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Losing Control?
Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization

Saskia Sassen

New York

Columbia University Press



The public lectures that make up this book opened up for me a field of inquiry in which I am now deeply engaged. They represent the first phase of a larger project on governance and accountability in the global economy.

The growth of a global economy in conjunction with the new telecommunications and computer networks that span the world has profoundly reconfigured institutions fundamental to processes of governance and accountability in the modern state. State sovereignty, nation-based citizenship, the institutional apparatus in charge of regulating the economy, such as central banks and monetary policies--all of these institutions are being destabilized and even transformed as a result of globalization and the new technologies. What happens to processes of governance and accountability when the fundamental institutions upon which they rest and depend are thus destabilized and transformed?

In the first chapter, "The State and the New Geography of Power," I examine how the formation of a new economic system centered on cross-border flows and global telecommunications has affected two distinctive features of the modern state: sovereignty and exclusive territoriality. What are the actual territorial and nonterritorial processes through which the global economy is constituted? To a large extent, global processes materialize in national territories. This leads to a need for deregulation and the formation of regimes that facilitate the free circulation of capital, goods, information, and services. Global cities are one example of how global processes extend into national territories and national institutional arrangements. I argue that globalization under these conditions has entailed a partial denationalizing of national territory and a partial shift of some components of state sovereignty to other institutions, from supranational entities to the global capital market.

Together with sovereignty and exclusive territoriality, citizenship marks the specificity of the modern state. It may also play a role in governing the global economy. The second chapter, "On Economic Citizenship," discusses the institution of citizenship and the impact of a strengthening global economy on the continuity and formation of the rights we associate with it, particularly rights that grant the power to demand accountability from governments. Economic globalization has transformed the territoriality and sovereignty of the nation-state; it may have as great an impact on citizenship. History shows that the shape of modern citizenship owes much to the underlying conditions of society at large. As the global economy creates new conditions, the institution of citizenship may evolve yet again. The latest bundle of rights that came with the welfare state does not constitute the ultimate definition; indeed, some of those conditions may erode, as today's welfare state crises and the growing unemployment and inequality of earnings in all highly developed countries suggest. Do they signal a change in the conditions of citizens?

Once we accept the cultural and historical specificity of concepts of civil society and citizenship in Western social and political theory, we need to reckon, at least theoretically, with the impact of global forces that challenge the authority of the nation-state and civil solidarity. In such a world, what is the analytic terrain within which the social sciences need to examine the question of rights? Do we need to expand this terrain, to introduce new elements into the discourse?

In my examination of these questions, I use the notion of "economic citizenship" as a strategic research site and nexus. This notion is not part of the history and theorization of citizenship as conventionally understood. But if the specific conditions brought on by economic globalization have contributed to yet another major transformation/evolution in the institution of citizenship--and I believe they have--then we must consider the possibility that there exists a form of economic citizenship that empowers and can demand accountability from governments. The evidence supports this notion, but the so-called economic citizenship it identifies does not belong to citizens. It belongs to firms and markets--specifically, the global financial markets--and it is located not in individuals, not in citizens, but in mostly corporate global economic actors. The fact of being global gives these actors power over individual governments, and it is this particular instantiation of the notion of economic citizenship that I address in the second chapter. I use the concept as a kind of theoretical provocation, outside the accepted lineage of the concept of citizenship.

In the third and final chapter, "Immigration Tests the New Order," I look at the tension between denationalizing economic space and renationalizing political discourse in most developed countries. Immigration provides a crucial nexus in this tension. It often becomes the main and easiest target when the issue of renationalizing enters politics. But it also brings to the fore the contradictory role of the state at this time. The state itself has been transformed by its participation in the implementation of laws and regulations necessary for economic globalization and, as I discuss in chapter 3, by its participation in the implementation of human rights. Under these conditions, what does it mean to say that the state is sovereign in the control of its borders vis-à-vis people? Has not sovereignty itself been transformed? Can we continue to take it for granted, as much of the literature on the state does over and over again, that the state has exclusive authority over the entry of non-nationals? Is the character of that exclusive authority today the same as it was before the current phase of globalization and the ascendance of human rights?

Where the effort toward forming transnational economic spaces has gone the furthest and been most formalized, it has become very clear that existing frameworks for immigration policy are problematic. The coexistence of very different regimes for the circulation of capital and people is not viable. This is most evident in the legislative work necessary for the formation of the European Union. Also apparent is the beginning of a displacement of government functions onto supragovernmental or quasi-governmental institutions and forms of legitimacy. This displacement is evident in the need to create special regimes for the circulation of service workers within both the gatt and nafta as part of the further internationalization of trade and investment in services. The regime governing the circulation of service workers has been separated from any notion of migration, but it represents in fact a version of temporary labor migration. It is a system for labor mobility that in good part falls under the oversight of autonomous entities that are quite separate from the government. This displacement is also evident in the legitimation process. For example, the judiciary in a number of highly developed countries has made decisions invoking international covenants, notably as to the rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, that have gone against votes in the legislature or public opinion. The invocation of international covenants to make national policy has resulted in cases where one sector of the state is in disagreement with another. Besides signaling a de facto transnationalizing of migration policy making, this also indicates the need to deconstruct "the state" in its role in the migration process. The state itself has been transformed by this combination of developments.

The existence of two different regimes for the circulation of capital and the circulation of immigrants, as well as two equally different regimes for the protection of human rights and the protection of state sovereignty, poses problems that cannot be solved by the old rules of the game. It is in this sense that immigration is a strategic site to inquire about the limits of the new order: it feeds the renationalizing of politics and the notion of the importance of sovereign control over borders, yet it is embedded in a larger dynamic of trasnationalization of economic spaces and human rights regimes.