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Geographies of Globalizations

Geographies of Globalizations

Human Geography, Planning and International Development Studies

Since the mid-1970s the world is experiencing a new wave of what has since been termed globalization; resulting in complex redistributions of human activities over different spatial scales. Although at first sight a replay of the earlier phases of globalization there are significant differences, technologically, economically, politically, socially as well as culturally and in the way that the processes are understood.

Building forth upon - as well as slightly amending - Neil Brenner's concept of ‘variegated neoliberalization' (Brenner et al., 2007), the research programme of the thematic group starts from the empirical observation that what we are confronted with is a set of differentiated articulations of globalization at multiple scales, that are best seen as the effects of the strategic engagements of many different agents, motivated by different goals, interests and preferences: variegated globalizations.

In this sense, the research programme presented here clearly seeks to distance itself thematically from the more ideological and popular media uses of the globalization concept. In these approaches, globalization tends to be presented as a unilinear causal process resulting in the gradual erosion of local and national characteristics, moving toward the much heralded ‘end of geography' (O'Brien, 1992) and ‘death of distance' (Cairncross, 1998), and pronouncements of the ‘end of the nation state' (Ohmea, 1995; Strange, 1996) and ‘institutional convergence' (Crouch and Streeck, 1997). In fact, using a more sober empirical perspective on the real worlds of globalization presents us with a process of change that is much messier, ambivalent, halting, contradictory, and very important, open than is usually portrayed by its main cheerleaders.

Given our strong empirical inclination, it stands to reason that the emphasis in our research is on the role of agents in bringing about these partly unexpected, unintended, and contingent structural changes. A first characteristic of our research then is what could be called a critical empirical investigation of grand theoretical claims. A second hallmark of our approach is its multi-scalar orientation. While much comparative research in the social sciences implicitly or explicitly privileges one scale or the other - be it the local, the national, the regional or the global - our aim is to investigate which scales matter where, without privileging one over the other. A third characteristic of our approach is the explicit recognition that history and institutions matter.

Despite our focus on agents, we are highly cognizant of the fact that agents act within a social, cultural, economic and political context that is not of their own making. Finally, we explicitly endorse interdisciplinary research. Given the often bewildering complexity of our research object - the variegated multi-scalar manifestations of cultural, political and economic globalization - we have to use all academic resources available - in terms of data sources, analytical techniques as well as theoretical perspectives - and hence have to combine the spatial, the social and the historical sciences.

In short: this research which emerged from the merger of two disciplinary defined theme groups (the first centred on economic geography the second on political and cultural geography) investigates how economic, political and cultural actors engage strategically with globalizations. It does so with a special attention for the geographical dimensions of such engagements, dealing explicitly with the geographically differentiated impact of globalization processes, with geographically mediated opportunities and constraints (distance/proximity, boundary making through inclusion/exclusion, location, cluster, institutional context, etc) shaping the actors' (perceptions of) risks and resources, and the employment of geographically differentiated strategies (territoriality, network governance, scale jumping etc).

Three research themes form the core of the programme, each operating within distinct but increasingly overlapping fields of multidisciplinary study:

Find the full programme group here
  • Political Geographies of Globalization and Re-territorialization

    Throughout history, cities have benefited from their internal agglomeration economies - based on the classic urban triad of proximity, diversity and (critical) mass - as well as from their external linkages which enabled them to specialize in certain forms of production. Technological change and shifts in external linkages have continuously transformed configurations of economic activities in urban environments. The most recent wave of structural changes has occurred in the last quarter of the 20th century when the introduction of digital technologies in conjunction with a rapidly expanding (global) network of external linkages due to a nearly global wave of liberalization of trade has fundamentally reshaped the economy of many cities. Digitalization and globalization made cities return, according to the French historian Jacques Le Goff (1997), to their essential functions of "l'échange, l'information, la vie culturelle et le pouvoir" after an industrial intermezzo of about two centuries. More precisely, advanced consumer and producer services (l'échange, l'information), co-ordination of spatially disparate tasks in the private and the public sector (le pouvoir) and cultural industries (la vie culturelle) have lead the way in creating vibrant urban economies once again. This apparent return to age-old urban functions involves, however, more than just a changing of the guards. With the advent of a new production paradigm, not just dominant sectors change, but, moreover, the way production takes place and what is produced alter. Any attempt to describe and interpret these fundamental changes will, inevitably, fall short of the complex reality offered by contemporary cities. To come to grips with this multifaceted phenomenon, we have decided to focus on three distinct strategic windows, namely (1) cultural industries, (2) the global and local economic networks and their spatial articulation; and (3) consumption.

