutions encompass mixtures of increasing size and complexity: for instance, in sequences such as from non-sedentary peoples, through sedentary (villages), towns, traditional cities, to modern industrial cities; or, from non-hierarchical peoples, through chiefdoms (tribes), traditional empires/states, to modern nation-states. ‘City-states’ sometimes appear in such progressions, which might link the two evolutions. I have come to the conclusion that the attractiveness of this concept when considering city/state relations can be dangerous. It is best to treat it as a contingent political phenomenon, not an evolutionary stage. It appears as the latter because city-state is conveniently the right scale in the right place for progressive stories. The same can be said of contemporary globalization. Globalization concepts can be neatly added to the end of such sequences as the latest ‘up-scaling’ in social evolutionary thinking: mega/world/global city and ‘lone superpower’/global governance respectively are at the right scale at the right time. However, in the argument developed here I eschew such modelling through stages: I do not find it necessary to call upon an evolutionary approach and thus I by-pass the many intellectual disputes surrounding such progressive orderings with their extreme Whiggish overtones. As a trans-historical alternative I turn to an approach that discerns the basic social practices that, I will argue, have produced and reproduced cities and states.

Two Ways of Making a Living: Guardian and Commercial Syndromes

Jane Jacobs is an original thinker in human sciences who has been particularly known for her challenges to the spatialities implicit in urban planning (land use zoning) and economics (national economies) (Taylor 2007). Here I introduce her third challenge to orthodox thinking, one less well known (but see Glaeser 2000): the content of ethics in moral philosophy (Jacobs 1992). She begins by noticing ‘perplexing contradictions’ (p. 27) in what is deemed moral behaviour. For instance, there appear to be circumstances when loyalty in more important than honesty and vice versa. What are these circumstances? Arguing that ‘morality and practical matters ‘ are ‘one and the same’ (p. 19) she advocates thinking ‘in a systematic fashion about morality in practical working life’ (p. 20). This leads to an unusually inductive approach to ethics: she advocates ‘read, read, read’ all manner of books and articles in which good and bad behaviour is identified (biographies, business histories, scandals, sociology, general history and cultural anthropology are mentioned (p. 25)). After this library immersion, the ‘hit and miss’ method2 is complemented by searching out patterns in lists of ‘precepts’, what people should and should not do. She finds clusters of linked precepts: for instance loyalty is associated with obedience and respect for hierarchy (p. 27. These clusters were found to form two quite separate groups of precepts (norms or values. p. 28); the moral contradictions she started with were ‘resolved into two systems, each with its own integrity’ (p. 27). These two groups define the circumstances when one precept overrides another: a commercial context and a guardian context are identified. In the former honesty is paramount (necessary to trust), in the latter loyalty is all-important (necessary to power).

The commercial and guardian moral syndromes are presented as clusters of precepts in Table 1. Note that the two precepts I started with, honesty and loyalty, are the two ‘key virtues’ but they operate along with 14 other precepts to create coherent systems of normative behaviour. These listings are in no sense arbitrary; quite the opposite, each relates to a particular ‘system of survival’ or way of making a living (for immediate and long term social reproduction). This is how Jacobs (1992) links the moral to the practical. She argues (chapter 4) that, unlike all other species, human beings have two systems of survival: in primeval terms, as well as hunting and gathering, humans developed the added option of making and trading (pp. 51-2). Jacobs contends these two ways of making a living remain the essential division of labour; there are only two forms of work, crudely put: taking and making. It follows that, however complex societies have become, there remain just these two basic ways of making a living; in contemporary society the consequent primary division of labour can be drawn between ‘protection and associated work’ (police, soldiers, judges, regulators, politicians, etc.) and ‘production and associated work’ (artisans, traders, factory workers, land workers, bankers, managers, investors, etc.) ( Taylor 2006b). To repeat, the commercial and guardian moral syndromes are not arbitrary constructs; rather they derive from ‘millennia of experience with trading and producing, on the one hand, and with organizing and managing territories, on the other hand’ (Jacobs 1992, xii).

What is the content of these syndromes beyond the key virtues? Jacobs (1992, 23-4, 215) introduces the precepts in each syndrome from the simple to the more complex. Broadly following her ordering, I have used her discussion of each syndrome to provide clusters of related precepts in Table 1. The first precepts are key virtues because the two ways of making a living would break down if the precept were sufficiently violated. Making a living by producing and selling in markets can only be sustained through honesty between participants. Dishonest behaviour – hidden shoddy production, non-payment, short weights – will initially be accounted as a ‘loss’ for honest makers and traders but above a certain level it will bring the economic system down. Making a living by taking requires group solidarity to be sustainable. Disloyal behaviour – betrayal, turning on your own, selling secrets – will initially put the group at a disadvantage and therefore be a loss to all group members; if continued at a debilitating level, it will result in the dissolution of the group.

Each key virtue is backed up by other basic precepts: for instance, in the guardian syndrome trading is shunned (it leads to corrupt transactions); in the commercial syndrome force is shunned (it leads to unfair transactions). To appreciate the efficacy of the precepts in the other clusters consider those listed for the commercial syndrome as necessary behaviour for successfully entering a market, and those for the guardian precept as how a successful ruler maintains his power. For instance, contrast the progress and capital clusters on the commercial side with the action and lifestyle clusters on the guardian side.

The fact that these are radically different moral codes of behaviour is overtly shown in Table 2 where the precepts are presented as opposites: markets need to control deception, rulers need to control dissent; thriftiness and productive investment pays off in markets, ostentation and largesse help rulers rule. Note the final comparison for it sums up the two ways of thinking. An efficient and free market creates a win-win situation since the seller agrees a sale and the buyer satisfies a need. This is a world for optimists. But the guardian syndrome is predicated on a zero-sum game: one ruler’s territorial gain is another ruler’s loss of territory. This is a world for fatalists.

