Saskia Sassen
Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology
University of Chicago
Centennial Visiting Professor
London School of Economics


One of the impacts of globalization on state sovereignty has been to create operational and conceptual openings for other actors and subjects. Various as yet very minor developments signal that the state is no longer the exclusive subject for international law or the only actor in international relations. Other actors -- from NGOs and First-Nation peoples to immigrants and refugees who become subjects of adjudication in human rights decisions-- are increasingly emerging as subjects of international law and actors in international relations. That is to say, these non-state actors can gain visibility as individuals and as collectivities, and come out of the invisibility of aggregate membership in a nation-state exclusively represented by the sovereign. More generally, the ascendance of a large variety of non-state actors in the international arena signals the expansion of an international civil society.

There is an incipient unbundling of the exclusive authority over territory and people we have long associated with the national state. The most strategic instantiation of this unbundling is probably the global city, which operates as a partly de-nationalized platform for global capital and, at the same time is emerging as a key site for the most astounding mix of people from all over the world. The major cities in the world are becoming partly de-nationalized platforms also for immigrants, refugees and minorities.

There are two strategic dynamics I am isolating here: a) the incipient de-nationalizing of specific types of national settings, particularly global cities, and b) the formation of conceptual and operational openings for actors other than the national state in cross-border political dynamics, particularly the new global corporate actors and those collectivities whose experience of membership has not been subsumed fully under nationhood in its modern conception, e.g. minorities, immigrants, first-nation people, and many feminists.

The large city of today emerges as a strategic site for these new types of operations. It is one of the nexi where the formation of new claims materializes and assumes concrete forms. The loss of power at the national level produces the possibility for new forms of power and politics at the subnational level. The national as container of social process and power is cracked (Taylor 1995; Sachar 1990). This cracked casing opens up possibilities for a geography of politics that links subnational spaces. Cities are foremost in this new geography. One question this engenders is how and whether we are seeing the formation of a new type of transnational politics that localizes in these cities.

Including cities in the analysis of economic globalization is not without its consequences. Economic globalization has mostly been conceptualized in terms of the duality national-global where the latter gains at the expense of the former. And it has largely been conceptualized in terms of the internationalization of capital and then only the upper circuits of capital. Introducing cities in this analysis allows us to reconceptualize processes of economic globalization as concrete economic complexes situated in specific places. Place is typically seen as neutralized by the capacity for global communications and control. Also, a focus on cities decomposes the nation state into a variety of sub-national components, some profoundly articulated with the global economy and others not. It signals the declining significance of the national economy as a unitary category in the global economy. And even if to a large extent this was a unitary category constructed in political discourse and policy, it has become even less of a fact in the last fifteen years.

Why does it matter to recover place in analyses of the global economy, particularly place as constituted in major cities? Because it allows us to see the multiplicity of economies and work cultures in which the global information economy is embedded. It also allows us to recover the concrete, localized processes through which globalization exists and to argue that much of the multi-culturalism in large cities is as much a part of globalization as is international finance. Finally, focusing on cities allows us to specify a geography of strategic places at the global scale, places bound to each other by the dynamics of economic globalization. I refer to this as a new geography of centrality.

Is there a transnational politics embedded in the centrality of place and in the new geography of strategic places, such as is for instance the new worldwide grid of global cities? This is a geography that cuts across national borders and the old North-South divide. But it does so along bounded "filieres." It is a set of specific and partial rather than all-encompassing dynamics.(Sassen 1998: chapter 10).

Insofar as my economic analysis of the global city recovers the broad array of jobs and work cultures that are part of the global economy though typically not marked as such, it allows me to examine also the possibility of a new politics of traditionally disadvantaged actors operating in this new transnational economic geography. This is a politics that arises out of actual participation as workers in the global economy, but under conditions of disadvantage and lack of recognition --whether factory workers in export processing zones or cleaners on Wall Street.

The centrality of place in a context of global processes makes possible a transnational economic and political opening for the formation of new claims and hence for the constitution of entitlements, notably rights to place. At the limit, this could be an opening for new forms of "citizenship." The city has indeed emerged as a site for new claims: by global capital which uses the city as an "organizational commodity", but also by disadvantaged sectors of the urban population, frequently as internationalized a presence in large cities as capital. The de-nationalizing of urban space and the formation of new claims by transnational actors, raise the question Whose city is it?

