GaWC Research Bulletin 214

GaWC logo
  Gateways into GaWC

This Research Bulletin has been published in The Geographical Journal, 173 (3), (2007), 197-206.


Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Space and Sustainability: An Exploratory Essay on the Production of Social Spaces through City-Work

P.J. Taylor


The purpose of this essay is to locate the making of social spaces as a particularly salient approach for understanding sustainability. Castells' spaces of places and spaces of flows are interpreted generically and a new social theory, Jacobs' moral syndromes, is introduced to underpin the production of these two spatial forms: commercial agents through their network practices make spaces of flows; guardian agents through their territorial practices make spaces of places. Both spaces are considered to be the outcome of city-work. A new division of labour is devised: four primary types of city-work are identified: hinter-work, net-work, territorial-work and hierarch-work. These ideas are considered as tools for thinking about developing spatial policies for sustainability. In conclusion, Jacobs' theory is used to discuss what the general strategy has to be for tackling sustainability.


Cities, globalization, Jacobs’ moral syndromes, social spaces, territoriality, work



I have long been intrigued by Paul Krugman's (1997) discussion of why development theory and economic geography ‘failed to “make it” into mainstream economics' (p. 6). It seems neither constituted ‘a “proper” economic model' (p. 5). In particular, the economic location theory that geography/regional science rediscovered in the 1950s and 1960s is dismissed as being ‘about geometry, not about economics' (p. 39). This ‘Germanic geometry' failed to specify a market structure (the conditions of competition in the economy) and therefore its theory was immune from formal modelling (p. 41). To a geographer this appears, at first, to be quite odd: location theory is the discipline's most overt attempt at formal modelling (Haggett 1965). Of course, what Krugman means is economic modelling as if there could be no other models of human materialist processes. Being somewhat pedantic, we could argue that he confuses economic geography as a sub-discipline of geography with geographical economics, a sub-discipline economists have failed to create, as Krugman so clearly shows. Formal modelling in geography produces socio-spatial structures; in economic geography these are economic spatial structures. As such there is no need to test them by other's disciplinary values.

Having made this statement I do not wish to give the impression that this essay will be a disciplinary defence of geography – nothing could be further from my general interests or specific intention here. Although prone to assume it, I'm sure Krugman can make a strong case for the importance and relevance of formal economic models. We are less self-assured in geography; in fact, we have largely eschewed our formal spatial modelling. However, we do need to justify why understanding socio-spatial structures, however derived, is important. My position is a simple one. While economics aspires to guide material processes to manage and expand economies, in human geography our concern for socio-spatial structures should have a different goal: producing necessary understanding for sustaining our material world. By aiding more expansion economists are abetting the destruction of ‘Earth as the home of humanity'; the concern of geographers for the construction of social spaces is directly relevant to the sustainability of our lives on Earth. Of course, economists do claim that markets can be used to promote sustainability (e.g. pricing pollutions) but these arguments can never be fully satisfactory because of a basic time problematic: given their very different processes, economic and environmental changes operate over unrelated time scales.

My argument begins with recognition that we are living in a dynamic, expanding world-economy characterised by consumer modernity ( Taylor 1999). This is turning out to be a very risky social structure, a product of myriad behaviours generating an unsustainable world. This social structure, like all social structures, is slow to change, and part of the reason for this is that social practices are embedded in the socially constructed spaces of consumer modernity. This embedding is not just in the ‘fixed' built environment (e.g shopping malls and suburbia), but also in the flows that make this built environment function as a consumer's world. Bequeathing a sustainable world to our progeny requires us to think about dis-embedding the social structures that make our future world so vulnerable. But how? The basic thesis of this essay is that knowledge of social space production can be a key entrée for confronting the sustainability conundrum: how to get from where we are today to a sustainable future . I take a materialist approach to understanding this conundrum. Work is at the heart of my argument because it produces the social spaces that are reproducing spatial structures that are wholly unsustainable in the short- to medium-term. I argue that this focus upon making a living and its consequent space production provides a fresh way of looking at contemporary issues of sustainability. However, the essay is explicitly exploratory in nature and it is for the reader to decide whether my thought experiments merely re-arrange several well-known topics or provide an argument worth pursuing further.

The argument proceeds in three parts drawing heavily on the oeuvre of Jane Jacobs.1 First, I extend Jacobs' (1992) moral syndromes model to provide a materialist base for Castells' (1996) social construction of spaces. This converts his ideas on social spaces of places and of flows into generic concepts. This is a dangerous blending of two very different materialist arguments that I think is worth the risk: I show that it is possible to stretch both approaches beyond each authors' original scope in order to create customised concepts for my purposes here. In this process cities appear as central to both production of spaces of places and flows. Second, I use Jacobs' (1970, 1984) model of cities as basic economic units and focus on both the nature of work in, and the projection of power through, cities. I coin the term city-work to indicate the processes of space production through cities; different work is classified not by its function in economic terms but through its space creation and therefore its salience to sustainability. Third, I develop a simple space-making division of labour to introduce a discussion of how we might create sustainable spaces. In the conclusion I turn briefly to strategic matters: searching for a sustainable future we would not start from here, but since this is where we are, how can we proceed?

