Prof. Saskia Sassen: « They are about 100 cities which are being bought up in bits and pieces »

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Professor Saskia Sassen. DR.

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In your works, you refer to the « Global City ». Can we oppose the Global City to the State?

Professor Saskia Sassen: In some ways, yes. It is a good question, and one I am rarely asked. It is a kind of triangulation between state – global city – global economy+global culture/politics/movements. The global city emerges partly as a result or outcome of privatization and deregulation of sectors that used to be part of the function of the state, as in public sector entities. The combination of deregulation, allowing firms to move far more freely across borders, and privatization (more entities once in the public sector are now private), means that what used to be state functions are now business functions. Out of that comes the shift form state to city. The global city function I developed/discovered has to do with the broad range of services that are developed in order to meet the needs of firms that want to operate globally. That is why in my formulation the global city rises due to the growing demand for intermediate sectors – notably finance, specialized accounting and law services, consultants f various sorts, that help firms go global, firms that mostly were not global or if global were simply in the export business – exporting their services.

All of this, however, also means that the global city is the space where an increasingly global and digital economy hits the ground, and becomes visible, concrete, men and women who want it all and get it all, e.g. loss of homes by modest middle classes and lower income people, whole neighborhoods being upgraded to luxury status, etc. which in turn makes global cities valuable territory for investors who buy up properties. They are about 100 cities which are being bought up in bits and pieces.

See my piece in the Guardian for some data:

Perhaps your readers interested in culture might enjoy this version: a fairy tale. The images are from my son, who is an artist:

You recently joined the movement Diem25 of Yanis Varoufakis with other famous personalities like Noam Chomsky, Brian Eno, Julian Assange, Ken Loach and other, can you tell us what motivated you to join this group? Can we speak of a new left embodied by this movement? The mainstream media don’t talk about this movement, are they afraid?

Good point. It is a sort of new left, quite practical, with an agenda that pushes each locality to work at it. It is not about a class of leaders who know it all. One feature that interests me, and about which I have written is the need to relocalize whatever pieces of “the” economy we can localize. Do we really need a multinational to get a cup of coffee? I am thinking of Starbucks… but there are so many examples of this in today’s economies. This includes returning to local credit unions or local small banks. Every time we bank at a branch from a global bank, some of what we enable that branch to earn leaves the neighborhood, and goes to central headquarters. This is really bad. These are the types of dynamics that make me say that what dominates our contemporary economies is a logic of extraction. My lemma is “out with all franchises”, we make it locally.

What is the globalization for you?

There are many globalizations. Some are good because they enable transversal, horizontal connections among the less powerful. Some are positively evil because they destroy local economies, for instance via the franchising.

You have a vision for the less nonconformist, is the State in its current form outdated? Should we try something else?

My take for now is that we need the complex apparatus that is a working state. In principle the state should contain the major conflictive alignments: the labor department should combat the finance department for social justice to workers; the national economic department should contest the global affairs department so that the country does not lose to much – say via the new types of trade agreements, which are really investment agreements: they give investors all kinds of securities and capacity to sue states if something goes wrong. I have dealt with a lot of this in my Territory, Authority, Rights book, also translated into German with Suhrkamp.

A working state is a complex capability that can factor in multiple interests and perspectives.

Don’t you think that bankruptcy of capitalist society and its imperialist supra structure is a Marxist schema, thus Marx would be essential to understand what is happening in the city and in the State?

No. I grew up in Latin America and go the full version of a Marxist perspective on everything. It was great. It helped me. But I would not say that it is the only one. I think nowadays we see a whole range of perspectives that are critical, often very concrete, generated by the specific of a region, or a country, or a local economy – say a local economy dominated by large international mining companies is going to be very different from one controlled by a middle class small business sector. The critical literature that emerged in India under the name of the subaltern added a lot to our understanding of the old empires of the 19th and 18th century. I am sure that in countries such as Iran and Pakistan, where there are major scholars and schools of thought, you have yet other contributions to a critical analysis.

The globalization is a topic on which you center mainly your research. Can we say that globalization has only positive aspects or it has negative sides which have aggravated the situation?

As I said earlier it has multiple vectors or forms, some are disastrous, truly evil, others are great for activists who want justice, for the environmental struggle, for poor artists to generate a space for themselves in a world where major museums and rich galleries control what will be defined as good art, etc.