I see this as a type of political opening that contains unifying capacities across national boundaries and sharpening conflicts within such boundaries. Global capital and the new immigrant workforce are two major instances of transnationalized actors that have unifying properties internally and find themselves in contestation with each other inside global cities. Global cities are the sites for the over-valorization of corporate capital and the devalorization of disadvantaged workers, subjects I return to in the following sections.

The leading sectors of corporate capital are now global, in their organization and operations. And many of the disadvantaged workers in global cities are women, immigrants, people of color -- men and women whose sense of membership is not necessarily adequately captured in terms of the national, and indeed often evince cross-border solidarities around issues of substance. Both types of actors find in the global city a strategic site for their economic and political operations.

Immigration, for instance, is one major process through which a new transnational political economy is being constituted, one which is largely embedded in major cities insofar as most immigrants, whether in the US, Japan or Western Europe are concentrated in major cities. It is, in my reading, one of the constitutive processes of globalization today, even though not recognized or represented as such in mainstream accounts of the global economy. (For a full examination of these issues see Sassen 1998: Part One.)

The ascendance of international human rights illustrates some of the actual dynamics through which this operational and conceptual opening can be instituted (Jacobson 1996). International human rights, while rooted in the founding documents of nation-states, are today a force that can undermine the exclusive authority of the state over its nationals and entitles individuals to make claims on grounds that are not derived from the authority of the state.(See also Franck 1992).

The global economy can then be seen as materializing in a worldwide grid of strategic places, uppermost among which are major international business and financial centers (Knox and Taylor 1995; Friedmann 1995; Stren 1996). We can think of this global grid as constituting a new economic geography of centrality, one that cuts across national boundaries and across the old North-South divide. It has emerged as a parallel political geography, a transnational space for the formation of new claims by global capital.

This new economic geography of centrality partly reproduces existing inequalities but also is the outcome of a dynamic specific to the current forms of economic growth. It assumes many forms and operates in many terrains, from the distribution of telecommunications facilities to the structure of the economy and of employment. Global cities are sites for immense concentrations of economic power and command centers in a global economy, while cities that were once major manufacturing centers have suffered inordinate declines.

The most powerful of these new geographies of centrality at the inter-urban level binds the major international financial and business centers: New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Zurich, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong, among others. But this geography now also includes cities such as Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Bombay, Bangkok, Taipei and Mexico City. The intensity of transactions among these cities --particularly through the financial markets, transactions in services, and investment-- has increased sharply, and so have the orders of magnitude involved. At the same time, there has been a sharpening inequality in the concentration of strategic resources and activities between each of these cities and others in the same country.

The growth of global markets for finance and specialized services, the need for transnational servicing networks due to sharp increases in international investment, the reduced role of the government in the regulation of international economic activity and the corresponding ascendance of other institutional arenas, notably global markets and corporate headquarters -- all these point to the existence of transnational economic processes with multiple locations in more than one country. We can see here the formation, at least incipient, of a transnational urban system. These cities are not simply in a relation of competition to each other.

Alongside these new global and regional hierarchies of cities, is a vast territory that has become increasingly peripheral, increasingly excluded from the major economic processes that fuel economic growth in the new global economy. A multiplicity of formerly important manufacturing centers and port cities have lost functions and are in decline, not only in the less developed countries but also in the most advanced economies. This is yet another meaning of economic globalization.

But also inside global cities we see a new geography of centrality and marginality (Fainstein et al. 1993; Klosterman 1996). The downtowns of cities and key nodes in metropolitan areas receive massive investments in real estate and telecommunications while low-income city areas and the older suburbs are starved for resources. (See, e.g. Journal of Urban Technology 1995). Highly educated workers see their incomes rise to unusually high levels while low- or medium-skilled workers see theirs sink. Financial services produce superprofits while industrial services barely survive. These trends are evident, with different levels of intensity, in a growing number of major cities in the developed world and increasingly in some of the developing countries that have been integrated into the global financial markets (Cohen et al. 1996).

