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Public Culture 12.1 (2000) 215-232

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Spatialities and Temporalities of the Global:
Elements for a Theorization *

Saskia Sassen

The multiple processes that constitute economic globalization inhabit and shape specific structurations of the economic, the political, the cultural, and the subjective. Among the most vital of their effects is the production of new spatialities and temporalities. These belong to both the global and the national, if only to each in part. This "in part" is an especially important qualification, as in my reading the global is itself partial, albeit strategic. The global does not (yet) fully encompass the lived experience of actors or the domain of institutional orders and cultural formations; it persists as a partial condition. This, however, should not suggest that the global and the national are discrete conditions that mutually exclude each other. To the contrary, they significantly overlap and interact in ways that distinguish our contemporary moment.

These overlaps and interactions have consequences for the work of theorization and research. Much of social science has operated with the assumption of the nation-state as a container, representing a unified spatiotemporality. Much of history, however, has failed to confirm this assumption. Modern nation-states themselves never achieved spatiotemporal unity, and the global restructurings of today threaten to erode the usefulness of this proposition for what is an expanding arena of sociological reality. The spatiotemporality of the national, upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be composed of multiple spatialities [End Page 215] and temporalities that are at best organizable into something approximating a spatiotemporal order--one, for instance, that can now be distinguished from the global.

Crucial to the project of this essay will be its conception of the dynamics of interaction and overlap that operate both within the global and the national and between them. Each sphere, global and national, describes a spatiotemporal order with considerable internal differentiation and growing mutual imbrication with the other. Their internal differences interpenetrate in ways that are variously conflictive, disjunctive, and neutralizing. The theoretical and methodological task of this essay will be one of detecting/constructing the social thickness and specificity of these dimensions with the aim of developing a suitably textured understanding of dynamic spaces of overlap and interaction. Given the complexity and specificity of both the global and the national, their interlacing suggests the existence of frontier zones--from the perspective of research and theorization, these analytic borderlands are sure to require independent theoretical and methodological specificity. Given the historically constructed meaning of the national as a dominant condition that mutually excludes both other nationals and the nonnational, these frontier zones are likely to be marked by operations of power and domination. A possible outcome of these dynamics of interaction between the global and the national, I suggest, is an incipient and partial denationalization of domains once understood and/or constructed as national.

Theoretically and operationally, these processes seem thus far to have favored certain kinds of subjects and topics as strategic and capable of illuminating the issues at hand. In the domain of the global economic, transnational corporations, financial markets, and (in my analysis at least [Sassen 1998, chap. 4]) immigrant workers are emblematic subjects. At a greater level of complexity, so are the question of sovereignty in the context of globalization and the formation of border-crossing networks of global cities. 1

These are the elements I begin to explore in this essay. I will focus especially on analytic operations that I have found to be helpful, if not necessary, to explaining the dynamics of national-global overlap and interaction. As my past research has made me more familiar with the global than the national, the global will provide my angle of entry into these issues. [End Page 216]

Analytic Operations

There is a specificity to the conditions and contents of the global. Two elements that are key to its formulation are the degree of economic globalization's embeddedness in the national and the specificity and social thickness of the global. 2 The global economy cannot be taken simply as given, whether what is given is a...


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pp. 215-232
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Archived 2004
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