Georg-Simmel Center for Urban Studies

The Context of Metropolitan Studies


The term metropolis is used differently in all disciplines. While in geography it refers to very large cities, with a particular focus on their economic and political significance, the humanities and the cultural studies concentrate entirely on the cultural meaning of these cities for societies. In sociology, the term has lost some of its prominence in the course of the last decades and has been reduced to describe the very large 'mega cities' of the developing countries.

Metropolises in the Sciences

There has not been any German scientific institution that explicitly addresses the history, development, and meaning of the 'metropolis'. Undoubtedly, this is due to the fact that the German decentralized system of cities cannot refer to one specific city which incorporates the highest degree of centralized power in all realms of society - in contrast to France or England for instance. Furthermore, there is no interdisciplinary cooperation yet, which also integrates the natural sciences and that goes beyond the technically problematic organization of large cities and its environmental aspects.

Various faculties and departments of literary and cultural studies have pursued research on the metropolis - often focusing on foreign literature and case studies of foreign cities. This also defines the direction followed by the DFG-funded transatlantic graduate program (Graduiertenkolleg) "History and Culture of Metropolitan Cities in the 20th Century", which includes some faculty members of the Georg Simmel Center (GSZ).

Metropolises as Global Cities

Within social sciences and geography, the debate around the meaning of centralized power in some cities has been dominated and covered in recent years by the category of "global cities", which is substantially defined by economic geography. The long tradition in geography to rank cities according to criteria of central locality is less innovative than to examine in detail those social and spatial urban problems, ascribed by definition to the 'global city': increasing inequality, socio-spatial polarization, the role of migrants in the urban economy - and the issue of regulating urban development.

Metropolises from an Economic Perspective

The underrepresented urban and regional economies have for decades attended to emphasize processes of decentralization and suburbanization. With the development of a new urban economy, characterized by cultural and creative professions, the role of the large city has become a new paradigm for economic development - precisely because of its metropolitan qualities! Heterogeneity, density, and a certain size of manifold branches and cultures are considered necessary for the successful development of creative activities which are at the core of the new urban economy.

Metropolises as Plurality Places

Closely connected to this is the multi-cultural future of the large city. On the one hand, it presents a great possibility to develop metropolitan urbanity, but on the other, it may be perceived as problematic and might cause diverse conflicts. Many university and external departments explore in detail the meaning of migration for the city and the meaning of the city for migration processes. The focus of these studies is the quality of the metropolis as a place, in which diversity and difference may prolifically develop. One of the fundamental challenges of the GSZ is to build up co-operations and to open up debates dealing with this issue.