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Saskia Sassen on "de-globalization" and the return of the nation-state


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Saskia Sassen is a professor of sociology at Columbia University and the author of many influential books on the sociology of globalization, including Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (2008) and Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (2014). In the English-language edition of the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, Benedetto Vecchi interviews Sassen about the widely made claim that globalization is coming to an end with the resurgence of nationalism and the reassertion of nation-state sovereignty in places like the US and Europe. Sassen begs to differ. Read an excerpt from the interview below, or the full text here.

One of the refrains repeated by the media is that globalization has reached its terminus, and the nation state will return to the center. How do you interpret this phase of the global economy?

We are in the midst of a global upheaval, due to the economic crisis and the strengthening of a capitalism that I qualify as extractive. It is shaping a new geography of world power. In this new geography of power, new intermediate spaces were formed between the global and local realities. These areas formed the space where global and local realities have lost the opacity, which differentiated them to become distinct but interdependent moments with each other. They are “frontier areas” that have nothing to do with geography, but are the places, the dynamics that lead to decisions that overwhelm the work of both the supranational institutions as well as the national and local ones. Over time, they popped the old division between North and South of the planet, between East and West, between central and peripheral countries of capitalism. Let me be clear, it is not that the frontiers have disappeared, but were jumped over in the sense that they are no longer central. Therefore, it is not relevant whether or not the nation-state will return, which has already undergone changes in constitutional setups, in the balance between the judicial, legislative, and executive powers, to be in line with the needs of world economy. It surrendered that part of its sovereignty over a given territory.

In the exercise of global governance, the “border areas” to which I referred are critical. They bend to their will the national sovereignty and the internationally defined rules on financial flows, human rights, environmental protection. They also contribute to shaping a new and yet ever-changing international division of labor.

Image via saskiasassen.com.