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The changing social structure of global cities: Professionalisation, proletarianisation or polarisation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1050-1066
Number of pages17
Issue number5
PublishedApr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © Urban Studies Journal Limited 2020.

King's Authors


This paper addresses a simple, but very important, question. How has the occupational class structure of major world or global cities changed in recent decades? This has major social and theoretical implications given the claims made by Friedmann (1986) and Sassen (1991) regarding social polarisation in world or global cities. The paper outlines and compares three positions regarding the changing occupational class structure of world cities and of Western societies in general: professionalisation, proletarianisation and social polarisation. The paper does not provide original empirical evidence. Instead, it provides a wide-ranging overview of evidence from existing studies in a range of cities in both Global North and South over the last 50 years. It concludes that whereas professionalisation is common to most global cities, there is little evidence for proletarianisation, and that polarisation is a contingent outcome in certain cities at certain times. The claims for a common universal pattern are rejected and variations in national economic, political and social structure and policy are argued to be more important.

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