GaWC Research Bulletin 28

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This Research Bulletin has been published in J Anderson (ed) (2002) Transnational Democracy: Political Spaces and Border Crossings London: Routledge, 236-244.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Relocating the Demos?

P.J. Taylor

Today, the major dynamics at work in the global economy carry the capacity to undo the particular form of the intersection of sovereignty and territory embedded in the modern state and the modern state system. (Sassen, 1996, 5)

... the rise of civil society has toppled entrenched regimes and has changed political geographies in ways that were unthinkable only a decade ago. (Friedmann and Douglass, 1998, 2)

States, as we have known them, are under threat. The above quotations encapsulate two major strands in the argument on the nature of the threat: externally from a new virulent globalization and internally from newly assertive peoples. The political implications of this are, of course, profound, perhaps more so than is often appreciated. Certainly traditional political theories will have little to offer if a stage should be reached where states are no longer the prime political communities. Already this is reflected in a contradiction at the heart of current democratic theory and practice: just as representative democracy has spread to more countries than ever before, its supporters have massive new doubts as to its effectiveness in defending the interests of the electorate. This contemporary 'democratic paradox', to use Giddens' (1999, 71-2) phrase, is the prime concern underlying the arguments of most of the chapters in this volume. Clearly defined and accountable government seems to be giving way to a nebulous governance - who ever voted for a governance?

The fundamental problem seems to be that there is serious erosion of the idea that franchised peoples are also communities of fate (Held et al., 1999, 30-1). The contemporary state has been legitimated as nation-state where the 'nation' is an imagined community (Anderson, 1983). This state-model provides a designated 'people' with a common past upon which to build a common future. It is this combining of roots with fate that makes democracy a plausible collective enterprise. Taking the future of a people out of its own hands is the basic political threat of globalization: 'rule by the people' is meaningless if elected leaders are deprived of the 'levers of power'. To avoid this outcome it is necessary that we rethink the 'demos'. There is surprisingly little past literature to draw on for such a task which is why our theme of transnational democracy is so important. Ever since franchise reforms produced universal suffrage in 'western' countries, concern for democratic change has focused upon procedural matters - electoral reform (PR or not PR) -with the demos playing the role of a taken-for-granted given (Taylor, 1996; 1999, 69-72). My purpose in this discussion is to open up the question of demos to new scrutiny under conditions of contemporary globalization. In the analysis attempted here it is assumed that an effective and legitimate demos will need to reintegrate community of fate into an imagined community.

This concluding chapter is written in the spirit that, at this time of acute social change, questions are more important than answers. Hence the argument is developed through four simple questions starting with basics and ending with practices. First, I open up the question of democracy's building block: who actually constitute a demos? Second, I tackle to common idea of 'multiple demos-es' at different scales: can people be part of several different demos(es) simultaneously? Third, I search out alternative spaces for the demos: what are the options for creating new demos-es? Fourth, I consider the question of creating a new building block for democracy: how might the demos be relocated? All four questions bring up very large issues and I only scratch at the surface in my attempts at answers. To bring this ambitious agenda to a manageable order, I focus upon one alternative demos, the city, as a plausible candidate in a possible transnational democratic trajectory.


This is the simplest yet most fundamental question of all. In the social world of embedded statism, the answer is equally simple: the citizens of a democratic state are its demos. This is a product of the territorial congruence at the heart of the modern state. It is assumed that national society, national politics and the national economy coincide precisely in a particular, specific space - the state's sovereign territory. Thus democracy is bounded like the society it reflects, the politics it controls and the economy it directs. The imagined community of the nation is also the community of fate in politics and economics. In this way territory is the absolute category through which democracy operates in an ideal world of representation and policy making1.

