Beyond social exclusion: emerging logics of expulsion with Saskia Sassen
By James Heather, on 23 June 2012
On 13 June, renowned sociologist Professor Saskia Sassen, who popularised the term ‘global city’, came to London’s Global University to give a talk on some of her current research.
Centring around the idea that in recent history changes to the socio-economic make-up of capitalist nations has brought about changes to the way society values and includes its members, the talk focused on how the dynamics and metrics of exclusion – and expulsion – have altered throughout much of our society, and largely for the worse.
We started by learning the definition of social expulsion, as opposed to exclusion. Imagine, if you will, those people that reside at the edge of a system (not necessarily a geographical edge). Exclusion would be the prevention of people outside of that system entering it. Expulsion, however, is the act of those already within the system being ejected from it, and finding themselves on the other side of the line.
This is what Sassen believes to be occurring at a tremendous pace today, visible in the growing numbers of poor, unemployed, disenfranchised and displaced peoples across the globe.
Sassen told how she was among those who began to see the genesis of this shift during research she performed in the 1980s. Upwards of a half-century or so before this, capitalist systems had increased the value that they placed on people. This was fuelled not by compassion, but consumerism, with the populace providing both labour and a market for the output of that labour.
Since then, however, systems have been changing, a dynamic she believes is apparent in the astronomic rise in such expulsion. She sees this change in human fortune as an indication of far larger, but less tangible, changes to global capitalism.
“[I] try to be a ‘savage’ sort of scientist,” was the claim, as Sassen has taken it upon herself to break down the superstructures she sees to be holding back research into this phenomenon by transcending technicalities, and destabilising stable lingual meanings.
According to Sassen, in order to discover new things about say, territories, we must first abandon our initial preconceptions of what a territory is – likely something nationally inclined – before we can then explore what meanings it might have free of that connotation.
While normally only glimpsed occasionally, by changing the analytic paradigm in this way, Sassen aims to better understand this systemic change, and its governing logic.
The lecture covered much ground, using evidence about the rise of mass surveillance, the financial crisis and immense rise in home foreclosures to underline the active production of inequality that is fuelling this boom in expulsion.
Hosted by the multidisciplinary UCL Institute for Global Health, the event – and institute’s – broad spectrum was reflected both by the diverse range of panel members and the questions posed by the audience.
Of particular interest to me was the contribution of panel member Professor Peter Goldblatt (deputy director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity), who bridged the subject of the talk with my own particular interest in global health. Goldblatt highlighted the associations between the distribution of wealth, power and resources and that of health provision.
Clearly, expulsion from the former must expel people from latter. If Professor Sassen is correct, much of this burden will be occurring in silence, and we must change the way that we think about these problems in order to understand, and solve them.