Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Theorizing the Globally Engaged City in World Politics

Gordon, David J.; Ljungkvist, Kristin
European Journal of International Relations

Cities both large and small, more and less economically advanced, are deeply involved in efforts to address the most challenging and complex issues of contemporary global governance, ranging from climate change and conditions of insecurity to human migration and public health. Yet this puzzling phenomenon is largely ignored within International Relations (IR) scholarship, and only partially theorized by scholars working in other fields of inquiry. Our premise in this article is that attempts to understand and assess city participation in world politics are augmented by focusing on the global identity of the city, since understanding what cities do in world politics is shaped by who cities (think they) are on the global stage. In proposing a subtle shift, from the passively labeled global city to what we call the globally engaged city, we direct analysis to the political and discursive forces shaping, delimiting, and informing this novel role for the city as a world-political actor. We propose that city identity is now fractured into local and global dimensions and set out two analytically distinct contexts in which the global identity of the city is forged through a process of differentiation from the nation-state. Our framework highlights in particular the politics of recognition shaping how the globally engaged city is defined and diffused. Through two empirical vignettes we illustrate the value of our framework as a means for IR scholarship to bring cities in from the analytic hinterlands and better understand their (potential) impact on the world stage.