Media and the City

Global Media and Communication

Adrian Athique, Indian Media

Terry Flew, Global Creative Industries

Myria Georgiou, Media and the City

Noha Mellor, Khalil Rinnawi and Nabil Dajani Muhammad I. Ayish, Arab Media

Shani Orgad, Media Representation and the Global Imagination

Stylianos Papathanassopoulos and Ralph Negrine, European Media

Media and the City

Cosmopolitanism and Difference


Copyright © Myria Georgiou 2013
The right of Myria Georgiou to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 2013 by Polity Press
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ISBN: 978-0-7456-5540-6
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To Elektra and Leon, explorers of the urban world


1  Introduction: The Mediated Cosmopolis
2  Media and the City: Synergies of Power
3  Consumption: The Hegemonic and the Vernacular
4  Identity: Popular Culture and Self-Making
5  Community: Transnational Solidarities
6  Action: Presence and Marginality
7  Epilogue: Cosmopolitan Contradictions


The journey that led to the realization of this book has been long, challenging but also enjoyable. The latter would not have been possible without the intellectual and emotional support of a number of people. First and foremost, I would like to thank Lilie Chouliaraki for her insightful comments, tireless support and constructive criticism during the last phase of this book’s completion. Also, for valuable feedback on different versions and presentations of the chapters of this book, I want to thank Valentina Cardo, Nick Couldry, Gareth Dale and Nikos Papastergiadis.

Kindred spirits, Sandra Ball-Rokeach, Susan Drucker and Gary Gumpert inspired me in many ways and at different times of my engagement with media and the city. Thank you. I am grateful to my colleagues at the London School of Economics and the University of Leeds who offered their time generously and helped me see what this project was all about when I was struggling in seminar rooms and pubs. Special thanks to Sonia Livingstone, Robin Mansell, Alison Powell, Polyanna Ruiz, Nancy Thumim and Katharine Sarikakis for inspiring exchanges and to Max Ahy-Hanska and Jean Morris for their help during the production phase.

My PhD students Heba Elsayed and Rahoul Masrani have been great companions in many exploratory intellectual journeys about the city and the media. And throughout this project, Roger Silverstone, as always, was somewhere there in spirit to inspire and guide me.

But this book would have not been possible without the enormous and unconditional support of the people closest to me. I want to thank my parents, Clara and Aris, for always having faith in me. Kevin James, who had no free weekend for two years, and Elektra and Leon, who kept holding my hand, and all this with a smile – thank you. My biggest gratitude goes to them: they knew this book would come to life even when I didn’t. Leon and Elektra, you are the inspiration behind this book. I hope it will some day speak to you.

1    Introduction: The Mediated Cosmopolis

Fear and anarchy spread across the city. The citizens are hostages of the mysterious, violent and nasty others.1 The camera frantically moves from an aerial overview of the city to the globally familiar urban skyline defined by skyscrapers and landmark buildings. The camera continues moving fast, now down at street level, taking the audience on speedy travels along the metropolitan avenues so often seen on the screen, so often used as symbolic and physical attributes of the big city. This is Gotham, one of the fictional incarnations of the city. In the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, this is the city whose citizens single-handedly try to save the world; this is the city that attracts envy and which is always on screen. As dramatic events take place in the film, the rest of the world is irrelevant but at the same time ever present: television cameras and surveillance cameras provide instant and constant access to all that takes place in this important location: the city that really matters. The big and unpredictable city is integral to the film’s plot, aesthetics and appeal. At the same time the urban locale cannot be separated from its mediated representations. The inevitable question that this example raises, among so many others in the media, is whether we can imagine less fictional cities, such as London, New York, Paris, but also Rio de Janeiro, Cairo and Shanghai, outside their representations, their representations’ making and their consumption. After all, the ubiquitous presence of the city in the media is familiar, a tested and repeatedly affirmed choice in so many films, television series, fashion magazines, music lyrics and news stories. How possible is it to separate New York from cinematic imagination, Cairo from news headlines, or Shanghai from media visuals of its futuristic globality? And if what we know about cities is increasingly mediated, where are the meanings of these mediations and why does it matter?