The new urban economy is highly problematic. This is perhaps particularly evident in global cities and their regional counterparts (Fainstein et al. 1993). It sets in motion a whole series of new dynamics of inequality. The new growth sectors -- specialized services and finance -- contain capabilities for profit making vastly superior to those of more traditional economic sectors. Many of the latter remain essential to the operation of the urban economy and the daily needs of residents, but their survival is threatened in a situation where finance and specialized services can earn super-profits and bid up prices. Polarization in the profit-making capabilities of different sectors of the economy has always existed. But what we see happening today takes place on another order of magnitude and is engendering massive distortions in the operations of various markets, from housing to labor.(Hitz et al. 1995).

What we are seeing is a dynamic of valorization which has sharply increased the distance between the valorized, indeed overvalorized, sectors of the economy and devalorized sectors even when the latter are part of leading global industries. This devalorization of growing sectors of the economy has been embedded in a massive demographic transition towards a growing presence of women, African-Americans and "third world" immigrants in the urban workforce. (See also Peraldi and Perrin 1996).

We see here an interesting correspondence between great concentrations of corporate power and large concentrations of "others." Large cities in the highly developed world are the terrain where a multiplicity of globalization processes assume concrete, localized forms. A focus on cities allows us to capture, further, not only the upper but also the lower circuits of globalization. These localized forms are, in good part, what globalization is about. We can then think of cities also as one of the sites for the contradictions of the internationalization of capital. If we consider, further, that large cities also concentrate a growing share of disadvantaged populations --immigrants in Europe and the United States, African-Americans and Latinos in the United States-- then we can see that cities have become a strategic terrain for a whole series of conflicts and contradictions.

Economic globalization, then, needs to be understood also in its multiple localizations, rather than only in terms of the broad, overarching macro level processes that dominate the mainstream account. Further, we need to see that many of these localizations do not generally get coded as having anything to do with the global economy. The global city can be seen as one strategic instantiation of such multiple localizations.

Many of these localizations are embedded in the demographic transition evident in such cities, where a majority of resident workers are today immigrants and women, often women of color. These cities are seeing an expansion of low-wage jobs that do not fit the master images about globalization yet are part of it. Their embeddedness in the demographic transition evident in all these cities, and their consequent invisibility, contribute to the devalorization of these types of workers and work cultures and to the "legitimacy" of that devalorization.

This can be read as a rupture of the traditional dynamic whereby membership in leading economic sectors contributes conditions towards the formation of a labor aristocracy--a process long evident in western industrialized economies. "Women and immmigrants" come to replace the Fordist/family wage category of "women and children"(Sassen 1998: chapter 5). One of the localizations of the dynamics of globalization is the process of economic restructuring in global cities. The associated socio-economic polarisation has generated a large growth in the demand for low-wage workers and for jobs that offer few advancement possibilities. This, amidst an explosion in the wealth and power concentrated in these cities -- that is to say, in conditions where there is also a visible expansion in high-income jobs and high-priced urban space.

"Women and immigrants" emerge as the labor supply that facilitates the imposition of low-wages and powerlessness under conditions of high-demand for those workers and the location of those jobs in high-growth sectors. It breaks the historic nexus that would have led to empowering workers and legitimates this break culturally.

Another localization which is rarely associated with globalization, informalization, re-introduces the community and the household as an important economic space in global cities. I see informalization in this setting as the low-cost (and often feminized) equivalent of deregulation at the top of the system. As with deregulation (e.g. as in financial deregulation), informalization introduces flexibility, reduces the "burdens" of regulation, and lowers costs, in this case especially the costs of labor. Informalization in major cities of highly developed countries--whether new York, London, paris or Berlin-- can be seen as a downgrading of a variety of activities for which there is an effective demand in these cities-- but also a devaluing and enormous competition given low entry costs and few alternative forms of employment. Going informal is one way of producing and distributing goods and services at a lower cost and with greater flexibility. This further devalues these types of activities. Immigrants and women are important actors in the new informal economies of these cities. They absorb the costs of informalizing these activities.(See Sassen 1998: chapter 8).

