GaWC Research Bulletin 239

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World City Network and Planet of Slums: Access and Exclusion in Neoliberal Globalization

P.J. Taylor



According to the title of Castles and Miller's (2003) classic text on international migration, we are living in The Age of Migration. They acknowledge previous large international flows of people but quantitatively, with illegal movements taken into account, contemporary globalization is unrivalled in its demographic upheaval (pp. 4-5). Interestingly, our times have been also commonly referred to as a new ‘age of cities' (Martin and Schumann 1997, 18; Knight and Gappert 1989 passim ). In stark contrast, the contemporary is not seen as a new ‘age of states'; globalization is usually characterised as erosion of state power (Held et al 1999). But the latter process has hardly begun to penetrate the embedded statism of social science knowledge (Taylor 2000).

In this chapter I am going to take a city-centric view of contemporary globalization. In part this is to counter continuing state-centric thinking about social phenomena such as migration, but also I have a basic theoretical justification for this position. Starting with state-centric thinking, note that the very term ‘international migration' presupposes that states are the appropriate units for measuring migration. This is empirically sensible in that the study of such movement relies upon ‘state-istics' (information collected by states, for state ends) where origins and destinations are states. But this sensible approach is conceptually problematic. Castles and Miller (2003) illustrate the limitations of studying ‘international migration' in a spectacular manner: they miss out what is happening in China where the most important flow of people is happening in contemporary large-scale migration (see Map 7.1, p. 156). There seems to be little doubt that the demographic process that will have most planetary effect in the first quarter of the twenty first century is Chinese migration to Chinese cities. It is this ‘internal migration” (i.e. not ‘international' like, say, flows between Belgium and Luxembourg) which nevertheless is re-orientating the modern world-economy.

With the effective closure of an agricultural frontier across the world, today the destinations of nearly all migrants are cities/city-regions. Traditionally, rural- urban migration has been because cities are the loci of economic opportunities; they can are viewed as concentrations of work prospects. And this attraction has been theorised by Jacobs (1969) who shows why and how vibrant cities are the source of economic development, reflected in migration to cities to take up work. This is what is happening in China today, it is a generic process of expanding economic life. States do not expand economies; the Chinese economy began to expand only after the state stopped severe controls on migration to its cities. Thus states and their ‘state-istics' provide a particularly unsuitable spatial frame for studying migration. In contrast, a city-centric approach will focus on cities not states as migration destinations. From this perspective, today's ‘age of migration' and ‘age of cities' are the same thing.

One way of thinking about this paper is that the author of World City Network (Taylor 2004) is trying to figure out how his ideas relate to Mike Davis's (2006) Planet of Slums. Both books are about urban processes under conditions of contemporary globalization but they could hardly be more different in subject matter: one deals with selected practices creating the global rich, the other with selected practices creating the global poor. But it is the same cities that feature in both texts. Clearly, rich city networkers have access to the wealth being generated by neoliberal globalization to which poor slum dwellers are excluded. This is to grossly oversimplify but it provides a starting point. Access and exclusion are essentially spatial metaphors, I will treat them more literally than is usual, using the core-periphery model as developed in world-systems analysis. My city-centric approach demands some rethinking of this model and this is the first part of the chapter, which provides the conceptual basis of my argument. The remainder of the text treats its substantive argument in three parts dealing with: first, world/global cities as migration destinations in a world city network, second, mega-cities as migration destinations in a planet of slums, third, how these two processes contribute to the neo-liberal imperatives that drive contemporary globalization, and fourth, the outcome of neoliberalism as economic polarization including the distinctive case of Chinese economic expansion. I conclude by considering this odd comparative exercise in terms of resistance to neo-liberal globalization.


World-systems analysis uses the common core-periphery spatial framework but treats it in a distinctive manner. For Wallerstein (1979), core-periphery defines the primal division of labour in the capitalist world-economy. Both core and periphery are treated as processes: core-making processes incorporate high tech, high wage production; periphery-making processes the obverse. These two economic processes operate across the world-economy but with contrary geographical distributions: regions where core processes are concentrated and dominate define a core zone; where periphery processes are concentrated and dominate define a periphery zone. Where the two processes overlap to be broadly balanced so neither dominates, a semi-periphery is defined. This third zone is a distinctive element of the core-periphery model in Wallerstein's world-systems analysis: there are two processes but three geographical outcomes.

