The Global City theory, with Saskia Sassen as its main scholar, explains the paradox of the growing concentration of economic activity in certain places in an era of globalisation, in which distance appears to be “tamed” by information technology, by stating that some of these places (notably Global Cities) manage the complexities that arise from the fact that firms increasingly operate in multiple markets. Increasingly, headquarters of multinational corporations outsource the complex business processes dealing with the coordination of international production to specialised producer service firms (for example, accountancy firms, law firms, consultancy firms). These firms tend to cluster in Global Cities because of the complex nature of the processes these firms are involved in and therefore require face-toface communication of highly skilled professionals on a daily basis. The urban areas and the firms dealing with the complexities of economic globalisation are assumed to have global connections with each other because of their need to provide services at a global scale. One of the assumed prerequisites of the advanced producer services involved is a hypermobile elite performing complex tasks in an economy in which firms operate globally. However, the question is to what extent this elite truly is hyper-mobile in the sense of being entirely footloose. Recent findings in the geography of knowledge suggest that a certain type of knowledge (tacit knowledge) is hard to transfer without a shared context and tends to be spatially clustered, while another type (codified knowledge) has a much more universal character and is more or less flowing freely around the globe. This chimes with the perceived place-boundedness of occupations associated with operating in multiple markets. So there is a tension between the notion of a hyper-mobile, footloose elite on the one hand and the geographical embeddedness of ‘tacit knowledge’ on the other. The central point of this report is that there are many realms – especially globally operating advanced producer service firms – that offer both the possibility of global mobility and function as a context for the development, distribution and utilisation of tacit knowledge. Reviewing the body of literature on the geography of knowledge, there are a number of assumptions on tacit knowledge that are widely agreed upon: first, the distinction between tacit and codified knowledge; second, tacit knowledge needs a constant context for adequate transfer and communication; third, there are different kinds of skills associated with the different kinds of knowledge; fourth, the reliance on geographical proximity is greater for tacit knowledge than for codified knowledge; fifth and last, there could be other forms of proximity (relational, cultural, institutional) that play a role in facilitating the transfer of tacit knowledge. These assumptions were used as guiding principles in an empirical study of highly-skilled Indian employees of Capgemini in the Netherlands. The most important finding was that there are multiple proximities that play a role in facilitating or hampering a smooth transfer from one context (be it a geography, a company or a culture) to another.

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Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS)
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Touburg, G. (2010). Soft Skills, Tacit Ties: An Explorative Case Study about the Relationship between Knowledge Types and Migration Patterns. Retrieved from