Space production

The most influential recent writer on the social construction of space is Castells (1996) who argues that, in an emerging network society, ‘a new spatial logic', ‘spaces of flows', is superseding the former logic, ‘spaces of places' (p. 378). Both of these spatial forms are created through material practices. In his social theory ‘space is the material support of time-sharing practices' (p. 411). That is to say, social spaces are created to bring together practices requiring simultaneous attention. Traditionally this has been achieved through contiguity in spaces of places (e.g. market places) but this is no longer necessary in the ‘informational age' where simultaneity can be realised virtually in spaces of flows (e.g. global financial markets). The flows are interactions between physically separated agents whose everyday work requires distant simultaneity. It is this space that dominates social structures in network society. I will use Castells' space of flows concept more generally to describe material and symbolic flows, functionally linked and necessary for social reproduction, but not necessarily simultaneous. This position follows Arrighi's (1994) criticism of Castells for implying spaces of flows have only become important with the rise of the communication/computing technologies that have enabled network society. Thus rather than following Castells in emphasising the newness of his concepts, I propose to treat his spaces as generic. This is such a fundamental departure from Castells' social theory of network society that I will denote the two spatial forms in a different manner, spaces-of-places and spaces-of-flows, to clearly mark the differences in concept. In all human societies the two forms of spaces are intermingled: a space-of-places is held together by flows and a space-of-flows connects places. The spaces are only distinct in the limiting cases of a purely inert world as a space-of-places and a purely fluid world as a space-of-flows. In the real world, it is, therefore, a matter of one form of space encompassing the other: spaces-of -places are about flows in places, spaces-of-flows are about places in flows. Castells' network society position is thereby reinterpreted as spaces-of-places (e.g. territorial states) dominating spaces-of-flows (e,g, financial flows) in the modern world-system until the advent of globalization wherein the positions are becoming reversed. The latter situation is not as new as it is sometimes portrayed: Arrighi (1994) shows that financial spaces-of-flows, in particular, have had a regular tendency to ‘leak' from the control of territorial powers. But interpreting spaces-of-places and spaces-of-flows as generic requires a different social theory to the network society model offered by Castells. I have found Jacobs' (1992) ideas on moral syndromes most stimulating in this regard.

According to Jacobs (1992) humans have just two basic ways of making a living. One involves ‘taking' – from the environment, from other people – that has evolved into protection practices and territorial state-formation, the other is ‘making' that is producing commodities for exchange that has evolved into market practices and city-network formation. Jacobs' vital point about these two activities is that their respective behaviours require very different moral codes to flourish and be reproduced. Over ‘millennia of experience' (p. xii), human work has created two distinctive moral syndromes that guide the two activities; they are the commercial moral syndrome and the guardian moral syndrome. These normative frameworks will commonly be violated in practice of course, but if the violation is above a certain level it becomes disabling: the activity is undermined and making a living cannot be continued. For instance, the key precept of the commercial moral syndrome is honesty: too much corruption can destroy a trading system. In contrast, the key precept of the guardian moral syndrome is loyalty: lack of commitment to the task can destroy an army.

Jacobs (1997, 162) has neatly referred to the contrasting moralities behind making a living as being largely ‘bourgeois traits' and ‘heroic virtues': the whole list of precepts that Jacobs identifies with each syndrome is presented as like-clusters in Table 1. Thus good commercial practice requires honesty to enable voluntary agreements to be made without use of force. This will involve competition, a willingness to deal with strangers, initiative, and always respect for contracts. There is need for openness towards inventiveness and dissent, and a bias towards efficiency and convenience. Behaviour should be industrious and thrifty, with productive investment and, overall, there is an optimistic view on life. With people adhering to this package of precepts commercial activities can prosper. For successful guardians the precepts are very different. The loyalty precept is backed up by traditional virtues like obedience and respecting hierarchy while not being socially ‘contaminated' by ‘trade' or outsiders. Vengeance, deception, ostentatious leisure and largess, but with fortitude, typify the required behaviour. Honour is very important in a life that is treated fatalistically. Put bluntly being loyal in negotiating a contract is bad practice (you hand a monopoly position to the people you are negotiating with); being honest while engaging in a conflict is bad practice (you reveal your strengths and weaknesses to your opponent): good traders are disloyal, good generals are dishonest.