    1. Cultural industries; building forth upon research projects that were granted in 2002 and 2006, we aim to broaden our territorial by strengthening the international comparative component of our research. Doing so will involve analyzing the cross-border division of labour between nodal cities regarding the cultural industries. Such an approach will entail a merging of the approaches developed in our research on polycentric urban configurations and the international networks of producer services with those we use to analyze cultural industries. A leading question is how important more general agglomeration economies are regarding internationally competitive cultural industries and to what extent more specific agglomeration economies play a role.
    2. Global and local economic networks and their spatial articulation; In the past years various researches were carried out on spatial clustering, learning in networks of firms, and the embedding of firms in international value chains and national varieties of capitalism. The research group will further focus on international reconfiguration of value chains and focus on the nodes within value chains and, more in particular on the economic dynamics of gateway cities and city-regions. Gateway economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and the Netherlands, are characterized by very high re-exports, and are trade- and distribution nodes in these value chains. The dynamics of gateways as physical nodes and the possible interactions with information-intensive and control functions are yet hardly investigated and understood. Moreover, there still are gaps between mesolevel geographical perspectives on urban economic dynamics and microlevel economic and administrative perspectives on international business strategy and organization. Multinational enterprises are increasingly complex network organizations with their own internal power dynamics which intertwine with geographically localized assets. Understanding developments in global value chains in conjunction with the in- and external organization of production networks sheds light on the conditions to sustain gateway economies. Moreover, there still are gaps between mesolevel geographical perspectives on urban economic dynamics and microlevel economic and administrative perspectives on international business strategy and organization. Multinational enterprises are increasingly complex.
    3. Contemporary globalization is increasingly referred to as hierarchical integration in the new international division of labour. Contemporary globalization makes the world more interconnected but this interconnected world is being segmented in new ways. At different levels in both developed and developing countries winners and losers arise from international reconfiguration of value chains and from new forms of task outsourcing associated with international off-shoring of service activities. There is increasing evidence that some low-wage countries are beginning to feel the pinch as production expands into even poorer countries. The intensifying production and export prowess of China appears to be having negative effects on the employment prospects of many less developed countries. The well-established story of job loss in the North now has entered a new and tragic chapter of large-scale job losses in regions of the South. International off-shoring of service activities would (in the North) expose new segments of the labour market to increased international competition. English-language skills form a major segmentation criterion for which developing countries can benefit and, hence, this may sharpen the divide between developing countries and within countries.
    4. The geography of consumption and tourism is another aspect of post industrial urban economies that we aim to cover. Our earlier research has confronted us with a rather large black box, namely that of consumer markets. Most research in economic geography starts from the production side and deals only in a more oblique way with consumer behaviour. The customer is indeed "the neglected king". We want to plug this gap by exploring the geography of consumption and assess how processes of globalization have affected consumer markets and consumer cultures and how this, in their turn has affected geographies of production. Questions at stake are: Are we witnessing processes of convergence and homogenization of consumer culture(s) between countries, while, at the same time, processes of differentiation along socio-cultural lines within countries take place? Which products are "portable" and, hence, can be exported across national (and cultural) borders and which products are too "sticky" as they require a distinct set of cultural resources to interpret them? We also want to look at how local consumer cultures are (re)produced and what their impact is on local production systems. Are we still observing processes of co-evolution on a local or regional scale or are processes of rescaling taking place? Although substantial work has been done on a specific aspect of consumption, namely tourism, this part of the research programme is still very much in statu nascendi, and will be further developed in the next few years.
  • Changing Geographies of Urban Economies