While more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities (UN 2010 [2009]), most of what we know about the city – the one we live in and the one we consume, desire to visit, migrate to, or avoid – is mediated. Films, television series, music lyrics, news headlines, but also social and personal media shape urban cultures both through representations and through communication practices. Utopian and dystopian representations of the city and responses to the challenges that the urban world presents to humanity are as much negotiated in the media as they are in the street. The city needs Batman as much as Batman needs the city. Depending where one sits, Batman saves the city from troubles associated with diversity or the city with its diversity provides the necessary platform for Batman to even exist. The role of media and communications in making the city is multifaceted and, importantly, dialogical. Media support the symbolic power of the city by exposing its many layers, its differences and its rich trajectories that can be commodified, as the case of the Batman films demonstrates. But media also need the city as a global node in communication flows that support exchanges of information, images, commodities and narratives of ‘the urban’. In both cases, urban dwellers, global consumers and prospective visitors are constantly reminded that the city is unpredictable, exciting and fearsome but also possibly welcoming, potentially a place of opportunities and potentially a space to see the self and others as part of the urban story.

Among all cities, a small but growing number, the so-called global cities, most forcefully invite us to consider the expressions and consequences of these possibilities. The global city is probably the most mediated city but also the most diverse and open urban centre in the world: it is welcoming to the cultural industries but it is also globally recognized for the long and intense flows of people, ideas and media that link it to the rest of the world and bring the world to it. Powerful imagery and histories of domination symbolically mark the territory of global cities and shape its cultures of creativity, experimentation and diversity. A global city is a city that, day in, day out, requires us to think of how we live in close proximity to each other and how we communicate across difference. With long histories of political and cultural domination, London, New York, Paris, Berlin, and Los Angeles are quite distinct. In their global appeal as destinations for people and money and in their reputation as centres of concentrated difference, they are very particular. But they are not isolated cases. These are the cities that help us understand the uneven, hierarchical global order of the urban world; these are the cities that capture most intensely urban trajectories in global times. These are also the cities that most vividly reveal the politics of a changing mediated world.

In a world where the Empire and western capitalism are not in full command, the symbolic power concentrated in cities of the global North relies on transnational networks of people, cultures and information for its reproduction. The media constantly remind urban dwellers, global consumers and prospective visitors that the city is open, potentially welcoming, potentially a place of opportunities. Paradoxically, the same symbolic forms that enhance and secure the hegemony of top-tier cities in a global urban order are the ones that destabilize their exclusive access to symbolic power. A number of cities of the global South, ranging from Shanghai to São Paulo, are currently gaining ground as attractive destinations for prospective tourists, migrants, consumers and cultural industries. Emerging global cities provide a glimpse into the diffusion and intensification of some of the key challenges of the urban world, which we now associate with cities of the global North. While this book sustains a focus on the established global city of the global North, the issues it addresses are far from contained in it. Given how much is at stake, especially with the vast and fast growth of urbanization, the ways in which the city is shared, communicated and symbolically constructed can have enormous consequences for cultural and social life: most importantly, in the ways in which we are exposed to each other, and understand or misunderstand each other, in an increasingly mediated urban world.

The book explores these issues through a particular relationship of growing significance: that of the media and the city. The media need the city to feed their industry with talent, powerful representations and consumers for their media products and technologies. The city needs the media to help brand its global appeal but also to manage its diversity and communication landscape. From the mobile phone that helps tourists navigate the city to social media that help protesters organize trans-urban action, this relationship is becoming more and more one of interdependence. As discussed in the next chapter, this interdependence starts with the over-concentration of media industries in certain cities and the domination of those same cities in media representations. But, importantly, it expands to and depends upon the urban street: where appropriations and uses of media and communications invent, become evidence and reaffirm the uniqueness of the city as a creative hub, as a consumer paradise, as a space of identity, community and even possibly political recognition.

The conceptual and methodological proposition of this book is for the study of the media and the city from street level. The book approaches their relation through an analytical matrix that includes the four main interfaces where this relation unfolds: consumption, identity, community and action. These interfaces allow us to record and problematize the different layers of a complex and contradictory relation. The discussions of these interfaces develop in chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 respectively and present evidence of the intensification of the media and city synergies and their consequences, especially as expressed in cosmopolitanization. Cosmopolitanization is discussed as the process through which urban subjects are constantly exposed to difference through mediated and interpersonal communication. As music produced in the margins of the city, for example, reaches global audiences, both those on the margins and those in the centre of the urban world are forced to think of the self in relation to the other (as discussed in chapter 4). Or, when media and city authorities brand the city as a cosmopolitan shopping destination, many urban dwellers adopt a celebratory cosmopolitanism discourse and adapt their own cultural practices to the branded city (as discussed in chapter 3).

