Blog Post

Neal's Blog on Saskia Sassen

Saskia Sassen ? August 21, 2006

- The Global City: the political economy of the emergence of global
cities, mapping the economics and finance of the global, a sociology of
the cultural in relation to the global. Capital / social / human flow
between cities. Mapping circulations through cities. The way in which the
digital has exacerbated those flows, immigration, capital.
- Three propositions: In periods of transition, the formal political
system accommodates less and less of the political in its full rich and
fuzzy meaning.
- Politics doesn?t just disappear, it gets housed, goes into informal
mechanisms and codes. Cities are anarchic spaces. Where we are now is not
urban. Cities continuously deborder themselves.
- Growing importance of the informal: the zone of the city and subjects as
actors, allowing formation of subject that other spaces don?t allow.
- Formats: Issues of networks, network platforms, orgs. That use tech,
that inhabit digital space through the lens of format. The space of the
city as a particular kind of format, leakage, overwhelming mess enable
certain possibilities.
- How do we construct the digital object of study?
- Accommodating less of the political: Demos by immigrants legal and
unauthorized in LA in March. Interpreted as nice immigrants that want to
be citizens. This was a different kind of struggle. A politics of the
right to have rights. Citizenship is still one of the vehicles to achieve
that. Different politics from ?I want THAT citizenship?. Unsettlement of
the construction of the citizen in the project of the nation state
- Not a struggle to be a US citizen, but a struggle for the right to have
- Vincente Fox: Comes to visit with illegal immigrants, in Washington they
are discussing criminalization of illegality. Fox produced a new type of
informal jurisdiction.. I, president of this country, can meet with
violators of the law, and they will not be arrested. Unsettles the formal
apparatus from the inside. Happening deep inside the national.
- Forty global cities that are platforms for the management of the
operations of global capital. They are infrastructures, specialized, that
make the system work.
- Two emergent informal political actors. Both are shaped and enabled by
features of digital interactive technologies. First actor: global
corporate capital, multi-sited, hits the ground in a complex arrangement ?
men and women and non-human actors. They project what they get onto urban
spaces, and become a politicizing presence. They politicize urban space.
- Global corporate capital / the city as a system emerges as a social
force in its capacity to alter urban space, displacing people,
marginalizing small shops. The capacity is not always there.
- The second political actor: the immigrants, the displaced, the homeless,
the small shops. They are politicized ? consider Max Weber vs. Henri
- Cities are routinized centers. They cannot always make the political,
but with the right mix they can emerge politicized. Weber: coincidence of
vulnerability. Struggle to keep their property happens in the city.
- The excluded have the power to shape history.
- Lefebvre. Industrial cities mid-1900s ?This is not the city of the
burghers.? They do not need the city. The organized working class makes
the cities, the syndicale? Public transport / health / housing / order.
This is neither the city of the burghers, nor the city of the organized
worker. This is a strategic space for another type of actor.
- Recovering the space of the city not as generic, but something you need
to decode. So how is it made. MAKING is an organizing idea. So many new
formations. IMF and WTO have been bridging agents to move us out of format
A, into a new type of format. When it is constituted, these institutions
will not matter.
- Multiplication of micro-structures, assemblages, bits and territory,
once lodged in the inter-state and supranational system, they get
re-lodged into these novel formations. MAKING is a critical category.
- The question of the urban. Today is a very particular time:
disassembling the urban and re-assembling it with new alignments.
Homogenization of the landscape is in fact an infrastructure. What
inhabits that landscape? A standardized, state of the art infrastructure ?
roads, connectivity, water. Complex multi-layered systems. High
gentrified. Dehumanized systemics (not inhuman, the forming of feedback
enabled systems, but still complex social ecologies.)
- Making platforms, building systemics of a different sort from what we
saw even a few decades ago. In the context of the city, you get a whole
set of figurations that are novel. Generic, not novel types of spatial
- Oriented to similar districts all around the world. Very concentrated,
little bleeding into the surrounding neighborhoods. It still can be coded
as a local condition, it is right there in front of your eyes, but invites
a rethinking of the local. It?s a local of a different sort. It is partly
deterritorialized and can span the globe.
- Two worlds that unsettle each other. Financial districts, financiers are
made by a global condition. But they are not cosmopolitan in that
condition. Contrast the global activist. Two kinds of globalities,
horizontal multi-sited, not grand cosmopolitanism.. Vernacular / rooted
cosmopolitanism? (Appiah) Too pretty.. We need something grittier to
suggest a working project.
- Localized actors are in rooted, grubby worlds that have nonetheless gone
- Is there the possibility of making something that approaches some
version of cosmopolitanism that can occupy this digital space? Using space
versus dwelling in digital space. An intermediate unstable zone with
unstable meanings productive to a possibility. The space of the city is
one dimension of this.
- Technology and cities cont?d: The technical consequences can be embedded
in urban modes. Standardized systems of transport, etc. Algorithms of the
software are theoretical models, they are coming from a very different
place, all over. We are surrounded by them. How can we use those
algorithms for whole new possibilities? The city is a fantastic platform
to translate theoretical algorithmic models into embedded systems.
- The digital mile: Take a mile that cuts across Saragosa ? cuts across
different worlds. How do we insert digital tech? It has to service the
grandmothers, mini applications that are people oriented.
- Public technologies: like the white bicycles available to the public..
Orienting our talk of digital techs towards this type of possibility.
- Global finance has been far more innovative and effective in making a
format that allows it to maximize network technologies, civil societies
less so. When civil society enters the funding circuit, they are forced
into a format with conventional constraints. Finance is a vanguard in
developing formats that allow it to develop networked possibilities, orgs
are regressive in the face of this.
- Indymedia rejected a grant from Ford. Back to the question of making,
making new formats for the civil society organizations.
- NYSE has made a bid to take over Euro-NEXT ? stock exchange in Europe.
It?s a new format, not simply mergers and acquisitions. They can create
new financial mechanisms, and are in a better position to control
regulatory restrictions. Finance is developing a new platform.
- The digital object of study: finance is totally dependent on these
technologies, and is therefore its vulnerability. Its logic is not the
logic of the technology, the logic of the user (a social logic) can thwart
the technical capacities of the technical logic. STS has helped us
understand the imbrications. Finance has benefited enormously (292
trillion according to the banker?s bank) 11 trillion in global trade is
our understanding, 292 is an order of magnitude higher, it is pure
transactivity, a benchmark of the network.
- The ?interface?: the zone that exists between the tech and the user has
been collapsed, it is a fine line that separates two differences. The tech
culture has absorbed the space of the line ? issues of technical
competence are the norm.. We need to open up the line, make it more
cultural. Eg: new technologies as used by Muslims (John Anderson)
comparing westernized Muslims and the specialized readers of the Koran.
- You might think it?s westernized youths that are most attuned: the
readers of the Koran who went online, they could track their own
interpretations, and they could communicate with other small communities
of readers. They brought a culture of use that was part of THEIR life,
traditions, passions onto the internet, and used it brilliantly. Culture
of use, allowing them to be brought into the technical space.
- Imbrications of the digital and non-digital, another example: a
building. When the building becomes the object of a financial instrument,
the building can be bought and sold on the net. The building is still
immobile pile of stones, and yet it isn?t. How do we capture that digital
moment that has agency? It is totally separate from the building, yet it
inscribes it. ?The X that is digital, how is it inscribed by the
non-digital? Finance is way ahead of civil society orgs. We need to
narrate and induct to create tools, to construct the digital object of
- Let?s talk about immobilities instead of mobilities!


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