Although the processes are overtly economic, most applications of the model have used states as the units of analysis - it's that ‘state-istics' influence again (e.g. Arrighi and Drangel 1986; Terlouw 1992). I take the view that the high tech, high wage production is an economic process of cities and this core-making is city network formation. The power of city practices to mould economies to their needs creates dependent spaces in which low tech, low wage production takes place as periphery. These geographies are dynamic and messy so that there is always room for a semi-periphery in which vibrant cities are juxtaposed to, or are islands in, broad swathes of dependent spaces.

This city-centric approach to core-periphery is, perhaps, closer to the spirit of Wallerstein's thinking through his crucial identification of core and periphery as processes. It uses Castells' (1996) critical theory of social space as constituted by practices that create two spatial forms: spaces of places (e.g. territorial states) and spaces of flows (e.g. trading networks). I have argued elsewhere that the former space tends to result from political practices and the latter from commercial practices (Taylor 2007). In the argument being developed here I start with processes generating a spaces of flows (city network formation) wherein the practices generate a spatial division of labour that is a space of places (zones). This primary social space production can be disassembled into several city processes.

I draw explicitly on the ideas of Jacobs (1969, 1984) to show how cities make their spaces. (Note here ‘cities' is shorthand for ‘practices in cities': there is no intention to reify cities.) I define ‘city-ness' a cluster of entwined processes through which cities create an amenable (enabling) environment for their economic expansion. It is city-ness because only in the concentrations of economic power that are cities can these processes be generated. Four key processes can be identified:

  1. City-centre formation. This is what makes the city vibrant and dynamic; the clustering of diverse commercial activities is the spark for the expansion of economic life. Following Jacobs (1969) this is where ‘new work' is continually being generated to expand the division of labour and thereby create complex economies.
  2. City-region formation. The processes of the centre clusters can spill over into adjacent places to create a larger dynamic city-region (Jacobs (1984). Today this process is represented by multi-nodal city regional formation (Hall and Pain 2006).
  3. City-network formation. Dynamic cities require other cities to trade with and borrow ideas and innovations from (Jacobs 1969, 1984). It is the city network that defines the core of the world economy (i.e. it is a space of flows between cities not a space of places, a classification of states). Today this process is represented by world city network formation (Taylor 2004).
  4. City-yoke formation. This is the pernicious process that peripheralizes places outside the centre-region-network triad of economic expansion processes. Places are restructured into simple economies to service dynamic, expanding cities in five ways:
    • food supply-regions – the agricultural regions of the world specializing in particular commodities for core city markets
    • raw material supply-regions – largely mining and drilling regions for core city production and consumption
    • labour supply-regions – abandoned regions, victims of technological changes, provide labour for core cities
    • transplant supply-regions such as branch plants and back offices doing routine work (‘old work') cheaply for core city consumptions
    • capital absorption places where large-scale projects are unconnected to local urban economies (e.g. the worldwide penchant for dam-building) 

The key point is that these processes emanating out of core cities create simple economies to service their own complex economies (Jacobs 1984).

It is through these five processes that the world space-economy is continually being structured and restructured as a core-periphery primal division of labour. (Jacobs' (1984) argument can be interpreted as a comprehensive extension of Franks (1969) radical dependency theory, a prime stimulus to the development of world-systems analysis in the first place.) The spatial dynamics are to be found in city network formation processes encroaching on city-yoke formation and vice versa in the semi-periphery. Today, there are many former ‘third world' cities that experience both strong world city processes and strong mega-city/slum processes (e.g. Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg). These are classic semi-periphery outcomes in contemporary globalization.

Before I leave this conceptual section I need to distinguish the city-ness defined above from town-ness. Town-ness is the relation between an urban place and its hinterland. I consider this relation to be neither expansionary nor necessarily pernicious: its crucial characteristic is its local simplicity. All urban places have their hinterland and therefore are constituted in part by a town-ness process. But no urban place ever became a dynamic major city through simply servicing its hinterland. However, an urban place exhibiting strong, city-ness processes in addition to its ubiquitous town-ness will be a vibrant, diverse and complex economy (Taylor 2006). Town-ness is not related to economic expansion and therefore it is not a process that creates key migration destinations. This paper deals with urban places as cities (as processes of city-ness), which are exorbitantly attractive to migrants. I focus upon the two city-ness processes that operate over large distances: the positive effects of city-network formation and the negative effects of city-yoke formation.


