in the Global City
Saskia SassenThe global city can be seen as one strategic instantiation where multiple localizations of the global take place. And women are emerging as key actors in this transformation. Many of these localizations are embedded in the demographic transition evident in such cities, where a majority of workers who live and work in the city are increasingly women, many women of color and immigrants.
The impacts are contradictive for women: cities are places of exploitation and places of resistance.
An important localization of the dynamics of globalization is that of the new professional women stratum. Elsewhere I have examined the impact of the growth of top level professional women in high income gentrification in these cities - both residential and commercial - as well as in the re-urbanization of middle class family life.
Global cities are key sites for the specialized servicing, financing and management of global economic processes. This has created a vast expansion in the demand for high level profesionals. Further, the complex and strategic character of these jobs require long work hours and intense engagement with their jobs and worklives. This places heavy demands on their time. Urban residence is far more desirable than suburban especially for single professionals or two-professional career households. As a result we see an expansion of high-income residential areas in global cities and we see a re-urbanization of family life insofar as these professionals want it all, and hence also children even if they may not have the time for it. Given demanding and time absorbing jobs, the usual modes of handling household tasks and lifestyle are inadequate. This is a type of household that I describe as the "professional household without a 'wife'" regardless of the fact that it may have a couple of man and woman or man and man or woman and woman, if they are both in demanding jobs. A growing share of household tasks are relocated to the market: they are bought directly as goods and services or indirectly through hired labor. As a consequence we are seeing the return of the so-called "serving classes" in all the global cities around the world, made up largely of immigrant and migrant women.
These transformations contain possibilities, even if limited, for women's autonomy and empowerment, and not only for the professional woman. For instance, we might ask whether the growth of informalization in advanced urban economies reconfigures some types of economic relations between men and women. With informalization, the neighborhood and the household re-emerge as sites for economic activity. This condition has its own dynamic possibilities for women. Economic downgrading through informalization, creates "opportunities" for low-income women and therewith reconfigures some of the work and household hierarchies that women find themselves in. This becomes particularly clear in the case of immigrant women who come from countries with rather traditional male-centered cultures.
There is a large literature
showing that immigrant women's regular wage work and improved access to other
public realms has an impact on their gender relations: Women gain greater personal
autonomy and independence while men lose ground. Women gain more control over
budgeting and other domestic decisions, and greater leverage in requesting help
from men in domestic chores. Also, their access to public services and other
public resources gives them a chance to become incorporated in the mainstream
society - they are often the ones in the housheold who mediate in this process.
It is likely that some women benefit more than others from these circumstances;
we need more research to establish the impact of class, education, and income
on these gendered outcomes. Besides the relatively greater empowerment of women
in the household associated with waged employment, there is a second important
outcome: their greater participation in the public sphere and their possible
emergence as public actors. There are two arenas where immigrant women are active:
institutions for public and private assistance, and the immigrant/ethnic community.
The incorporation of women in the migration process strengthens the settlement
likelihood and contributes to greater immigrant participation in their communities
and vis a vis the state. For instance immigrant women come to assume more active
public and social roles which further reinforces their status in the household
and the settlement process. Women are more active in community building and
community activism and they are positioned differently from men regarding the
broader economy and the state. They are the ones that are likely to have to
handle the legal vulnerability of their families in the process of seeking public
and social services for their families.
There is, to some extent, a joining of two different dynamics in the condition of women in global cities described above. On the one hand they are constituted as an invisible and disempowered class of workers in the service of the strategic sectors constituting the global economy. This invisibility keeps them from emerging as whatever would be the contemporary equivalent of the "labor aristocracy" of earlier forms of economic organization, when a workers' position in leading sectors had the effect of empowering them. On the other hand, the access to wages and salaries - even if low-, the growing feminization of the job supply, and the growing feminization of business opportunities brought about with informalization, does alter the gender hierachies in which they find themselves.