Of course, the two syndromes do not exist in separate worlds; they co-exist. Thus after delineating these two syndromes, Jacobs (1992) focuses on how they interact both disastrously and supportively. Basically she argues that the integrity of each moral syndrome must be maintained to prevent corruption: modern development practices whereby states direct economic change (commercial practice) has been cited as just such a corruption-making guardian/commercial hybrid ( Taylor 2006a). However, positive interaction is promoted where each syndrome provides mutual support for the other to create ‘a reasonably workable guardian-commercial symbiosis’ (Jacobs 1992, 214). Note that she feels strongly that both syndromes are necessary because each way of making a living needs the other: guardians need the wealth creation from making and trading; markets need the protection and order provided by guardians.3

This framework for thinking about ‘the moral foundations of commerce and politics’ (the sub-title of her book (Jacobs 1992)) challenges orthodox thinking about ethics simply by specifying a second moral syndrome. Jacobs (1989, 265) considers ethics in philosophy to be essentially about the guardian syndrome: philosophers have a ‘singular fixation on virtuous rule’ (p. 266). Thus it is ‘a lop-sided intellectual enterprise’ (p. 266) with the ‘humbler system of ethics and values concocted by humble people to meet the needs of their own puzzles, necessities, and potentialities ... simply overlooked in the high-minded philosophical tradition’ (p. 266).4 For Jacobs, to understand the reproduction of any society requires analysis of both guardian and commercial practices and ethics. In this paper I accept her dual ethics model as essentially sound and argue that the key test is whether her concepts are ultimately useful in comprehending our modern predicament. The remainder of the paper may be considered a report on such a test.

Commerce through Cities, Guardianship by States

Jacobs’ (1992) highly original treatment of contrary moral syndromes in making a living – in other words, materially reproducing society – can be extrapolated to other conceptualisations of social practices. Two such contrasts stand out: organizationally, mutuality through networks in opposition to authority through hierarchies; in terms of sources of power, a diffuse, soft power in opposition to a centred, hard power. It follows that to understand the commercial syndrome requires social knowledge of the many; for the guardian syndrome, a few key players may be all we need to know about. More abstractly, the basic implication is an innate complexity in relation to the commercial syndrome, and a degree of simplification for the guardian syndrome. This is expressed in social spaces: Jacobs’ moral syndromes imply the makings of different spaces and that those different spaces are necessary for the successful operation of different ways of making a living.

My contention for this essay is that cities constitute the prime habitat of the commercial syndrome, and states are the prime habitat of the guardian syndrome. Jacobs is explicit in the territoriality of the guardian syndrome; its cast of mind is irrecoverably bounded for control purposes. Thus are formed places where tradition and hierarchy are cultivated, where ostentation works, and exclusivity is defined. In contrast, cities thrive on the cast of mind that is cosmopolitan, contracts cancel out hierarchies, and where inventiveness, efficiency and productivity are promoted. This is a world of connections, of mutualities within networks of cities covering different cultures and environments where trading thrives and through which novelties diffuse. In other words, practises adhering to the guardian syndrome build spaces of places, political mosaics; while simultaneously practices based upon the commercial syndrome create spaces of flows, economic chains and networks. Henceforth I will treat cities as constellations of commercial practises and states as constellations of guardian practises.

Salient theories of cities and states

Interpretation of cities and states as constellations of distinctive practices, derived from Jacobs’ moral syndromes, requires a transhistorical rethinking of our theories of each. Given that the syndromes promote radically different practices, it follows that their respective constellation theories should treat cities and states as quite opposite in their fundamental natures. The opposition I use is between complexity and simplicity: cities are immensely complex entities; states use simplification as essential to their operation. This is how I problematize city/state relations in this essay. One clash where this is came to a head in the twentieth century was the attack of state-sponsored modernism on cities. Two writers are the heart of these debates – Jane Jacobs herself (1970, 1984, 1999) and James Scott’s (1998) – provide me with theoretical frameworks for understanding cities and states respectively.

A Materialist Theory of the Complexity of Cities

In her seminal critique of modernist planning Jacobs (1961) concludes with a chapter entitled ‘The kind of problem a city is’; her answer was that cities represent ‘organized complexity’. In her subsequent work she has asked what kind of a solution a city is; her answer is that is solves the puzzle of how economies expand and diversify (Jacobs 1969, 1984, 2000).

Jacobs (1969) starting point is to interrogate the work done in a city. The city’s economy can grow by doing more of what is already being done. This increase in more and more old work expands the size of the economy but leaves the diversity unchanged. Therefore she focuses upon ‘new work’; here ‘new’ means new to a particular city not necessarily a new economic innovation. Thus much new work will be based upon myriad borrowings (with necessary improvisations) of what has been successful in other cities. The addition of new work increases both the size and the diversity of the city. Jacobs refers to this as the expansion of economic life. A city is defined as a locale where there is vigorous diversification into new work. It is therefore where economic life expands; she argues such expansion only occurs in cities.

For Jacobs (1969), old work is important because new work does not occur in a social vacuum: it is not ‘spontaneous’. Old work with its existing complex division of labour provides the condition for new work. Old work is ‘parent work’, a fraction of which can break away to be turned into new work and make the division of labour more complex and the economy more diverse. An important point Jacobs makes about this process is that it is inherently unpredictable. Therefore it is not amenable to simple planning; designation of land use zones for economic expansion is either pointless or, more likely, counterproductive. Supporting conducive conditions for new work is possible and they turn out to be the opposite of modernist planning. Large size is important (no optimum population models here) and so too is mixing of land uses, both of which provide access for unexpected labour/service needs. Jacobs (1970, chapter 3) goes as far as to argue for the necessity of inefficiency in an intriguing chapter entitled ‘The valuable inefficiencies and impracticalities of cities’. New thinking is not a neat task to be carried out in simple ordered space, rather it is stimulated by challenges and needs thrown up by a messy place. This is what vibrant cities are, hence the danger of modernist planning through its key aim of clearing up the (valuable) mess.

A second key point that Jacobs (1970, 35) makes is that a ‘city does not grow by trading with a rural hinterland … (it) seems always to have implied a group of cities, in trade with one another’. Thus cities are basic entities of economic change which is carried out through networks of cities. In this multiple city environment two ‘multiplier effects’ are identified; an export multiplier and an import-replacement multiplier. The latter shifting of a city’s imports is seen as particularly important; she refers to it as ‘a process of immense, even awesome, economic force’ (p. 150). It causes cities ‘to grow explosively’ (p. 146); a town transmutes into a city after it experiences such bursts of new economic activity. This is the second reason Jacobs (1984, 32) gives for treating cities as the basic units of economic change: they alone generate the economic forces that ‘shape and reshape the economies of other communities.5 Jacobs (1984) describes both positive and negative effects of such forces.

One final point, if economies operate as complex systems, one thing both she and orthodox economists appear to agree upon, then she posits the question why are economic systems viewed the opposite way round to all other systems (Jacobs 2000)? Consider the oft-quoted phrase ‘we are what we eat’. This prioritises input to the body system that works on this input to fuel the system before ejecting waste. The study of economic systems prioritises exports – what goes out, not what goes in. For city economies, economic base theory even designates export work as the ‘base’ upon which the economy grows. In this model, simple neat little factory towns that export almost all the production appear ‘healthy’, whereas Jacobs’ vibrant complex large cities that export relatively small proportions of their production are presumably in trouble. Well, of course, they are not, the key is the throughput – what is done to imports in the richly deep economic environment that are the cities (Jacobs 2000).