I treat city network formation as generic; it is a trans-historical process that has existed as long as cities have existed. To ensure that cities are not reified, it is important to conceptualise city networks as interlocking networks. That it to say, the process of network formation is through the activities of economic agents in carrying out their normal commercial practice. For instance, in medieval Europe, merchant houses had representatives in all the cities where they did their business. Such use of representatives interlocks the cities into myriad overlapping business networks that between them constituted a European city network. It is this process that makes cities typically cosmopolitan due to the mixing of commercial agents from across the network.

Today, there is a world city network that is global in scope. This is a product of the rise of multi-national corporations in the second half of the twentieth century. These corporations devised large-scale projects and strategies of production, sometimes worldwide (i.e. extending transplant supply regions), which required new levels of sophisticated servicing. The advanced producer service firms (financial, professional and creative) that provide such services had to also ‘go global' in the 1970s and 1980s in order to keep their clients serviced in the manner to which they were accustomed. Some law firms, for instance, began to specialise in inter-jurisdictional contracts and advertising agencies in global market campaigns. They could not do this from just one city, they had to develop office networks over scores, sometimes hundreds, of cities. This is because their work combined advanced servicing knowledge with local geographical knowledges (economic, cultural, political) about the places where the servicing was to be practised. Hong Kong is a classic example: although it houses no headquarters of major service firms, it has very large numbers of offices of major service firms. This is because it is the necessary ‘place to be' for servicing corporations expanding into the fastest growing market in the world, China. In Hong Kong global standard servicing intersects with knowledge of China as economy, polity and culture to ease entry or continued presence in the Chinese market. No wonder that in interlocking network analyses (Taylor 2004), Hong Kong ranks only after London and New York as a global service centre, and above Tokyo despite the latter's banks and advertising agencies having their own global scopes. In summary: It is the practices of these financial, professional and creative firms through their numerous offices that create interlocking global service centres as the world city network, an exceptional urban phenomenon, a component of contemporary globalization (Taylor 2004).

This contemporary city-ness is premised upon the new electronic communications technologies that allow servicing projects to be carried out simultaneously in teams in different offices across the world. Although both routine and some sophisticated work can be done electronically, even telephone conferencing does not replace the need to face-to-face contact. Servicing like all business is ultimately based upon trust, about understanding clients, fellow team members and competitors, and generally getting a ‘feel for the deal' – are we doing what we should be doing in the way we should be doing it? Face-to-face contact in the world city network generates several levels of movement. There are high level executive ‘checks' that are relatively short visits to offices in cities. There are secondments and less formal longer-term transfers between offices that create ‘ex-pat' communities in all cities in the world city network. This is elite migration, the work of the wealthy circulating around the globe (Beaverstock 2006). The vibrancy of cities today, as in the past, can be assessed by the diversity of their elite cosmopolitanism. In addition because these services are part of the knowledge industry, the worth of firms is in their practitioners; therefore they compete for the best students out of the world's best universities and train them to be ‘global workers' with assignments to different offices across the world. This training migration is a socializing process for ex-pats, a global class formation.

World city network formation and its consequent migrations feed into the other processes described above. New enlarged economic clusters enhance city-centre formation and may stimulate further city-region formation. Even the town-ness process grows: complex producer servicing people require simpler consumer servicing themselves, in retailing, entertainment, and various personal services. The latter will create new work and therefore generate migration, much more local than elite migration but still sometimes quite long distance compared with ‘labour sheds' in the past. Migration distance will be determined by size of city and historical contingencies: London has attracted people from declining northern UK regions, from Commonwealth countries, and lately from new accession EU countries, to service its needs. According to Sassen (2001) this has resulted in an extreme social polarization in ‘global cities', which she interprets as a new unique feature of economic globalization.

