Geography World Cities
Ben Derudder
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0035


Large and significant cities have fascinated researchers since the early twentieth century. This is indicated by the wide range of terms used to describe cities, whereby since the 2000s “global cities” and “world cities” have gradually become key—yet at times also contested—concepts. This article provides a bibliographic introduction to this wide-ranging and sometimes seemingly incoherent literature. A first major reason for the sometimes-fuzzy character of “the global/world city literature” is that there have been earlier, related uses of these terms. Although it is difficult to identify a straightforward disjuncture between these earlier uses of the terms and what are commonly seen as key foundational texts in the present-day literature, we can observe a gradual trend toward conceptualizing urbanization processes at transnational rather than national scales. In earlier writings using the global/world cities terminology, the cosmopolitan character of cities was above all interpreted as an expression of their host states’ geopolitical and geo-economic power. Contemporary literature, however, considers city/state relations to be either fundamentally reworked or less consequential for understanding major cities. A second reason for the wide-ranging meaning of the “global city” and “world city” concepts is that, in addition to both terms sometimes having different meanings and connotations in their own right, they are also part of an increasingly diverse literature exploring transnationalization processes and/in contemporary cities, including research on “global city-regions” and more recently also “globalizing cities” and “cities in globalization.” Although the terminology and what it seeks to capture is therefore inevitably to some degree confounded, in the remainder of this article, a straightforward distinction will be made between “world cities” (the more specific literature detailed in this article) and “cities in globalization” (the increasingly broad and diversified literature in which the world city literature itself is embedded).

General Overviews

At its core, the world city literature attempts (1) to map and understand urban-economic geographies of (capabilities for) capitalist command and control on a global scale; after which (2) these geographies are critically related to socio-spatial changes within the cities involved. Several edited volumes provide a comprehensive overview of the literature. One of the most wide-ranging attempts to harness this literature is Taylor, et al. 2013, which surveys this literature and provides extensive editorial guidance. An overview of core themes commonly addressed in the world cities literature can be found in Derudder, et al. 2012, which can be envisaged as an extended update of Knox and Taylor 1995. The Globalizing Cities Reader (Ren and Keil 2018), the first edition of which was titled The Global Cities Reader (Brenner and Keil 2006), is not only an excellent resource in its own right, but is also helpful for understanding how the more narrowly defined concept of world cities has gradually become part of a broader and evolving scientific context of doing global urban studies (Harrison and Hoyler 2018) and studying cities in globalization (see also Abrahamson 2019).

  • Abrahamson, M. Globalizing Cities: A Brief Introduction. London: Routledge, 2019.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315181332

    This textbook examines modern cities worldwide through two lenses: as the major nodes in the global economy and as primary propagators of cultural ideas across the world. More specifically, the book examines the way world cities accommodate huge global flows of people with diverse backgrounds, and the effects this has upon the cultural, economic, and political forces associated with these cities.

  • Brenner, N., and R. Keil, eds. The Global City Reader. London: Routledge, 2006.

    A volume reprinting key pre-2005 writings on world cities. Its major strength lies in the extensive editorial guidance: there are clear and detailed explanations about why the chosen writings have been instrumental in the development of this literature.

  • Derudder, B., M. Hoyler, P. J. Taylor, and F. Witlox, eds. International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities. Cheltenham, UK, and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2012.

    A review of the state of the art in the world cities literature: fifty chapters on different aspects of world city formation, written by experts in this literature. Intended as a follow-up to Knox and Taylor 1995.

  • Harrison, J., and M. Hoyler, eds. Doing Global Urban Research. London: SAGE, 2018.

    This book explores the various methodological approaches used in global urban research, including comparative urbanism, social network analysis, and data visualization. With contributions from leading scholars across the world, it offers a key forum to discuss how the practice of research can deepen our knowledge of world cities as part of a more encompassing literature on cities in globalization.

  • Knox, P., and P. Taylor, eds. World Cities in a World-System. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    The first state-of-the art review of the literature, which—at the time of publication—showed that world city research was maturing into a (number of) paradigm(s). Comparison with Derudder, et al. 2012 allows one to appreciate how the literature has evolved.

  • Ren, X., and R. Keil, eds. The Globalizing Cities Reader. London: Routledge, 2018.

    This book reflects how the geographies of theory have recently shifted away from the Western vantage points from which much of the classic work on world cities was developed. It discusses theories and ideas off the conventional map of world cities research, and explores how these ideas converge and diverge.

  • Taylor, P. J., J. V. Beaverstock, B. Derudder, et al., eds. Global Cities. 4 vols. Critical Concepts in Urban Studies. London: Routledge, 2013.

    A volume reprinting key pre-2012 writings on world cities. More extensive in its coverage than Brenner and Keil 2006, with unabridged versions of the original writings, but with somewhat less guidance for readers

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