The reconfiguration of economic spaces associated with globalization in major cities has had differential impacts on women and men, on male-typed and female-typed work cultures, on male and female centered forms of power and empowerment. The restructuring of the labor market brings with it a shift of labor market functions to the household or community. Women and households emerge as sites that should be part of the theorization of the particular forms that these elements in labor market dynamics assume today.

These transformations contain possibilities, even if limited, for women's autonomy and empowerment. For instance, we might ask whether the growth of informalization in advanced urban economies reconfigures some types of economic relations between men and women? With informalization, the neighborhood and the household re-emerge as sites for economic activity. This condition has its own dynamic possibilities for women. Economic downgrading through informalization, creates "opportunities" for low-income women entrepreneurs and workers, and therewith reconfigures some of the work and household hierarchies that women find themselves in. This becomes particularly clear in the case of immigrant women who come from countries with rather traditional male-centered cultures.

There is a large literature showing that immigrant women's regular wage work and improved access to other public realms has an impact on their gender relations. Women gain greater personal autonomy and independence while men lose ground.

Women gain more control over budgeting and other domestic decisions, and greater leverage in requesting help from men in domestic chores. Also, their access to public services and other public resources gives them a chance to become incorporated in the mainstream society--they are often the ones in the housheold who mediate in this process. It is likely that some women benefit more than others from these circumstances; we need more research to establish the impact of class, education, and income on these gendered outcomes. Besides the relatively greater empowerment of women in the household associated with waged employment, there is a second important outcome: their greater participation in the public sphere and their possible emergence as public actors. There are two arenas where immigrant women are active: institutions for public and private assistance, and the immigrant/ethnic community. The incorporation of women in the migration process strengthens the settlement likelihood and contributes to greater immigrant participation in their communities and vis a vis the state. For instance, Hondagneu-Sotelo (1995) found immigrant women come to assume more active public and social roles which further reinforces their status in the household and the settlement process. Women are more active in community building and community activism and they are positioned differently from men regarding the broader economy and the state. They are the ones that are likely to have to handle the legal vulnerability of their families in the process of seeking public and social services for their families.

This greater participation by women suggests the possibility that they may emerge as more forceful and visible actors and make their role in the labor market more visible as well. There is, to some extent, a joining of two different dynamics in the condition of women in global cities described above. On the one hand they are constituted as an invisible and disempowered class of workers in the service of the strategic sectors constituting the global economy. This invisibility keeps them from emerging as whatever would be the contemporary equivalent of the "labor aristocracy" of earlier forms of economic organization, when a low-wage worker' position in leading sectors had the effect of empowering that worker, i.e. the possibility of unionizing. On the other hand, the access to (albeit low) wages and salaries, the growing feminization of the job supply, and the growing feminization of business opportunities brought about with informalization, do alter the gender hierachies in which they find themselves.

Another important localization of the dynamics of globalization is that of the new professional women stratum. Elsewhere I have examined the impact of the growth of top level professional women in high income gentrification in these cities--both residential and commercial-- as well as in the re-urbanization of middle class family life. (See The Global City chapter 9).

What we are seeing is a dynamic of valorization which has sharply increased the distance between the valorized, indeed overvalorized, sectors of the economy and devalorized sectors even when the latter are part of leading global industries.

What makes the localization of the above described processes strategic, even though they involve powerless and often invisible workers, and potentially constitutive of a new kind of transnatonal politics is that these same cities are also the strategic sites for the valorization of the new forms of global corporate capital.

Global cities are centers for the servicing and financing of international trade, investment, and headquarter operations. That is to say, the multiplicity of specialized activities present in global cities are crucial in the valorization, indeed overvalorization of leading sectors of capital today. And in this sense they are strategic production sites for today's leading economic sectors. This function is reflected in the ascendance of these activities in their economies. In my analysis what is specific about the shift to services is not merely the growth in service jobs but, most importantly, the growing service intensity in the organization of advanced economies: firms in all industries, from mining to wholesale buy more accounting, legal, advertising, financial, economic forecasting services today than they did twenty years ago. Whether at the global or regional level, urban centers --central cities, edge cities-- are adequate and often the best production sites for such specialized services. When it comes to the production of services for the leading globalized sectors, the advantages of location in cities are particularly strong. The rapid growth and disproportionate concentration of such services in cities signals that the latter have re-emerged as significant "production" sites after losing this role in the period when mass manufacturing was the dominant sector of the economy. Under mass manufacturing and fordism, the strategic spaces of the economy were the large-scale integrated factory and the government through its fordist/keynesian functions.