A Materialist Theory of Simplification by States

Unfortunately Jacobs does not develop a full discussion of states per se. She only treats states in relation to cities; they appear as part of her argument that there are no such entities as ‘national economies’ (only city economies). She dismisses the idea that ‘economies’ are co-terminus with states as ‘the old mercantilist tautology’, an error that afflicts all schools of economics (Jacobs 1984, 31). For Jacobs, states are essentially ‘political and military entities’ only (p.31) and ‘are composed of grab bags of very different economies’ within their political boundaries’ (p. 32). Clearly, her guardian syndrome covers many state activities but this association is not developed by Jacobs (1992) beyond ‘territorial responsibilities … the work of protecting, acquiring, exploiting, administrating, or controlling territories’ (Jacobs 1992, 29). However, Scott’s (1998) study of ‘radically simplified designs for social organization’ (p. 7) provides just the analysis of states to complement Jacobs’ treatment of cities.

Scott’s (1998, 1) initial concern was to understand why states invariably treat ‘people who move around’ so badly. He lists the following who ‘have always been a thorn in the side of states’: slash and burn farmers, nomads, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, Gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, and runaway slaves and serfs. In other words, states have problems dealing with people whose lives produce spaces of flows. Note, however, that Scott does not include long-distance merchants in his list, presumably because their wealth usually precludes them from becoming victims of states. Nevertheless, they too have a history of undermining state policies. The key point is that spaces of flows are more difficult to control than spaces of places. Hence this is a problem for states as territorial entities.6

For Scott (1998, 2), ‘legibility is a central problem of statecraft’; the more legible a society, the better a state can carry out its ‘classic’ functions of ‘taxation, conscription and prevention of rebellion’. Quite simply, for these activities, spaces of places are more legible than spaces of flows. To make society legible, states simplify the situation through classification and measurement. Such abstraction creates ‘social simplifications’ (p. 3) of ‘facts’ that have five characteristics: they are purposive, documented, static, aggregated and standardised (p. 80). Thus are policies predicated upon spaces of places. Furthermore, under the right conditions, spaces of places can be redesigned in the image of the state itself as ordered and regimented. Spatially this simplification takes geometric forms such as the Roman Empire’s network of straight roads and grid-iron cities, Post-Revolutionary France’s equal-size ‘hexagonal’ departments, the straight-line boundaries common to European and European-settler imperialisms in the Americas, Africa and Australia, and the planning of ‘high modernist’ cities like Brasilia (Taylor 1999; Scott 1998). Envisaging cities in states as ‘national urban hierarchies’ is another manifestation of ‘state simplification’.

It is important not to equate this inherent process of state simplification as ‘simple-minded’. In their control and manipulation states can be quite sophisticated, but they simplify in the following two related ways: first, they aspire to a synoptic overview; and second, they are focused to the detriment of the detail (Scott 1998, 81). But we all know that the devil is in the detail. Thus are states destined to fail in grandiose schemes based upon social simplification because they ignore ‘essential features of any, real functioning social order’ (p. 6). Whatever states have in mind, societies remain very complex and only function on the basis of myriad ‘informal practices and improvisations’. It is ‘the indispensable role of practical knowledge, informal processes, and improvisation in the face of unpredictability’ that makes state planning so problematic.

The ability of states to make their societies legible has increased massively through the history of the modern world-system (Giddens 1985; Scott, 1998, 77). However, although techniques have become more sophisticated, political motives are much the same: ‘appropriation, control, and manipulation … remain the most prominent’ (p. 79). Of course, the differences are in what is attempted. For instance, Braudel (1972, 308-9), after listing the fall of several cities to territorial expansion of states in early modern Europe, makes essentially the same point as Scott on limitations of states:

‘The victorious states could not take control of and responsibility for everything. They were cumbersome machines inadequate to handle their new superhuman tasks. The so-called territorial economy of textbook classification could not stifle the so-called urban economy. The cities remained the driving forces. States that included these cities had to come to terms with them and tolerate them. The relationship was accepted the more naturally since even the most independent cities needed the use of the space belonging to territorial states.’

In contrast, under the influence of ‘high modernism’ states have been much less modest (Scott 1998, 343). So much so that states have impinged on economic processes at historically unprecedented levels. These count as ‘monstrous hybrids’ in Jacobs’ (1992) scheme of things: she gives the example of the USSR planning itself into oblivion. Scott provides detailed exposition of the planned tragedies that were Soviet collectivisation and Tanzanian “villagization’. Clearly modern states are much more dangerous than earlier states.

What’s modern about our cities and states?

Although contributing to modernist debates, I have used both Jacobs on cities and Scott on states for transhistorical arguments. I now ground these theoretical frameworks in our own particular – modern – world. I am taking a world-systems position in arguing that the ‘long sixteenth century’ (c. 1450-1650) in Europe was a transition from a medieval world to a modern world (Wallerstein 1974). In 1450 Europe was a localised world of feudalisms largely linked to wealthier worlds via Mediterranean cities (Genoa, Venice); in 1650 Europe was an expansive world of sovereign states with extra-European empires, and North Sea cities are in the ascendancy (Amsterdam, London). My way of interpreting this alternation of worlds ( Taylor, 2005) is to consider the relationship between economics and politics. In the medieval period they are separate in practice and ranked in esteem, in the modern period they are regarded more equally and closely entwined – we call it political economy. One way of situating this into the argument of this essay is this is to say that in the modern world there is a modus operandi wherein commercial and guardian practices are joined at the centre of the social matrix; this is my interpretation of what Wallerstein’s (1979) calls a ‘world-economy’. This has superseded the earlier modus vivendi in which the two ways of making a living were formally separate with politics alone at the centre of the social matrix; this is my interpretation of what Wallerstein’s (1979) calls a ‘world-empire’.