Before I proceed I need to interject a caution. In my description above I use economic and political examples to illustrate distinctions between the syndromes. Actually the relationship between the moral syndromes and the commonsense categories of political and economic (and public/private) is rather more tangential than I allow here. For instance, the executives of major corporations are most certainly guardians in many of their activities, especially in their search for high profits via forms of monopoly; they are not called ‘captains of industry' for nothing. They are found carrying out ‘command and control' functions in contemporary world cities (Friedmann 1996). The line between guardian and commercial ways of making a living is always shifting in large corporations. A good example is Microsoft Corporation which became the biggest firm in world using commercial morality and has tried to maintain its position using guardian morality. Despite these examples I will mainly discuss the two moral syndromes in terms of common political and economic actors for pedagogic reasons; the complexities inherent in Jacobs' morality framework are not my direct concern here.2

How are Jacobs' precepts linked to social space production? I posit a simple sequence of three steps: in the practice of making a living agents (i) operate through a specific behavioural premise, that (ii) presupposes social institutions, which (iii) function through distinctive socio-spatial structures. These steps can be traced in both ways of making a living. Thus, commercial agents presume a positive-sum game: unless both sides in a deal think they will profit there would be no voluntary agreements. The social institutions in this context are markets for buying and selling: this is where profits are realised to make a commercial living. The process is physically manifest in social spaces-of-flows: markets are nodes in the flows of commodities and people. Cosmopolitan cities connected through economic networks are the archetypal example of such spaces. On the other hand, guardian agents presume a zero-sum game based upon coercion where losses on one side are balanced by gains on the other. The social institutions are power monopolies offering protection: this is how conflicts are resolved to make a guardian living. The process is physically manifest in spaces-of-places: territorial control is the basic means for protecting people and property. Socially homogenous (ethnic, religious) states are the archetypal example of such spaces. In contemporary globalization these two syndrome spaces are represented in tensions between the world city network and the world mosaic of nation-states.

Returning to Castells' network society interpretation of recent changes in the social construction of spaces, this can now be interpreted as guardians (states) losing economic control of transnational flows (including ‘their' cities as they have become world/global cities); the resulting global spaces-of-flows have replaced states' previous domination of all activities within their territorial boundaries (including cities within ‘national urban hierarchies').


Making a living is to perform work. Unfortunately studies of work tend to focus on just economic processes; it is framed in commercial rather than guardian terms (e.g. Castree et al . 2004). This is despite the massive rise in public sector employment in the modern state and the fact that overt guardian work, like policing and soldiering, continues to be one of the most common ways to make a living: there is a bias towards work in factory and offices at the expense of soldiers and their ilk. Castree et al (2004, 5-7) interpret private-public sector work differences as an organisation element in social divisions of labour but, as argued in the previous section, it can be much more fundament than that. In this discussion commercial work and guardian work are treated as the prime division of labour given that they are the only two ways of making a living.

I concentrate on work that is performed in cities: city-work. The main justification for this comes from another part of Jacobs' oeuvre. In Jacobs (1984) she argues that cities are the prime units of economic activity not states, which she categorises as political and military entities. This is how I have distinguished commercial and guardian outcomes above. Let us start with the economic processes. Jacobs (1970, 1984) makes two related arguments for the importance of cities as basic economic entities. First, they are the source of expansion of economic life through new work. New work – producing new commodities - increases the complexity of a city's division of labour. This is development; it contrasts with simple economic growth through adding more old work that increases the size of an economy but not its complexity. It is this economic diversification that generates the vibrancy that is the dynamic city. But this cannot happen to one city at a time; cities exist in networks and feed off the dynamism of each other. However a city's external influence is not always so positive or even benign. In regions without dynamic cities, processes are set in train that undermine local economies, making them dependent: outside dynamic cities take advantage of local human and environmental resources for their distant benefit. Only city-economies, Jacobs (1984) argues, have the capacity to project economic power in this way.