Further, the vast new economic topography that is being implemented through electronic space is one moment, one fragment, of an even vaster economic chain that is in good part embedded in non-electronic spaces. There is no fully dematerialized firm or
industry. Even the most advanced information industries, such as finance, are installed only partly in electronic space. And so are industries that produce digital products, such as software designers. The growing digitalization of economic activities has not eliminated the need for major international business and financial centers and all the material resources they concentrate, from state of the art telematics infrastructure to brain talent (Castells, 1989; Graham and Marvin 1996; Sassen 1998: chapter 9).

It is precisely because of the territorial dispersal facilitated by telecommunication advances that agglomeration of centralizing activities has expanded immensely. This is not a mere continuation of old patterns of agglomeration but, one could posit, a new logic for agglomeration. Many of the leading sectors in the economy operate globally, in uncertain markets, under conditions of rapid change in other countries (e.g., deregulation and privatisation), and are subject to enormous speculative pressures. What glues these conditions together into a new logic for spatial agglomeration is the added pressure of speed.

A focus on the work behind command functions, on the actual production process in the finance and services complex, and on global marketplaces has the effect of incorporating the material facilities underlying globalization and the whole infrastructure of jobs typically not marked as belonging to the corporate sector of the economy. An economic configuration very different from that suggested by the concept information economy emerges. We recover the material conditions, production sites, and place-boundedness that are also part of globalization and the information economy.

These processes signal that there has been a change in the linkages that bind people and places and in the corresponding formation of claims on the city (Rotzer 1995). Today the articulation of territory and people is being constituted in a radically different way from past periods at least in one regard, and that is the speed with which that articulation can change. One consequence of this speed is the expansion of the space within which actual and possible linkages can happen (Martinotti 1993; Futur Anterieur 1995). The shrinking of distance and of time that characterizes the current era finds one of its most extreme forms in electronically based communities of individuals or organizations from all around the globe interacting in real time and simultaneously, as is possible through the internet and kindred electronic networks.

I would argue that another radical form assumed today by the linkage of people to territory is the loosening of identities from what have been traditional sources of identity, such as the nation or the village. This unmooring in the process of identity formation engenders new notions of community of membership and of entitlement.

The space constituted by the global grid of global cities, a space with new economic and political potentialities, is perhpas one of the most strategic spaces for the formation of transnational identities and communities. This is a space that is both place-centered in that it is embedded in particular and strategic sites; and it is transterritorial because it connects sites that are not geographically proximate yet intensely connected to each other. As I argued earlier, it is not only the transmigration of capital that takes place in this global grid, but also that of people, both rich, i.e. the new transnational professional workforce, and poor, i.e. most migrant workers; and it is a space for the transmigration of cultural forms, for the reterritorialization of "local" subcultures. An important question is whether it is also a space for a new politics, one going beyond the politics of culture and identity, though at leat partly likely to be embedded in these.

Yet another way of thinking about the political implications of this strategic transnational space is the notion of the formation of new claims on that space. Has economic globalization at least partly shaped the formation of claims? There are indeed major new actors making claims on these cities, notably foreign firms who have been increasingly entitled to do business through progressive deregulation of national economies, and the large increase over the last decade in international businesspeople. These are among the new city users. They have profoundly marked the urban landscape. Their claim to the city is not contested, even though the costs and benefits to cities have barely been examined. These claims contribute to the incipient de-nationalization dynamics discussed in the previous section which though institutional, tend to have spatial outcomes disproportionately concentrated in global cities.

