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Problematizing city/state relations: towards a geohistorical understanding of contemporary globalization

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

Keywords: cities; city-states; city/state relations; globalization moral syndromes; states

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, Email:

Publication date: April 1, 2007


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