    Throughout history, cities have benefited from their internal agglomeration economies - based on the classic urban triad of proximity, diversity and (critical) mass - as well as from their external linkages which enabled them to specialize in certain forms of production. Technological change and shifts in external linkages have continuously transformed configurations of economic activities in urban environments. The most recent wave of structural changes has occurred in the last quarter of the 20th century when the introduction of digital technologies in conjunction with a rapidly expanding (global) network of external linkages due to a nearly global wave of liberalization of trade has fundamentally reshaped the economy of many cities. Digitalization and globalization made cities return, according to the French historian Jacques Le Goff (1997), to their essential functions of "l'échange, l'information, la vie culturelle et le pouvoir" after an industrial intermezzo of about two centuries. More precisely, advanced consumer and producer services (l'échange, l'information), co-ordination of spatially disparate tasks in the private and the public sector (le pouvoir) and cultural industries (la vie culturelle) have lead the way in creating vibrant urban economies once again. This apparent return to age-old urban functions involves, however, more than just a changing of the guards. With the advent of a new production paradigm, not just dominant sectors change, but, moreover, the way production takes place and what is produced alter. Any attempt to describe and interpret these fundamental changes will, inevitably, fall short of the complex reality offered by contemporary cities. To come to grips with this multifaceted phenomenon, we have decided to focus on three distinct strategic windows, namely (1) cultural industries, (2) the global and local economic networks and their spatial articulation; and (3) consumption.

    1. Cultural industries; building forth upon research projects that were granted in 2002 and 2006, we aim to broaden our territorial by strengthening the international comparative component of our research. Doing so will involve analyzing the cross-border division of labour between nodal cities regarding the cultural industries. Such an approach will entail a merging of the approaches developed in our research on polycentric urban configurations and the international networks of producer services with those we use to analyze cultural industries. A leading question is how important more general agglomeration economies are regarding internationally competitive cultural industries and to what extent more specific agglomeration economies play a role.
    2. Global and local economic networks and their spatial articulation; In the past years various researches were carried out on spatial clustering, learning in networks of firms, and the embedding of firms in international value chains and national varieties of capitalism. The research group will further focus on international reconfiguration of value chains and focus on the nodes within value chains and, more in particular on the economic dynamics of gateway cities and city-regions. Gateway economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and the Netherlands, are characterized by very high re-exports, and are trade- and distribution nodes in these value chains. The dynamics of gateways as physical nodes and the possible interactions with information-intensive and control functions are yet hardly investigated and understood. Moreover, there still are gaps between mesolevel geographical perspectives on urban economic dynamics and microlevel economic and administrative perspectives on international business strategy and organization. Multinational enterprises are increasingly complex network organizations with their own internal power dynamics which intertwine with geographically localized assets. Understanding developments in global value chains in conjunction with the in- and external organization of production networks sheds light on the conditions to sustain gateway economies. Moreover, there still are gaps between mesolevel geographical perspectives on urban economic dynamics and microlevel economic and administrative perspectives on international business strategy and organization. Multinational enterprises are increasingly complex.
    3. Contemporary globalization is increasingly referred to as hierarchical integration in the new international division of labour. Contemporary globalization makes the world more interconnected but this interconnected world is being segmented in new ways. At different levels in both developed and developing countries winners and losers arise from international reconfiguration of value chains and from new forms of task outsourcing associated with international off-shoring of service activities. There is increasing evidence that some low-wage countries are beginning to feel the pinch as production expands into even poorer countries. The intensifying production and export prowess of China appears to be having negative effects on the employment prospects of many less developed countries. The well-established story of job loss in the North now has entered a new and tragic chapter of large-scale job losses in regions of the South. International off-shoring of service activities would (in the North) expose new segments of the labour market to increased international competition. English-language skills form a major segmentation criterion for which developing countries can benefit and, hence, this may sharpen the divide between developing countries and within countries.
    4. The geography of consumption and tourism is another aspect of post industrial urban economies that we aim to cover. Our earlier research has confronted us with a rather large black box, namely that of consumer markets. Most research in economic geography starts from the production side and deals only in a more oblique way with consumer behaviour. The customer is indeed "the neglected king". We want to plug this gap by exploring the geography of consumption and assess how processes of globalization have affected consumer markets and consumer cultures and how this, in their turn has affected geographies of production. Questions at stake are: Are we witnessing processes of convergence and homogenization of consumer culture(s) between countries, while, at the same time, processes of differentiation along socio-cultural lines within countries take place? Which products are "portable" and, hence, can be exported across national (and cultural) borders and which products are too "sticky" as they require a distinct set of cultural resources to interpret them? We also want to look at how local consumer cultures are (re)produced and what their impact is on local production systems. Are we still observing processes of co-evolution on a local or regional scale or are processes of rescaling taking place? Although substantial work has been done on a specific aspect of consumption, namely tourism, this part of the research programme is still very much in statu nascendi, and will be further developed in the next few years.
  • Comparative Financial Geography