The argument of this book is twofold. On the one hand, the intensification of mediation and urbanization advances proximity to one another. Close encounters with difference, when rubbing shoulders with others in the street or when being reminded of their proximity through the media, forces urban subjects to become more aware of the challenges and opportunities difference presents. On the other hand, those close encounters with difference become necessary ingredients for the media and the city to sustain their symbolic power, precisely because they feed back into invaluable creativity, branded cosmopolitanism and a city which represents marketable material for film-makers and advertisers. Chapter 2 starts from that top level of the media and city synergies, precisely in indicating the uneven concentration of symbolic power in corporate headquarters and their support through neoliberal policies. It shows how cosmopolitan narratives and practices are selectively incorporated into hegemonic discourses of the city but also how elites both desire to control the city’s diversity and get access to it. A starting argument here is that we need to understand hegemonic ideologies while expanding our study beyond the corporate media headquarters. Most studies on media and cities focus on the top level of their interdependence. For this book, the corporate vision and practice of the mediated city represents just the beginning of the story. While starting the next chapter by recognizing the over-concentration of power in media corporations, the book invites its readers to navigate the city as a mediated space and to think of power not statically but as subject to the dynamics of mediation beyond the glass buildings.

Adopting a street-level analysis, the book aims to surpass the bird’s eye view of the city and show that the symbolic power of the media and of the city is reaffirmed in everyday life. The media and the city take their meanings through communication practices across the city: from upmarket shopping malls where the representations of the city are made and consumed (chapter 3), to backstreets of impoverished neighbourhoods where creativity becomes a symbolic bridge to the other side of the world (chapter 4), to mediated networks that invent and re-invent communities (chapter 5), all the way to claims for recognition through acts of revolt in the urban and virtual street (chapter 6). This approach emphasizes that social actors are makers of meanings of the city and of the media: the urban dwellers, the consumers, the visitors, those seeking refuge are part of the story of the city, even if always from unequal positions. But there is a consequent and important element of this argument: the city is a site of struggle. And the very many struggles for symbolic and material resources in the city increasingly unravel at the meeting of the media and the city: when protesters use social media to gain local and global presence or when music becomes a tool for representing marginalized urban identities.

The book’s empirical focus is London. London is a very powerful but far from unique case: global connectivity, cultural diversity, representational appeal and histories of mobility, creativity and political action take their distinct forms in each location but they reflect conditions that are increasingly shared across cities, especially global cities. Thus London provides a comparative starting point for understanding a synergetic relation which is most powerful in the established global cities of the global North, but which is far from exclusively contained by those cities as argued throughout the book. London provides a platform for developing a thick analysis, avoiding indiscriminate generalizations. A starting point and an empirical basis, the discussion sets forward an agenda and an argument of wider relevance.

Grounded in the mediated city

The case of Batman, among so many cinematic representations, news agendas and consumption patterns shows that the relation of media and the city has become synergetic but ordinary, so much so that it is rarely spoken about, even in media and communications studies. In research agendas, this taken-for-grantedness is expressed as a paradox: the more mediation shapes and is shaped by growing urbanization, the further away we move from studying cities. The intense, and partly novel, centrifugal power of networks (Castells 2009) has become so overwhelming that the centripetal power of the city has ended by being almost ignored. Yet, the global city’s power to attract people, ideas, money, technologies and media encapsulates in the most vivid and intense manner the empirical meeting point of Appadurai’s ‘scapes’ (1996) and reveals the core nodes of Castells’s network society (1996). No other city is more connected, more networked and diverse than the global city (Sassen 2001).

In this context and in the first instance, this book arises from a necessity to study what becomes obvious: those increasingly important synergies described above. Beyond the obvious lies the unexplored. This book represents an attempt to understand the ways in which media and the city co-constitute each other and the consequences of their synergies for cultural and social life. In the global city, these expressions and consequences are most striking, though not unique. If we start by looking from the top down, these synergies are expressed in the over-concentration of cultural industries in a small number of global cities – elsewhere called global metropoles, alpha cities or world cities – as will be discussed in the next chapter. Neoliberalism’s advance, expressed in the domination and celebration of the market as the driving and organizing force of public and private life (Lemke 2001), has been aggressively promoted in the urban governance of many cities around the world (Sassen 2001; Harvey 2009) – global or other – with direct benefits for the cultural industries. If we then look at these synergies from the bottom up, they become messier. They reflect neoliberalism’s domination, especially when it comes to the commodification of culture and the neoliberal celebration of difference reduced to ‘ethnic cuisines’ and urban fashion. But they also reflect moments of resistance to the political and economic order through practices of revolt and urban dwellers’ daily attempts to manage difference and inequality in the ways in which they communicate with others and use the media as interpretative tools for understanding the world that surrounds them. Most importantly, if we look at the media and city synergies as a dialectic relationship which is both bottom-up and top-down, it becomes possible to observe a complex and contradictory relationship, one that intensifies the proximity between individuals and groups and their ability to communicate across difference, while at the same time enabling them to hide from each other in segregated, mediated spaces and in individualistic and competitive spheres of self-interest.