This modus operandi at the centre of the modern world-system has been widely recognised as inherent to the concept of modernity as a ‘dual ambiguity’ (Taylor 1999, 15). In sociology, for instance, social change in the modern world has been viewed in two totally different ways: state modernization models portrayed simple stages of ordered conversion from traditional to modern society (Lerner et al 1968); in contrast Berman (1988, 15) famously described modernity as innately complex, ‘a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal’. Thus, according to Lash and Friedman (1992, 2) there are two ‘faces’ of modernity, and these have taken a variety of guises: security and danger (Giddens 1990, 7), discipline and liberty (Wagner 1994), regulation and emancipation (de Sousa Santos 1995, 2), orderliness and ambivalence (Smart 1999, 6), and order and chaos (Bauman 1991, 4). These paired opposites are witness to how Jacobs’ syndromes are entwined in the modern world-system. Guardianship in its modern guise deals with the former of the preceding pairs – security, discipline, regulation, orderliness, and order – whereas the commercial is associated with creating the latter - danger, liberty, emancipation, ambivalence, and chaos.

Modern States as Territorial Containers

At the centre of the entwining of guardian and commercial syndromes can be found attempts by political elites to control economic elites. This can be thought of as the modern taming of modernity as incessant change; its generic means is containerization (Taylor 1999, 18).

The concrete expression of this process is territoriality and the critical modern example is the nation-state ( Taylor 1994). Territoriality is the use of boundaries so that the social content of a bounded space can be controlled. The modern state was created in two main phases. First, territorial sovereign, the essence of the modern states’ historical distinctiveness, was a process consolidated by the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648-9. By insisting that the people living in each sovereign territory have the same religion as their prince, order and security were imposed on Europe (this solved the loyalty problem of multiple faiths in post-Reformation political territories). Second, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this political mosaic was both diffused across the world and its content transformed into a secular cultural form through nationalism. The fusing of nation and state into nation-state created the most powerful guardian institution of the twentieth century.

Modern Cities in Contained Networks

Against this political order there has been arrayed an economic disorder. The capitalist world-economy changes through ceaseless capital accumulation. This requires capitalists to follow the path of profit irrespective of the social consequencies. Thus Berman (1988) uses a phrase of Marx for the title of his book: All that is Solid melts into Air. This is what Shumpeter (1942) would later call creative destruction or as Peet (1991) tells it, bankruptcies are the laxative of capitalism. And this dynamic world came into initial form in the great cities of northern Italy at the beginning of the transition to the modern world-system (Arrighi 1994), before consolidating in the United Provinces in the seventeenth century centred on Amsterdam (Barbour 1963). The British ‘industrial revolution’ subsequently created modern urbanization, a world of great cities in numbers never before experienced (Weber 1899; Lo and Yeung 1998).

It is this world of great cities that was contained by nation-states through the twentieth century. The concoction of the idea of a national economy coincidental with the rise of this massive urbanization obscured the economic role of cities and largely removed them from political economy discourse. This was a social world framed at one scale: one state, one nation, one economy, and from the 1950s, one national urban system ( Taylor 1996). Through nationalizing the urban, the guardians reached the pinnacle of their power (Giddens 1985): the modus operandi now included the harnessing of economic power for industrialized military ends, ironically resulting in the twentieth century being a time characterised by massive destruction of cities (Lindqvist 2000).

Where does contemporary globalization fit into this argument? Quite simply, the contemporary rise of world city network may be heralding a new modus vivendi between guardian and commercial casts of mind and practice. This is the message of the multi-scalar world that is emerging: multi-scalar equals very porous container. Thus globalization portends the erosion of the triumphant nation-state but it does not represent the end of the state per se. This conclusion is, of course, wholly consistent with the transhistorical nature of Jacobs’ two syndromes and her insistence that both are necessary. It is also consistent within theories on the state in the capitalist world-economy that see the inter-state system as integral to the modern world-system (Wallerstein 1984), and see states as necessary for saving capitalism from its own social voraciousness (Holloway and Picciotto 1978). Cities in globalization are becoming free from a one-scale world, not free from a need for guardian practices. Thus the expectation is for development of a new city/state modus vivendi..

Six vignettes of city/state relations

Six examples have been chosen to put some flesh on the relatively abstract geohistory of modernity presented thus far. These brief sketches of specific city/state relations are selected to illustrate space-making activities through commercial and guardian practises. In terms of economic and political elites, the vignettes represent the whole span of the geohistory from initial modus vivendi through modus operandi and back to a proto modus vivendi . Each illustrates a different aspect of city/state relations:

  1. German Hanse/England relations from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century show the initial modus vivendii and illustrate a city/state relation that contrasts with modern expectations. My main source is Lloyd (1982).
  2. Genoa/Castile relations from the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries illustrate the new modus operandi but not in the congruent form that we expect from the modern. My main source is Arrighi (1994).
  3. Amsterdam/United Provinces relations in the seventeenth century show development of the modus operandi into a congruent form en route to the one scale form. Here I use some of my previous work, notably Taylor (2005).
  4. Venice/Italy relations in the nineteenth century illustrate city-nation revolutionary tensions culminating in the spatial marginalization of the city. My main source is Keates (2005).
  5. Salonica (Thessalonica)/ Greece relations in the twentieth century describes a classic case of the demise of a cosmopolitan city through nationalism leading again to spatial marginalization. My main source is Mazower (2004).
  6. London/European Union relations in the twenty first century suggest a new modus vivendi in the form of an international financial centre interacting with a guardian-defined ‘Euro-land’. My main source is a recent project conducted with colleagues at GaWC (Beaverstock et al 2001).

Since modernity has been premised upon a guardian taming of cities, the relations above were selected in the first instance through the city. All six cases include successful or erstwhile successful cities and each of the case study sketches is written from the point of view of the cities and their fates.

The ‘Unmodern Spaces’ of the German Hanse

The German Hanse7 is the classic ‘unmodern’ spatial formation and dominated northern European commerce in the period immediately before the modern world-system. However, Dollinger’s (1964) description of it as a ‘great power’ makes the institution seem much more ‘modern’ than it was. It began as a community of German merchants from several cities and transmuted into a community of cities. But it was never quite this neat. As well as a scattering of German cities from the Baltic and North Sea littorals plus the lower Rhinelands, it included one territorial prince (the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order) in the east and one city (Dinant) in the west with Hanse privileges in London but no where else. It had no permanent officials, no budget, an infrequently called Diet, and there appears to have been no definitive list of membership at any time. From a modern political perspective it was a mess.

We see the German Hanse as ‘unmodern’ because it was not state-like. It developed in a world of modus vivendi between guardian and commercial practices. Thus it could remain ‘from first to last a community of commercial interest’ (Lloyd (1991, 10). Its basic concerns were for safe passage and low taxes. This meant that ‘(f)or most of its history the Hanse simply ignored the Empire and in return was ignored by Emperors’ (Lloyd (1991, 8). Outside the German Empire, the Hanse obtained privileges to operate as separate trading communities, known as kontor, within foreign cities. The Hanse had several kontor in English North Sea ports, which brought it into relations with the Kings of England.

