|Photo: Asiya Khaki 2008|
Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a Member of its Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired till 2015. She is a student of cities, immigration, and states in the world economy, with inequality, gendering and digitization three key variables running though her work. Born in the Netherlands, she grew up in Argentina and Italy, studied in France, was raised in five languages, and began her professional life in the United States. She is the author of eight books and the editor or co-editor of three books. Together, her authored books are translated in over twenty languages. She has received many awards and honors, among them multiple doctor honoris causa, the 2013 Principe de Asturias Prize in the Social Sciences, election to the Royal Academy of the Sciences of the Netherlands, and made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government.
In each of the four major completed projects that comprise her 30 years of research, Sassen starts with a thesis that posits the unexpected and the counterintuitive in order to cut through established “truths.” These projects engendered her four major books. In The Mobility of Labor and Capital (Cambridge University Press 1988), her thesis is that foreign investment in less developed countries can actually raise the likelihood of emigration if that investment goes to labor-intensive sectors and/or devastates the traditional economy. Her thesis went against established notions that such investment would retain potential emigrants.
In The Global City (Princeton University Press 1991; 2nd ed 2001) her thesis is that the global economy needs very specific territorial insertions, and that this need is sharpest in the case of highly globalized and digitized sectors such as finance. This went against established notions at the time that the global economy transcended territory and its associated regulatory umbrellas.
In the award-winning Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton University Press 2006), her thesis is that today’s partial but foundational transformations, from economic to cultural and subjective, take place largely inside thick national settings and institutions. She conceptualizes these as denationalizing dynamics that operate alongside the more familiar globalizing dynamics. This denationalizing of what was historically constructed as national is more significant than much of the self-evidently global. A key question running through this book concerns how complex systems change; one key finding is that such change often consists of existing systemic capabilities shifting to a new set of organizing logics.
Her most recent project is developed in Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Harvard University Press/Belknap 2014), and the forthcoming Ungoverned Territories? (Harvard University Press 2018) The organizing thesis in Expulsions is that our global modernity is marked by systemic expulsions of all sorts: we are beyond simply more inequality, more poverty, more refugees in the global south, and so on. And it is often our complex intermediary processes, requiring talent and knowledge, which are facilitating brutal expulsions. “Ungoverned Territories” examines the making of ambiguous jurisdictions that escape the grip of existing national and international institutions. This volume will include The Storrs Lectures in Jurisprudence and Philosophy, delivered at the Yale University Law School in 2012.
In addition, she is completing a two-year research project on Mobilities, supported by a research gift from AUDI. She also continues her work in a large collective project, The Urban Age, focused on extreme urbanism. It was funded by a multi-year grant from the Herrhausen Foundation; it was renewed in January 2013 for a second three-year cycle. Her most recent project is on Conventional Governance Systems and Human Security in Cities, supported by a large grant from the European Union Research Council; she co-directs this project with Mary Kaldor (London School of Economics).
Besides the already mentioned books, she is the author of A Sociology of Globalization (Norton 2007; Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (The Schoff Lectures of Columbia University, published by Columbia University Press in 1996, with a new edition in 2016); Globalization and its Discontents. Essays on the Mobility of People and Money (New Press 1998); Guests and Aliens (New Press, 1999), Cities in a World Economy (Pine Forge/Sage, 1994; with 3 fully updated editions in 2000, 2006, and 2011). Her edited books are Deciphering the Global: Its Scales, Spaces and Subjects (Routledge 2007), Human Settlement and the Environmental Challenge (Oxford: EOLS 2006), Global Networks/Linked Cities (Routledge 2002), and the co-edited Digital Formations (Princeton University Press 2005.
She has published over 100 academic articles in peer-reviewed journals. The most recent one is “A Massive Loss of Habitat: New Drivers of Migrations” (forthcoming June 2016 in one of the ASA journals Sociology of Development).
All her edited books are based on larger collective research projects, sponsored by funding entities. Global Networks, Linked Cities (London and New York: Routledge 2002) is based on a large multi-year UNU based and sponsored project with researchers in six countries. A second edited book recently completed is Human Settlement and the Environmental Challenge (Oxford: EOLS 2006), one of the 14 volumes in the UNESCO Encyclopedia on the Environment; this involved setting up a network of researchers and activists in over 30 countries. The co-edited Digital Formations: Information Technologies and New Architectures in the Global Realm (Princeton University Press 2005) is based on a four year project she chaired for the Social Science Research Council, with support from the Ford Foundation. Finally, Deciphering the Global: Its Scales, Spaces and Subjects (Routledge 2007) is based on the Transnationalism Project set up and run by Sassen at the University of Chicago, 1998-2007.
She regularly writes for general audience publications. Her comments have appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Le Monde, International Herald Tribune, Vanguardia, Clarin, Die Zeit, Newsweek International, The Financial Times, among others. She is a regular contributor to OpenDemocracy.net.and HuffingtonPost.com.