The ambivalent consequences of the relationship between media and the city reflect the tensions of cosmopolitanization. If we think of cosmopolitanization as a process (Beck 2006, 2009), associated with Sennett’s definition of cosmopolitanism as grounded in social experience (2002) and Robbins’s definition of cosmopolitanism as lived (1998), then the city is where we can observe this with all its intensity and contradictions. The intensification of mobility and mediation has advanced cosmopolitanization as a process of individuals’ constant exposure to one other, of boundary erosion, and of challenge to the domination of the nation-state as the primary organizing system of cultural and political life (Beck 2006). While cosmopolitanization opens up spaces for communication, it does not predetermine the ways in which we communicate, construct our identities and our sense of citizenship. As will be argued, cosmopolitanization in the city is work in progress, an unresolved condition: an asset for the city and its brand, an inescapable and constant exposure to difference, yet a process with uncertain consequences for citizenship, equality and recognition.

In the absence of much academic research on the ways in which media and the city become shaped by and shape cosmopolitanization, this book begins an empirical exploration of a familiar but under-studied territory. I start by recording the evidence of powerful synergies – the over-concentration of cultural industries in global cities, the branding mergers of city and media as shown in numerous cinematic and televisual representations, and the collaborations between urban government and cultural industry, to name but a few. I then move outwards and downwards from these top-tier synergies in order to understand what happens beneath the surface and the glamorization of the media and the city synergies: when it comes to messy and uneven spaces of creativity, claims to urban territories or representation of urban difference in the media. Synergies at the top are the ones best recorded in media and communications research and in urban geography. Yet a singular focus on economics, even on the political economy of the media and city relation, is far from enough; most importantly it fails to understand the city as a multilayered site of struggle. Corporate media and city government synergies play a strategic role in the reproduction of economic and symbolic power, precisely because neoliberalism depends on symbolic forms – information, communication systems and perceptions (Garnham 2011; Lemke 2001) – as commodities but also as regulators of the market. Importantly, these synergies represent the top tier of a complex and diffused cultural economy, which, however, expands across all layers of urban life in ways that both reproduce hegemony and occasionally challenge it.

Since every city is a place of inequality as well as a place of excitement, a place that is lived in and a place that is consumed, a symbolic space that is imagined on screens and on the street, a multi-focal and interdisciplinary approach is required. In both its spatial dimensions, the city reveals the ways in which place is currently configured through the media. The ways in which it shifts between the real and the virtual shape place as a commodity, as well as a space of expression and participation. The book engages with these conceptual and empirical incarnations of the city, as discussed in global city literature, but most importantly with the ways in which everyday life and the urban street become meaningful contexts for understanding complex and contradictory experiences and media appropriations in all cities. While strategic collaborations originating in corporate headquarters or urban government offices are driven by interests in profit, market growth and the expansion of networks and business capabilities, the story of the urban street is much more complex. Do we see only the reproduction of neoliberalism and its reinforcement through the enactment of prescribed roles among urban dwellers: as consumers, as labour, as audiences? Movements such as Occupy, urban riots, but also more nuanced forms of action such as graffiti and music production suggest otherwise, as will be argued. Communication practicess, which involve a vast range of ordinary acts, including the languages we speak in and over or the music we play or unintentionally hear, also challenge a prescriptive and top-down understanding of the mediated street.