Initially the main kontor in England was at Boston but London’s kontor overtook it in economic importance in the late fourteenth century. This decline in ‘English provincial kontor’ was a change outside the Hanse control; it reflected new centralization by the territorial prince (Lloyd 1991, 277). It was also at this time that the Londonkontor no longer negotiated with the English King as a local body of foreign merchants but called in ambassadors from the Hanse Diet to represent their interests. This was fundamental to the change in the nature of the Hanse from a community of merchants to a formal confederation of cities – only the latter could negotiate reciprocal rights for English merchants in Baltic cities in return for keeping Hanse privileges in England (p. 365). This is the Hanse having to specifically deal with guardian matters in relation to commerce. But this does not lead to a wholesale modern fusion of guardian and commerce practices because the Hanse’s ‘relationship with England was limited to commercial matters’ and it had ‘no concern with (other) political programmes’ (p. 11). This was in contrast to England’s relations with other contemporary actors, the territorial princes – England could ally with the Count of Flanders in war, but the Hanse steered well clear of such non-commercial encumbrances. There is one recorded ‘war’ between England and the Hanse (1468-74) but Lloyd (p. 11) dismisses this as merely ‘a by-product of localised acts of piracy’. In general, for the territorial state of England ‘economic matters (and therefore the Hanse) were low on its list of priorities’ (p. 11).

The politics of Hanse/English relations was primarily a triangular affair between territorial prince, local merchants and foreign merchants. But this was no mercantile versus free trade politics since the territorial prince was as likely to favour the foreigners as his own subjects. The Hanse provided a stream of income for the King whose value had to be balanced with other streams of income to support his war-making. This was the King’s key consideration when ‘umpiring’ between the contrary claims of the two groups of merchants. Of course, the Hanse generally preferred to by-pass local mayors and deal directly with the crown. But again this is not as simple as it first appears. The Hanse had its own territory within London, the Steelyard, where it had its own courts, elected a London alderman, and had responsibility for maintaining one of the city’s gates. In other words the Hanse were a long-term community separate within London but integral to the city while being ‘foreign’ to the territorial prince. You cannot get much more ‘unmodern’ than that!8

The German Hanse declined in the late fifteenth century and formally disbanded in 1661. This meant that they lasted long enough to be ‘officially’ deemed outside modern politics through not being invited to participate in the Treaties of Westphalia. This was an event for territorial entities only; some Hanse cities were there ( Lubeck and Hamburg, for instance) but this was because of their imperial city status, not for their Hanse membership.

Spatial Separation of Commercial and Guardian Processes

Although the German Hanse dominated trade in northern Europe, their cities remained relatively small compared to southern Europe. As a whole, Europe was a relatively poor region in the Middle Ages and its links to wealthier regions in the east came largely through the Mediterranean (Lughod 1989). In contrast, the Hanse route east through Novgorod to the Black Sea was a minor link. Recently Spufford (2002, 376-80) has compared the scales of commercial activity by assessing the values of goods coming in and out of Lubeck and Genoa. He concludes that there is a ratio of about 5:1 in Genoa’s favour. However, while Lubeck is by far the leading Hanse city, Genoa is just one of several important northern Italian cities and therefore he estimates the regional disparity at a ratio of about 10:1.

With the contraction of trade in the late Middle ages, incessant war in northern Italy - the ‘Italian hundred years war’ - ends with the Treaty of Lodi in 1454: many smaller cities have lost their independence and a new balance of power is established with just four major cities, Florence, Genoa, Milan and Venice. In the period of transition to the modern world-system these cities take two different paths to modernity. Three of them, Florence, Milan and Venice, elided their war-making into new state-making. Using Pirenne (1962), Arrighi (1994) argues that the elites of these three cities ‘aristocratized’, meaning that the leading citizens turned away from commercial towards more guardian imperatives. Their increasing concern was for the new territories that they were tending and consolidating. The practical effect was conversion from cities-in-networks to city-states. This might look like a precursor to the modern modus operandi but, in fact, it marked the confirmation of the end of these cities as major players on the European scene. When the next large expansion of trade began in the second half of the fifteenth century they were in no position to take advantage. And as territorial states, they were small and vulnerable compared to rivals beyond Italy.

But Genoa was different; it took a quite dissimilar path to modernity than its erstwhile city rivals. It did not use its surplus capital for state-building; in the war-making it had kept its independence from the other cities but had not increased its hinterland. This provided the option for an alternative way forward: city elites restructured their trading pattern from the eastern to the western Mediterranean and developed a new financial capitalism based upon ‘sound money’ (Arrighi 1994, 113). But there was still a problem of surplus money requiring further new trade routes and a need for protection. Enter the Kingdom of Castile as guardian. With its expansion into the Atlantic and its crusader state credentials, Castile provided Genoa with the perfect partner. And the relationship was of mutual benefit: specializations of Iberian protection/power and Genoese trade/profit, ‘complemented one another’ (Arrighi 1994, 120). They were brought together in the fifteenth century because each needed the other: Genoa harnessed northern Italian surplus capital to provide for Castile’s permanent financial crisis, while Castile opened new trading spaces culminating in the asentos (contracts for American silver) for Genoa. This created a triangular space of flows in the sixteenth century: silver from America came into Seville, it was transferred to Genoa for conversion into gold and bills of exchange that were send to Antwerp to pay for Spanish troops fighting the Dutch. Castile/Spain paid with new contracts for silver that were exchanged in Seville and so the process continued. This created what Braudel (1984) proclaimed the ‘age of the Genoese’ through their ‘discrete rule’ of Europe in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Thus he identifies Genoa as the first modern ‘world-city’, by which he means the sole city articulating commercial activities at the centre of a world-economy.