In her initial example of creating dependences on the city, Jacobs (1984, 32-5) uses the example of Bardou, today a small French hamlet. She shows how cities ‘have acted upon Bardou' (p. 35) over two millennia from Roman Nîmes' demand for iron ore to modern Paris's demand for labour, and today's European urban residents' demand for rural retreats as vacation places. In the Roman example Bardou's mines are the termini of Roman roads, infrastructure provided by guardians, the Roman military, to serve Nîmes' ironworks. This example shows that guardians are implicated in city-work. Just because their primary entities are territorial states it does not mean that they are not major users of cities in carrying out their tasks. Jacobs has made precisely this point in arguing that although cities are indeed the ‘locus of trader (commercial) values', they also figure prominently in guardian values as the locus of ‘great buildings' (secular and religious citadels) (Lawrence 1997, 239). This can be easily illustrated in the medieval revival of western Europe. The economic revival was city-based after itinerant traders and temporary fairs were found wanting as means of dealing with the size and complexity of the ‘commercial revolution' (Spufford 2002). At the same time the political revival meant that itinerant government was no longer possible and permanent government centres, capital cities, were required. Thus, by the end of the period the largest cities were a mixture of commercial centres (e.g. Venice , Ghent) and political centres (e.g. Paris , Naples) (Taylor 2006a). Of course, governments project their power, coercive and diplomatic, within their territory and beyond to extend that territory. Today this work is bureaucratised and much operates hierarchically within countries through cities with lesser guardian functions than the capital. My point is that in the modern world, making a living through either commercial or guardian means has become highly complex and therefore centralised in cities.

This point is implicit in Clark and Gaile's (1998) The Work of Cities in which they use Jacobs' ideas on economic expansion as their starting point (p. 2) for a study of city government policies (i.e. guardian work). They derive their title from Robert Reich's (1991) famous The Work of Nations in which he fears for the cohesion of American society in response to polarisation resulting from economic globalization. His emphasis on the need to promote high value knowledge jobs in the US economy is taken up by Clark and Gaile who point out that such jobs will be city jobs (p. 4-5). Their approach is to extend Reich's concern for the global and the national to a multi-scale approach including the local (p. 4). My position is more city-centric: city-work is an essential concept for understanding contemporary globalization and its implications for future sustainability.

Creating sustainable spaces

Treating city-work in both commercial and guardian terms provides the starting point for a more fundamental rethinking of division of labour. Because this prime division, guardian work and commercial work, transcends the traditional division of labour concept, it opens up the argument to consider new criteria for dividing work into categories. The usual economic functional approach ultimately uses the concept to understand how to increase economic growth: for instance, different work is categorised as high value-added and low value-added as a prelude to policy encouragement of the former. But with different goals come different criteria. If the purpose of the exercise is policy encouragement of sustainability, city-work can be described as a quite different division of labour, one that informs us about the spaces being created. By this I do not mean new spatial divisions of labour as defined by Massey (1984) that are effectively the spatial expression of economic divisions of labour; rather I am concerned for different forms of social space and how sustainable they are.

I present a very preliminary division of labour through cross-tabulating the two ways of making a living with Castells' two forms social space (Figure 2). In this fourfold taxonomic structure I identify different pairings of work, one deemed primary, the other supplementary: hinter-work with subservient-work, and net-work with subsidiary-work in making a commercial living; and territorial-work with border-work, and hierarch-work with paternal-work by guardians making a living. By primary I mean the work that directly creates a specific form of space, by supplementary I mean work that is equally necessary but does not lead the space-creation. The first two pairings in making a living create spaces-of-places, the second pairings create spaces-of-flows. I do think that this division of labour is generic in city-work but I will only treat it in contemporary terms here.

Before describing the various divisions of city-work a small caveat needs mentioning. I will illustrate the work categories using typical occupations. However, occupations named for their function in economic divisions of labour cannot exactly meet my needs here. Thus occupations will usually be involved in work that covers more than one of my work categories. This is a large empirical topic that I do not wish to engage with at this time. Hence please treat references to occupations as suggestions for majority input to a work category.

Hinter-work and Subservient-work

Every city has its hinterland which is its ‘city-region' variously defined. Retail and wholesale distribution are classic occupations of hinter-work. More generally this work consists of operations on city-imports where the products are consumed locally. Such work is crucial to Jacobs' expansion of economic life through import replacement and expanding the city-region. Thus local production for local consumption is another form of hinter-work. The hinterland is a variable place depending upon the commodity being consumed: larger for higher value goods as central place theory tells us. Today hinterlands can be quite complex in multi-nodal mega-regions (Hall and Pain 2006). In these large city-regions very high value knowledge work takes place (Sassen 2001) attracting professional labour from across the world making the city-region highly cosmopolitan. However, at the same time the city attracts poor migrants with a very different foothold in the city economy, providing cheap services for the rich, often informally. It is this parallel growth in this subservient-work that has produced material polarization in major metropolitan areas across the world (Sassen 2001).

The space-of-places produced by this work can be quite contradictory in relation to sustainability. There are two key sustainability issues. First, the increasing polarization of work, especially the ghetto-ization of the rich, threatens the social sustainability of the city. Second, the form of the city, following decades of suburbanization, means that the city-region is ecologically very inefficient in terms of required movements of people and goods. Since, in this argument, the ideal city form is a compact city it follows that polycentricity exacerbates the problem. On the other hand, the bigger the city-region, the more work and therefore the more self-sufficient it can be: it has less need of net-work.