Thus, and if we accept that cosmopolitanization is currently taking place in the involuntary close encounters of difference, especially as a result of the intensified transnational flows of people, ideas and media, it presents us with a challenge: the need to understand the cultural and political consequences of close – and intensified – proximities. Cosmopolitanization as a process (Beck 2006, 2009) is not neutral; it is confronted by the dual meaning of cosmopolitanism: as operational concept grounded in social experience and as an ambivalent vision attached to contradictory ideologies of worldliness, responsibility and citizenship (Gilroy 2004; Harvey 2009). Cosmopolitanization as a messy, lived reality in the global city forces us to pay attention to encounters of difference and their consequences. Expanded and extended in all layers of city life through physical and mediated encounters with difference, cosmopolitanism demands a particular kind of visionary orientation that challenges the taken-for-grantedness of Eurocentrism, western liberal democracy and the advance of neoliberalism. The increasingly intense, multiple and complex encounters with difference resulting from the diversification of flows of people, ideas, media and technology cannot be taken for granted merely as reflections of cosmopolitanization. Instead, we need to ask whether they give rise to possibilities for cosmopolitan agency (Papastergiadis 2012) and for cosmopolitan democracy (Calhoun 2002; Gilroy 2004). Cosmopolitanization may be incomplete, unpredictable and unresolved, but it creates unique opportunities for cosmopolitan trajectories and for making claims to symbolic and material resources in the urban mediated world.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 will show that any claim to the city as a space of identity and citizenship is constantly confronted by and negotiated through the claims of other groups who occupy the same physical and symbolic spaces. If the city is a space of alterity (Isin 2002), it is also a space of communication: close proximity to difference makes contact inevitable, with consequences for the ways in which the city is lived and symbolically constructed. The multitudes and multiplicities of identities, communities, consumer cultures and political action associated with the city are not a result of things happening elsewhere; they are not small-scale representations of what happens on the national level or in the global markets. They take their forms in the city, but only and increasingly through the inevitability of physical and mediated encounters with difference. Since urban subjects have no choice but to encounter difference, they also have no choice but to think of the self through the others (even if this means in opposition to them). How much this process becomes dialogical, and how much confrontational, depends on context and on a number of variants. Some of those most important variants will be discussed in the following chapters.

We can perhaps for a moment think of the mixed and contradictory meanings of cosmopolitanism through a historical and metaphorical reference to flânerie. Flânerie, i.e. the experience and method of wandering in the city, observing, reflecting on and possibly acting upon the opportunities and challenges presented by the concentration and the intense contact of differences, has historically captured the many different trajectories of cosmopolitanism. Representing one of the earliest forms of cosmopolitan exploration through wandering and a method for analysing the city, flânerie has also been associated with an elitist viewpoint for observing with fascination the city and its difference. If we think about cosmopolitanization we might consider whether this presents yet another way in which those subjects who are media savvy and well connected through networks can wander as contemporary flâneurs through the city in aesthetic explorations of difference. A possibility, and one of the many expressions of cosmopolitanization, this kind of aesthetic experimentation in the city can be observed in the middle classes’ return to the inner city, in new forms of alternative tourism, in advertisers’ appropriations of graffiti and urban music. At the same time, and if we go back to Benjamin’s cosmopolitan flânerie, we can see that his cosmopolitan wanderings can be far from aesthetic explorations. For Benjamin, flânerie was a way of understanding the city as a site of struggle, as an unequal place, but also as an unpredictable place, precisely because it has always been a point of meetings of difference (1997, 2004). This possibility – both academic and urban – represents a very different expression of cosmopolitan practice from the one described above. This different kind of wandering in the city links to a possibility for cosmopolitan agency and cosmopolitan politics that are reflexive, critical and potentially more inclusive. As will be shown, different flâneurs – elite and working class; reflexive and aesthetic – exist next to each other in the city, in the same way that they exist next to each other in the academic community.

In this context, I am interested in exploring the contradictory expressions of cosmopolitanism in urban narratives and practice while reflecting on its diverse academic theorizations. More specifically, I am interested in the ways in which neoliberal cosmopolitanism can exist next to vernacular cosmopolitanism and in exploring different kinds of possibilities and limitations of cosmopolitan democracy (Calhoun 2002) and of a liberatory cosmopolitanism (Harvey 2009). Unlike Beck’s analysis, which emphasizes reflexive individualism and the retreat of class antagonism, I want to explore the persistence of classed and antagonistic versions of cosmopolitan discourses in the city. Thinking of cosmopolitanism through cultural and social experience, especially as this has been changing through mediation, I discuss the ways in which cosmopolitanism involves diverging discourses and practices that are subject to class, gender, ethnicity and urban and national identities.