Focusing on this elite urban process, where is humanity going? Cities of the future appear to define a ‘planet of corporate towers', the ubiquitous office blocks to be found in all major cities across the world. These ‘blocks' may look solidly grounded but they are nodes in a global space of flows that is the world city network: they are teeming with electronic signals in and out, backed up by migrants ranging from ex-pats to cleaners. The world city network represents a massive expansion of economic life through new work as classically envisaged by Jacobs (1969) in dynamic complex cities.


I treat what in the nineteenth century came to be known as slum formation as generic: it is a trans-historical process that is a remarkable reflection of the attractiveness of cities. Migrants, it seems, will put up with the most appalling environmental conditions in order to be part of cities, to sample the economic promises that cities offer. Until very recently urban death rates exceeded urban birth rates in all cities so that they could only grow through in-migration (Bairoch 1969). And grow they did: there were numerous cities over 100,000 before the industrial revolution made such a city size common across western Europe and northern America. By the late nineteenth century the new ‘great cities' were characterised by the growth of squalid slums that became a matter of public concern and then public policy. But such ‘housing progress' as happened in core regions was soon to be overtaken by urban conditions in other world regions. Through the twentieth century, cities with populations of over a million changed from being remarkable to commonplace.

As Davis (2006) shows so vividly, today, there are mega-cities with mega slums. The growth of urbanization in the periphery has been extraordinary in creating mega-cities but that growth rate has itself been easily outpaced by the growth rate of slums – as one Indian observer has put it: ‘If such a trend continues unabated we will have only slums and no cities' (Davis 2006, 18). Already in a few countries slum dwellers account for almost all the urban population. (Cities in Chad and Ethiopia are ranked first equal with an amazing 99.4% of city dwellers classified as slum dwellers (p. 23).) Whereas a century ago there were just 8 cities with a million people, Davis lists 14 slums topping this figure in 2005 (p. 28). There are currently estimated to be 200,000 slums across the world (p. 26): this is an urban phenomenon equally as exceptional component of contemporary globalization as the world city network.

Where are these people coming from? Nothing new here, this is rural-urban migration but on a new level: the ‘unprecedented upheaval in the global countryside' (Davis 2006, 16). A hollowing out of the rural world is happening with terms such as de-agrarianization, de-peasantization and, more generally, deruralization being widely used (Wallerstein 1999). This is an unprecedented mega-migration flow. To take just one component, the ‘peasant flood' to cities in China in the 1980s was greater than the equivalent for all of Europe in the nineteenth century (p. 11). Thus far, about 200 million people have made the move; the process is expected to end with half a billion rural-urban (non-international) Chinese migrations (p. 11). Across the world, the reasons for these great flows of people are manifold and vary greatly but rampant market forces disadvantaging small farmers, imposed structural adjustment programmes, plus savage military conflicts are each very important. In Davis' words” ‘Cities … have simply harvested this world agrarian crisis' (p. 16).

Overall, this pans out as city-yoke formation in its most virulent pernicious form: Jacobs' (1984, pp. 72-8) ‘abandoned regions' but without city jobs to go to: rich cities (the Washington consensus, diamond markets, etc.) are restructuring far-off lands with the consequent herding of people is into poor (job-scarce) cities. The result is a massive disjuncture between demographic and economic growth. With formal work declining, informal work becomes the norm and, no longer a stepping-stone to the formal sector, it is a simple survival strategy, nothing more. Although Davis (2006, 50) indicts the local states as ‘traitors' for their removal of social and economic help, it seems to me unlikely that any state policy could survive the demographic ‘deluge' that is happening here (p. 55). And the same goes for the variety of self-help policies, both public and private.

Let us ask for a second time ask, and from a very different city process focus, where is humanity going? Rather than steel and glass towers, the city of the future is more likely to be made of discarded plastic and wattle: Davis' (2006) ‘planet of slums'. The great need is for (formal) jobs but these are disappearing just as more people are arriving. Additional jobs are being created through the fragmentation of existing informal work (pp. 181-2). This survival strategy is the very opposite of Jacobs' (1969) ‘new work' that expands economies. Jacobs' new work leads to a more complex division of labour; fragmentation merely divides existing old work in a stagnant or declining market: it is a downward spiral of increasing poverty.