Net-work and Subsidiary-work

All cities exist in many production chains and networks of various kinds with other cities. Logistics and transportation are classic occupations of net-work. More generally this work consists of operations that involve connections to beyond the city-region for mutual benefit. Thus workers in large production units that export most of their products do net-work, as do retailers who source from outside the region. Similarly, professional knowledge workers, as well as responding to the local market for their products in the city as mentioned above, will commonly be involved inter-city projects that are net-work. The latter work locates cities in the world city network (Taylor 2004). But there are connections beyond the city-region that are not mutually beneficially causing distorted economies in poor regions without their own vibrant cities (Jacobs 1984). This subsidiary-work creating simple supply regions (resource, agricultural and industrial) consists of work outside the city but which is dependent on the city; the latter is where the value of the work accrues. It is this subsidiary-work that is producing an increasingly polarised world.

The large-scale spaces-of-flows consequent upon this work are replete with subsistence issues. Globalization is sometimes seen as an intensification of spaces-of-flows and, as such, is indicted for threatening sustainability. But on the other hand, the communication/computer revolution behind globalization is a technology that has enabled much net-work to be handled electronically with minimal sustainability implications.

Territory-work and Border-work

Guardians operate in cities to perform their territoriality. This is a form of behaviour that operates within a bounded place to mould the nature of that place (Sack 1986). Legislative and regulatory operations are classic occupations of territory-work. More generally, this work consists of ‘official' actions that are limited in authority to a formally bounded place. This will include those working for the state at all scales: at the national scale dispensing justice, ultimately through the ‘highest court' in the capital city; at the sub-state level regional planning through work in the ‘regional capital'; and at the supra-level (e.g. EU), devising farm subsidies through work in a ‘trans-national capital' (Brussels). All of these activities make the given place different from other neighbouring places at the varying scales. This place differentiation is monitored and enforced through border-work that controls flows into and out of the territory. People control (immigration) and commodity control (customs) is ubiquitous in city transport infrastructures such as airports.

These productions of spaces-of-places are both conducive to sustainability actions while also being fatally flawed. The work for states at all scales is premised upon rolling out policy in their jurisdiction and therefore territory-work can be easily harnessed to sustainability themes such local authorities adopting the Local Agenda 21 Initiative (after the Rio Environmental Summit in 1992) or nation-states signing up to the Kyoto Agreement. But these spaces-of-places can never be the appropriate units for successful sustainability programmes because in essence they ‘contain', an approach wholly inappropriate for environmental processes.

Hierarch-work and Paternal-work

Inter-state relations are very hierarchical and operate through capital cities. The latter are often evoked to describe a state's actions (‘ Beijing offers to…', ‘ Paris agrees to …'), and treaties and agreements between states are usually named after the city where the work was done (van der Wusten 2006). This is diplomacy, a mild form of hierarch-work where dominations are usually hidden behind ‘diplomatic niceties'. Alongside diplomatic networks there are the even more secretive spy networks on inter-state intrigue linking capital cities of leading states. But the main form of hierarch-work is soldiering where the hierarchy is defined explicitly through power politics as war and threat of war. Billeted in the city-regions of states, these armed forces plan to take other's territory through destroying their cities as control and production centres. In the last decade three great cities have been thus bombed: Beirut , Baghdad and Belgrade . In addition, this hierarch-work is not restricted to state-workers, various ‘irregulars' (warlord, nationalist and religious militias/cells) operate as ‘unofficial' guardians as Mogadishu, Sarajevo, and New York have found to their cost. Attempts to alleviate the ‘causes' of such violence has been the task of ‘development' through promises to eradicate poverty. This is paternal-work where ideas are formulated in cities of the rich world to be applied to the territories of poor states, typically (until recently) ignoring their cities ( Taylor 2006b). This includes aid programmes from rich countries but the most influential guardians are the IMF and World Bank (the ‘Washington Consensus') who, as Jacobs (1984) emphasises and despite their ‘economic functions', are archetypal guardians (i.e. despite their namings as fund and bank they are certainly not commercial enterprises).

These spaces-of-flows are central to sustainability. Hierarch-work is a political luxury, a guardian indulgence that can no longer be afforded. Taking territory and bombing cities in the twenty first century can be equated to Nero's infamous fiddling, albeit rather more violent today. Ever since the 1972 UN conference in Stockholm , environmental concerns have been linked to development by UN guardians: ergo the invention of ‘sustainable development'. In Jacobs' terms reconciling an expansion of economic life to enable all to make a reasonable living while sustaining the Earth's environment is the ultimate quest.

