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 from 2009 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. 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 four major books. There are also a few smaller books and about 40 academic articles in peer-reviewed journals.
She has received many awards and honors, among them twelve doctor honoris causa, multiple named lectures, the 2013 Principe de Asturias Prize in the Social Sciences, election as a Foreign Member of 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 her book «The Global City» (Princeton University Press 1991; 2nd ed 2001) she defends that the global economy needs very specific territorial insertions, and that this need is at its sharpest with 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, and that the most advanced sectors would leave cities. The tightest proposition running through the book is that the global city is shaped/fed by the rise of intermediation functions at scales and in ways that go well beyond prior phases of capitalism.
Saskia Sassen has now started a new project on what an “Ethics of the City” would actually consist of. She posits that it will inevitably be quite different from our much-admired classic texts on ethics, which hover safely above the inequities of daily life in a large city. Cities are sites of inequality and indifference, and therein lies the challenge but also the necessity to understand when do inequality and indifference become profoundly unjust and destructive of people, their efforts, and the city itself. Her first three sites for research will be New York City, London, and Beijing. Support for the research comes from the Kaifeng Foundation (Beijing and Oxford).