Of course, operationalising absolutisms always creates practical difficulties (Taylor, 1996). In the case of the modern state the spatial congruence was rarely achieved so that the demos has always had the potential to be problematic. Certainly democracy has been notoriously found wanting in dealing with multi-ethnic conflicts in states where elections can be reduced to little more than ethnic head counts2. As Parekh (in this volume) clearly shows, where there are different 'national communities' within the bounds of one state, the demos is called into question even before transnational (in the sense of trans-state) issues are raised. In such states there appears to be more than one demos and important issues arise around 'minority rights'. With contemporary globalization, this endemic failure of imagined communities has now been joined by doubts about whether they can still be communities of fate. It is the latter which particuarly threatens the many 'western' states which have a largely unitary demos, states which produced the successful liberal democratic regimes that dominated the world economy and its politics for most of the twentieth century. It was in these countries that the democratic-representative ideal came closest to realization; voters belonged to same imagined community which they equated this with their community of fate. It is this equation which is now being eroded.

If boundaries count for less and less in the world economy (or at the very least are becoming more porous, see O'Dowd in this volume), whither bounded democracy? And where is the demos? The latter only makes sense to the degree that the members understand that collectively they can have a voice in the things that matter to them. As 'extra-territorial' powers - economic, political and cultural - grow, democracy may still reflect its territorial society but loses its levers of political control and economic direction. In such circumstances it is hard to predict anything other than a waning of the traditional demos: globalization will be associated with less popular involvement in electoral politics as currently organized. Assuming the liberal-democratic ideals of formal (transparent) popular inputs into politics are deemed important, it might be time to begin thinking about how to reinvent the demos.


Apart from the various resurgent nationalists, there seems to be agreement that fundamental political reform needs to produce a more flexible organization - territorial absolutism is out. Typically the multiple identities of individuals are emphasized leading to different 'layers' of representation being proposed. This is a core feature of Held's (1995) influential 'cosmopolitan democracy' and features prominently in several of the chapters of this volume. The celebrated case is the European Union (starting with Bull, 1977, 255-6; see Giddens, 1999, 79-80; and Painter and Newman in this volume) where the 'state-level' competes with the 'European-level' for power and influence, and with the recent promotion of the 'regional-level' suggesting a future triple pattern of 'governance'. This is supposed to reflect the individual's multiple identities, in territorial terms this might be Bavarian and German and European. But what of the demos? Such a relatively complex layered democracy attempts to directly address issues of identity by enabling multiple imagined communities to be formed while assuming the largest scale to be the new community of fate - beyond the nation-state - in a globalising world.

Does this new relation of communities of the imagination within a larger community of fate make for a viable demos(es)? In the traditional liberal democratic model, functional (largely class-based as opposed to territorial-cultural, see Rokkan, 1970)) political parties had the key role of periodically accepting the position of 'loyal opposition', opposers of the government but supporters of the state. In other words, losing parties at an election, and their supporters, remained firmly part of the demos - hence the political stability of liberal democratic regimes. In a multiple-layered politics it is unclear how such stability could be replicated. By splintering the imagined community through multiple identities, is the depth of allegiance - the essence of the concept - lost? With solid community attachments replaced by shallower, multiple attachments, is this a cacophony politics of lowest common denominators? In short, does the effective operation of a demos assume a dominant scale or focus of allegiance? The historical evidence suggests this to be the case.

Currently, this depth of imagination is broadly measured by electoral turnout; for instance, in the UK it is low for both European and local elections, but relatively high for general (i.e. national) elections. Will genuinely equal multi-level elections lead to low turnouts across the board? On the other hand, multiply elections provide opportunities for losers at one level to compensate at another as in all federal systems. Such smaller scale victories may satisfy single-issue supporters with real depth to their politics and keep them in the demos - abortion illegal here, available there; cars controlled here, freedom to drive there, and so on. But the downside is a political world of multiple oppositions at many different levels. This is a recipe for political incoherence. To be reproduced as an effective and legitimate politics, new political institutions will need to be invented with a cross-issue orientation (Falk, 2000, 379). This was the integrative role of the political party in liberal democracy: but is was difficult enough with just a single demos and it is not clear that an equivalent institution is possible for a seriously multi-level democratic politics. The real winners in this political confusion will be political elites who, with the necessary economic input (advertising, media ownership, etc.), will be able to chose the appropriate demos to get the right decisions on matters of critical concern to them and their backers.

