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Geographies of Globalisations

Geographies of Globalisations

Human Geography, Planning and International Development Studies

Geographies of Globalizations

The Geographies of Globalisations (GoG) group investigates the role of multi-scalar relationships that are crucial in understanding contemporary economic and political geographies. More specifically, the group looks at the intertwined processes of financialization and globalization; the development and reproduction of cultural and creative industries; the socio-spatial and ethnic division of labour among small businesses in cities; the off-shoring of service industries and the emergence of online job marketplaces; the position of workers in the emerging textile industry in SE Asia; as well as the relationships between territory, identity and governance, notably within the context of the EU. Underlying the research on these highly topical and societally relevant issues is a shared conceptual vision that highlights the interaction between institutional contexts and the role of actors and agency. To grasp these complex relationships, it takes a why-and-how-question approach that encourages a pluralistic use of theoretical lenses across sub-disciplines, including comparative political economy, economic sociology, and economics. This approach helps us to distinguish different ontological layers of concrete, place-based cases to foster relational analysis. This shared epistemological point of departure requires a case study methodology that strives for empirically grounded and theoretically engaged work.

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:

  • Political Geographies of Globalisation and Re-territorialization

    The territorial state and the modern state system have widely dominated the (geo)political imaginations of the past century. Such frames have shaped the understanding of what is politically realistic or possible, how politics is organized, how society is regulated, how people are mobilized for social change and how (potential) conflicts are negotiated. Among other thing this geopolitical imagination produces a sharp divide between domestic and international politics.

    Since the end of the Cold War, “globalization” has been deployed as a potentially powerful narrative both to underline the inescapable character of certain economic, political and cultural transformations fostering debordering and the alleged waning of state sovereignty. More recently renationalization discourses and rebordering processes have gathered momentum again. As a consequence of these contradictory de-bordering and re-bordering trends, both political actors and observers like academics actively engage in the articulation of new geopolitical imaginations to performatively explain the world in which we live and provide guidance for political action.

    The main focus of the subgroup pertains to the way de-bordering and re-bordering processes affect state territoriality, sovereignty, national identities, ethno-territorial conflicts and governance arrangements, and conversely how territorial (national, supra-national and sub-national) institutions handle new opportunities and constraints to mobilize individuals and groups and shape new or changing identities and the creation of new identities.

    This programme aims at contributing to the theoretical debates about the political geographical impact of the unbundling of state territoriality and the changing role of territorial states and geopolitics. This include geographical patterns of power relations, the emergence of supranational arenas, transnational loyalties, and transnational and multi-scalar policy networks, the role of cities in global politics as well as the renewed attractiveness of the territorial state.

    The subprogramme investigates the institutionalization of new (geo)political imaginations. This institutionalization includes both new hegemonic and dissident discourses and the emerging, established or eroding practices and institutions that they justify. Communication processes are at the centre of our preoccupations. This constitutes the cultural lens of our political geographies. The framing of politics and identities makes the constitution of a political community and the working of politics possible and largely shape political agendas and outputs. With the move from territorial state to new multi-scalar articulations of political institutions and back, our attention also shift from the mass media whose ascendance was contingent to that of the territorial nation state to the use of the new media for political communication, representation, negotiation and conflict prevention and resolution.

    The subprogramme is organized around three main questions:

      1. What multi-scalar strategies do political actors deploy? How are new configurations of political and cultural frameworks institutionalized?
      2. How are the main dimensions of democracy (legitimacy, representation, identification, accountability) affected by changing configurations of political institutions?
      3. Which localities emerge as important nodes in new configurations of governance? How do information and communication technologies affect existing and emerging networks of political nodes (such as capital cities)?
  • 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

    Since its inception in the early 2000s, financial geography has evolved into a full blown subdiscipline that investigates both traditional geographical subjects such as the rise and fall of international financial centers, the bank density of different countries and the concentration of different financial activities in specific places. As well as new topics such as the financialization of subjects and households through residential capitalism, the financialization of public services and the commons through the penetration of private equity in childcare and elderly care, as well as the global management of financial values extracted from global supply chains. In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, the chair of financial geography spent most of its research efforts on describing and understanding the political reorganization of finance to deflect the unavoidable backlash against finance. In line with the overall research philosophy of GoG, this was done through well-chosen qualitative case studies which tried to answer answer-seeking-why-and-how queries. Since then the chair of financial geography has been involved in a collective effort to ideologically overcome the pernicious effects of finance through a reevaluation of the commons under the rubric of the foundational economy. It is a theme that is a long standing part of the collective research effort of the GoG group in the form of professional ecologies, the financialization of housing and other public services and the importance of shared norms and values for the success of cities. This, evidently goes well beyond mere economics metrics of success.

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 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 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.

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

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    GPIO : Geographies of Globalizations