The city is indeed central, but as a sociologist, what do you think of rurality? If you have analyzed the city, including Tokyo, Berlin, New York, etc. what can you say of the rurality? Does the rurality accompany the city in its modernity or does it remain intact, curled up in an old plan?

Good question and important subject. In my new book Expulsions with Fischer Verlag in German (they got the best cover for the book and now out in 12 languages, and another ten coming), I spend a lot of time examining the non – urban, rural, plantations, mining, and all their destructions, expulsions of small holders from their land to develop a plantation which kills the land in a few decades, land that the small farmers have known how to protect for centuries and millennia. The last chapter, the one that I got most engaged with is called Dead Land Dead Water.

Your research on the city has been taken into account by governments in their urban policy?

I don’t know. It is true that many know about the book. But when I see the policies that have been dominant in the last 30 years, it looks tome like they did not read the critiques I have in each chapter of the book. I think they like the idea, but connect it with corporate globalization… and I criticized this for abusing its power, avoiding paying taxes, which means that all our governments, including a well run government such as Germany, are now poorer. This is also part of the extractive logic I referred to above.

You are ranked among the 100 most important thinkers in the world byForeign Policy, a US magazine. How do we live the fact of being one of the most influential women in the world? Can you tell us how you live it?

Well…there are so many of these lists. Further these are annual lists, so I would not be too impressed with that. Plus “thinker” is quite different from “influential”. (Laughter)

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen

Who is the professor Sassen?

Saskia Sassen is a Dutch-American sociologist noted for her analyses of globalization and international migration. Prof. Sassen coined the term Global City. She studied in philosophy and political science at the Université de Poitiers, France, where she obtained a master’s degree in philosophy, at the Universita degli Studi di Roma, and at the University of Buenos Aires. Prof. Sassen studied sociology and economics at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, where she obtained M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

After being a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, Prof. Sassen held various academic positions in and outside the USA, such as the Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. She is currently Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and Centennial Visiting Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Prof. Sassen emerged as a prolific author in urban sociology. She studied the impacts of globalization such as economic restructuring, and how the movements of labor and capital influence urban life. She also studied the influence of communication technology on governance. Prof. Sassen observed how nation states begin to lose power to control these developments, and she studied increasing general transnationalism, including transnational human migration. She identified and described the phenomenon of the global city, her 1991 book having made her a widely quoted author on globalization. An updated edition of her book was published in 2001 and has been translated into 21 languages. In the early 2000s, Saskia Sassen focused on immigration and globalization, with her « denationalization » and « transnationalism » projects.

Professor Sassen has received numerous awards for his research work: in 2004, she received the honoris causa degree in urbanism at Delft University of Technology, in 2013, the Prince of Asturias award in social sciences and in 2014, the honoris causa degree at Universidad de Murcia (Spain) and at Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris).

She is author of numerous articles and writes numerous books, including: The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991) 1st ed. ISBN 0-691-07063-6. The Mobility of Labor and Capital. A Study in International Investment and Labor Flow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) ISBN 0-521-38672-1. Cities in a world economy (Thousand Oaks, Calif. : Pine Forge Press, 2011) updated 4th ed., original 1994; Series: Sociology for a new century, ISBN 1-4129-3680-2. Losing control? Sovereignty in An Age of Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996) Series: University seminars — Leonard Hastings Schoff memorial lectures, ISBN 0-231-10608-4.Globalization and its discontents. Essays on the New Mobility of People and Money (New York: New Press, 1998), ISBN 1-56584-518-8. Guests and aliens(New York: New Press, 1999) ISBN 1-56584-608-7. The global city: New York, London, Tokyo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001) updated 2d ed., original 1991; ISBN 0-691-07063-6. Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, May 2006) ISBN 0-691-09538-8. Awards for TAR: Winner of the 2007, Distinguished Book Award, Political Economy of the World-System Section, by ASA; Winner of the 2007 Robert Jervis and Paul Schroeder Best Book Award, International History and Politics section, by APSA. Elements for a Sociology of Globalization [or A Sociology of Globalization] (W.W. Norton, 2007) ISBN 0-393-92726-1.Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014).

She is fluent in five languages.

Published in American Herald Tribune, April 8, 2016:

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