City users have made an often immense claim on the city and have reconstituted strategic spaces of the city in their image: there is a de facto claim to the city, a claim never made problematic. They contribute to change the social morphology of the city and to constitute what Martinotti (1993) calls the metropolis of second generation, the city of late modernism. The new city of city users is a fragile one, whose survival and successes are centered on an economy of high productivity, advanced technologies, intensified exchanges (Martinotti 1993).

On the one hand this raises a question of what the city is for international businesspeople: it is a city whose space consists of airports, top level business districts, top of the line hotels and restaurants, a sort of urban glamour zone. On the other hand, there is the difficult task of establishing whether a city that functions as an international business center does in fact recover the costs involved in being such a center: the costs involved in maintaining a state of the art business district, and all it requires, from advanced communications facilities to top level security (and "world-class culture") .

Perhaps at the other extreme of conventional representations are those who use urban political violence to make their claims on the city, claims that lack the de facto legitimacy enjoyed by the new "city users." These are claims made by actors struggling for recognition, entitlement, claiming their rights to the city.

There are two aspects in this formation of new claims that have implications for the new transnational politics. One is the sharp and perhaps sharpening differences in the representation of these claims by different sectors, notably international business and the vast population of low income "others"--African-Americans, immigrants, women (King 1995). The second aspect is the increasingly transnational element in both types of claims and claimants. It signals a politics of contestation embedded in specific places --global cities-- but transnational in character.

At its most extreme, this divergence assumes the form of a) an overvalorized corporate center occupying a smaller terrain and one whose edges are sharper than, for example, in the post-war era characterized by a large middle class; and b) a sharp devalorization of what is outside the center, which comes to be read as marginal.

A question here is whether the growing presence of immigrants, of African Americans, of women, in the labor force of large cities is what has facilitated the embedding of this sharp increase in inequality (as expressed in earnings and culturally). The new politics of identity and the new cultural politics have brought many of these devalorized or marginal sectors into representation, into the forefront of urban life.

There is something to be captured here -- a distinction between powerlessness and a condition of being an actor even though lacking power. I use the term presence to name this condition. In the context of a strategic space such as the global city, the types of disadvantaged people described here are not simply marginal; they acquire presence in a broader political process that escapes the boundaries of the formal polity. This presence signals the possibility of a politics. What this politics will be will depend on the specific projects and practices of various communities. Insofar as the sense of membership of these communities is not subsumed under the national, it may well signal the possibility of a transnational politics centered in concrete localities.

Global capital has made claims on national states and these have responded through the production of new forms of legality (Sassen 1996: chapter 2). The new geography of global economic processes, the strategic territories for economic globalization, had to be produced, both in terms of the practices of corporate actors and the requisite infrastructure, and in terms of the work of the state in producing or legitimating new legal regimes. These claims very often materialize in claims over the city's land, resources and policies. Disadvantaged sectors which have gained presence are also making claims, but these lack the legitimacy attached to the claims of global capital.

There are two distinct issues here. One is the formation of new legal regimes that negotiate between national sovereignty and the transnational practices of corporate economic actors. The second issue is the particular content of this new regime, one which contributes to strengthen the advantages of certain types of economic actors and to weaken those of others. There is a larger theoretico/politico question underlying some of these issues which has to do with what actors gain legitimacy and which lose legitimacy.

+ + + +

Globalization is a contradictory space; it is characterized by contestation, internal differentiation, continuous border crossings. The global city is emblematic of this condition. Global cities concentrate a disporportionate share of global corporate power and are one of the key sites for its overvalorization. But they also concentrate a disproportionate share of the disadvantaged and are one of the key sites for their devalorization. This joint presence happens in a context where (1) the globalization of the economy has grown sharply and cities have become increasingly strategic for global capital; and (2) marginalized people have found their voice and are making claims on the city as well. This joint presence is further brought into focus by the sharpening of the distance between the two. The center now concentrates immense power, a power that rests on the capability for global control and the capability to produce superprofits. And marginality, notwithstanding little economic and political power, has become an increasingly strong presence through the new politics of culture and identity, and an emergent transnational politics embedded in the new geography of economic globalization. Both actors, increasingly transnational and in contestation find in the city the strategic terrain for their operations.


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