Her recent professional activities include the following completed projects: Member of the Board of Directors, IBA (an initiative supported by the German Government with 300 million Euros for the upgrading of a vast poverty area in the North of Germany); Member, International Advisory Board chaired by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, for the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the first Muslim Mayor of any major city in Europe; Member of the Panel on Urban Population Dynamics, Committee on Population of the National Academy of Sciences; Chair, Information Technology and International Cooperation Committee of the Social Science Research Council; Director, Transnationalism Project of the University of Chicago; and co-Chair of the economy section of the Global Chicago Project. She was one of eight experts on the Mastercard Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index, a vast project involving 60 variables, from economic to social, covering 75 major and minor global cities around the world.
In the past, she has directed and been a member of several research projects. She directed a two-year Volkswagen funded project on cities and global governance, and a five-year multi-country project on global cities and cross-border networks for the Institute of Advanced Studies, United Nations University (Tokyo). In the 1980s and 1990s she co-directed the Hispanic Women in the Garments and Electronics Industries in New York and California, supported by the Tinker and Ford Foundations, was a member of the Japan-based project on Economic Restructuring in the U.S. and Japan, sponsored by the United Nations Center on Regional Development and MIT (1988-1990); the SSRC (Social Science Research Council) Working Group on New York City, sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation (1985-1990); the SSRC Committee on Hispanic Public Policy, sponsored by the Ford Foundation (1987-1991); the New York-London Comparative Study sponsored by the Economic Social Research Council of the United Kingdom (1990-1995). She also was a member of the Ford Foundation Task Force for Research on Hispanics; the Research Working Group on the Informal Sector, supported by the Ford, Tinker, and Rockefeller Foundations; the Stanford University Project on Mexico-U.S. Relations; the Immigration and Economic Sociology Project sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation (1992-1995); the Comparative Urban Studies project at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC (1992-on); The Group of Lisbon sponsored by the Science Program of the European Union and the Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal 1993-1998).
She has served on several scientific juries for, among others, the French Government's Ministry of Urban Affairs and the Belgian Government's Agency on Science and Technology in the Office of the Prime Minister. She has often served as an advisor, including to Queens Borough President Claire Shulman's Blue Ribbon Panel on Government; the New York State Industrial Corporation Council; Global Chicago; the LSE Mayors Project of the Cities Programme; and World Economic Forum's Club of Mayors. Over the years she has served on the board of diverse professional journals and organizations. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Sociological Research Association, the European Academy of Sciences, The Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands, and the Atheneum (UK).
She has received multiple research grants and awards. Besides the already mentioned grantors, they include the Ford Foundation, Tinker Foundation, The Mellon Foundation, The Revson Foundation, Chicago Institute for Architecture and Urbanism, Twentieth Century Fund, American Academy in Berlin. A studio she co-directed won the national prize of the American Institute of Certified Planners. She was a Fellow at the Wissenshaftszentrum Berlin, Germany; Distinguished Lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna, Austria; Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Law School of the University of Toronto; Visiting Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. She has been a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Palo Alto). She has served as visiting professor in large number of institutions; most recently she was named the 2012 Luhmann Visiting Professor at the University of Bielefeld, Germany.
She has received Doctor Honoris Causa from DePaul University (Chicago) where she also gave the commencement address, Delft University (Netherlands), Universite de Poitiers (France), the Royal Stockholm Technical University (Sweden), Ghent University (Belgium), Warwick University (UK), Ecole Normale Superieure (Paris), Universidad de Murcia (Spain), European University Institute (Florence), Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires and Universidad Nacional de Cordoba (both from Argentina), Universidad de Valencia (Spain).
She was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in the Social Sciences in 2013, selected for membership to the Royal Academy of the Sciences of the Netherlands, and made a Chevalier du Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Government. Other honors and prizes from bodies representing diverse disciplines in the social sciences, include most recently Honorary Geographer (2011) by the American Geographers Association, Eminent Development Scholar (2012) by the International Studies Association, Eminent Scholar in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration Studies (2014) by the International Studies Association. She has delivered many named lectures, among them the 1994 Henry Luce Lecture at Clark University, the 1995 Memorial Schoff Lectures at Columbia University, the 1997 LeFrak Lecture at the University of Maryland, the 1999 Georg Simmel Lectures at Humboldt University (Berlin), the 2000 Theodore Hesburgh Lectures on Politics and Ethics at the University of Notre Dame, the 2005 Sherril Lecture at the Yale University Law School, the 2010 Coulson lecture at Oxford University, The Luhman Lecture at Bielefeld University, The Storrs Lectures in Jurisprudence and Philosophy at the Yale University Law School, and multiple named lectures at universities worldwide.
She is fluent in Spanish, Italian and French, and good in Dutch and German. She also studied Russian and Japanese.