Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Global Cities: Gorillas in Our Midst

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Global Cities: Gorillas in Our Midst

Article excerpt

This article calls for greater attention to global cities in the study of world affairs so as to promote a more holistic reading of global governance as a multiscalar set of processes composed by overlapping spheres of authority. The article shows how international studies have been insufficiently sensitive to the strategic role of global cities and how they are capable of acting on the global stage by exerting network power. This sheds light on the multilayered govern mentality of global governance from an urban perspective. Looking through a lens of global cities, it is argued, will enable theorists to connect macro processes to micro dynamics across a far wider spectrum of governance and political agencies. KEYWORDS: international, global, urban, micro/macro, network power

..A small revolution was taking place, so modest and
  well-behaved that almost no one had noticed.
  --J. G. Ballard, Millennium People

In a suggestive experiment, some students were asked to watch a game in which two sets of players are moving irregularly around the screen and tossing a basketball to each other. They were instructed to count the number of passages between members of a team. After a short while, a researcher stopped the tape and asked: "Did you see the gorilla?" At this stage a conspicuously large percentage of them stared, puzzled, at the investigator: "Gorilla? What gorilla?" The examiner then replayed the very same scene and there it was: a person dressed in a furry black gorilla costume, walking right into the middle of the screen, thumping its chest, and calmly strolling out of sight. The second showing was of the same recording; there was absolutely no trick. Only eight percent of the viewers noticed the primate while watching the game.

The invisible gorilla experiment was devised in 1998 by Harvard psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in order to explain a common phenomenon of conscious perception known as inattentional blindness. When entrusted with a specific undertaking, people are often incapable of noticing even very evident changes to the background of the context they are looking at, blinded by their attempt to achieve continuity across views and their sampling of the key elements of the scene under scrutiny. (1) As this experiment suggests, students asked to focus on the teams passing the ball failed to notice dynamic elements of the landscape they were staring at. Busy concentrating on the players, spectators missed the gorilla as it meandered across the screen. It is the focus on the task that hinders a complete visual experience: observers simply cannot perceive the entirety of the dynamic scene when focusing attention exclusively on a specific feature of it.

Cities, I want to argue here, are the invisible gorillas of international studies. Focusing too much on the presence of nation-states and intergovernmental relations, we have failed to appreciate something as familiar to people as cities. Perhaps what Peter Brown once said about the state is now more than ever true for the city in international studies: "It is sometimes said that the last thing a fish would discover is water: as a basic feature of its environment, it is taken for granted." (2) This oversight is presently hindering an appreciation of the epochal revolution in the governmentality of global governance and of the sprawling genus of nontraditional actors in the global scene.

To encourage greater sensitivity to their growing significance, I here seek to introduce cities (and global cities in particular) as elements of the global scene, illustrating how the strategic metropolises of the twenty-first century interact with today's world system. International studies, I will argue, need to engage more effectively with the multidisciplinary effort shaped by students of globalization such as David Harvey, Saskia Sassen, Doreen Massey, and David Held and which seeks to develop a new conceptual architecture within the social sciences capable of capturing the revolution in the contemporary parameters of everyday life and in the practice of political relations on a global scale. …

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