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The City as Cultural Center

Cities Of Difference: Globalization In Progress

Urbanization was reaching new highs in the contemporary world with the rise of mega cities whose greater metropolitan populations exceeded 15 million, such as Calcutta, Cairo, Tokyo, Bombay, and Seoul. Beyond the modern metropolis, researchers try to make sense of those large urban areas with terms such as "postmetropolis," "global cities," and "global city-regions." The processes of globalization, including transnational migration, architecture, financial transactions, transport flux, and dissemination of technological innovations contribute to the rise of mega cities in different parts of the globe.

In contrast to the modernist view of the metropolis, cities have been a major subject of the cultural turn in the social sciences suggesting that culture orients our behavior and shapes what we are able to know about the world. According to cultural studies that have taken place within cities, the question of identity and culture has become a central paradigm. Immigration and the pluralization of identity pave the way for the image of the city as fragmented mosaics. The city is about "the other," and the risks associated with diversity.

The first impact of the cultural turn is about the questioning of classic Western categories such as cities, gender, ethnic, militarism, surveillance, and colonialism. A body of research has made visible issues of sexual, racial, age, religious, gender, and ethnic minorities, together with class, stressing the fluidity of cities, the role of informal organizations and social movements in social conflicts; it has raised issues of justice and the pluralization of identity formation beyond the state. The city is therefore analyzed through representation, discourse, objects, arts. Cultural studies scholars now take up goods as texts that signal the important social processes of their time and context. They look at cities as worked out through perception, memories, and imagination, everyday life and practices, interactions and events, a space simultaneously real and imagined, material and metaphorical, ordered and disordered: from gay enclaves to fortress cities and postcolonial environments. The city is seen as a fluid process, constantly reshaped, chaotic and indeterminate, subject to rival and contradictory claims.

Culture is now a major determinant of migration and the dynamics of cities. From the studios of Los Angeles and Hong Kong to the old neighborhood of Istanbul or Bombay and the cultural clusters of Florence and Prague, all places have culture industries from museums to choirs, county fairs to religious buildings, galleries to theaters. Each city is unique, and its uniqueness relies both upon the interactions within the city, a place for spectacles, and upon interactions with other cities. Tourism, migration, economic development, and urban regeneration seem to rely now, at least in part, upon culture.

"Fantasy cities" are on the rise (as documented by John Hannigan) and one exemplar, Las Vegas, is the fastest growing city in the United States. Surveillance technologies, marketing, standardized entertainment, and culture give a new boost to cities as places of cultural consumption under strict surveillance, at the expense of local groups, social conflicts, and local culture.

The traditional ideas of the city, the modern metropolis or the industrial city, are now associated or replaced by contradictory images of those mega cities where one either emphasizes cultural diversity and the infinite range of interactions or the strength of control and capital accumulation by dominant groups. The rise of mobility and transnational flux within more globalized capitalist cities raise new issues about assimilation, social order, politics, and culture in cities. Cities are reshaped by local groups and culture interacting, adapting, or protesting against globalized flows.


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Patrick Le Galès

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterThe City as Cultural Center - The City As An Integrated Political And Social Structure, The Industrial City, The Rise Of The Metropolis: Centers Of Experiment For Modern Social Life