But is this the only alternative to the nation-state? Notice that the multi-layered model remains very territorialist in nature. The single sovereign territory may be eclipsed but the thinking still equates politics with territories. In Castell's (1996) terms, politics is condemned to a space of places leaving the space of flows to other activities (see also Agnew in this volume). In a globalizing world it might well be that it is impossible to equate imagined community with community of fate through territorial organization of politics. Can the demos be non-territorial?


As will have been adjudged, I am sceptical of the possibility of a 'transnational democracy' where political reforms remain territory-based: the necessary reintegration of imagination to fate in any new territorial community-building is highly problematic. But this does not mean that politics can simply be flipped over to a network model: I am equally sceptical of the possibilities of creating a simple 'network demos'. Certainly there is the technological potential for an electronic democracy but this individualizes political activity. This may work for single-issue politics but it is not at all clear how a sense of community could be developed however sophisticated virtual alternatives to real face-to-face communication become. Such an 'on-line democracy' in a virtual space would have difficulties in building allegiances and defining communities of fate. This is democracy without demos, better termed ego-ocracy.

Transnational democracy may take many different forms based upon a variety of different building blocks. As well as 'cross-border regions' which retain a territorial definition (O'Dowd in this volume), there are two non-territorial institutions which have become prominent in discussions of 'global governance': Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) (Hirsch in this volume) and social movements (Goodman in this volume). While interesting for the promotion of participation in political decision-making, both NGOs and movements have 'democratic deficits' themselves (Princen and Finger, 1994, 12). In losing territorial constraints these institutions seem often to have lost any community attachment - who do they represent beyond their own network of members? At least bounded democracy has provided representation for, and allowed participation by, all within its territory.

One alternative approach is to think in terms of both place and flows simultaneously. The argument is straightforward: spaces of places are necessary for building an imagined community while spaces of flows are necessary for any meaningful depiction of a community of fate. Cities (or city-regions) and their networks are the obvious geographical candidates that fits both needs. While being nodes within urban networks, cities are also places with long histories of being distinctive communities - most cities are older than the states who govern them. Under contemporary conditions of globalization, world cities have created the basic spatial architecture through which key global activities are organized. In short they define an alternative world metageography - in the sense of the basic spatial structures used to order the world (Lewis and Wigen, 1997, ix) to the familiar world political map mosaic (Beaverstock, Smith and Taylor, 2001). Such a putative borderless metageography is illustrated in Figure 1. The 55 world cities depicted define a world city network based upon corporate service provision by major global service. Of course, this represents the leading cities only, there are a myriad of other urban networks variously connected to this global architecture. But the key point is that cities, as the crossroads of society, are inherently anti-territorialist (Taylor, 20001b)3. Globalization is in the process of 'unbounding' them, revealing the full network potential of cities beyond the nation-state.

Replacing 'homeland' by 'hometown' is particularly relevant today when for the first time in human history urban dwellers are a majority of humanity. In a fluid world of increasing migration, cities are now the goals of migrants for the days of mass agricultural settlement are long gone. Hence the peasant/landscape core of nation as imagined community is being eroded by the ever-increasing importance of ever-growing cosmopolitan city communities. Of course, ideas of citizenship and democracy originated in cities and the question being asked is whether they can be reconstituted there (Douglas and Friedmann, 1998)4. Cities already constitute 'communities' so that constructing them as critical political units of imagination is feasible, but what of their possible role as communities of fate? This can take the form of new city leagues where republicans eschew their modern penchant for mimicking territorial kingdoms and return to city networks. For instance, Manchester and Lyons may come to see that they have more in common with each other than they have with their respective capital cities, London and Paris. For both 'second' cities, the experience of being in the shadow of major global cities might provide a basis for identifying a community of fate with other cities similarly afflicted. Such leagues are currently rare in our boundary-obsessed world but there is one example that is instructive because it contrasts directly with territorial organization. In the north-west Mediterranean there are two rival cross-border political alliances: a 'Euro-region' combining Catalonia, Languedoc-Roussillion and Midi-Pyrenees and the 'C6 network' consisting of Barcelona, Montpellier, Palma de Mallorca, Toulouse, Valencia and Zaragoza. (Morata, 1997). Modest in scale, nevertheless these two opposing organizations represent different worlds - territorial and network - with different potentials for transnational democracy under conditions of increasing globalization.