So this is what contemporary migrations to cities has been doing. As always, migrants respond to and make new spaces, in this case a new space of flows, world city network, and a new space of places, planet of slums. It is hard to imagine more different outcomes, and with quite opposite prognoses for the future. They are both manifestations of the modern world-system under conditions of contemporary globalization and therefore need to be considered together. This is a large task; I will begin it by interpreting them as neo-liberal extremities.

Neo-liberalism is an old ideology - that individuals working through markets will solve social ills through releasing economic potential - applied to a new world in which more collectivist solutions to social problems and economic growth were widely deemed to have failed (Harvey 2006). Brenner and Theodore (2002) provide two useful analytical tools for understanding ‘actually existing neo-liberalism': path dependency and creative destruction. They add the adjective ‘actually existing' to make the point that there is no ‘pure' neo-liberalism even though the ideology's prescriptions are clear and simple and theoretically universal. Neo-liberal policies and practices are applied at different starting points in different places: the slate is never wiped clean even in collapsed states (ex-USSR) and authoritarian military states (Chile). In other words, there are always political, economic and cultural contexts through which neo-liberalism policies and practices have to be negotiated. This is path dependency. Within these constraints, neo-liberalism aspires to restructure economies through creative destruction. This means getting rid of the old collectivist institutions and ways of thinking and creating new institutional frameworks and ideas to replace them. These processes are usually considered for different countries; I will consider them in terms of the two global ‘city spaces' that are my subject matter.

The world city network has been created by advanced producer service firms to facilitate the functioning of global capital. Effectively their task is to smooth out global economic space so that corporations can operate in as near a neo-liberal world as possible. Thus the network is expressively trans-national in structure so as to cope with national path dependencies. This is explicit in the operations of global law firms that create contracts in an international world but transcend legal boundaries through writing in a single source (global) law (in practice either New York State Law or English Common Law). Thus can corporations transcend inter-jurisdictional hurdles in their operations. Similarly, global accountancy firms facilitate trans-border mergers and acquisitions through their standard auditing and advertising agencies incorporate cultural sensitivities into global campaigns to ensure maximum realization of capital in consumption. Such reductions of path dependency are augmented by creative-destruction servicing: the classic case is the boom in the work of law firms and management consultancies in the 1990s in eastern Europe to facilitate sales of state assets. More generally, management consultants diffuse union avoidance best practice across countries and banks facilitate trans-border movement of capital (safe havens, laundering, etc.) These are just some examples of servicing corporations who's purpose is to make ‘real existing international space' closer to neo-liberalism's ideal business-friendly, ‘borderless world'.

Globalization practices and neo-liberal needs have placed the managerial, financial, professional and creative staff working for global service firms in a powerful strategic position. There has always been a confused class positioning of cadres employed in the capitalist world-economy to facilitate capital accumulation (Wright 2000): they are paid employees but with class interests aligned to capital. It is this strata of the middle class that globalization/neo-liberalism has finally detached from the rest of society and integrated with capital. With very large salaries, big bonuses and generous share options, many global service firm operatives have become members of what Sklair (2002) calls the transnational capitalist class (Taylor 2008). They live in a rich world of consumption; the world city network is their habitat.

The neo-liberal project in the periphery is well-known and is told in outline by Davis (2006, pp. 151-73). In the mid-1970s the World Bank and IMF changed course to neo-liberal prescriptions for poor countries and were able to implement their policies through the debt crisis of the 1980s. Structural adjustment programmes and conditionalities ‘opened up' states to global capital and ‘closed them off' from local society (cf Davis' ‘states as traitors' above). Given the theory that market solutions via retreat of the state will release economic potentials, the 1990s should therefore have been ‘the utopian decade' for the periphery (p. 163). Instead, 46 of the poorest countries saw development go into reverse: neo-liberalism turned out to be a super efficient motor for what Frank (1969) famously called the development of underdevelopment