The space-making Division of Labour as a Tool

The division of labour in Figure 2 is an initial, and therefore quite crude, taxonomic exercise. It is at the level of the traditional ‘primary-secondary-tertiary' categories in economic divisions of labour. As with the latter, further differentiation can be envisaged: in the space-making above references to scales of places and types of flows are obvious next stages for refining the work categories. But this is perhaps premature. There is a prior need to think through what use can be made of such reclassification of city-work. So I will assume that a full new schema of division of labour has been devised that informs material space-making. The premise is that alongside the current economic classifications of occupations there is an equivalent space-making classification. What could/would we do with it?

The first point to make is that the alternative division of labour treats space-making and sustainability as implicated across the board in all city-work (i.e it is more than the recycling done in garbage disposal). Therefore any changes in work create changes in space and sustainability. These need auditing and monitoring and that is what new data collection on the alternative division of labour would provide. New metrics can be devised. The most basic would be the place/flow work ratio showing the relative amounts of work going into making spaces-of-places compared to making spaces-of-flows. Currently we have no idea of what such a ratio would show either in guardian (policy) places or over time. Is work making spaces-of-flows really overwhelming work making spaces-of-places as Castells (1996) asserts? And such questions can be honed further with more detailed work categories: Which work making spaces-of-flows is growing fastest? Which work making scales of spaces-of-places is growing fastest? Despite the very large literature on globalization that suggests definitive ‘global' responses to these questions, actually we do not know the answers to any such enquiries on work making spaces. No knowledge exists at any comprehensive scale on the making of social spaces.

At a very general level, a sustainability programme will favour large places (a greater quantity and variety of work produces more self-sufficiency) and less flows (requiring less environmental input and pollution). All things being equal, policy will be about replacing work producing spaces-of-flows by work producing spaces-of-places. Auditing and monitoring space-making work will enable specific assessment of such initiatives. Consider the following example of replacing net-work by hinter-work (derived from Jacobs (1992, 267-72)). A school board is purchasing a year's supply of writing books. The board can take a sensible commercial approach by combining with neighbouring school boards to become a larger purchaser and attract bids from far as well as near. By becoming part of a large consortium a better deal can be obtained and money saved for other educational purposes. Unfortunately, this can likely lead to net-work given that widening the bidding will attract very large, non-local suppliers. But the procurement process does not have to stop there. Having tested the market, the next stage is to offer the contract to local suppliers at that price. Now they have previously not bid this low and therefore cannot match the price unless they form a consortium of local suppliers to obtain the scale advantages of the outside bidder. Producing writing books is not ‘rocket science'; every large city-region encompasses the wherewithal to supply its own market. All that is required is a process that encourages hinter-work while being careful to avoid creation of local monopolies – what Jacobs (1992, 171) calls ‘hinterland brokering'. This is just the sort of policy that might be labelled ‘best practice' and rolled out across a city network. But is it? It appears good but what exactly is the gain? We need to answer questions relating to how much more hinter-work and how much less net-work have been achieved. This requires metrics from the space-making division of labour. With these metrics sustainability gains can be evaluated for the work of the city where the initiative took place to compare with other cities, and to monitor over time. No city should really be able to claim to be ‘green' without a space-making audit of its city-work.

It is important to note that the education procurement programme example does not place sustainability against good economic practice. Rather it is a sort of ‘sustainability second chance' approach: if something can be done as economical and is more sustainable, then an ideal practice has been achieved. The reason why this is important is because concern for global sustainability must always run parallel to concern for global poverty. Abandoning the expansion of economic life to ‘save the planet' is to condemn the majority of humanity to no hope of a better life. But there is good news in this respect. The general sustainability programme bias towards large places and less flows is, in fact, the same bias to be found in Jacobs' basic process of expanding economic life. Expansion of economic life occurs through import replacement by new work in a city and this precisely creates demographic bursts and economic diversification in cities that thus become larger places. And in the process hinter-work replaces net-work. It follows that space-making for sustainability is entirely compatible with expansion of economic life.

Finally, mention must be made of the ways of making a living in the division of labour in Table 2. Guardian and commercial ways of making a living can be related to two basic types of stakeholders, potential users of any tools derived from the space-making division of labour analysis. Given their opposing moral syndromes (Table 1), it follows that tools and their applications should be designed differently for the two stakeholder groups (guardian and commercial agents) if they are to be mobilized in sustainability initiatives.

Conclusion: return of the guardians?

