Everyday Tech: In Search of Mundane Tactics
by Saskia Sassen, November 5, 2018
In this chapter Saskia Sassen, discusses tales of how technology (re)articulates political-economic relations but also requires a ‘mundane’ sensibility. In this chapter she does so building on personal memory, interdisciplinary view of IR and curious facts, highlighting serious matters of inequality and power. Engaged here in conversation with Michele Acuto, Sassen calls for empirical engagement ‘on the ground’ and continuous conceptual (r)evolution and self-examination. In particular, building on her scholarship on markets, cities and spatial appropriation, she offers as reminder that, when it comes to the role of technology in international relations theory and practice, no example is too mundane to matter.
“Whatever, no I don’t mind at all where we start… often times I just start!” It is hard to capture Saskia Sassen’s restless train of thought as we jump between separatist struggles and nanny apps, global economic downturns and the steam engine. Sipping a glass of Chilean white in her sunny central London flat, packed with multilingual editions of her works and imposing musical instruments of her historian husband Richard Sennett, Sassen tells us tales of how technology (re)articulates political-economic relations but also requires a ‘mundane’ sensibility. She does so in her unique style between a laugh and a statistic, a personal memory and a curious fact, never skirting away from serious matters of inequality and power.
Sassen is no doubt one of the most recognizable and widely cited contemporary social scientists. To be certain, Sassen’s popularity bridges well beyond the walls of academia as one of her most famed research themes, the “global city”, has rapidly proliferated amidst urban practitioners the world over becoming a staple of city politics throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Nonetheless it is no easy task to label Sassen with a specific disciplinary affiliation. Her bibliography, now impressively counting in the hundreds and with translations in over fifteen languages, is a constellation of musings on the dynamics of globalization, transnational flows and urban transformations, cutting across geography, sociology, political economy and urban studies, to name but a few. In this sense, Sassen’s influence in International Relations theory, especially when it comes to thinking of globalizing processes and their socio-economic consequences, is variegated and not easily captured organically. Yet, connecting the themes of globalization, political economy and societal transformation, Sassen’s work is ultimately a call for empirical engagement ‘on the ground’, continuous conceptual (r)evolution and self-examination—all themes that echo in the interview below. When it comes to the role of technology in international relations, both theory and practice, Sassen reminds us no example is too mundane to matter.