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Primate Cities

Michael Timberlake

Subject Sociology » Urban, Rural and Community Sociology

Key-Topics city

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


A primate city usually refers to a city that is disproportionately large in terms of population size relative to other cities contained within a given geographically bounded area, such as a region, a nation, or even the globe. Occasionally, other qualities of cities than relative population size are used to identify primacy, for example, indicators of the relative concentration of important organizations, such as headquarters for leading corporations. While the term is often applied to cities considered excessively (and pathologically) large, this is not technically appropriate. In fact Jefferson (1939) , who first used the term, argued that primate cities play an important generative role with respect to national development. The closely related concepts of primate city and urban primacy are rooted in theoretical approaches to urbanization in geography and sociology's human ecology that are about “central places” and “city systems.” From these perspectives, a system of cities emerges historically when economic relationships among locales are first established and then elaborated. For example, once isolated locales may become interlinked through trade. Over time, such exchange relations lead to increasing interdependence among the locales as economic competition induces specialization. Locales specialize by providing a home for producers of the goods and services that are in demand ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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