This discussion captures a particular spatial and historical moment in the city’s construction through difference, which is explored through the contradictory experiences and effects of cosmopolitanism. This moment is about the present: a time of intense human mobility, but also of intense mediation. This moment is about certain places of significance in our times: the cities with an intense concentration of symbolic power and diversity. These are the cities that cannot be imagined, internally or externally, without the intense juxtapositions of difference between people or outside sophisticated mediated systems that construct both the city’s cultural identity and its value as a commodity. These are the cities that have accumulated these characteristics through centuries of colonialism, postcolonialism and concentration of capital. These are the cities in the top tier of the global order which so many cities aspire to compete with. These are the cities we need to turn to in order to most vividly observe and understand the tensions, limitations and promises of cosmopolitanism.

Revisiting the global city

The urban imaginary that emerges out of these processes is divided and political. Familiar images associated with the urban age (Burdett and Sudjic 2007) start with grim and overcrowded shanty towns, the homeless and the unemployed and expand all the way to sleek skyscrapers, affluent urbanites and prestigious cultural buildings. Turn to the publications of policy and charitable organizations and images of the first kind appear in abundance. Open up a tourist brochure or a popular magazine and representations of the second kind are plentiful, colourful and reaffirmed as familiar. Try to find representations of these two sides of the urban story in the same media location and it becomes almost impossible.

There is something about the two sides of city life that are hard to reconcile in urban representations. Perhaps these are sides hardly reconciled in human experience of the city. Indeed, there are at least two sets of realities in the city that appear to be worlds apart. Do shanty towns have anything to do with rich, gated communities or global financial centres? Do illegal migrants living in grim, inner-city neighbourhoods have anything to do with urban socialites? The answer is again unsurprising, yet less obvious. When illegal migrants build the sleek skyscrapers and their music is overheard on their mobile phones on the urban street, when filmic representations of shanty towns premiere in cinemas full of urban socialites being served cocktails by shanty-town dwellers, and when global capitalism sustains the position of certain cities as desirable destinations for migrants, different stories become entangled in a single urban reality.

According to the United Nations (UN), not only does more than half of the world’s population now live in cities, but by 2015 it is expected that twenty-two megacities will each host more than ten million people (UN 2010). These megacities include the likes of New York and Los Angeles, but also Calcutta, Cairo and São Paulo. The challenges that urbanization presents to the cities of the North and of the South vary enormously, but, even within this complexity, a universal challenge for all humanity lies in the mere domination of the urban. Globally intensified urbanization reflects to a great extent the city’s qualities (real and imaginary) as a refuge, as a location of hospitality (Derrida 2001b) and as a location of concentrated financial power (Sassen 2001). These qualities inform and reflect urban diversity, which cannot but be recognized as central to any discussion of the city. While human mobility goes back to the beginning of human history, it has presently reached unprecedented volume, intensity and diversity (IOM 2010). Long-standing and sustained human mobility shapes the contemporary city and has a particular significance in the case of the global city. The global city has its distinct characteristics as a cultural, social and political formation: intense diversity; an over-concentration of economic and symbolic power; high-level communication infrastructure and a significant level of autonomy from the national government (Sassen 2001). In this book, the global city is discussed in its complexity and diversity as a concept and as a context, as a node in mediated networks and as a container of symbolic power.

Within the present discussion, the global city’s role as a centre of cultural command is crucial. This role is sustained through the accumulation of power by cultural industries, but also through the sustained reputation of the city as a location where global culture is produced. The global city’s cultural hegemony depends on its strategic position in different flows, most influentially defined by Appadurai (1996) as mediascapes, ideoscapes and ethnoscapes. Mediascapes provide ‘large and complex repertoires of images, narratives, and ethnoscapes to viewers throughout the world, in which the world of commodities and the world of news and politics are profoundly mixed’ (ibid.: 35). Ideoscapes represent contrasting ideologies – especially those associated with the hegemonic and Eurocentric interpretations of enlightenment, on the one hand, and its diversified interpretation, especially via the city’s diasporas, on the other. Ideas, narratives and imageries are often initiated in the city and in its rich cultural production that spreads from the cultural industries all the way to the urban backstreets. Alongside these, the ethnoscapes emerging and shaping the city’s openness have become diversified, with migrants originating in different places and moving for different reasons. Transnational human mobility has also turned ethnoscapes into (trans-)urban communities, increasingly linked (or opposed) to other local and transnational communities. Cultural forms and flows of people, media and ideas are fragile, their particularisms are contextual and their organization and paths non-isomorphic. Thus, different cultural forms overlap and clash, becoming shaped through meetings and disjunctures that are local in their expressions and global in their effect.

