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Saskia Sassen to Give Sherrill Lecture, "Territory, Authority and Rights," Feb. 21

Saskia Sassen, the Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, and Centennial Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, will deliver the 2004-05 Sherrill Lecture on Monday, February 21, at 4:30 p.m, in Room 127. Her talk is titled "Territory, Authority, and Rights: Emerging Assemblages/Specialized Normative Orders," and is free and open to the public.

Sassen's lecture examines various institutionalizations of territory, authority, and rights historically organized through the nation-state that are today becoming partly disaggregated into multiple specialized orders. These bring together "elements that were once part of more diffuse institutional domains within the nation state, or, in some cases, the institutionalized supranational system."

Sassen continues, "These developments raise questions about the future of crucial frameworks through which modern societies, economies, and polities (under the rule of law) have operated: governance of the economy, social democracy as we have come to understand it, citizenship."

Her empirical research for these trends focuses on transformations inside the state (particularly the changing relation of the Executive to Congress and to citizens), the relation of citizens to their national state (given human rights, transnationalism, amnesties for undocumented immigrants), various forms of private authority in the context of a global corporate economy, and the growing use of digital technology by state and non-state actors.

"Much analysis of current change suffers from a nation-state centric perspective," says Sassen. In part this is because elements of the nation state remain both powerful and essential for the functioning of society. "The administrative capability represented by the nation state remains critical and ... militarized border controls have mostly been sharpened rather than diluted in much of the world.... Yet even as the raw power of national states in many cases has increased, this may not necessarily mean that sovereign territorial authority has become more significant."

Critical to the analysis she develops is a set of distinctions between self-evidently global entities (WTO, IMF) and processes that denationalize what has historically been constructed as national, even though they keep being represented in the language of the national. Thus in Sassen's perspective, epoch-making transformations are not only to be found at the global scale, but also deep within the national; locating them takes some serious decoding.