Reexamining Zipf's Law from a World Historical Perspective: Urbanization, Complexity, and the Rank-Size Rule

By Daniel Pasciuti.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Global Studies

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Zipf’s Law is often considered a conspicuous example of empirical regularity in the spatial organization of cities in national boundaries—especially cities within the United States over the last century (Krugman 1986). Complex systems, such as cities, are expected to form a hierarchical power law function in an integrated economic system where the number of cities whose population exceeds S is proportional to 1/S. Anomalies of this pattern are taken as outliers to be explained away, rather than as points of central importance to the system itself. This paper theoretically examines how Zipf’s Law is one dimension of possible urban distributions based on the complexity of power in the world economy and considers the need for a conceptual model capable of considering alternative arrangements of power and the spatial organization of complex urban distributions globally. By placing urbanization and urban development within world historical perspective, alternative urban distributions can be theorized to exist and become contingent formations of political, economic, and social power in the urban system.

Keywords: Urban Development, Zipf's Law, Political Economy

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Global Studies, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.29-40. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 337.098KB).

Daniel Pasciuti

PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

Daniel Pasciuti, a graduate student in the department of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, is currently completing his dissertation examining the role of urban development in the rise and fall of hegemonic powers. He is interested in understanding the modern and historical conditions of urban development in the world economy and in improving the methodologies for estimating historical development through comparative and quantitative analysis.