Books Discussed in this Section
Saskia Sassen (2004) Local Actors in Global Politics retrieved from http://transnationalism.uchicago.edu/localactorsinglobalpolitics.pdf
Saskia Sassen (2007) Deciphering the Global.Routledge, NY
Technology has played an enormous role in the modern digital age. The digital revolution and the invention of the Internet, continue to have tremendous effect on the scales of human action. The digitization of information and distribution of information technologies has expanded and accelerated collaborative action; the digitization of financial data has expanded and accelerated the capitalization of a single global economy. With respect to these two domains (technology and economy) the impact of the digital revolution seems to be the same, namely toward greater interconnectivity, greater interdependence of local actors at the same time toward their greater dependency on global processesas local actors themselves become defined by and dissolved into the omni-present, omni-potent global system of enormous scale.
As long as actors are envisioned as local units embedded within global phenomena such as the global economy and global industrial complex, then we will continue to see them as being operated on by these global dynamics.We might then further conceptualize local actors and their localities as embedded within the predominantly exclusive hierarchical relations that have been institutionalized through mobilization of resources on a global scale, by those centers of power who operate strategically on the global at the global level. As Sassen explains
The organizational side of the global economy materializes in a worldwide grid of strategic places, uppermost among which are major international business and financial centers. We can think of this global grid as constituting a new economic geography of centrality, one that cuts across national boundaries and increasingly across the old North-South divide. It has emerged as a transnational space for the formation of new claims by global capital but also by other types of actors. The most powerful of these new geographies of centrality at the inter-urban level bind the major institutional and financial business centers. The intensity of transactions among these cities, particularly through financial markets, transactions in services and investment, has increased sharply, and so have the orders of magnitude involved.
In order to account for this geometry of scale, we have imported the framework of the local, the regional, the national, the international and the transnational, into an architecture of global scale based on inclusive nested hierarchies. This simplistic architecture is challenged in several critical ways by the emergence of the global actors such as global corporations and multi-national organizations like the IMF. First, the notion of identity has become deterritorialized with the advent of the global manager whose allegiances fall along functional relations within a corporation or organization rather than with respect to either physical boundaries (such as the local or regional) or under the various political frameworks of the nation-state. Secondly, as power relations shift, the way we conceptualize power has undergone a dramatic shift from the notion that power accumulates up the hierarchy of scale through inclusively nested sets, from local representatives, to state, to nation, to international– to a new global reality wherein power relations are enacted if not more frequently, then surely with more import and causal effect, from global decision-making processes that are distributed down those same hierarchical scales. Decisions made at the global level, such as world financial agreements, world oil production, global technological innovation — have a greater and greater impact on the structure of everyday life than ever before. Although this has been true for most of the recent decades for what used to be the “minor state actors” on the global stage, the dynamics of globalization has also altered the power share relations among individual nation-states, such that the hegemony of “major actors” no longer insulates their citizens from the effects and counter-effects of global level operations. Sassen comments
This does not mean that the old hierarchies disappear but rather that novel scaling emerge alongside the old ones and that the former can trump the latter. Older hierarchies of scale constituted as part of the development of the nation-state continue to operate, but they do so in a far less exclusive field than they did in the recent past. This holds even when factoring in the hegemonic power of a few states, which meant and continues to mean that most national states were in practice not fully sovereign.
The most common reactions to thses processes of globalization, are the many current but not so modern and certainly not innovative, attempts to reinforce and re-concretize the old formulas of scalar hierarchies into a future Brave New Global World with a cretaintwist, in which the bodies of governance no longer rise from local common collectives– afterall, the assumption here is that they have already been supersededand displaced by globalization– but rather are institutionalized through power laws that scale along the same nested hierarchies, giving rise to supra-national global entities that are responsible for both ordering and ruling down the proverbial chain of command.
Fortunately, this is not the only trajectory of the current globalizing dynamics. With respect to the opening of geo-social spaces, something quite extraordinary and at first glance, paradoxical, is happening which “signals the need for new concepts and framings.” And while it remains the case that the role of the nation state is undergoing epochal transformation, this is also the case for the sub-national actor-collectives as well as the inter-national and supra-national — all of which for whom the global is not exclusively a power law, but more significantly, the global is the newly emerging shared space of appearance of multiple actors at multiple scales.
The time is indeed ripe for a major shift in how we conceptualize the emergent phenomena, in particular with respect to scalar relations and human action, since as Sassen notes “Existing theory is not enough to map today’s multiplication of practices and actors contributing to these rescalings.” On this point, it is worth quoting Sassen at length:
[The multiscalar character of various globalization processes] cannot easily be accommodated into older nested hierarchies of scale, which position everything that is supranational above the state in the scalar hierarchy and what is subnational beneath the state. In such hierarchies, the subnational needs to run through the national if it is to function globally. [Yet the] variety of multiscalar dynamics point to conditions that cannot be organized as a hierarchy, lst alone a nested hierarchy. This is a multiscalar system, operating across scales and not, as is so oftesaid, merely scaling upward because of communications capabilities. Alternative approaches that go beyond older scalar hierarchies, micro/macro analyses, and container categories such as nation-state are gaining traction. Here I would like to single out analyses that emphasize topological patterns rather than nested scalar hierarchies, actor networks rather than actors per se, and the disassembling of familiar, often nationalized arrangements and their reassembling into novel global and denationalized formations.
Studying the global, then, entails not only a focus on what is explicitly global in scale. It also calls for a focus on locally scaled practices and conditions articulated with global dynamics.