Embedded in the “world city” argument is the idea that world cities “lie at the junction between the world economy and the territorial nation state.” If so, it is probable that this junction does not result in a tight and impenetrable boundary. Rather it is possible that the on-going conflict for dominance between the two forces — the nation state and powers associated with the world economy — results in the creation of interstitial spaces and vacuums which allow previously marginalized local actors to have much greater impact on cities than has been previously allowed. If this is the case, the importance of the high level service sector associated with global management and financial services has been overemphasized. Instead, ” . . . the growth of the low-level, low paid service jobs, needing little skill or language proficiency and with few possibilities of advance, increasingly undertaken by non-unionized, often immigrant and female labor” have had the greater impact on the world’s urban areas.
While the world (global) city argument often defines the global city as “a nested entity of privilege within the privileged national community of a core industrial state,” an urban hierarchy has been identified which includes cities in the less developed world which link regions or nations to the world capitalist economy.
A good example in the less developed world is Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) which has the same kind of position within India as is possessed by other global cities in their own countries. It has been more than dominant, it is pre-eminent within India.
Mumbai (Formerly Named Bombay): World City or Global Village?
Mumbai has the same kinds of features that are associated with global cities everywhere. It holds India’s largest urban population (over 12 million).
Mumbai’s’s traditional industries are in decline, and the city’s core serves as a hub with new industries like high-tech clustered along the transport arteries. Newly established cottage style, high-tech, or service industries have spurred the rapid growth of an immigrant population, contributing as well to the increasing presence of labor not linked to trade unions or officially registered. This global city is predominantly a village, more accurately, a series of villages, and the labor of slum dwellers is vital to the economy of the city. The shanties supply laborers, taxi drivers, servants for high-rise buildings, and various and sundry other informal services. Still, despite their village characteristics, slum settlements reflect the sophistication expected in a large and cosmopolitan city. According to Jim Masselos in his work titled Postmodern Bombay: Fractured Discourses
Most Bombay slums have their own satellite dishes which receive world television, CNN and Star Television, and each slum has its own small locality cable network supplying a number of different channels, apart from whatever video theaters exist in a neighborhood. The direction of this universalization of culture . . . creates a mass audience based on very specific elements of exclusion as well as inclusion . . .
Urban Social Movements — Or Riots?
In January 1993, the social and ethnic polarization clearly visible in the built environment of Bombay gave rise to severe riots which destroyed all perceptions of urban ordering as rioters took charge of the global city. The city’s control function evaporated as police stood by and government officials showed an unwillingness to do what was necessary to suppress the disorder. The city as consumer or producer as well as the city’s role as a regional center for command and control were undermined by fragmentary pressures outside of the control of global forces. Some observers talked of the riots in terms of the “rising of the city’s underclass.” However, what was significant was that “the city had many underclasses and many groups and many of these came out as aggressors or victims . . .” Masselos’ description of the character of the riots is quite telling:
The January riots . . . were diffused throughout the city and not limited to one or two areas. People in the slums burnt each other’s shanties and killed one another. Slum dwellers went out and attacked middle-class dwellings, middle class people defended themselves and others, slum dwellers attacked high-rise apartments and demanded that Muslims be produced for killing, middle class Hindus went out on a pogrom against Muslims, burning shops and houses, killing and injuring. Behind all of these events were a number of elements that had created the emotional situation in which such things could happen . . . the politicization of religion, events elsewhere in India, the communalization of politics, slum gangs fighting for control of slums and control of hutments that represented real monetary value, criminal gangs fighting for dominance between themselves, and landlords trying to regain control of their land. In the process modern values of co-existence and cosmopolitanism went by the board, and communal harmony and economic prosperity were equally questioned. The lack of central control was demonstrated by the inability of the police or their unwillingness to control what was going on, and an equal inability or unwillingness on the part of the state government to quell the situation.
Is Mumbai an isolated example? Or do revolutions in Havana and Isfahan as well as social movements in Taipei reflect the same phenomenon? Each of the three cases suggests that, despite the strong presence of a Cold War patron, local forces continued to control and shape many aspects of the urban environment. And what role does globalization play in the emergence of urban social movements — or riots?
Alan Gilbert argues that
today the integrated world economy means that many of the critical decisions about technology, employment, and economic growth are made in the offices of the transnational corporations in Tokyo, New York and Frankfurt. From this perspective, the World Bank makes decisions about the pricing of infrastructure provision, not local government.
Because transnational forces are so powerful, some observers fail to detect the empowerment of the marginalized and, thus, in concert with world systems theorists, tend to minimize the importance of popularly empowered social movements. However, such movements continue to gain momentum. They are now are sweeping Brazil as that country prepares for FIFA’s 2014 World Cup.
The New York Times reports that the latest happenings in Brazil involve “thousands of teenagers, largely from the gritty urban periphery and organizing on social media, going on raucous excursions through shopping malls.” The Times goes on to say that
the rowdy gatherings may be going beyond mere flash mobs to touch on issues of public space and entitlement in a society in which living standards for the poor have improved and social classes are influx.
Rodrigo Constantino, a columnist for the newsmagazine Veja, expresses some of the alarm in elite circles, lashing out at what he calls the “caviar left” for defending the participants. He writes:
A multitude of barbarians invading a private property to do turmoil isn’t a protest or a rolezinho (little stroll) but an invasion, a sweep, delinquency . . . .
(For more on the idea of “invasion” read our first post on Cold War Cities: Contesting the global here.)
Clearly, as we can see in present day Brazil, previously marginalized local actors have much greater impact on cities than has been previously allowed. I guess Mumbai isn’t such an isolated example after all.
Photograph by Midianinja.