Bwog lecture hopper Emma Jacobs took some time out of midterms this week to focus on the macroscopic. Her report follows.

saskiaSaskia Sassen, U. Chicago professor, sociologist and general wonder-academic, spoke in Fayerweather on Wednesday on one of Columbia’s favorite topics: globalization.

Sassen began by talking about her newest work, which posits that the major theories on this topic are too extreme (our own Stiglitz and Baghwati are a good example). On one end, people are saying the nation-state is doing fine, nothing has changed.  On the other, theorists argue it’s collapsing. Sassen sees her own theory as a midpoint between the too, looking at where the functions of nations are being taken apart, and where new “assemblages” are being put back together from the pieces.

The world is changing, but it’s not just flattening out, Tom Friedman-style. Sassen points out that what’s happening on a global scale is growing up within countries. For example, major construction firms have established a set of standards to deal with the governments they’re building within, rules they derive from existing laws of nation-states. Closer to home, an American civil suit was filed against nine multinationals about human rights abuses they were involved with overseas. Bringing all those pieces together creates something new. 

There’s something happening globally, but it expresses itself differently locally, something she says came out of her research on global cities (yeah, she came up with that too).  Even as we conduct so much business virtually, we need financial capitals for sociological reasons, so the global market can penetrate local peculiarities. Overseas acquisitions aren’t just mergers, they’re a foot in the door of a national market.

Local activists don’t really operate on this level. But with modern technology, they’re not alone, either. The expression of these local problems in a globally connected way is key to what Sassen considers new.

Sassen does worry about national governments. She thinks a lot of their control is being hollowed out, and not just in favor of the private sector: more and more powers of the legislature are shiftng to the executive branch. And it’s not all Bush-Cheney; the process started with Reagan and continued with Clinton. Now, we have a new type of state developing locally because of what’s happening globally.

Sassen’s focus on globalization makes sense, as she’s clearly one of those academics with the impulse to integrate everything she’s studied. And of course, she covered a lot more. There was the built environment of the city, and some talk about defining European law firms, but, as Sassen would say, “that’s something else altogether.”  Really, I got the impression she could talk intelligently about just about anything, but they only gave her an hour and a half—plus the time she just kept talking.

Grad student gossip (veracity questionable): She may be relocating soon to a University near you…