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International Relations of Global Cities


Credits: 4 ECTS

First semester

Elective Courses




Cities are emerging as recognised and legitimate actors of the international system and are beginning to have real impact on global governance outcomes. Different factors can explain the emergence of the global city and its challenge regarding the nation-state, which has been the main political actor for centuries. This course will assess the reasons for the empowerment of cities after their long subjugation to the state.

Cities now play a critical role in sustainable development in its different dimensions: economic, social and environmental. The world is increasingly urban–almost 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. The first section of the course will show how the unprecedented size and scale of today’s global cities owe their conditions of possibility to a fundamental shift in the character of political order at the level of the international system.

Cities are engines of growth, home to governments, companies, universities and knowledge-based institutions. They concentrate job opportunities, innovation, creativity and culture. And cities, often operating together in transnational networks and connected through new digital technologies, are also the location of possible solutions to challenges related to climate change, exclusion, poverty and security. In this context, cities are increasingly empowered, as decentralisation has slowly evolved worldwide, and project themselves internationally, aiming to advocate for the defense of their interests in the framework of the global agendas or to grasp opportunities for their development such as new investments, headquarters, events or talent, just to put some examples.

The course will illuminate processes that have shaped cities as increasingly important actors at the international level, as well as assess their motivations and the way they are managing their participation in international relations.


Methodology: The course will combine theoretical and practical approaches to the subject. The four lectures by Simon Curtis will provide a theoretical framework to understand the emergence of global cities in the international system and how they are challenging the historical monopole of nation-states. It will also build on the role of cities in the global order. Agustí Fernández de Losada will help students to understand, from a practical perspective, how cities are operating in the global and regional governance systems (UN, EU, etc.), the key role of city networks and how city diplomacy is becoming a fundamental political tool for cities to address some of their main challenges (climate change, the impact of global markets in cities, migrations and refugees, etc.). Finally, Joan Clos, based on his experience as the Mayor of Barcelona and UN Habitat Director, will address two lectures on the main challenges of global cities.

The practical lectures will combine teacher and student presentations as well as work in groups and debates.

Evaluation: Students will have to select a specific subject, make an oral presentation in class and deliver a final analytical paper.

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)