This success of Genoa as world-city a century after the demise of its more martial city rivals was therefore based upon a continuation of the medieval modus vivendi between commercial and guardian practices. This was a ‘dichotomous agency’ so alien to our modern sensibilities but supremely successful for a while in early modern Europe. This is city success as commercial power, with extra-mural guardian agents.9

Commercial and Guardian Processes in a Multi-nodal City Region

It is with the rise of Amsterdam as Braudel’s (1984) next world-city that we come across a spatial merging of commercial and guardian practices that has come to be known as mercantilism. He sees Amsterdam as a mid point between city-state and modern territorial state but the situation is more complicated than that (Taylor 2005). Despite the spatial congruence between economic and political power represented by the United Provinces in the mid-seventeenth century, in many ways Amsterdam’s position is more like Genoa than the old city-states of Florence. Milan and Venice. Quite simply, the United Provinces was a defensive alliance covering a city-rich territory in which no one city dominated politically. Thus Amsterdam may have been the most important city but, as I have argued elsewhere (Taylor 2005), this was by no means ‘ Amsterdam city-state’ in terms of guardian functions. Two features emphasize this. First, Amsterdam was not even the ‘capital city’ since the Estates General met at The Hague, a neutral city because it had no representation in the Estates General. Second, on the key external policy issue the city could not get its own way; for instance, even in alliance with Rotterdam, an Amsterdam promoted truce with Spain in 1630 was not concluded because of opposition from Leiden and other cities.

If not territorial state10 or city-state what were the United Provinces? They were a collection of ’78 represented cities’ ( t’Hart 1993) contingently constructed within a defensive shell, in Braudel’s (1984, 202) terms a ‘fortified island’ encompassing ‘ a ‘high-voltage urban economy’. In today’s parlance this is a multi-nodal city-region but with its own polity. City elites attended to their multifarious commercial business leaving very weak political institutions to deal with guardian issues. It is not that guardian issues were unimportant at this time – the United Provinces were almost continually at war with first Spain, then England, and latterly France – but the balance of power remained with the economic elites. When serious crises of security did occur, the Orange family provided the necessary guardian leadership but they were never sovereign monarchs, they retained mere stadholder status (military governors). The most severe crisis came in 1672 when France took Utrecht and threatened Amsterdam; William of Orange came to the rescue, the United Provinces survived, but the Orange stadholders now became a permanent fixture. In world-systems analysis, this marks the end of Dutch hegemony. The United Provinces becomes an ‘ordinary state’ and it is now that competitive state mercantilism takes over, eventually leading to England/Britain’s commercial victory over France. It is in this competitive mercantile era when the modus operandi of political economy in territorial states is finally constructed and embedded into the modern world-system. Thus 1672 marks the point when multi-nodal city-region economic success that is Amsterdam in the United Provinces can no longer stem the modern rise of the territorial state. This is the critical victory of state over city in the modern world-system.

As a postscript is can be noted that the British economic victory stimulated the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon who destroyed this ‘ Dutch Republic’ only for the country to regain its independence in 1815, but in a new form: the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the Orange family on the throne, where they remain to this day.

Relocating a Great City to the Edge of a Spatial Container

Venice was another state to fall to Napoleon’s armies. After over a millennium of independence, Jacobs’ (1984) ‘mother city’ of Europe succumbed; its choice of trajectory down the city-state path had always left it open to defeat by larger territorial powers. Unlike the Netherlands, in 1815 it did not regain its independence but was allocated to one of the victors, Austria. They turned out to be particular bad guardians favouring their naval port Trieste over Venice. In fact the latter’s territory ( Veneto) was treated as a colony, a food bank for subsiding the rest of the Austrian Empire - it provided one third of imperial revenue from one seventh of the state’s population (Keates 2005, 38). Not surprisingly, Venice’s population declined by 12% in the first half of the nineteenth century (Keates 2005, 36).

The 1848 revolutions provided an opportunity to reverse the situation. But this is the mid-nineteenth century and the revolutions are the ‘springtime of nations’. Thus in Venice there are strategic political debates: is the revolution to restore the city republic or to create an Italian nation-state? The leader of the revolution in Venice, Deniele Manin, thought the former – ‘Italian unity mattered less to him than securing a unilateral independence for Venice’ (Keane 2005, 430). During the uprising power in the city moved between ’fusionists’ and republicans with changing events. After the failure of the revolution in Rome, republicans returned to power in Venice, the last hold-out of the revolution. But all in vain, after some weeks of bombardment, Venice returned to Austrian rule and Venice’s independence was gone forever.

A little more than a decade later successful Italian unification included Venice. But for this city the victory was somewhat pyrrhic – Venice moved to a new container, the Kingdom of Italy. Thus it was simply relocated from being on the edge of Austria to the edge of Italy. The contrast to being Europe’s Mediterranean gateway city could hardly be greater. Even the city’s heroic siege in 1848 has been written out of the mythology of the Italian revolution as a ‘side-show’ (Keane 2005, 430-1). Given its former status, Venice is perhaps the saddest urban victim of nationalization.

Nationalist Destruction of a Great Cosmopolitan City

But there is another city to challenge for this title. In some ways the nationalization of the other great Mediterranean gateway, Thessalonica, is more tragic. Without approaching Venice’s importance as a port, it had a distinguished place in European urban history: in the initial ‘urban awakening’ Thessalonica and Venice were the only ‘western/central’ European cities with populations over 40,000 in 1000 (Chandler 1987, 15). Mediterranean gateway to the Balkans, Thessalonica was special because it grew to become a great cosmopolitan city (Mazower 2004).

The city was captured by the Ottomans from the disintegrating Byzantine Empire in 1430. This meant that the Orthodox Christian population were joined by Moslem Turks, their new guardians. But ‘as the sultans knew, it was one thing to conquer a city, another to restore it to life’: city revival was ‘the mightiest war’, compared to conquest as a ‘a lesser war’ (Mazower 2004, 31). Resettlement was used and the population doubled between 1500 and 1520. Most migrants were Jews and Moslems expelled from Castile (where their economic roles were being taken in part by Genoese). The result was instant connectivity: ‘where the crucial Mediterranean triangle with Egypt and Venice was concerned, no one could compete with the extraordinary network of familial and confessional affiliates that made Salonican Jews and Marranos so powerful’ (p. 56). Thessalonica became the third city of the Ottoman Empire in Europe after Constantinople and Adrianople.

By the nineteenth century identities in Thessalonica had become quite complex, comprising a mixture of religious, ethnic/national and cosmopolitan/imperial ascriptions (Mazower 2004, 264). Mazower (2004) describes Bulgarians, Macedonians, Ottomans, Greeks, Turks and Jews – Thessalonica had the largest Jewish community in the world. The rise of the Greek state and the Balkan Wars from 1912 to 1914 began the process of destroying this cosmopolitanism. In the First Balkan War the defeat of the Ottomans led to Greece annexing Thessalonica and renaming it Salonica.11 The Second Balkan War effectively eliminated the city’s Bulgarian population (Mazower 2004, 297). But the city was still a hybrid community: the 1913 census records 39% Jews, 29% Moslem and 25% Greek (Mazower 2004, 303). There is some exodus of Moslems before World War I but the main movement is in the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey in the early 1920s. Salonica becomes a ‘city of refugees’ (Mazower 2004, 356), Greek refugees. Finally, in World War II, the German occupiers deported all the city’s Jews in six week in early 1943. Genocide thus completed the Hellenization of the city.

