What is a “Global City”?

The term was coined in the 1990s by urban sociologist Saskia Sassen. She described the Global City as a global financial center of transnational companies. Not only urban changes regarding economics or politics are crucial to the term Global City as is extends to the realm of arts and culture, as well. Progressing globalization and digitalization led to the development a new form of urban space where “the old spatialities and temporalities of the national and the new ones of the global digital age engage. Out of their juxtaposition comes the possibility of a whole series of new economic and cultural projects.” 1 Big migration flows since the 1960s constitute the key component of Istanbul’s transformation into a global city. They entailed the development of unique informal settlements (gecekondus), political struggles about the use of urban space as well as various, co-existing forms of everyday life.


Mapping Global City Istanbul – An Ethnographic Research Project at the University of Göttingen.

By the changing shape of the Istanbul skyline, the rapid growth of material production within the city since the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) rose to power in 2002 is easily visible to the city’s inhabitants. Over the past two decades, Istanbul has undergone a neoliberal restructuring process. 2 Progressing globalization and digitalization have not only turned the city into a site absorbing surplus value – an epicenter of the accumulation of capital – they have also formed a new urban space in which traditional national spatial arrangements engage with those of the global digital age. 3 These deep changes of the city’s surface and its inner organization gave rise to various forms of protest and opposition.

These transformations as well as the opposition they encounter were at the center of our interest during the seminar “Global City Istanbul” held at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology at the University of Göttingen during the winter semester 2013/14 and the summer semester 2014. The seminar was supervised by Prof. Dr. Sabine Hess and Dr. Gerda Heck.

The first term saw us working on different theoretical approaches and issues: urban anthropology, anthropology of neoliberalism, migration studies, queer studies, historical and postcolonial approaches to the development of urban spaces, the history of inner migration in Turkey, and the development of Istanbul in the 20th century. In several research groups, we aimed to develop both a research interest and an agenda. Our plans were put into practice during a research trip to Istanbul in May 2014. Travelling to Istanbul, we had the chance to meet and to speak with different experts (i.e. researchers of urban transformation at the Boğaziçi University, activists from different city districts, and members of migrant organizations). Furthermore, we met political activists, migrants and refugees from Syria and Africa. By walking e.g. through Kadiköy, Beşiktaş, Beyoğlu and Tarlabaşı, we learned more about the transformation and organization of Istanbul. At the meantime, we conducted our own research projects focused various issues:

Erasmus students in Istanbul: The idea behind the research project on the Erasmus Programme and its manifestations in Istanbul was to look into why students from all over Europe chose Istanbul as their destination, how they are living in the global city and how they are shaping the urban space.

Queerstanbul: This research project broached issues of love, gender and sexuality regarding everyday life of LGBTIQ* in Istanbul. After the visit in May, the research group traveled to Istanbul again during Pride Week 2014, deepening their knowledge and working on an exhibition presented in Göttingen in December 2014.

Street Art Istanbul: The aim of the research project on street art in Istanbul was to examine the diversity of street art and the different purposes of this form of appropriation of the public space.

Squatting: This research project focused the connection between the Gezi Protests and the squatting scene in Istanbul as well as the historical development of squatting and political protests in Turkey.

Refuge within transnational networks – Syrian students in Istanbul: By concentrating on Syrian students at the Sehir University, this research project describes the stories and challenges of young refugees living under fragile conditions in Istanbul.

Strategies within and beyond Fortress Europe: This research concerned with refugees in Istanbul, mainly from Syria, was conducted at various places, districts and organizations within the city. Here, the very different lives, challenges and hopes of refugees become visible.

The idea of “Mapping Global City Istanbul“ was developed over the course of the seminar. The main concerns were to bring our findings together, to highlight certain themes guiding our research and to show our different approaches to research in a global city. This makes “Mapping Global City Istanbul” an attempt at using and experimenting with a new form of data presentation in Cultural Anthropology. It was introduced on the 8th of July 2015 at the University of Göttingen. We are thankful to all the people and institutions that helped us in affording the opportunity to convert our research and ideas. The project is open for further contributions. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us under Fiedler_Mathias(at)web.de


  1. 1 Sassen, Saskia: The Global City – The De-Nationalization of Time and Space, (last accessed July 2015), p. 18.
  2. 2 Kullouglu, Biray/Candan, Ayfer Bartu: “Emerging Spaces of Neoliberalism: A gated Town and a Public Housing Project in Istanbul”, in: New Perspectives on Turkey 39 (2008) fall, pp. 5-47, here p. 5.
  3. 3 Sassen, Saskia: The Global City – The De-Nationalizing of Time and Space, (last accessed July 2015).