We cannot know what form(s) transnational democracy will take in the future. We can speculate on which contemporary trends might lead to a particular cross-border, non-territorial or network organization of democracy. Put crudely: who will do the deed, who are the putative agents for creating transnational democratic forms? The story of producing national democratic forms in the west was a reluctant bourgeoisie being forced to concede more and more radical demands until universal suffrage was achieved. In the process the original (pre-democratic) cadre parties coached the new radical mobilizing parties into being 'good party citizens' on the promise that their turn in government would come (Taylor, 1999, 82-4). The resulting integral states each with their own demos are what globalization is challenging. It seems highly unlikely in the future that this particular configuration of political forces can be replicated outside state confines to produce a transnational democracy.

The changing nature of what were the cadres of the system is a major obstacle to such replication. Traditionally located between capital and labour (van der Pijl in this volume), these 'brain workers', notably in the 'professions', took leadership roles in pressing for political reform. In the information age, however, we have to come to terms with the fact that the new knowledge workers are being transmuted into something that looks very much like 'knowledge capitalists'. For instance, large share options have become the norm for key workers in some sectors (e.g. in finance) whereas in other sectors practitioners are 'partners' in what are in reality multinational firms (e.g. in global law). Always in an ambiguous position as 'professionals', they are managed through codes of service to clients in their respective sectors while at the same time operating as profit-making firms and partnerships in the marketplace. The key point is that globalization's network society is changing the balance between service and profit to the detriment of the former. In the world economy today, advanced producer services are at the cutting edge of innovation in the production of new instruments of service (Sassen, 1991). As with all innovations, the result is to create new high profit margins. This has induced a change in location strategies. Instead of their initial reactive behaviour of following clients to service them as they globalize, producer service firms now have their own global strategies for selling their products in a world service market5. Products, in their design and implementation, are embodied in the knowledge of these professionals who are among the most successful group of 'capitalists' in the world today. They are the prime creators of the world city network which is their global workplace (Taylor, 2001b).

These 'ex-cadres', now 'knowledge capitalists', are politically interesting for two reasons. First, their global interests will clash with national interests and when this happens they can be mobilized against the state. Their interests coincide with London, not the UK, with New York and not the USA, and so on. Second, because they are located in all the major cities they cannot be mobilized in practices for inter-city competition. They are emphatically not local capitalists, they are 'network capitalists'; it is in their interests to see London and Frankfurt prosper. Competition between cities will be important to them - it is something they can take advantage of to enhance profits - but they will have no inherent reason to take sides. Service city 'capitalists' should be major supporters of co-operation between cities, promoters, perhaps, of city leagues.

Of course, like the national bourgeoisies of the past, this new network bourgeoisie will have no direct interest in promoting democratic politics. They constitute a global plutocracy, directly reflected in world cities through their high levels of economic polarization. It is an understatement to say that this is not good raw material for creating a new demos6. But the twenty-first century city network is not necessarily worse than the nineteenth century nation-state as a demos nursery. The latter requires Falk's (2000) 'globalization from below' to create a new progressive politics. This will have to involve a range of processes such as NGOs and new social movements as mentioned previously. What cities provide is an alternative community grounding for such a politics, for instance, in the role of strong city mayors mediating between the global and the local. To be effective the latter has to be radicalized, not just in one city, but as part of a new global wave of radicalization. Given the current global hegemony of neo-liberal market ideology this does not seem likely in the near future. But alliances between local city political parties and networked NGOs and social movements can change things around, certainly historically radicalism has been very cyclical in nature (Silver, 1995). And we are always being told how globalization speeds things up! Radicalism is facing a false dusk (as opposed to numerous past 'false dawns'), when this becomes self-evident it will be time to reassess the investment of radical political effort which goes into territorial states and release some of this energy for experimenting with building new civic demos-es with network potentials.


