re:connect – Saskia Sassen's Update on her New Book

In the following Saskia Sassen gives us an update on her new book "Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy" after her much-noticed talk at last years re:publica. The book is about austerity and economics, land grabs in the Global South and more. Topics re:publica talks dealt with this year as well.

My favorite chapter is "Dead Land Dead Water" – not favorite for the reality it describes but for how brutally reality presents itself. The language of "climate change" covers a very broad range of conditions – often ambiguous. I wanted the brutal facts on the ground about dead land and dead water.

This question of how to describe reality runs through the book. One of the problems is that the language of more inequality, more poverty, more imprisonment, more environmental destruction (…) is insufficient to mark the proliferation of extreme conditions. That is why I argue that we are rather dealing with expulsions, a radical rupture. I see these as extreme versions of familiar conditions. They are not monsters that belong to a different reality.

We tend to stop at the extreme. In "Expulsions" I examine a broad range of familiar processes which at some point become so extreme that language ceases to explain.

[caption]  Saskia Sassen's book as published by Belknap Press | Harvard University Press 2014; photo: Belknap Press.[/caption] 

That extreme moment can be thought of as the systemic edge – to be distinguished from the more familiar concept of interstate borders. Systemic edges are proliferating across diverse domains. Further, I conceive of these systemic edges as the point in sometimes long trajectories, when the familiar condition is expelled from our knowledge space, our experiential space.

To illustrate briefly with a familiar case: at some point the long-term unemployed fall off the standard categories for measuring unemployment; they become statistically invisible. Another example is our standard measure for economic growth: GDP per capita: increasingly the space it measures leaves out significant numbers of people, places, and activities. Thus it measures a shrunken economic space, and in so doing can come up with some positive growth numbers, even as significant numbers of people, small businesses, and places have been expelled from "the" economy. A kind of economic "cleansing." (Remark: a text by me on Open Democracy: Greece is not unique, just more extreme

[caption]  The cover of the German issue of Sassen's latest book. It will be published in September 2015; photo: S. Fischer Wissenschaft. [/caption]


We need new analytics and new conceptual language – new politics to capture such extreme conditions. For instance, I see Tsirpas in Greece and Podemos in Spain as as an example, looking at the whole of the Greek space and saying no to how the ECB (European Central Bank) and the IMF and Mr. Schäuble define "the" economy: it leaves out too much. I think it is an honest understanding that drives Tsirpas. The ECB and the IMF define "the economy" in terms of a set of indicators that basically describe how the large corporate economy is doing. They set up a narrow space that they call the economy and expell everything else (which in Greece is about 30% of the workers and small firms). 

Each of the expulsions I examine tends to be studied by a specialized discipline exclusively focused on itself. For instance, the experts of long-term unemployment in the Global North do not really study the displaced due to war, the making of plantations, floods and such, in the Global South which also create massive unemployment. (Remark: For instance, the matter of land grabs in the Global South)

Expulsions take on specific forms in each place. They have specific contents in diverse domains –economy, society, politics, biosphere. I propose in this book, that expulsions surface manifestations of deeper trends that today cut across the familiar divisions. What I privilege conceptually in the book is that regardless of genesis, they all throw people out of their life space. It is this crossing of systemic edges and the spaces of the expelled that I want to highlight.

Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chairs The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University. Her book "Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy" was published in May 2014 with Harvard University Press. The German version "Ausgrenzungen: Brutalität und Komplexität in der globalen Wirtschaft" will be published on 24th September 2015 with S.Fischer Wissenschaft