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The global city is imagined to be a space that accommodates flows of people, ideas, cultures and—most importantly—capital. It is also imagined to enjoy a high degree of decision-making autonomy from the nation. However, the rise of nationalism and covid lockdowns have called into question what a global city means when nation-states can stop global flows in and out from a city. Hong Kong is a good case study because the international community has been questioning this former British colony's global status due to overt political control from the Central Chinese government and stringent border control during the pandemic. However, these worries tend to focus on economic issues without paying attention to how democratic autonomy shapes city space and configures time.
This paper asserts that to seek democracy in a global city, citizens, activists, and academics ought to reject the typologies of local/national/global, and politics/economy/culture. Instead, they need to interrogate the multi-directional and often contradictory flows of capital, information, culture, and people. Three organizing concepts that are useful for examining such flows are network, space, and time. The focus on these three concepts will help re-imagine new spatialities and temporalities that realize citizens’ agency.
To begin this task, this paper builds on the writings of David Harvey and Saskia Sassen and discuss how they may enrich the three organizing concepts: network, space, and time. I will assess how applicable their arguments are to the case of Hong Kong.
Harvey's concept of the right to the city is useful at pointing out: the state-planned, corporate-friendly urbanization in Hong Kong since the 1970s; the government re-branding the city as a global financial hub after the handover in 1997; protestors' street occupation creating a common for residents' affects. Sassen's concept of the Global City is useful at suggesting: the process of a Global City increasing its capacities of global operation, coordination, and control through attracting corporations to establish Headquarters; and the role played by a booming financial sector and advanced internet technologies in a Global City.
The case of Hong Kong, however, shows some undertheorized areas of the two concepts. Harvey tends to neglect the cultural aspects of urban life and ignore the conflicting interests among the working class. Sassen's suggestion of the Global City being relatively autonomous of state control does not seem to explain the central planning of the Chinese government. In addition, Sassen also harbours the slightly simplistic belief that information technologies will have positive “spill over” benefits for global-local social movements. This paper will use the three organizing concepts—network, space, and time—to strengthen the two concepts, right to the city and the Global City.
Communication & Journalism Department
Lee, M. (2023, June). Can the global city enable democratic autonomy? Re-reading David Harvey and Saskia Sassen, Paper be presented at IAMCR online/Lyon, France.
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