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Saskia Sassen

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Saskia Sassen

One key hypothesis I arrived at early on in my research was that intermediation was an increasingly strategic and systemically necessary function for the global economy that took off in the 1980s (Sassen, 1991/2001, 2012; Sassen-Koob, 1982). This in turn led me to generate the hypothesis about a need for specific types of spaces: spaces for the making of intermediate instruments and capabilities. One such strategic space concerned the instruments needed for outsourcing jobs, something I examined in my first book. But what began to emerge in the 1980s was on a completely different scale of complexity and diversity of economic sectors: It brought with it the making of a new type of city formation. I called it the global city – an extreme space for the production and/or implementation of very diverse and very complex intermediate capabilities. This did not refer to the whole city. I posited that the global city was a production function inserted in complex existing cities, albeit a function with a vast shadow effect over a city’s larger space. In that earlier period of the 1980s, the most famous cases illustrating the ascendance of intermediate functions were the big mergers and acquisitions. What stood out to the careful observer was how rarely the intermediaries lost. The financiers, lawyers, accountants, credit rating agencies, and more, made their money even when the new mega-firm they helped make eventually failed. Finance became the mother of all intermediate sectors, with firms such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan making enormous profits, followed at a distance by the specialized lawyers and accountants. From the early phase dominated by mergers and acquisitions, intermediation has spread to a growing number of sectors. This also included modest or straightforward sectors: For instance, most flower sellers or coffee shops are now parts of chains, they only do the selling of the flowers or the coffee, and it is headquarters that do the accounting, lawyering, acquisition of basic inputs, etc. Once, those smaller shops took care of the whole range of items; they were a modest knowledge space. Intermediation can now be thought of as a variable that at one end facilitates the globalizing of firms and markets and at the other end brings into its envelope very modest consumer oriented firms. It also contributes to explaining the expansion in the number of global cities and their enormous diversity in terms of specialized knowledges.

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Saskia Sassen

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Saskia Sassen

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Saskia Sassen

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Saskia Sassen

Expulsions on the way to the US originate in soaring income inequality and unemployment, expanding populations of the displaced and imprisoned, accelerating destruction of land and water bodies. Sassen recalls how today’s socioeconomic and environmental dislocations cannot be fully understood in the usual terms of poverty and injustice. Different examples in the US-Mexico-Central American region connections illuminate the systemic logic of these expulsions. The sophisticated knowledge that created today’s financial “instruments” is paralleled by the engineering expertise that enables exploitation of the environment, and by the legal expertise that allows the world’s have-nations to acquire vast stretches of territory from the have-nots. Expulsions lays bare the extent to which the sheer complexity of the global economy makes it hard to trace lines of responsibility for the displacements, evictions, and eradications it produces—and equally hard for those who benefit from the system to feel responsible for its depredations.

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Saskia Sassen

In such extreme conditions, Sassen tryes to de-stabilise the concept of the border in the context of depredatory practices base on expulsions and extractive logics (see for example here the chapter on the Amazones in the handbook) in different regions of the global South. This multi-decade history of destructions of rural economies and expulsions dressed in the clothing of ‘modernization and development’ has reached extreme levels today: vast stretches of land and water bodies are now dead due to mining, plantations, and water extraction by the likes of Nestle. At least some of today’s localized wars and conflicts in Africa arise out of such destruction and loss of habitat; climate change further reduces livable ground. And access to Europe is no longer what it used to be. Accordng to Sassen, this mix of conditions - wars, dead land, and expulsions of smallholders from their modest economies in the name of ‘development’ - has produced a vast loss of life options for a growing number of people in more and more communities. We see this in areas as diverse as Africa, Central America, and parts of Asia, notably Myanmar.