Professor Hickman—It is not structural. It is functional.
Many of Hickman's comments focus on the analytics I develop in my book on territory authority and rights (Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights; cited hereafter as TAR). Thus it is this discussion that I focus on here. Hickman writes:
As I understand her work, then, Sassen is advancing a type of transh-istorical account …. [F]or Sassen territory, authority and rights are "transhistorical components present in almost all societies." … Does this amount to the invocation of a "grand historical narrative," or is it merely a generalization on existing cases? More specifically, how can this transhistorical claim be operationalized for those such as educators, engineers, scientists, financiers, and public officials, for example, who are charged with thinking critically about our problematic present and our common future?(Hickman, "Saskia Sassen" 91—92)
Responding to these questions, I would say that while I use the term "transhistorical" to characterize territory, authority, and rights, it is in a specific sense: they are present in all complex forms of socio-political organization, from nomadic tribes to nation-states, but they do so in highly variable shapes and combinations. Because they are so widely present in very diverse places and times, and further, because they have been assembled in such diverse ways, they can serve as windows, as flashlights by which to explore different epochs. The assumption is that their variability gives us some sort of knowledge not only about themselves but also about a larger complex socio-political reality. In that sense, they can be heuristic.
Hickman also writes: [End Page 101]
In the discussion that followed her presentation, I asked whether her use of the term "assemblage" is linked to that of Bruno Latour, who famously described Paris as an "assemblage" of various numbers of various things—kiosks, metro stops, hotels, churches, parks, bistros, pissoirs, and so on. Sassen replied that her notion of assemblage is instead rooted in the work of Gilles Deleuze. I hope that in her reply to these comments, she will address that strand of influence, since the notion of assemblage plays an important part in her project. In any event, however, it is not so much the nation-state that is at issue for Sassen, but its components, its capabilities, and the ways that they are disassembled and reassembled at various times and places. It is in this sense that she appears to be on guard against reification either of the state or of globalization. This should receive considerable sympathy among self-described pragmatists who are readers of this journal.(Hickman, "Saskia Sassen" 92)
I use the term "assemblage" as an analytic instrument that allows me to detect an organizational format that deborders established institutional domains—the economy, the polity, the state, society—and recover the contingency of how each of these is constituted, and the fact that across time and place, they were constituted differently. Thus it is not Latour's assemblage—my assemblage has to work hard at producing meaning. Nor is it Deleuze's assemblage—mine is less theorized (see Sassen, TAR 5ni). My effort is to recover the formation of arrangements that include elements of each or several of these institutions in specific ways, depending on the period and place. Analytically, using assemblages allows me to detect and construct formations that include only elements of established institutions. In this regard, an assemblage cannot be reduced to an institution (the state, the economy, etc.), but rather contains elements of diverse institutions or other identifiable entities, which cohere through specific, often situated dynamics or logics.
Territory, authority, and rights each are transhistorical in the sense that they are basic building blocks, whether formalized and recognized, or informal but recognized. In this sense the most controversial is the notion of rights—once, formally speaking, the presumption of the divine sovereign. But I argue that if one goes digging into specific historiographies, one can detect a foundational awareness of something akin to what today we represent as rights. Rights, if we think about it, is a concept that takes on variable meanings even within a given type of statehood, such as liberal democracies or communism. Yet, in the...