(Movement): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

Our session aims to discuss the role of city diplomacy in a winder geographical and period context. It is embedded into a general vision of "diplomacy", seen city diplomatic relations and foreign relations as broad expressions of an urban reality, that so far has been shadowed by the central states' administrative efforts (state diplomacy, foreign politics, ministries of international affairs).

Conventionally, there is a vast academic literature on state diplomacy but less on discussing the role of city diplomacy. From the antiquity (Athens, Rome) and medieval city networks, through 17th and 18th growth of capital cities and finally to Cold War's twin city relations and city networks in an EU/global environment, one might say: cities have been diplomatic actors in Europe and beyond for a long time.

Diplomacy here might be defined as the institutions and processes by which local government or City Halls in general involve themselves in relations or as actors on an international political stage with the aim of representing themselves and their interests to one another.  We are interested in different kind of aspects in city diplomacy and subnational urban activism: branding and lobbying, information spreading, economic and political outreach, exchange or other forms of "foreign" relations, twin cities and networks - meaning the contacts beyond national borders with other urban and regional administrations, states, international organizations or foreign audiences. Although still seldom-studied in an academic historic environment, we are convinced that international contacts have often been essential to the development of cities and to their urban self-understanding.

Our session wants to focus more scholarly attention on the diplomatic functions of cities. We consider that city diplomacy research could profit from a more varied empirical and comparative material. We hope to attract a great variation of paper proposals when it comes to geographical terms, including centre/periphery axis in European and American cities and Asian megalopolises, but a lot of variation in chronological terms, by rediscovering the historical roots of current involvements. By using the conception of city diplomacy, we plan to study in historical depth a variety of aspects in international outreach as practiced by cities at three levels:

  • By showing long-term historical evolutions to current cities' international activities.
  • By looking at empirical case studies, namely single cities with their long durée role in foreign politics
  • By looking at certain historical periods (like Cold War) when cities were parts of a “hybridized diplomacy” mixing state and non-state practitioners

  • Spokesperson: Laura Kolbe, University of Helsinki
  • Co-organizer(s): Louis Clerc, University of Turku
  • Keywords: City diplomacy | Transnational networks | Urban foreign relations
  • Time period: All periods
  • Topic(s): Political | Geographic Information Systems
  • Study area: More than one continent