The neo-liberal extremity in the periphery has been even more profound than the world city network in its structural upheaval: in the periphery path dependence is represented by diversity of neo-liberal practices but the outcomes are simpler and focus particularly strongly on creative destruction (but with the ‘creative' dividends felt elsewhere). Global economic competition and the demise of state functions have created two unpredicted new peripheral phenomenon in the wake of destructions. First, the space economies have been turned inside out in a very surprising way: from capital intensive (industrial) cities surrounded by labour intensive countryside to labour intensive (de-industrializing) cities surrounded by capital intensive agriculture (Davis 2006, 16). Second, the decline of formal work has meant that marginalization has reappeared on the agenda. Davis (2006, 176) describes the informal economy as returning ‘with a vengeance' from 1980 as the neo-liberal policies hit the periphery. Cities had always been places of opportunity, migrants may start at the bottom but they had hope, if not for themselves for their children, of a better life. And this historical process appeared to be operating before neo-liberalism. But today something new has been created: people in cities without opportunity and their habitat is the planet of slums.


World city network combined with planet of slums: this is a new, very rapid, global economic polarization that reflects a global class victory that we should recognise. For about a century before the 1970s, inequalities appeared to be lessening across the world. This feature was so strong that it was given law-like status as the Kuznets curve: the process posited was that as societies modernized populations became more educated and inequalities narrowed. This was the basis of the optimism behind the whole idea of development: states would become more social democratic as they became more modern, meaning industrialization. And then came what Alderson and Nielson (2002) call the ‘great U-turn'.

The fallacy of the Kuznets curve was first recognised for the USA but subsequently broadened to other core states by Alderson and Nielson (2002): their large scale statistical analysis showed conclusively that inequalities across OECD countries have been increasing. Furthermore, the increase is invidious: it is not that the rich are just improving their incomes at a faster rate than the poor and hence increasing the income gap between them. No, this is real polarization, absolute polarization. Alderson, Beckfield and Nielsen (2005) show that the rich are getting richer as the poor are getting poorer. This is happening in the core of the world-economy: the rise of world city network and planet of slums suggests that this situation is accentuated for the world-economy as a whole. In fact, world city network and planet of slums are basic geographical artefacts of the great global U-turn. It is part of how neo-liberalism has become globally embedded.

But there is an interesting discrepancy to this neo-liberal world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer: the People's Republic of China. Here the first part is true but not the second; for this quarter of humanity, increased polarization is relative rather than absolute. We can see this is Davis' Planet of Slums where China has the fastest and largest rural-urban migration but its cities do not figure in the production of mega-slums. This contradiction can only be understood with reference to state economic power. The city-centric approach taken here does not deny the importance of state economic power but treats it as an empirical question not an unexamined assumption. This power does not create economic expansion but it can facilitate that expansion through its cities. The political ability to achieve such aims varies greatly but appears to have been particularly strong for China since its decision to open its economy in 1978. There have been many interpretations of the how and why the Chinese economy has been so successful; the world-systems interpretation derived from the arguments of this paper are, I think, very specific and quite surprising.

With the rise of various forms of social democratic parties into government in the twentieth century, both through elections and revolution, the question arose about the nature of a ‘labour' or socialist foreign economic policy. There was a contradiction between traditional internationalism, often associated with peace and free trade, and protectionism or autarky behind which to build the new society. But for many rank and file, the key question was job security and this often led to closure based upon racism (Labour Parties supported “White Australia' immigration policy and racial politics in South Africa in the first half of the twentieth century.) The more ideological socialist parties adopted autarky and this is what the People's Republic of China broke from in 1978: they could not get out of the capitalist world-economy (Chase-Dunn 1982), so they formally joined it. But with the theoretical justification of autarky in shreds, what should be the economic foreign policy? The response has been much more subtle than pondering ‘open but how open'? Rather the answer appears to be a “labour foreign policy”. And the pragmatics are not focused on keeping people out, rather there has been a process of bringing jobs in. For nearly three decades of economic expansion, jobs have been created to keep up with the massive rural-urban migration and generate the biggest production boom in the history of the world-economy. As the new workshop of the world, China has been harvesting jobs from the rest of the world, especially from cities in other peripheral regions. This can be interpreted as a ‘labour imperialism', an accumulation of labour economic policy consistent with the longer-term one child demographic policy to produce a balanced pattern of economic development.

