In This Review

Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages
Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages
By Saskia Sassen
Princeton University Press, 2006, 502 pp

Globalization is transforming the organization of human activity and reshaping patterns of rights and authority. In this ambitious book, a noted sociologist attempts to capture the complex logic and consequences of this epochal process. Sassen's focus is on the historical transitions that moved the world from the medieval era to the national era and then to the global era, and how territory and political community have been organized and restructured along the way. Some readers will find the book overly long and excessively abstract, and, indeed, it is: the concepts, processes, variables, transitions, and organizational logics invoked depict a global system of seemingly infinite complexity. One of Sassen's themes is that nation building and globalization are not antagonistic processes; the laws, property rights, and borders that states create are the infrastructure of global exchange and integration. Another theme is that globalization itself unfolds in stages: in the years after World War II, the process was geared primarily toward building states, whereas today it is geared toward "globalization inside of national states." Most interesting is the observation that the current stage of globalization is shifting the locus of authority away from states to a "world of private power" that nonetheless still operates through national institutions. Underlying these observations is a materialistic theory of capitalism; nationalism, democracy, and geopolitics are mostly absent.