In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cities and International Relations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Foundation of World/Global Cities Research
  • Broadening of Global Cities Research
  • Debates in Global Cities Research
  • Cities and Global Governance
  • City Networks
  • Changing Relationship between Cities and States
  • Cities and International Law

International Relations Cities and International Relations
Daniel Pejic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0283


The literature on cities and international relations (IR), or “global urban politics,” as it is sometimes termed, is a diverse stream of social science research that has developed in response to major demographic and economic shifts that began in second half of the 20th century and continue to today. During this time the world has witnessed dramatic globalization and urbanization, centralizing populations in cities. It is predicted that by 2050 close to 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, meaning that 21st-century challenges will be largely urban in nature. Across areas such as migration, health, environmental sustainability, and economic development, citizens and city governments are constantly exposed, and need to respond to, the impacts of globalization on cities. At the international level, multilateral organizations have recognized this shift and are increasingly involving cities, or networks of cities, as interlocutors in global forums. IR has been slow to acknowledge the increasing importance of cities in international affairs, as it conflicts with the state-centric paradigm of mainstream theory. Most early scholarship on cities and globalization came from urbanists and political economists, who studied the development of “global cities” that were acting as the critical nodes in the architecture of the world economy. This literature predominately identified cities as the sites of global processes, with limited capacity to influence or shape them. It also offered a narrow, economistic conception of cities that vastly prioritized the experiences of wealthy cities in the Global North. More recently, scholars have begun to study and theorize the role of cities as actors in global affairs, particularly through forms of networked governance and involvement in key multilateral discussions. This bibliography tracks the evolution of this research agenda from its conception to the present day. It begins with a limited background in the study of urban politics, providing a crucial framework for understanding how the diverse streams of research developed. It then details the continuing work on “global cities,” which recognized the increasing importance of cities to international affairs in the late 20th century, although largely defined in narrow economic terms. What follows is a broader theorization of the role of cities in global governance, which begins to afford some agency to cities to shape international affairs across a range of policy areas and brings them directly into the purview of IR. While most of this literature has still been driven by, and focused on, cities of the Global North, there have been efforts to broaden the geographic focus and recognize the way globalization and urbanization have been experienced differently in cities across the globe. Finally, the bibliography draws on a recent literature exploring some of the political and legal implications of this shift to the “urban century.”

General Overviews

As this area is a relatively new and interdisciplinary field of inquiry, there is a limited range of general or overview texts to the guide the reader. While some of the contributions are dated, Alger 2014, which brings together writing from across the author’s career, is an excellent starting point for clear argumentation on the importance of cities to the international system. Boudreau 2017 is written more from an urban than an IR perspective; however, it is valuable because it engages directly with the question of what global urban politics is and why is it worthy of inquiry. For those coming from an IR background, Davies and Imbroscio 2009 is a fantastic resource for understanding the major theoretical approaches to the study of urban politics. Ren and Keil 2018 provides the most comprehensive overview of global cities research and includes abridged versions of many of the seminal texts. Derudder 2012 offers a more specific outline of research conducted by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC), one of the key research groups in the development of global cities literature. Parnell and Oldfield 2014 is a slight outlier in that it is not explicitly focused on global urban politics, but it is included here to redress the balance of global cities scholarship that has traditionally been focused on cities in the Global North. Finally, Harrison and Hoyler 2018 offers a brief introduction to empirical and methodological considerations for those seeking to undertake global urban research.

  • Alger, Chadwick F. The UN System and Cities in Global Governance. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-00512-6

    A past president of the International Studies Association, Alger had a distinguished career studying the UN system, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution. He advocated for the inclusion of a range of subnational and nonstate actors in UN processes, and this collection brings together several key texts on the relationship between cities and international systems. While some of the entries are dated, they remain a valuable entry point in the consideration of cities through an IR paradigm.

  • Boudreau, Julie-Anne. Global Urban Politics: Informalization of the State. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2017.

    This book is not a traditional handbook or overview text, but it answers some questions regarding the hybrid field of global urban politics—namely, what is meant by “urban” and what is meant by “global” in this context. It is a highly readable introduction to the subject area that provides tangible examples of how globalization has enmeshed the scales of transnational and local politics.

  • Davies, Jonathan S., and David L. Imbroscio, eds. Theories of Urban Politics. 2d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2009.

    This overview of a range of theoretical approaches to the study of urban politics is an updated version of the widely used 1995 text by David Judge, Gerry Stoker, and Harold Wolman. The contributions reflect the complex and “fuzzy” nature of urban politics, where the boundaries and scales are often difficult to define.

  • Derudder, Ben. International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities. Cheltenham, UK, and Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2012.

    This handbook provides a useful companion to Ren and Keil 2018 and focuses more specifically on work produced by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC) and its extended partners. While there is some overlap with contributors, this handbook is more targeted to the external and networked relations of global cities, often from a quantitative perspective. A number of key texts from the GaWC are also referenced in this bibliography.

  • Harrison, John, and Michael Hoyler, eds. Doing Global Urban Research. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2018.

    While it can be challenging to locate, this edited volume provides discussion on what constitutes “global urban research” and how it differs from other forms of urban research. While Derudder 2012 and Ren and Keil 2018 offer more comprehensive groundings in the field, this book is valuable in linking theory to some of the methodological and empirical considerations of carrying out this kind of research.

  • Parnell, Sue, and Sophie Oldfield, eds. The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

    This volume is not as explicitly focused on global urban politics or global cities as the other entries in the section; however, it provides a useful counterpoint to other overviews that tend to privilege the experience of cities of the Global North.

  • Ren, Xuefei, and Roger Keil, eds. The Globalizing Cities Reader. 2d ed. Routledge Urban Reader Series. New York: Routledge, 2018.

    A very comprehensive introductory text to globalizing cities research that features sixty-eight abridged readings from leading scholars in the field. The Reader tracks the development of world/global city research from conception to modern-day challenges. While it has a greater focus on urban studies than on international relations, this updated second edition is the perfect starting place for entering the field.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.