Analytic Borderlands: Before Method?

Saskia Sassen

IUAES2015 Keynotes #3 17 July 2015, 10.15 – 11.00 hrs.


A growing range of conditions in the world today demand we enter an ill-defined conceptual zone. I think of this zone as the in-between space that arises from the fact that paradigmatic knowledges have fuzzy edges, and that this fuzziness enables encounters and transactions between paradigms. My concern here is with the diverse in-between spaces that are neither fully captured by paradigmatic sociology nor by paradigmatic anthropology. The notion of paradigmatic knowledge is itself under question, but it helps us to assume that each of these disciplines has a central zone –even if it may consist of several, not a single, major theoretical modes. One starting point in such an analysis is that the powerful or master categories of a discipline can hide as much as they reveal about periods of change –notably, our current epoch. But we cannot simply throw them out of the window. What we can do, I will argue, is to elaborate analytic tactics that allow us to see what they obscure. Much of my research has been in zones where those fuzzy edges of diverse disciplinary paradigms engage each other. One such encounter of edges happens, in my experience, between anthropology and sociology –though my major such zone has been between sociology and economics.

This type of experimental rumination, I find, requires the freedom to suspend, even if temporarily, method and its disciplining of the what, the how and the why of an inquiry. I need to engage in what I think of as analytic tactics –the freedom to position myself in whatever ways I want/need vis a visthe object of study. Among these tactics is the establishing of my site for research and theorization in the shadow of powerful explanations –the penumbra generated by a powerful explanation around its center of light, so to speak. Powerful explanations are to be taken seriously, but they are conceptually dangerous. My first move is to ask what does such an explanation obscure precisely because it sheds such a powerful light on some aspects of a question. A second analytic tactic, partly arising from the first, is the need actively to destabilize stabilized meanings.

Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Chair, The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University. Her new book is Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (2014). Recent books are Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (2008), A Sociology of Globalization (2007), and the 4th fully updated edition of Cities in a World Economy (2012). Among older books is The Global City (1991/2001). Her books are translated into over 20 languages. Currently she is working on Ungoverned Territories (Harvard University Press 2016). She is the recipient of diverse awards and mentions, ranging from multiple doctor honoris causa to named lectures and being selected as one of the Top Global Thinkers on several lists. She was awarded the 2013 Principe de Asturias Prize for the Social Sciences.