This has been a unique political endeavour bringing new relative prosperity to many millions. But it is an imperialism; it is most certainly not neutral to others' economic development. To show how unusual it is, it has to be compared to traditional economic imperialisms. Wallerstein (1993, 2004) has described these as being primarily about proletarianization – bringing new labour into the world-economy to exploit. Certainly raw materials have been taken to fuel economic expansion in the core but expanding the world labour market in the periphery has been vital to the structural reproduction of the world-economy. But in China's labour imperialism, it is jobs that are being taken from peripheral regions as well as their raw materials. This is certainly a long way from Chou en Lai's comment in 1971 that Africa was ripe for revolution; for China today it is ripe for plucking.

So global neo-liberalism is not as straightforward as it is sometimes made out. Unlike poverty, state planning might now be history but the China economic success story does show that neo-liberalism can be politically tamed. But in good world-systems logic, it seems that breaking one yoke can only be achieved by fixing new yokes.


Comparing world city network to planet of slums seems to invite apocalyptic thinking. Davis's (2006) return to the language of marginalization is highly controversial – he even broaches the idea of a ‘surplus humanity' (pp. 174-98) and, although tempered with a question mark, this remains a shocking idea to appear on our social science agenda in the early twenty first century. Along side the income millionaire jobs being increasingly generated through new city ‘net-work', there is the phenomenon of what he calls ‘a world of cities without jobs' (p. 202). This is not the traditional Marxist ‘reserve army of labour'; if there is no prospect of formal jobs then marginalization it is. A disconnected periphery is a symptom of the demise of the modern world-system. While one city process is circulating people around in a rich world of heady consumption, 25 million other migrants per annum (p. 2001) are heading into economic oblivion, without hope of access to jobs in a formal sense. This is a level of exclusion at a scale unprecedented in the modern world-system.

An outcome of neo-liberalism, this is not the only form that globalization does and can take but it is the dominant way ‘real existing globalization' works today. From this perspective, the solution to all social problems is via individuals who are responsible for their own welfare: creative entrepreneurial types will rise to the top and generate economic growth to provide jobs for the remainder. This trickle down' myth can be criticised in many ways; here I focus on its ‘blame the victim' argument. Individuals do not start from an even playing field: neo-liberalism does not recognise the reality of initial differential access and exclusion. The idea of blaming residents of Kinshasa or Dacca for lacking the skills to make their cities vibrant economic power houses is not only ludicrous, it is an affront to humanity. In my reckoning, the most creatively active people in the world today are not to be found in the global cities of London and New York, rather they are those who are generating survival strategies in such cities as Kinshasa and Dacca: it is much more challenging to operate in a mined playing field than one where worrying about the size of bonus depends on how steep the pitch slopes in your favour.

TINA – there is no alternative – has been the watchword of neo-liberal politicians; this has always been the mantra of supporters of hegemonic ideas. The challenge for resistance is precisely to provide an alternative and the key problem is that resistance to neo-liberal globalisation has been strongly political, but weak in its economics: no viable alternative economic project has been created since the demise of state planning. In fact, apart from trade unions calling for nationalist economic protection, ‘economic resistance' has been reduced to criminality by drugs lords, people traffickers, and their ilk. Further, the limitations of the radical economic ideas of Jane Jacobs are exposed by planet of slums. She provides the essential argument for the demise of state planning and how cities work to expand economies and incorporate stagnant cities. However, although she focuses on work, and lack of jobs are the crucial issue for mega-slum cities, her lack of a structural framework to her ideas means she has nothing to say in the situation where there are no jobs. Kinshasa and Dacca are not stagnant cities waiting for cities in their network to spark revival; they are ‘excluded cities' that cannot be responsive to her repertoire of how to expand economies. But Jacobs' work is probably the closest we have for finding an emancipatory city process for the future, a world city network for all. At the moment the immense human creativity occurring amongst the seven million inhabitants of Kinshasa cannot be harnessed, it is socially wasted because of the city's marginalization in the modern world-system. We have to find an economic alternative to neo-liberalism and it is in excluded spaces where we may be forced to look (Pieterse 2008). If we do not find an alternative, nihilistic terrorism will probably beat climatic change to becoming the great global equalizer.


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Edited and posted on the web on 1st October 2007; last update 14th August 2008