Beaverstock, J. V., Smith, R. G. and Taylor, P. J. (1999) 'A roster of world cities', Cities 16: 445-58

Beaverstock, J. V., Smith, R. G. and Taylor, P. J. (2000a) 'World city network: a new metageography?' Annals, Association of American Geographers 90: 123-34

Beaverstock, J. V., Smith, R. G. and Taylor, P. J. (2000b) 'Geographies of globalization: United States law firms in world cities', Urban Geography 21: 95-120

Bull, H. (1977) The Anarchical Society, London: Macmillan

Castells, M. The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford: Blackwell

Douglas, M. and Friedmann, J. (eds.) (1998) Cities for Citizens, New York: Wiley

Falk, R. (2000) 'The quest for humane governance in an era of globalization', in Kalb, D., van der Land, M., Staring, R., van Steenbergen, B. and Wilterdink, N. (eds.) The Ends of Globalization, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 369-82

Giddens, A. (1998) The Third Way, Cambridge: Polity

Giddens, A. (1999) Runaway World, Cambridge: Polity

Held, D. (1995) Democracy and the Global Order, Cambridge: Polity

Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D. and Perraton, J. (1999) Global Transformations, Cambridge: Polity

Lewis, M. W. and Wigen, K. E. (1997) The Myth of Continents, Berkeley: University of California Press

Morata, F. (1997) 'The Euro-region and the C-6 network: the new politics of sub-national co-operation in the western Mediterranean area', in Keating, M. and Loughlin, J. (eds.) The Political Economy of Regionalism, London: Frank Cass, 292-305

Petrella, R. (1995) 'A global agora versus gated city-regions', New Perspectives Quarterly, Winter: 21-22

Princen, T. and Finger, M. (1994) Environmental NGOs in World Politics, London: Routledge

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Sassen, S. (1991) The Global City, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Sassen, S. (1996) Losing Control? New York: Columbia University Press

Silver, B. J. (1995) 'World-scale patterns of labor-capital conflict' Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 18: 155-92

Taylor, P. J. (1996) 'Territorial absolutism and its evasions' Geography Research Forum 16: 1-12

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Taylor, P. J. (2000a) 'Is there a Europe of cities? World cities and the limitations of geographical scale analyses', in McMaster, R. and Shepherd (eds.) Scale and Geographic Inquiry (in press)

Taylor, P. J. (2000b) 'Specification of the world city network' Geographical Analysis (in press)

Taylor, P. J. and Hoyler, M. (2000) 'The spatial order of European cities under conditions of contemporary globalisation', Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 91: 176-89


1. This is neatly encapsulated in a diagram by Held (1995, Figure 10.1, p.224) where 'Citizen-voters' are 'The people in a bounded territory' serviced by 'decision-makers'.

2. For instance, in the case of Bosnia the Serbs made a sensible decision in 1992 to boycott the referendum on setting up an independent state: as a minority in Bosnia, voting would have only confirmed their democratic impotence.

3. Of course, cities as places have traditionally been 'bounded' - by pre-modern walls to contemporary administrative boundaries - but their raisin d'etre is always nodal as a centre for flows.

4. Although Held (1995) builds his concept of cosmopolitan democracy on the existence of states he does leave room for cities (p. 234) but not as networks.

5. The particular case of this process operating in global law is described in Beaverstock et al. (2000b).

6. It is for this reason that cities have featured in recent dystopias, see, in particular, Petrella (1995). Giddens (1998, 129) interprets 'a world of a thousand city-states' as a recipe for chaos.

Figure 1: World cities in a borderless world (from Beaverstock et al. (1999)) 


Edited and posted on the web on 21st August 2000; last update 30th November 2000

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in J Anderson (ed) (2002) Transnational Democracy: Political Spaces and Border Crossings London: Routledge, 236-244