Indiana University sociology professor presents the effects of globalization on U.S. cities


On Thursday, Feb. 15, Sociology Professor Arthur S. Alderson of Indiana University delivered a seminar in HMNSS 1500 on the effects of globalization in the US under the title “Urban Development and the World City System: Inter-City Relations and the Fate of U.S. Cities.”

Professor Alderson was introduced by Matthew Mahutga, a sociology professor at UCR and a co-organizer of the political economy seminar. Mahutga stated that Alderson’s work aims to determine income inequality due to industrialization, foreign and direct investment, the world city system, and other factors.

In the past, Alderson has written papers on the effects of globalization on income equality that Mahutga considered “seminal,” such as his paper “Globalization and the Great U-Turn: Income Inequality Trends in 16 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) Countries” from 2001. At the seminar, Alderson presented research on what he considered “powerful and prestigious cities.”

Power of a city, by Alderson’s definition, is determined by its outdegree, closeness and betweenness. Outdegree is the amount of outward ties a city has; this can be better understood as export-related activity, such as outsourcing or trade. Closeness refers to the “inverse average distance between a city and all others.” Betweenness is the likelihood that a city will be somewhere in the path between one city and another, such as in business or travel. Prestige is determined by indegree, which is the number of ties that a city receives. An example is the amount of foreigners or the number of unique imports that come into a city.

When a city can be considered “powerful and prestigious” in this sense, they can be considered a world city in the world-city system. A world city is one that acts as a nexus for commercial activity on a global scale. The world-city system is the global conglomerate of activity between all civilizations, specifically cities.

The world-city system is ultimately a result of globalization, the main focus of Alderson’s research. Globalization refers to the expansion of business influence on the international scale, and Alderson’s central claim is that “globalization is altering the global hierarchy of cities and the nature of what goes on within them.

During the seminar, Alderson reported that in identifying cities at the helm of the globalized world-city system, there was a set of observable trends. In general, such cities had increasing levels of inequality, a larger level of high-end and low-end services, a decrease in manufacturing and a rise in foreign-born populations. These trends are the distinguishing factors that Alderson stated a powerful and prestigious world city would have; as such, one would expect that big cities today, such as New York, Tokyo and London, would always be at the top of the board for the world-city system.

However, when asked about how this information could be used for the future, both in California and the country as a whole, Alderson responded that doing so would be difficult because the role of a “world city” fluctuates as time goes on, except for cities that have been leading in that aspect for long periods of time. “It’s difficult to predict from today because there is a kind of reshuffling of this urban hierarchy,” said Alderson. “Now some cities are at the top 20 years ago, they’re still the top today, they’re probably going to still be at the top 20 years from now. But below that, there is a fair bit of movement.”

A recent paper by Alderson in 2013, titled “The Changing Economic Geography of Large U.S. Law Firms,” reports that, at the time, New York had become more interconnected with foreign countries than Washington, D.C. for law firms. Both areas are known for large amounts of international traffic, but the fact that such a shift could occur even for long-established entities of interconnection suggests that other areas of business are subject to the same sort of geographical uncertainty in the U.S., and possibly the rest of the world as a whole.

Alderson is also a political economist and studies the Global South (Africa, Central and Latin America and most of Asia) and Europe. His next plans are to continue his research on the effects of globalization as a whole by analyzing sociological trends in Europe.

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