In a manner similar to Venice, Salonica was ‘relocated’ to the edge of a new state and for most of the twentieth century was cut off from its Balkan hinterland and ‘enclosed within the confines of a small country’ as Mazower (2004, 371) tells it. The Cold War made this containment particularly severe. But the greater tragedy, both human and economic, was the nationalist destruction of the unique cosmopolitan nature of the city. Mazower (2004) notes that the accompanying Hellenization of history means that cosmopolitan Thessalonica has been lost to history, an intellectual fate that outweighs neglect of Venice’s role in 1848.

A Global City beyond Guardian Reach?

London was Braudel’s ‘world-city’ that succeeded Amsterdam. In the nineteenth century it took over Amsterdam’s role as the financial centre of the modern world-system and was itself supplanted by New York in the twentieth century. In 1957, the Eurodollar market was begun in London creating the trans-national financial system that replaced Bretton Woods fixed currencies in 1971 (Burn 2000). Presaging financial globalization, it maintained the importance of London in the world-economy; ‘big bang’ deregulation in 1986 accelerated this momentum resulting in American banks, in particular, moving to the city. Thus when Sassen (1991/2001) produced her classic treatise on ‘the global city’ London took its place, along with New York and Tokyo, at the pinnacle of a ‘global city hierarchy’. In the 24-hour markets of economic globalization, London held the ‘central’ time zone between Tokyo and New York: it was deemed Europe’s global city.

In the late 1990s, London’s position was seen as being under threat from Frankfurt. The euro was launched on January 1 st 1999 with the European Central Bank located in Frankfurt. Furthermore, the UK did not join the euro, which meant that London was outside ‘euroland’, the vast majority of EU countries that had joined the euro. The business and financial press interpreted this situation as competitive between the two cities and speculated on Frankfurt ‘overtaking’ London (Beaverstock et al 2001). Two processes were envisaged. First, because the new currency would be a world player, this would attract new international business to continental cities, especially Frankfurt. Second, because London was outside the currency zone, it would leak business to the zone, especially Frankfurt.

These predictions have not come true: London continues to be Europe’s premier world city and financial centre with Frankfurt lagging behind on all major measures (Beaverstock et al 2001, 6-8). The problem with the predictions was that they were based upon two premises that were found to be wanting. First, there was no competition between London and Frankfurt; the cities complemented each other. Most major financial services firms had offices in both cities and used the cities specifically for what they had best to offer. Thus London remained the global business centre while Frankfurt remained important for central Europe. Second, there was no effect from London being on the ‘wrong side’ of the euro boundary. This should have been unsurprising: London had led the Eurodollar market from outside the USA (‘dollarland”) and now with global financial markets it was hardly going to stumble on a new ‘local’ currency.

But there was a more general reason for the maintenance of London as Europe’s global city. The creation of the euro currency was a guardian decision as was the UK’s decision not to join. Locating the European Central Bank in Frankfurt was a single decision made by the EU Council of Ministers, an archetypal guardian institution. London’s leading position in the world-economy, on the other hand, is based upon myriad decisions, on commercial evaluations and decisions. Hence the predictions for Frankfurt ‘overtaking’ London were framed through the wrong mind-set. But what this does show clearly is that London is in no way contained by the EU12; under conditions of contemporary globalization this is an extremely porous Europe (Taylor and Derudder 2004). Thus, this portends the return of the modus vivendi: London is beyond guardian reach.

City/state relations in globalization

Let me draw the argument to a conclusion by summarising the key points and suggesting what they might mean for understanding changing city/state relations in our globalizing world. The first point to make is that the vignettes are not intended to supply ‘historical lessons’. They suggest possible relations that have manifested themselves concretely in the past but the context enabling the city/state relations cannot be replicated in the future. On the other hand, when exploring future possibilities the only indications we can have are past city/state relations. In these circumstances, some assumptions have to be made. My key premise is that the modern modus operandi of city/state relations that has evolved over half a millennium is coming to an end. That is the message of the final vignette: I take seriously the arguments of contemporary globalization providing new opportunities for cities in relation to their sovereign states. After all, this was my justification for taking a transhistorical approach to the subject.

I have developed a transhistorical theoretical argument at two levels. First, two ways of making a living, trading/making and taking/protecting, have been identified resulting in contrasting moral codes, commercial and guardian. These ‘syndromes’ of instructions on how to behave provide the necessary patterns of collective behaviour to reproduce the two ways of making a living. Both are necessary and create contrasting social spaces: commercial life is enmeshed in spaces of flows; guardian activities thrive on territoriality, spaces of (bounded) places. The most explicit demonstrations of these productions of spaces are cities and states respectively: I treat cities as constellations of commercial life and states as constellations of guardian life. Thus city/state relations are concrete manifestations of relations between time-honoured ways of making a living.

Second, these manifestations imply certain forms of city and state theory that themselves should conspicuously reflect the contrasting moral syndromes. I have found such salient theories in the work of Jacobs and Scott. The key point about the city theory is the complexity; the successful city is an immensely diversifying economic entity. In contrast, the state thrives through simplification, making social relations legible so they can be controlled. Two things follow: both the idea of a ‘planned city’ and the concept of a ‘national economy’ are non sequiturs because guardians are not geared to handle such complexity. In this way twentieth century modernist guardian dreams of control to produce a neat ordered future have only occurred in science fiction. Instead we have multifarious spaces of flows that are globalization.

The empirical section of the paper, the vignettes, is transhistorical in coverage by transgressing the temporal boundaries of the modern world-system. It does this explicitly in sketching a pre-modern European city/state relation and, given the premise on globalization, the contemporary city/state relations vignette is interpreted in ‘post-modern’ terms. Specifically the modus operandi of modernity that developed slowly to flower in twentieth century was state domination of cities.13 A quite different modus vivendi is identified before and after this modern spatial development process.