The global city represents a site where encounters with difference have always shaped urban life, yet at no other time in history has the mobility of ideas, images and people followed such diverse, rapid and rich paths. While these paths do not by definition go through the city, they often do. They come together, cross-fertilize one another and clash in their top-down representations by the media and the authorities in the global city, in its organic communication unfolding in urban neighbourhoods, in the claims that are made to a presence in public life and in the clashes arising out of the city’s intense social and representational inequalities. The global city is an unsettled place. In its political autonomy from the nation and its immense concentration of power, it is simultaneously a location of liberty and of order (Isin 2002).

The media embrace and enact an ambivalent and powerful role as they give voice to people, creating spaces for representations of difference, while at the same time supporting systems that control and discipline any deviance through state and corporate surveillance. These struggles around the media as technologies of control or emancipation can be observed in most elements of city life: where popular culture, such as fashion and music, sometimes suppresses diversity and pushes it to the margin and at other times gives it space for expression; where meanings of urbanity and diversity become battlegrounds of ideas as politicians and advertisers place groups into bounded social categories or where they realize the impossibility of this boundedness. These power struggles are expressed in tense juxtapositions of competing forces: between cultural industries and creative labour; between projects of identity and commodification; between claims to presence and surveillance. What these power struggles also produce is the actual city. As Isin (2002) puts it, the city is a difference machine, a producer of identities in its dynamics. ‘Neither groups nor their identities exist before the encounter with the city,’ he argues (ibid.: 49). One of the key elements of Isin’s analysis is the constant possibility – and often the realization – of conflict in the city through the awareness among urban dwellers of oppositions and differences rubbing against each other when they make shared or conflicting claims to the physical and symbolic spaces of the city. The possibility of conflict, and certainly of opposition, is inherent in the city – and in the identities formed in its territory – as much as it is in communication. Opposition is largely concerned with awareness of difference. And the city leaves little space for lack of this awareness.

Does the intensification of city and media synergies represent just another story of neoliberalism’s advance? Or does this relationship reveal the ways in which our social and cultural life changes precisely as a result of the city becoming a mediated and complex meeting place? While the city – especially the capital city and recently the global city – has long been the most important site of struggles associated with the emergence and establishment of capitalism, these struggles have become increasingly complex. As neoliberal capitalism is flexible and global and as market values saturate all elements of social and cultural life, it also becomes diffused in everyday life and in the way family relations, leisure and work are organized. Media and communications play a contradictory role in the neoliberal project. On the one hand, the global city is the ultimate neoliberal city: it reinforces its global leadership through digital networks that bring back to the city investment, information and people attracted to opportunities for work and for wealth. In this process, communication technologies have become enablers of social and cultural change, especially in two ways: in making possible the constant exchange of money and information between the global city and other parts of the world and in circulating within and beyond its territory neoliberal values and practices. On the other hand, the advance of media and digital communications has diffused access to media production, consumption and circulation, providing opportunities for new forms and new platforms of production and possibilities for a diverse and rich consumption that surpasses the singularity and boundedness of national mediascapes.

Among the global cities where neoliberalism thrives and where struggles for access to symbolic and material resources are intense, London represents a powerful case. Not a unique but a representative case of a global city, London is a city of ‘multiple actors, trajectories, stories with their own energies – which may mingle in harmony, collide, even annihilate each other’ (Eade 2000; Massey 2007: 22). London, Massey continues, is ‘not a kind of pyramid, with finance as its shining citadel and the rest of us in one way or another dependent upon it’ (2007: 22); rather the city is a multilayered organism with interaction, communication and interdependences flowing between its different layers, even if the result of these flows is often reinforced inequalities.

As all cities, London provides a framework that ‘allows us to reflect on the cultural consequences of globalization from an other than national perspective . . . to open up some alternative cultural and political possibilities’, as Robins writes (2001: 86). Indeed, each city as a living and lived space allows us to observe the emergence and circulation of meanings of the self and of the other through contact, through mobility and through urban transience and openness, as intensified by digital communication. London, like every city of course, is also a unique place. It is a city with a long history of exercising hegemony through the Empire and more recently through its neoliberal leadership in financial markets. London is also a city with established flows of migration, but also of cultural exchange, partly as a result of migration, partly of the incorporation of the local popular culture into national and global media representations. It has become known as the ultimate global city in a uniquely powerful way of celebrating its image as a global centre, a world city, a cosmopolitan hub.