    While finance is a well-established research topic in economics, it is only fairly recently that the other social sciences have shifted their focus to financial markets. Each of these disciplines has something to add to the overall academic picture. Financial economics starts from a perspective where real-life financial data are being contrasted with model-based outcomes in order to explain the irrationalities of economic agents and the imperfections of real existing markets. Comparative and International Political Economy stress the importance of institutions and deregulatory measures to understand the rise of finance. The latest morphing of the sociology of science, the social studies of finance, instead zooms in on the micro-sociological as well technological networks that are the building blocks of contemporary financial markets.

    This is where geography becomes relevant. The very essence of modern geography is to study the spatial repercussions of changing social practices as well as its reverse: to analyze how spatial physical structures frame the dynamics of social practices. The money world is what geographers call a space of flows, partly real, partly virtual flows, which directly and indirectly mould the spaces of places. Money flows, their institutions and organizations have strong connections with the spatial organization of production and consumption. Like the industrial revolution changed the landscapes and townscapes of the 19th and 20th century, the money and banking revolution of the 1980's and 1990's changed the physical landscapes of capitals and metropolitan regions all over the world. New economic rankings of cities emerged as well as changing relationship and competitive location decision factors.

    While space is of course the medium wherein the objects of these research traditions are located, the causal properties of space as such are not investigated. It is this key aspect of social reality that is at the centre of Comparative Financial Geography. To be more specific, space enters the picture in two ways. First as means of entrance into the ‘relational' global networks and their nodes that serve as the channels, tubes, sluices and reservoirs of the capital that is sloshing around the globe. The second understanding of space relates to an older trope within geography, namely that of the industrial district. Financial centres - which dot the globe, and determine size, speed and direction of financial flows - consist of spatially concentrated and densely connected, cooperating as well competing financial firms that cover a broad array of different but related financial activities. ComparativeFinancial Geography opens the black box of how financial relations and space are interrelated - on a global and a local scale.

    Implicated as finance increasingly is in the current transformations of the welfare state, the allocation of capital at a supranational scale as well with a large number of highly urgent geopolitical issues that will determine social life in the next few decades - energy and commodity scarcities, global warming, the rise of the Eastern Hemisphere - Comparative Financial Geography is increasingly turning into a self standing but transdisciplinary field of study that is crucial for understanding complex processes of globalization and their local impacts and as such has obvious insights to offer for local and national policy makers.

    Comparative Financial Geography covers both ‘old' and ‘new' research questions, such as: how and why do international financial centres reproduce themselves over time? To what extent can we explain the continuing existence of these nodes in financial networks by means of the traditional focus of economic geography on proximity? What kind of proximity is at stake here? How does it articulate itself? What is its functionality? Other questions it addresses are: what are the connections between ‘high finance' and households? How is the daily life of people affected by financialization? What is the spatial articulation of pension and mortgages markets and how do they mediate between households and international financial markets? And finally, what are the geopolitical consequences of the increasing connectedness of East and West as well as of the rise of new financial centres in the Middle East and Asia? Obviously, this cries out for interregional comparisons between East and West. In the next 5 to 10 years we will do our utmost to set up an international comparative research project which encompasses both the traditional European financial centres as well as the fledgling new financial centres in the Middle East (Dubai) and the more established financial centres in Asia (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore).