But what is the modus vivendi that appears to be superseding the recent domination of cities by states? In a situation where cities appear to be increasing in importance and territorial states declining, the idea that the time is ripe for revival of city-states is superficially appealing. And it does have its adherents (e.g. Pierce 1993; Parker 2004), perhaps in the form of city leagues (Chase-Dunn 2005), although it is not always clear what ‘city-state’ means. I described such arguments as dangerously attractive in the introduction and now it can be understood why. My analysis is emphatic in not supporting this possibility. City-states are states, guardian institutions. What prosperous cities need is economic autonomy, not political sovereignty. Guardian functions have to be provided in such a way that it does not impinge on autonomy for economic expansion. In this respect city-states are dangerous for the commercial syndrome. In the pre-modern modus vivendi described above, it was pointed out that Dollinger (1970, xx) rejected the ‘league’ designator for the German Hanse, rather he refers to a ‘community of cities’. The latter negotiated with guardians over matters relating to their commercial practices but abstained from other guardian issues. This may well be the direction that global governance is moving along. A myriad of guardian practices, they might just divide into two, those supporting commercial practices and those ensuring those practices are sustainable. This would be the guardians saving commercial practice from the consequencies of its own successes in expanding economic life. Hence this essay points towards a review of global governance to search out signs for such a bifurcation of guardian practices.



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* Peter J. Taylor, Department of Geography, Loughborough University, UK, E-mail:

1. I am exploring an alternative way of getting to the heart of city/state relations, one that than can be developed through reworking the spatiality behind political economy approaches. This can be illustrated by the way that globalization is conceptualised spatially. There are two basic spatial interpretations on offer: globalization as ‘up-scaling’ and globalization as ‘intensified networking’. Obviously, contemporary globalization incorporates both, but which interpretation is used as a starting point conditions the outcome. From the perspective pursued in this paper, analysing globalization through geographical scale maintains a territorialist position to the detriment of the intensification of flows that is globalization (Taylor 2000); thus the ‘rescaling’ arguments in Sassen (2001) and Brenner (2004) tend towards a state-centric view of globalization. I am trying to develop an approach that eschews (modernist) ontological privileging of the state while maintaining recognition of the importance of the state as a political institution; hence the attraction of Jacobs’ (1969, 1992) generic approach to cities and states for this paper. My more historical approach is akin to Long and Shleifer (1993).

2. For a description and defence of Jacobs’ basic inductive method as a ‘messy’ process, see Chichello (1989) and Keeley (1989).

3. Jacobs (1989, 274) admits to personally favouring the commercial syndrome but insists that both are necessary.

4. The high-minded remain high-minded but Jacobs’ ideas are becoming used for understanding business ethics (for example, in studies of corruption (King et al 2004)), in public policy analysis (e.g. Kushner and Rachlis 1994), and the two syndromes have been modelled by leading economist Edward Glaeser (2000).

5. In this argument I consider contemporary western societies like the UK to be essentially ‘urban societies’, constellations of city-regions; reported high growth rates in small towns and rural villages are urban processes in that they could not take place without cities.

6. Scott’s original interest was for sedentarization of his ‘moving victims’; the equivalent means for controlling merchant activity is state protectionism with its limiting case of autarchy.

7. Traditionally known as the ‘ Hanseatic League’, following Dollinger (1964), this is now the common nomenclature.

8. Further proof of this can be derived from Ackroyd’s (2000) recent ‘biography’ of London. Despite being over 800 pages long there is no mention of the Hanse as part of London’s history. (Germans controlling one of the gates of ‘dear old London’, my God, we can’t have that!)

9. The only other explicit example of this spatial arrangement and economic success in the modern world-system is Hong Kong in the second half of the twentieth century with its Chinese commerce and British guardianship.

10. When viewed as a territorial state, it is referred to as the ‘ Dutch Republic’ ( Israel 1995). However, this is not a name contemporaries would have understood. Its founding document (Union of Utrecht, 1579) gave no name to the territory covered by the defensive alliance. According to Schama (1987) outsiders coined the name ‘United Provinces’, which is how contemporaries referred to it.

11. This is, of course, a common fate of cities that ‘change hands’ among political masters. Davis and Moorhouse (2003) describe what might be close to the limiting case, the capital city of valuable Silesia: from early Wrotizla, to Bohemian Vretslov, to Habsburg Presslau, to Prussian Bresslau, to German Breslau, to today’s Polish Wroclaw.

12. Of course, it goes without saying that the city is not contained by its own state, see Taylor (1997).

13. The vignettes did not cover this flowering that took the form of the nationalization of welfare (Jessop’s (2002) Keynsian welfare national state) whereby variants of ‘municipal socialism’ in cities were converted to one welfare state per sovereign territory. It is the latter that has been a target of neo-liberalism, led by Reagan’s US administration in the 1980s and subsequently diffused as the ‘ Washington consensus’. Originally a tax-cutting exercise and latterly a means of ‘opening up national economies’, neo-liberalism is more guardian (global governance) than commercial (global market) (see Taylor 2006a) and as such it does not represent a new city/state modus vivendi but the latest playing out of the modern modus operandi. Nevertheless, devised as guardian strategies, neo-liberalism might just flounder in city politics (Brenner and Theodore 2002, 29) to usher in a new global modus vivendi, with guardians taking on necessary sustainability responsibilities.

Table 1: Syndromes by clusters of precepts













‘Key virtue’

other Basic cluster


Operating cluster



Progress cluster



Capital cluster


Life cluster

Be honest

Shun force
Come to voluntary agreements


Collaborate with strangers and aliens
Respect contracts
Use initiative and enterprise

Be open to inventiveness and novelty
Be efficient
Promote comfort and convenience
Dissent for the sake of the task

Invest for productive purposes
Be industrious
Be thrifty

Be optimistic

‘Key virtue’

other Basic cluster


Action cluster



Lifestyle cluster




Life cluster

Be loyal

Shun trading
Exert prowess
Adhere to tradition
Be obedient and disciplined
Respect hierarchy

Take vengeance
Deceive for the sake of the task


Make rich use of leisure
Be ostentatious
Dispense largesse
Be exclusive
Show fortitude


Be fatalistic
Treasure honour


Table 2: Syndromes by paired precepts








Be honest

Dissent for the sake of the task

Shun force

Come to voluntary agreements

Collaborate with strangers and aliens

Be open to inventiveness and novelty

Use initiative and enterprise

Respect contracts

Be industrious

Be thrifty

Invest for productive purposes

Promote comfort and convenience

Be efficient


Be optimistic




Deceive for the sake of the task

Be loyal

Shun trading

Exert prowess

Be exclusive

Adhere to tradition

Be obedient and disciplined

Respect hierarchy

Make rich use of leisure

Be ostentatious

Dispense largesse

Show fortitude

Treasure honour

Take vengeance

Be fatalistic

Edited and posted on the web on 26th April 2006; last update 23rd March 2007

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32 (2), (2007), 133-150