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Issue: 8.1: Fall 2009
Guest Edited by Gisela Fosado and Janet R. Jakobsen
Valuing Domestic Work

Saskia Sassen, "The Other Workers in the Advanced Corporate Economy"
(page 4 of 4)

New Frontier Zones: The Formation of New Political Actors

By way of conclusion let me focus briefly on the other side of the global city, a sort of new frontier where enormous mixes of people converge. Those who lack power, those who are disadvantaged, outsiders, discriminated minorities, can gain presence in such cities, presence vis-á-vis power and presence, vis-á-vis each other. This signals, for me, the possibility of a new form of politics centered in new types of political actors. It is not simply a matter of having or not having power. There are new hybrid bases from which to act. By using the term presence I try to capture some of this.

What presents itself as segregated or excluded from the mainstream core of a city is actually an increasingly complex political presence. The city is a far more concrete space for politics than the nation. It becomes a place where non-formal political actors can be part of the political scene in a way that is much more difficult at the national level. Nationally, politics needs to run through existing formal systems: whether the electoral political system or the judiciary (taking state agencies to court). Non-formal political actors are rendered invisible in the space of national politics. The space of the city accommodates a broad range of political activities—squatting, demonstrations against police brutality, fighting for the rights of immigrants (anti-deportation and asylum campaigns) and the homeless, the politics of culture and identity, gay and lesbian and queer politics. Much of this becomes visible on the street. Urban politics is more concrete, enacted by people rather than dependent on massive media technologies. Street level politics makes possible the formation of new types of political subjects that do not have to go through the formal political system. The Justice for Janitors campaigns have precisely insisted on making janitors present in the city via marches, celebrations and public campaigns to shame employers into recognizing the union as a legitimate bargaining agent.

In short, the global city is a strategic site for global corporate capital. But is also one of the sites where the formation of new claims by informal political actors can materialize and assume concrete forms.


1. Saskia Sassen, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001): Chapters 8-9. [Return to text]

2. Brookings Institute, "Living Cities Census Series," May 2008. [Return to text]

3. For a more extensive discussion, see Sassen (2008), "Two Stops in Today's New Global Geographies: Shaping Novel Labor Supplies and Employment Regimes," American Behavioral Scientist, vol.52, issue 3, pp. 457-496. [Return to text]

4. Lawrence Mishel, "Who's Grabbing All the New Pie?" Economic Policy Institute: Economic Snapshots, 1 August 2007. [Return to text]

5. There is a growing scholarship examining the return of the so-called "serving classes" in all the global cities around the world, made up largely of immigrant and migrant women. See: Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003); Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Ed., Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Workers, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001); Natalia Ribas Mateos, The Mediterranean In The Age Of Globalization: Migration, Welfare, And Borders (Somerset, NJ: Transaction, 2005); Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo. Doméstica (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [Return to text]

6. Homecare services include assistance with bathing and dressing, food preparation, walking and getting in and out of bed, medication reminders, transportation, housekeeping, conversation and companionship. While less directly related to the needs of high-income professional households, it is the case that many of these tasks used to be in the care of the typical housewife of the global north. [Return to text]

7. Very prominent in this market are the International Nanny and Au Pair Agency, headquartered in Britain; Nannies Incorporated, based in London and Paris; and the International Au Pair Association (IAPA) based in Canada. [Return to text]

8. See chapter 7 of Sassen (2001), and Heather Hindman, "Outsourcing Difference: Expatriate Training and the Disciplining of Culture," in Deciphering the Global: Its Scales, Spaces and Subjects, Saskia Sassen, Ed. (New York and London: Routledge, 2007): pp. 153-176. [Return to text]

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© 2009 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 8.1: Fall 2009 - Valuing Domestic Work