The Global City, Cultural Assimilation and Sassen

Travel to any major international city and you will see an increasing commonality. The world is truly becoming global. Cultures are assimilating and evidence of tremedous change is becoming more obvious each day. This is but an initial phase of a rapidly expanding process whereby our globe is becoming one world without borders and one culture without limits.

Saskia Sassen, the noted Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, and Centennial Visiting Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics, has written extensively on globalization and international human migration ( ). In her paper, Global City: The Strategic Site/New Frontier, Sassen makes a number of important observations that relate to Globalization. One of her most notable is the definition of “Global Cities”. It is in this writing that Sassen defines the cities of the business and global revolution and why place and centrality are still a necessity to its end. Sassen also reflects on the dichotomy that is represented by these global cities, centers for the elite who benefit from readily available global capital while relying on the necessary services and inexpensive undervalued labor resources constituted by an underclass that migrates reterritorializes and assimilates. While her precepts are undeniable and intriguing, Sassen in later research will likely address and embrace both the necessity of the conditions she describes and the idea that place and centrality represents organizations clinging to old methods that ultimately will secede from the practice of the adoption of the new paradigm. As with past historical shifts in economics and society, we do not reach the idyllic without a transformation that entails some pain and therefore while describing the present state of the world becoming global, we should keep in mind the opportunity this future represents.

Sassen opines that globalization requires centers or places, leading into her definition of global cities, “A focus on practices draws the categories of place and production process into the analysis of economic globalization. These are two categories easily overlooked in accounts centered on the hyper mobility of capital and the power of transnationals. Developing categories such as place and production process does not negate the centrality of hyper mobility and power. Rather, it foregrounds the fact that many of the resources necessary for global economic activities are not hyper mobile and are, indeed, deeply embedded in place, notably places such as global cities and export processing zones.”

Sassen defines global cities as, “new geographies of centrality at the global level that binds the major international financial and business centers: New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Zurich, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong, among others. But this geography now also includes cities such as Bangkok, Taipei, Sao Paulo and Mexico City (Sassen 2000b)”.

Of great interest is Sassen’s reference to the commonality of numerous aspects of the new geographies cultures. She refers to reterritorialized; “The large western city of today concentrates diversity. Its spaces are inscribed with the dominant corporate culture but also with a multiplicity of other cultures and identities. The slippage is evident: the dominant culture can encompass only part of the city. While corporate power inscribes these cultures and identities with ‘otherness’ thereby devaluing them, they are present everywhere. For instance, through immigration a proliferation of originally highly localized cultures now have become presences in many large cities, cities whose elites think of themselves as cosmopolitan, that is transcending any locality. An immense array of cultures from around the world, each rooted in a particular country or village, now are reterritorialized in a few single places, places such as New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and most recently Tokyo.” Here Sassen expresses the essence of a new global world in the global city. The assimilation of cultures is occurring each day as the result of the business revolution. However, ultimately this assimilation and the forms that they are taking at present will not be limited by space. They will each every place and touch every facet of each community on the planet.

Sassen further addresses the issue of assimilation of cultures as a result of globalization when she writes, “Immigration and ethnicity are too often constituted as ‘otherness’. Understanding them as a set of processes whereby global elements are localized, international labor markets are constituted, and cultures from all over the world are deterritorialized, puts them right there at the centre of the stage along with the internationalization of capital as a fundamental aspect of globalization today.”

The shift in population and cultural assimilations, according to Sassen, will not likely be met with resistance that will end the process; “The linkage of people to territory as constituted in global cities is far less likely to be intermediated by the national state or ‘national culture’. We are seeing a loosening of identities from what have been traditional sources of identity, such as the nation or the village (Yaeger 1996). This unmooring in the process of identity formation engenders new notions of community of membership and of entitlement.”