Tools are very practical; they are part of the ongoing tactical approach necessary for sustainability initiatives. But what of strategy, the broader overview on how to reach sustainable ends? Who will ‘save the Earth'? If we look at the moral syndromes it appears that making a commercial living might well produce ‘savers' for their individual futures but it is from the ranks of guardians that we can expect to find 'saviours' for our collective futures. This is because stewardship, in Jacobs' terms honouring predecessors and thinking of posterity (Lawrence 1989, 200), is self-evidently associated with guardian morals and practices. To be sure there is commercial stewardship notably in sustainable forestry but note this is commercial practice on land production, where commercial practices commonly elide into guardian practices. Stewardship has been inherently territorial in focus, hence its guardian nature. But flows as well as places require long-term maintenance (network stewardship?). Usually termed infra-structural development, these are also traditionally the responsibility of guardians as modern states. It has been a common theme in Marxist thinking that capital will destroy itself (i.e. is unsustainable) unless saved ‘from itself' by the state (e,g, Holloway and Picciotto, 1978); in world-systems analysis it is hegemonic states that have created and maintained ‘global' infra-structures' (Wallerstein 1984). All this adds up to guardians being indispensable to thinking about reaching a sustainable future.

There is a basic problem with this conclusion. Looking at the precepts of the two syndromes (Table 1), I find that the commercial syndrome tends to elicit more of my sympathy. This is most clearly reflected in two contrasting clusters: the commercial syndrome is overtly ‘progressive' while the guardian offering is overtly ‘traditional'. It follows that this suggests a more general predilection towards the commercial syndrome as a feature of modernity. And Jane Jacobs (1989) admits to similar feelings, the commercial is her preferred syndrome. But she is also very clear that the two syndromes are not a matter of choice, they exist together in all known human societies and she argues that both are integral to any macro-social change. Accepting her position, nevertheless I argue that the relation between the practices deriving from her two syndromes is uniquely different in the modern world-system (Taylor 2007). In other societies (Wallerstein's (2004) world-empires), guardian and commercial work were kept firmly apart in a strict social hierarchy that celebrated the former. The distinctive feature of modernity is that this modus vivendi has been replaced by commercial work challenging the elevated status of the guardians: in this new ‘modern' relation guardian and commercial work become more entwined, a modus operandi exists (Taylor 2007). It is in this modern context, with its explicit challenge to ‘tradition', that our preferences for the commercial moral syndrome are to be located.

The long-term erosion of guardian social precedence in modern times has come to a head in contemporary globalization. This influential discourse broaches a post-state future through either diminution or even elimination of the primary modern guardian institution, the nation-state. Castells' (1996, 2000) arguments for his spaces of flows superseding or dominating spaces of places is a specific rendition of this argument. To the degree that he is correct (which we do not yet know), there is both bad news and good news for sustainability: the bad news is tendencies to more flows; the good news is the resultant, more self-sufficient, larger cities. But what does seem to be the case is that globalization may be heralding a new post-modern modus vivendi between guardian and commercial practices (Taylor 2007). Such a separation of work may be the key threat to tackling sustainability: any viable strategy must involve intricate relations between both guardians and commercial interests. Thus the ‘return of the guardians' as a title for this conclusion does not mean a reversing of the current modus vivendi to putting guardians back on top: such a move has real potential to lead to some form of eco-fascism (Taylor 1996, 216-9), perhaps organised through cities (Taylor 2004, 195). This is not the type of saviour we are looking for!

Time is the big imponderable in this search for a strategic framework. I have previously argued that the short term-ism in the commercial way of making a living makes it inappropriate practice for tackling sustainability; this is why commercial agents make poor ‘stewards'. Hence the need for a guardian input. And therein lies the key problem. However powerful contemporary globalization is viewed in eroding the salience of states, it is highly unlikely that states will be replaced by any other guardian institution within the necessary time-scale for serious action on sustainability. And yet these current guardians operate through multiple political containers, a space-of-places that I have argued is ultimately unsuitable for tackling sustainability. Hence the conundrum: commercial equals wrong time, guardian equals wrong space; this is why we would choose to start strategic thinking on sustainability from where we are today! But we do not have the luxury of choice in where we are, so what way forward?

The nature of states is not immutable. If there is to be a new modus operandi between commercial ways of making a living and guardians in order to tackle sustainability, the former through their globalization will change key features of the modern state, notably its acute container heritage. States need to reduce their rigid boundary obsessions in order to constitute a more porous and flexible space-of-places. Globalization in making the populations of states more cosmopolitan is creating a chauvinist backlash, but commercial pressures will prevent serious reversal to crude political containerisation. The centres of this cosmopolitan tendency are, of course, the cities within the states and we can expect ‘big city mayors' to become partners with guardians at higher spatial scales including state executives. City regions are the ultimate porous places and as the critical nodes in global spaces-of-flows, they will be the strategic places where the sustainability conundrum will be ‘solved' or not.


