Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages

Saskia Sassen

Winner of the 2007 Robert Jervis and Paul Schroeder Award, International History and Politics Organized Section of the American Political Science Association
Honorable Mention for the 2006 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Sociology & Social Work, Association of American Publishers

Where does the nation-state end and globalization begin? In Territory, Authority, Rights, one of the world’s leading authorities on globalization shows how the national state made today’s global era possible. Saskia Sassen argues that even while globalization is best understood as “denationalization,” it continues to be shaped, channeled, and enabled by institutions and networks originally developed with nations in mind, such as the rule of law and respect for private authority. This process of state making produced some of the capabilities enabling the global era. The difference is that these capabilities have become part of new organizing logics: actors other than nation-states deploy them for new purposes. Sassen builds her case by examining how three components of any society in any age–territory, authority, and rights–have changed in themselves and in their interrelationships across three major historical “assemblages”: the medieval, the national, and the global.

The book consists of three parts. The first, “Assembling the National,” traces the emergence of territoriality in the Middle Ages and considers monarchical divinity as a precursor to sovereign secular authority. The second part, “Disassembling the National,” analyzes economic, legal, technological, and political conditions and projects that are shaping new organizing logics. The third part, “Assemblages of a Global Digital Age,” examines particular intersections of the new digital technologies with territory, authority, and rights.

Sweeping in scope, rich in detail, and highly readable, Territory, Authority, Rights is a definitive new statement on globalization that will resonate throughout the social sciences.


“The book is a magisterial work of major theoretical importance and merits the close attention of scholars of global change in general and of globalization in particular. It illustrates the crucial role of historical analysis in making sense of contemporary socio-political phenomena.”–Richard W. Mansbach, International History Review

“[Sassen] take[s] a broad view of territory, authority and rights from the middle ages to the era of globalization, to argue that this denationalization is itself influenced by what happened when the nation state was built. She believes the process of globalization is shaped, channeled and enabled by institutions and networks that were originally designed to build the nation state, including the rule of law and respect for private authority. Globalization builds on these institutions and networks and gives them a new direction.”–Narendar Pani, Economic Times

“An erudite and spirited defense of the only approach to public policy that has brought mankind sustained economic growth, widespread alleviation of poverty, and embedded respect for the worth and dignity of the individual.”Economic Affairs

“[A] magisterial work of enormous scope and penetrating analysis. . . . [T]his work will stand as the leading exploration of the subject for many years.”–Paul Kantor, Political Science Quarterly

“University of Chicago sociologist Sassen, a leading scholar of globalization, argues convincingly that while much ‘denationalization’ characterizes globalization, nation building and globalization are not oppositional. . . . This work makes a significant contribution to the globalization literature.”Choice


List of Tables xi
Acknowledgments xiii

Chapter 1: Introduction 1
Historicizing Assemblages of Territory, Authority, and Rights 3
Foundational Transformations in and of Complex Systems 6
Capabilities 7
Tipping Points 9
Organizing Logics 10
Using History to Develop an Analytics of Change 11
Outline of the Book 18

Part One: Assembling the National 25

Chapter 2: Territory, Authority, and Rights in the Framing of the National 31
Deciphering Medieval Territory, Authority, and Rights 32
Territorializing Authority and Rights 41
The Political Economy of Urban Territoriality 53
The Legal Order 61
Political Cultures of Towns 67
Conclusion: Medieval Capabilities and Their Consequences 71

Chapter 3: Assembling National Political Economies Centered on Imperial Geographies 74
The State as the Critical Actor 76
Constructing a World Scale 82
Constructing National Economies Centered on Imperial Geographies 88
Constructing the Legal Persona of a National Bourgeoisie 96
Constructing the Legality of a Disadvantaged Subject 110
The American State: Making a National Sovereign Out of a Confederation 121
Hypernationalism and Imperialism 132

Part Two: Disassembling the National 141

Chapter 4: The Tipping Point: Toward New Organizing Logics 148
Varieties of Internationalism 149
The Tipping Point 157
Why Was Bretton Woods Not the Tipping Point? 158
The United States: Shaping Systemic Capabilities for the Tipping Point 163
Redistributing Power inside the State 168
The Executive’s Privatizing of Its Own Power 179
Reconstructing the Public-Private Divide 184
The Variable Articulations of Private and Public Authority 187
The Rise of Markets and the Law in Reshaping the “Public Interest” 196
Appendix 204
Executive Secrecy and Discretionary Abuses-Bush Administration, 2001-2005 204

Chapter 5: Denationalized State Agendas and Privatized Norm-Making 222
Variable Interpretations of State Power in the Global Economy 224
Denationalized State Agendas 230
Antitrust Policy: From Extraterritoriality to a Global System? 236
International Economic Law: Autonomous from But Inserted in National Law 240
A New Institutional Zone of Privatized Agents 242
The Global Capital Market: Power and Norm-Making 247
Distinguishing Today’s Market for Capital 248
Governments and the Global Market for Capital 259
The Partial Disembedding of Specialized State Operations and Nonstate Actors 264
Toward Global Law Systems: Disembedding Law from Its National Encasement 265
Conclusion 269
Appendix 272
Vulture Funds and Sovereign Debt: Examples from Latin America (2004) 272

Chapter 6: Foundational Subjects for Political Membership: Today’s Changed Relation to the National State 277
Citizenship and Nationality 281
Debordering and Relocalizing Citizenship 286
Deconstructing Citizenship: A Lens into the Question of Rights 290
The Multiple Interactions between Legality and Recognition 294
Unauthorized Yet Recognized 294
Authorized Yet Unrecognized 296
New Global Classes: Implications for Politics 298
Toward Postnational and Denationalized Citizenship 303
Distinguishing Postnational and Denationalized 305
Toward a Partial Repositioning of Nationality 309
Citizenship in the Global City 314
Conclusion 319

Part Three: Assemblages of a Global Digital Age 323

Chapter 7: Digital Networks, State Authority, and Politics 328
State Authority Confronts Digital Networks 330
Distinguishing Private and Public-Access Digital Space 336
A Politics of Places on Cross-Border Circuits 338
Embedding the Digital 340
Digital/Nondigital Imbrications 344
The Destabilization of Older Hierarchies of Scale 345
Mediating Cultures of Use 347
New Interactions between Capital Fixity and Hypermobility 348
A New Generation of Markets and Instruments 350
Managing Risk in Global Financial Markets 352
The Need for Technical Cultures of Interpretation 355
A Politics of Places on Global Circuits: The Local as Multiscalar 365
Conclusion 375

Chapter 8: Assembling Mixed Spatial and Temporal Orders: Elements for a Theorization 378
Analytic Borderlands: Specificity and Complexity 379
Mixed Spatio-Temporal Assemblages as Types of Territoriality 386
Juxtaposed Temporalities and New Economies 390
Excavating the Temporality of the National 395
Conclusion 397
In Conclusion 399

Chapter 9: Conclusion 401
On Method and Interpretation 404
Territory, Authority, and Rights: National and Global Assemblages 406
From National Borders to Embedded Borderings: Implications for Territorial Authority 415
Toward a Multiplication of Specialized Orders: Assemblages of TAR 420

Bibliography 425
Index 473

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