The main objectives are to contribute to:

  • The development of geographical approaches to globalizations and the refinement of their spatio-social vocabulary (distance, place, territory, scale, network, region, etc.) and methodological perspectives.
  • The academic debates in social science and humanities on the current phase of globalization and its differentiated impacts.
  • The integration of historical-sociological and politico-institutional concepts in geographic approaches to explain drivers and impacts of processes of globalization on sub-state levels.
  • The dissemination of academic knowledge about globalizations among the the public, activists and decision makers.

Programme Group Leader

prof. dr. R.C. (Robert) Kloosterman

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

GPIO : Geographies of Globalizations

Research Staff

Our Research Staff

Our projects

  • MIME - Mobility and Inclusion in Multilingual Europe

    This project funded by the European Commission (FP7) aims to examine areas as diverse as education, public and private multilingual work environments, the preservation and promotion of threatened minority languages, and the challenges of integrating migrant speakers of non-European languages.

    Using an innovative interdisciplinary approach, MIME will generate an organised body of policy-relevant propositions addressing the full range of questions raised in the call. Our aim is to identify the language policies and strategies that best combine “mobility” and “inclusion”.

    Research methods 

    The diverse concepts and methods are combined in an analytical framework designed to ensure their practice-oriented integration. MIME identifies, assesses and recommends measures for the management of trade-offs between the potentially conflicting goals of mobility and inclusion in a multilingual Europe.

    Rather than taking existing trade-offs as a given, we think that they can be modified, both in symbolic and in material/financial terms, and we argue that this objective can best be achieved through carefully designed public policies and the intelligent use of dynamics in civil society.

    • Funded by: European Commission FP7 
    • Period: 01-03-2014 until 31-08-2018
  • CICERONE

    CICERONE is an ambitious, interdisciplinary international research project. Its main goal is to provide  an innovative way of understanding how of cultural and creative industries or CCIs function and, thus, providing a new foundation for effective policies at EU, national and local levels targeted at these economic activities.

    Cultural and creative industries bring us, for example, the books we read, the films we watch and design the buildings we use and the clothes we wear. They produce a vast amount and wide variety of goods and services for which their symbolic value is an essential aspect. Next to making our lives more pleasant, convenient and, arguably, also richer in aesthetic sense, cultural and creative industries are also important as drivers of local economic development while often also contributing to the strengthening of local and regional identities. They can, hence,  be seen as vital economic activities for a vibrant and resilient European economy.

    CICERONE, the acronym for ‘Creative Industries Cultural Economy Production Network’, is a collaborative research project, which got funded under the call for proposals from the European Commission. This call was based upon the European Commission’s observation that these CCIs do not yet benefit from the support of a comprehensive sectoral policy scheme in many of the EU member states and at EU level itself. To improve the effectiveness of policies vis-à-vis CCIs, the Commission invited research proposals that were able to support the formulation of recommendations for regional, national and European policies in the field of cultural and creative industries.

    The CICERONE project entails a four-year research program on the cultural and creative industries with the aim to offer a comprehensive understanding of how the cultural and creative industries operate. Based upon this, CICERONE will develop a framework for targeted policies to enhance the contribution of the cultural and creative industries to the European economy and society at large.

    The CICERONE project will analyse the cultural and creative industries on the basis of the Global Production Network approach which has been developed by, among others, Neil Coe. This analytical framework highlights not just the role of the local conditions for different stages of production and consumption, but also that of cross-border linkages while emphasising the importance of forms of embeddedness and that of power structures within these networks. Using this lens for CCIs enables us to uncover webs of interdependence for phases of production and exploring the impact of CCIs on local economic development and identity formation in a more comprehensive way and to identify relevant data gaps. Looking at CCIs in this innovative way will allow us, in collaboration with various stakeholders, to formulate building blocks for policy making.

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    prof. dr. R.C. (Robert) Kloosterman

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    GPIO : Geographies of Globalizations