Center Periphery

2021 Type: Glossary

According to Saskia Sassen, the restructuring of cities has a new geography: on the one hand a “geography of centrality” connected with the global economy, on the other a “geography of marginality consisting of businesses, workers, and transactions that are being increasingly devalued and either subordinated or marginalized by dominant sectors.” This new marginality involves several factors: “the inevitable ‘creative destruction’ that is part of growth; losses resulting from national and international competition; insufficient quality of production factors; unemployment or surplus capacity, etc.”

Geographies of centrality and marginality can be mapped at various scales: metropolitan areas have both citadel-archipelagos and pockets of poverty (local), booming service industry zones and declining industrial sites (regional), rising global city agglomerations and neglected urban areas with little or no link to processes of globalization (global). This gives a new meaning to terms like “centrality” and “marginality,” which once stood for a duality between highly developed industrial nations and “Third World” countries: “These intensifying inequalities stand for a change in the geography of center and periphery, showing that processes of peripheralization are now taking place in what were previously considered ‘core zones,’ be it on the global, regional, or urban level. They also show that these intensifying processes of peripheralization are accompanied by a strengthening of centrality on all levels.”

Center and periphery must therefore be conceived of and portrayed in new ways. Rather than the traditional concentric model, one must assume fragmented patterns of relations within a disparate urban fabric that is characterized by processes of both concentration and de-concentration and that possesses variously dimensioned centers and peripheries.

In many parts of the world, cities are indeed now growing differently compared with the Fordist postwar era. The familiar forms of the urban, with dominant, densely developed inner cities surrounded by rings of commercial and residential usage with decreasing density, have become less important.

Klaus Ronneberger is a freelance writer and co-curator of Plâce International: Die 73 Tage der Commune oder der lange Wellenschlag der Revolution at FFT Theater Dusseldorf. Recent publications include: Peripherie und Ungleichzeitigkeit. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Henri Lefebvre und Jacques Tati als Kritiker des fordistischen Alltags (Adocs 2015) and “1968 und die urbane Revolte,” in: Johannes Porsch, Hedwig Saxenhuber, Georg Schöllhammer (eds.): Wer war 1968? (Salzburg 2018).