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  Saskia Sassen


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Detecting the global inside the national
>>Sociologist Saskia Sassen

To advance the study of globalization we need to go beyond the common, and elementary, definition of growing interdependence and growing cross-border flows. Both are happening and are crucial; yet there is much more to it. The history of the last century is one where in much of the world the constitutive components of social, political, and economic life have been constructed in national terms: law, security, citizenship, authority. Further, they have been thus constructed with enormous institutional and formal elaboration, leaving little room for the supranational or interstate levels. It is against this set of conditions that we need to locate the specifics of globalization, rather than simply measuring cross-border flows and novel forms of interdependence. In this regard, transnational processes such as economic globalization confront sociology, and the social sciences generally, with a series of theoretical and methodological challenges. For instance, in the case of today's global economy, the theoretical and methodological challenges come out of the fact that globalization simultaneously transcends the authority of the national state and is at least partly implanted in, or endogenous to, national territories and institutions. One major example of this embeddedness of the global in the national is the global city-a complex organizational entity that concentrates the multiple resources needed for the management, coordination, specialized servicing, and governance of the global economic operations of firms and markets. Another example is a set of particular monetary and fiscal policies needed for developing a global capital market, which a growing number of countries have instituted (at the heart, so to speak, of their national state) as they begin to participate in the global economic system. Both global cities and the particular institutional base for such fiscal and monetary policies are, in principle, "national," but not quite the way they were in the immediate past. One task of the sociologist is to decode what is actually national-in the older sense-in all that continues to be represented as national. In my own research I conceptualize these particular and highly specialized transformations, which are partial and often elusive, as the incipient de-nationalizing of what had been constructed as national.

Because it is partly located inside national territories and institutions, economic globalization directly engages two marking features of much social science: the explicit or implicit assumption about the nation-state as the container of social processes, and the implied correspondence of national territory and the exclusive authority of the national state over that territory (the institutional encasement of territory that makes it "national"). Both assumptions describe conditions that have held throughout much of the history of the modern state since World War I, and in some cases even earlier. But these conditions are now partly being unbundled by the processes of globalization. Further, while these assumptions continue to work well for many subjects studied in the social sciences, they are not helpful in elucidating the meanings and consequences of globalization and a whole variety of transnational processes. Nor are those assumptions helpful for developing the requisite research techniques.

Take, for instance, the idea of a process happening within the territory of a sovereign state, that may not necessarily be a national process. This localization of the global, or of the non-national, in national territories undermines a key duality running through many of the methods and conceptual frameworks prevalent in the social sciences: that the national and the non-national are mutually exclusive conditions. There have been many epochs in which territories were subject to multiple systems of rule. In this regard, the condition developing with globalization is probably by far the more common one, and the period beginning with World War I-the gradual institutional tightening of the national state's exclusive authority over its territory-the historical exception. However, the categories for analysis, research techniques, and data sets in the social sciences have largely been developed in that period. Thus we face the difficult, collective task of developing the theoretical and empirical specifications that allow us to accommodate the fact of multiple relations between territory and authority, rather than the singular idea of national territory and exclusive state authority.

Saskia Sassen is professor in the Department of Sociology and the College. She is author of Globalization and Its Discontents (New Press, 1998) and The Global City (Princeton, 1991), to be reissued in a fully updated edition in March 2001. Her most recent book is Guests and Aliens (New Press, 2000). She is at work on a new book titled De-Nationalization.


  DECEMBER 2000

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