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Polycentrism is the principle of organization of a region around several political, social or financial centres. Examples of polycentric cities include the Ruhr area in Germany, Randstad in the Netherlands and Stoke-on-Trent in the UK. Today, the former is a large city that grew from a dozen smaller cities, the latter a federation of six smaller towns. As a result, these "cities" have no single centre, but several.

A county is said to be polycentric if its population is distributed almost evenly among several centres in different parts of the county.

The theory of polycentrism was coined by Palmiro Togliatti and was understood as characterization of working conditions of communist parties in comparison between different countries after the de-stalinization in the former Soviet Union 1956.

Later the term polycentrism was extended and used for a system with several centres, as unity in diversity (politology, architecture, city planning).

In intercultural competence the term polycentrism is understood as attitude and openness towards other cultures, opinions and ways of life: when intercultural actions and correlations are interpreted not only with the background of own cultural experiences, but when the independence of other cultures is recognized and appreciated and when cultural values are relativized and seen in the whole context. This in the way of non-ethnocentrism, opposite to ethnocentrism.

In an article in The Nation (March 6, 2006) on "The World Social Forum: Protest or Celebration," Michael Blanding writes, "This year, the Caracas forum was one of three in a new 'polycentric' format intended to foster more regional collaboration." The quotes around "polycentric" indicate that this is a new use of the word. It is apt, in that most of those who attend gatherings like the World Social Forum are opposed to what could be called the "unicentrism" that characterizes imperial, neoliberal, and neoconservative economic and political theories and institutions; such people could be said to adherents to "polycentrism."

Some noted scholars

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