Arrighi G 1994 The Long Twentieth Century Verso, London

Castells M 1996 The Rise of Network Society Blackwell, Oxford

Castells M 2000 Grassrooting the space of flows Urban Geography 20 294-302

Castree N, Coe N M, Ward K and Samers M 2004 Spaces of Work. Sage, London

Clarke S E and Gaile G L 1998 The Work of Cities Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis, MN

Friedmann J 1986 The world city hypothesis Development and Change 17 69-83

Haggett P 1965 Locational Analysis in Human Geography Arnold, London

Hall P and Pain K 2006 The Polycentric Metropolis Earthscan, London

Holloway J and Picciotto S eds 1978 State and Capital: a Marxist Debate. Arnold, London

Jacobs J 1970 The Economy of Cities Vintage, New York

Jacobs J 1984 Cities and the Wealth of Nations Vintage, New York

Jacobs J 1989 Systems of Economic Ethics in Lawrence Fed Ethics in Making a Living Scholars Press, Atlanta

Jacobs J 1992 Systems of Survival Vintage, New York

Jacobs J 1997 Morality in Allen M ed Ideas that Matter: the Worlds of Jane Jacobs . Ginger Press, Owen Sound , Ontario 161-2

Krugman P 1997 Development, Geography, and Economic Theory MIT Press, Cambridge MA

Lawrence F ed 1989 Ethics in Making a Living Scholars Press, Atlanta

Massey D 1984 Spatial Divisions of Labour Macmillan, London

Reich R B 1991 The Work of Nations Vintage, New York

Sack R D 1984 Human Territoriality Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Sassen S 2001 The Global City Princeton University Press, Princeton , NJ

Spufford P 2002 The Merchant in Medieval Europe Thames and Hudson , London

Taylor P J 1996 The Way the Modern World Works Wiley, London

Taylor P J 1999 Modernities: a Geohistorical Introduction Polity, Cambridge

Taylor P J 2004 World City Network: a Global Urban Analysis Routledge, London

Taylor P J 2006a A lineage for contemporary inter-city studies in Taylor P J, Derudder B, Saey P and Witlox F eds Cities in Globalization. Routledge, London

Taylor P J 2006b Development as a “monstrous hybrid”: an essay on the primacy of cities in economic life Environment and Planning A 38

Taylor P J 2006c Jane Jacobs (1916-2006): an appreciation Environment and Planning A 38

Taylor P J 2007 Problematizing city/state relations: towards a geohistorical understanding of contemporary globalization Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Wallerstein, I 1984 Long waves as capitalist process Review ( Fernand Braudel Center ) 7 559-75

Wallerstein I 2004 World-Systems Analysis Duke University Press, Durham, NC

Wusten H van der 2006 Political world cities: w here flows through entwined multi-state and transnational networks meet places in Taylor P J, Derudder B, Saey P and Witlox F eds Cities in Globalization. Routledge, London


1. Jane Jacobs is one of the major social thinkers of recent times (Taylor 2006c). Her contrarian approaches to urban planning and city economies are well known in geography but her foray into moral philosophy has been largely missed. This may be because her work in the first two fields engendered wisespread debate in the disciplines under fire (urban planning and urban economics) but this has not been the case in philosophical field – I have previously suggested reasons for this (p. 1628). I base my arguments on this less geographical dimension of her work and my contribution here is to interpret her moral ideas in relation to space making.

2. Much of Jacobs' (1992) discussion is about how these two moral syndromes interact in their applications. Such interactions can be negative (‘monstrous hybrids' (chapter 6, Taylor 2006b)) or positive (‘syndrome-friendly inventions' (chapter 10). The latter can be necessary as in institutional economics arguments.




Table 1 Syndromes by clusters of precepts














‘Key virtue’


other Basic cluster




Operating cluster









Progress cluster












Life cluster


Be honest


Shun force


Come to voluntary agreements


Collaborate with strangers and aliens




Respect contracts


Dissent for the sake of the task


Be open to inventiveness and novelty


Be efficient


Use initiative and enterprise


Invest for productive purposes


Be industrious


Be thrifty


Promote comfort and convenience


Be optimistic



‘Key virtue’


other Basic cluster



Operating cluster








Tradition cluster














Life cluster


Be loyal


Shun trading


Exert prowess


Be exclusive


Take vengeance


Respect hierarchy


Deceive for the sake of the task


Be obedient and disciplined


Adhere to tradition


Make rich use of leisure


Dispense largesse


Treasure honour


Be ostentatious


Show fortitude


Be fatalistic


Table 2 Making a living, making spaces



Making a commercial living

Guardians making a living

Spaces of places

(flows in places)







Spaces of flows

(places in flows)









Edited and posted on the web on 21st November 2006; last update 16th May 2007

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in The Geographical Journal, 173 (3), (2007), 197-206