Importantly, like most cities and certainly like other (established and emerging) global cities, London is not only loaded with mediated representations. It is also a place producing mediated representations and framing meanings of mediation on local, national and transnational levels. This becomes apparent in the ways in which music, art and fashion created on the urban streets spill across the city and beyond, in the ways in which political protests and conflicts in the city are linked to claims made across the city, the nation and the globe, and even in the ordinary ways in which residents and tourists navigate the city’s territories: through tourist guides, ‘apps’ and media that inform them of desirable destinations and no-go areas. As media are shaped and made sense of in the city, they both function in enabling the diffusion of neoliberal values and in destabilizing their orthodoxy. Possibilities for the destabilization of the neoliberal project are presented when urban dwellers, especially those not traditionally linked to centres of power, acquire access to media forms and communication systems that are themselves involved in the production of symbolic power. Minority, diasporic and alternative media, digital activist networks, but also music, graffiti and certain cultures of consumption are some such cases discussed in this book.

Mediation and power

The chosen interfaces of consumption, identity, community and action and the corresponding cases discussed in the book reveal the deliberately inclusive definition of the media that I adopt. I do so for two reasons. Firstly, urban communication is fluid and may be face to face, communal, grounded in place or mediated over long distances. Secondly, the convergence of media industries, technologies and platforms, alongside the fluid circulation of symbolic forms of digital social media, challenges any neat separation of what can be called mediated and non-mediated systems of communication. For this reason, I turn to the concept of mediation as a more useful concept vis-à-vis the media as distinct and separate technologies. Drawing on Silverstone’s definition of mediation (2007), I study the dialectical processes in which institutions and audiences are involved in the circulation of symbolic forms enabled through the media, but not exclusively located within the media. Mediation does not exclude interpersonal communication; rather, interpersonal communication is a requirement of mediation as it is precisely in the practice of everyday life that symbolic forms take their meanings. Behind Silverstone’s (2007) definition of mediation lies the almost unspoken recognition of the central significance of symbolic power in contemporary societies. Producing, having access to and consuming the variety of symbolic forms that surround us means participating in, even occasionally controlling, the symbolic processes associated with the construction of identity, of the city, of the proximate and distant social world. It is these moments of production, access and consumption of symbolic forms at the meeting of the city as a lived space and the media as communication systems that intrigue me. This is where cosmopolitanism becomes associated with the social and communicative experience, where the increased exposure to one another becomes a way of making sense of the city, but also of making claims to symbolic power in the city.

The global city’s symbolic power is reproduced in images of the city as a unique location of diversity and of a fascinating openness. Such images have come to frame its corporate representations as a market and as a product. Its qualities and representations as a site of difference, and thus of indifference, tolerance and hospitality, have made the city recognizable as a social form and as a cultural space that is attractive to media producers and consumers. The attractiveness of the city to the media has in many ways reinforced global hierarchies: day in, day out, the media represent the city as powerful, culturally diverse, but also an almost inevitably unequal place with over-concentration of symbolic and economic power at the top. At the same time, the wide circulation of such representations has reinforced the identity of the city as an attractive destination for its different consumers and (potential) dwellers. Importantly, it is these same processes of mediated disembodiment and un-placing of the city that make it marketable as a commodity and a potentially inclusive place open to different people – those seeking refuge, a space of identity, community, expressivity and action.

At the same time, transnational flows of money, people, commodities, ideas and technologies show that ‘the global’ in the global city is multilayered not only internally, but also in its external interconnections. It only takes a glance at the city centre constantly crowded with tourists to realize that one of the core elements of ‘the global’ is expressed in the cultural transience of the city. The activities of cultural industries include the circulation of media products such as television programmes, music and film that, arguably, contribute as much to a global city’s importance as do its museums. Alongside these, diasporic and migrant networks, although less glamorous than the core of the metropolitan city, globalize the city in two ways: by circulating such media products as diasporic film, television and music, and by establishing transnational interpersonal communication as an ordinary, daily element of city life. It is such corporate, creative and interpersonal activity that turns ‘the global’ into organic, rooted and powerful urban realities. Airports and train stations link locations and people’s lives and enable the interconnection, continuity and transience of place. Computers, digital networks, television screens, cables and satellites expand further connections of people’s relations, their understanding of the world and human interaction. It is in this complex and constant production of globality through internal and external heterogeneity, and in internal and external networked connections, that cosmopolitanism becomes rooted, routed and challenged.