What makes the localization of the above described processes strategic, even though they involve powerless and often invisible workers, is that these same cities are also the strategic sites for the valorization of the new forms of global corporate capital.
Global cities are centers for the servicing and financing of international trade, investment, and headquarter operations. That is to say, the multiplicity of specialized activities present in global cities are crucial in the valorization, indeed overvalorization of leading sectors of capital today. And in this sense they are strategic production sites for today's leading economic sectors. This function is reflected in the ascendance of these activities in their economies. In my analysis what is specific about the shift to services is not merely the growth in service jobs but, most importantly, the growing service intensity in the organization of advanced economies: firms in all industries, from mining to wholesale buy more accounting, legal, advertising, financial, economic forecasting services today than they did twenty years ago. Whether at the global or regional level, urban centers - central cities, edge cities - are adequate and often the best production sites for such specialized services. When it comes to the production of services for the leading globalized sectors, the advantages of location in cities are particularly strong ...
The space constituted by the global grid of global cities, a space with new economic and political potentialities, is perhaps one of the most strategic spaces for the formation of transnational identities and communities. This is a space that is both place-centered in that it is embedded in particular and strategic sites; and it is transterritorial because it connects sites that are not geographically proximate yet intensely connected to each other. It is not only the transmigration of capital that takes place in this global grid, but also that of people, both rich, i.e. the new transnational professional workforce, and poor, i.e. most migrant workers; and it is a space for the transmigration of cultural forms, for the reterritorialization of "local" subcultures. An important question is whether it is also a space for a new politics, one going beyond the politics of culture and identity, though at leat partly likely to be embedded in these.
Cities are very complex and multifaceted. They are sites for extreme exploitation of masses of people; but they are also sites for new types of politics, new ways in which the powerless can engage power in a way they cannot in rural areas, for instance or in small towns. And they are also sites where the many different cultures of resistance, subversion, contestation of power can become present to each other, aware of each other, in a way they cannot on a plantation or in a small town where the diversity is lacking. Cities have become international spaces for a diversity of actors and subjects. They have of course always been so, though perhaps a bit less than today and in a different way from today. Cities are new frontier zones where actors from many many different types of struggles and national origins can come together.
Cities are a space for politics that is far more concrete than that of the national state. Cities make possible the formation of informal political subjects: various types of activists around the rights of homeless, the rights of immigrants, the rights of lesbians and gays and queers; direct action politics against capital; squatters; anarchists; anti-racism and police brutality struggles; and others. It is the city that makes this possible. There are times when particular situations make national politics of resistance also concrete: for instance, in Germany the train carrying nuclear waste and people organized demonstrations around it, the train becoming a concrete site for action. The protests against WTO in Seattle illustrate how the mobilization could happen because at some point the global economy needs to hit the ground: the it becomes a concrete event in the form of 132 trade ministers in a city. Similarly with the IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington.
Cities are strategic sites for global capital, sites for exploitation, and sites for developing new forms of resistance. They will remain and become so even more. That is my notion of the global city: it is not just about global capital, as some say, it is also about a new type of politics that has to do with engaging the global in the localized site that is the city, and a coming together of the most diverse types of efforts and people from around the world. Nowehere is all of this as concrete as in major cities.
And nowhere are there such vast concentrations of women in the strategic economic sectors at the top of the system and in the infrastructure of low wage jobs that is strategic for the servicing of the top sectors and households. And nowhere do the conditions of illegal trafficking in women materialize so clearly as a mechanism for illegal profit as in these cities. The strategic nature of all these dynamics and the vast concentrations of women from different countries and socio-economic backgrounds it entails, signals the possibility of a variety of concrete politics of resistance, contestation and implementation by women. Because these cities have women from so many different countries one effect could be to strengthen the formation of existing, and also lead to new cross-border networks. The cross-border network of global cities is a space where we are seeing the formation of countergeographies of globalization which contest the dominant economic forms the global economy has assumed.