Urban Studies, Vol. 33, N o.

1, 107± 110, 1996

W hy Sassen is W rong: A Response to Burgers
Chris H amnett
{Paper received in ® nal form, September 1995}

Burgers raises some very im portant issues in his reply to my paper (Hamnett, 1994 a). Before dealing with B urger’ s substantive points, it is im portant to make clear that, contrary to what Burgers suggests, I did not criticise the `global city thesis’ per se . W hat I criticised is Saskia Sassen’ s speci® c argument regarding the nature and causes of polarisation in global cities. This is not the same thing at all. I made it very clear in my paper that: It is not my intention here to criticise the global city thesis, which has very considerable theoretical leverage. M y intention, rather, is to outlin e, and then critically examine the associated thesis of social polarisation in global cities. (Hamnett, 1994a, p. 403) I am also not sure that Burgers is correct in saying that the global cities thesis claims to be paradigm atic for other cities, or that M ollenkop f and Castells (1991) argue that all cities will become dual cities. This overstates their thesis. Leaving this rather crucial point to one side, the focus of Burgers’ s critique of my analysis of occupational change in the Randstad is that the data I use are biased in that they do not include the unemployed . He argues that there has been a major increase in unemployment in the Netherlands since the mid 1970s and that: If one looks not only to characteristics of the people holdin g jobs, but includes the unemployed , the picture changes dramatically. I will contend that the Dutch version

of polarisation encompasses both professionalisation and growing unemployment. (Burgers, 1996 , p. 100) He goes on to argue (p. 101) that the unemployed are heavily overrepresented in the big cities, especially among ethnic minority groups and he suggests that when this is taken into account: ª one could argue that that there is a double process of polarisation going on in Dutch citiesº . He also suggests that the use of the Randstad as a unit of observation is disputable and that, althoug h the four cities are functionally related, there are differences in social composition between them, and between them and their suburb s in terms of employment and ethnicity, and that I neglect substantial intra-urban variation. Burgers is quite correct that my data were restricted to the employed popula tion and I would entirely accept that if we also look at the growth in the unemployed a different picture emerges. M y argument, however, was not that some form of polarisation does not exist in the Randstad or in other global cities, but that the speci® c argument about the nature and causes of polarisation advanced by Sassen on the basis of her work in New York and Los Angeles does not necessarily apply in other global cities. Indeed, I would argue that Burgers’ s argument about the crucial role of unemployment and the welfare state in the Netherlands reinforces rather than undermines my critique of Sassen’ s polarisation thesis. Sassen’ s thesis is alm ost exclusively con-

Chris Hamnett is at the Department of Geography, King’ s College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS, UK.

0042-0980/96/010107-04 $6.00

1996 Urban Studies

as Burgers suggests. the proportion of professional and managerial workers is steadily increasing (Hamnett. are effectively forced into the ¯ exible low-wage labour market. 1995 . we argued that it is crucial to locate discussions of globalisation and its im pacts on urban systems in an analysis of the variations in welfare state . I entirely accept that this is often accompanied by the growth of unemployment and welfaredependent populations (hence the growth in income polarisation). But this is a speci® cally American interpretation of the causes and forms of polarisation. 1994b) . lead to absolute growth at both the top and botto m end of the occupational and income structure. In many European societies (and major cities). rather than falsify the global city thesis. As Esping-Anderson (1993 ) and Buck (1991 . in order to lay the foundations for a more precise speci® cation which recognises the existence of growing income inequality and polarisation alongside professionalisation of the paid labour force and high levels of unemployment. is becoming professionalised not polarised. whereas in the Netherlands or Scandinavia. The problem with her thesis is that in almost all W estern capitalist countries. In her view. 1984 . 1991) . I attempted to falsify Sassen’ s polarisation thesis as it applies to occupational polarisation in the labour force. but the causes of the growth of income polarisation are quite different from those outlined by Sassen and I would endorse Burgers’ s suggestion that Esping-Anderson’ s (1993) work on welfare state regimes provide s a valuable theoretical approach to polarisation (see Hamnett. 1994 ) to the Special Issue of Urban Studie s on Randstad Holland. 1994 ) have convin cingly shown.108 CH RIS H AM N ETT cerned with the changing industrial and occupation al structure of global cities and with the changing nature and supply of jobs in these cities. for a discussion). such as the Dutch disability bene® t. 100) I accept that in my origin al paper. enable people to survive outside the paid labour market. In other words. the forms of income inequality and polarisation between the US and various European countries are associated with the contrast between their welfare state regimes and the extent to which the extent of state employment and the scale and extent of unemployment and other bene® ts. it is necessary to point to the ¯ aws in Sassen’ s thesis which is almost entirely based on the changing industrial structure and the occupational structure of the labour force. including single parents and others. Her thesis revolves around the structure of employment and labour demand (Sassen. Sassen’ s thesis is mono-causal and related to changes in the occupational and income structure of the employed populat ion . One searches in vain for a discussion of unemployment or forms of polarisation which may derive from other causes. they are insulated by the welfare state. In particular. Burgers concludes by arguing that the Dutch case im plies that one should specify. which is based on a society with relatively limited welfare state provision and extremely high (and continuing) levels of im migration from low-wage countries. national welfare state arrangements and speci® c urban histories are im portant mediating variables as to the local outcom es of international economic restructuring (p. I agree that national welfare state regimes are im portant mediating variables. as Burgers accepts in the Netherlands. changes in industrial structure and occupational compositio n associated with the growth of advanced business and ® nancial services in global cities and the associated gentri® cation for low-wage labour. This is why. there is a combination of increasing income polarisation alongside a growing professionalisation within the paid labour force. In the US the growth of a low-income consumer-service sector is partly dependent on the limited welfare state protection which is available: many individuals. but I would argue that. the occupational structure of the economically active population . in our joint introdu ction (Dieleman and Hamnett.

Instead. 28 O ctober . (1993) C om parativ e incom e distribut ion in two welfare regim es: the impacts of household and labour market chang e in Britain and G erm any . The links are contingent. But. Built E nviron m ent . This is a very different outcome from that found in New York and Los Angeles. (1994a ) Social polarisat ion in globa l cities: theory and evidenc e. (1994) Socia l division s and labou r market chang e in London : national . and H AM N ETT . N . O ccasiona l Paper 2. and largely ignores both the structure and fundin g of the welfare state and the structure and role of the planning system. London : Sage. Cam bridge : Polity Press. It is important that. 84. we do not accept that there is a necessary and inevitable link between the process of globalisation and the social and environmental problems found in many global cities. N. 1995). we do not lose sight of their national backgrounds . (p. U niversit y of Essex .A NDER SON . 192±203. econo mic restruct uring and labou r m arke t change in Londo n and New York . U niversit y of Essex . located within the context of their own particular nation state. No. 31. C. H A M NETT . as I have argued elsewhere (Hamnett. 401±424 . the growth of both highly skilled and highly paid and low-skill and low-paid work as the causes of polarisation. E SPING. Hence. 33. income distribution and planning . 338). Strati® cation and M obility in Post-indu strial Societie s . 31. however. pp. B UR G ERS . (1993) Changin g Classes. The globalisation thesis tends to neglect issues of `social regulation’ by nation states¼ Put bluntly . N . ESR C R esearc h Centre on M icro-Socia l C hange . B UC K .A NDER SON . F. she views economic restructuring and. pp. they have resulted in growing unemployment and a large and growing state-dependent population. U rban Studie s . only global cities. the existence of strong welfare states (even thoug h they are often under threat) has meant that global economic pressures have not led to the absolute growth of a large low-wage service economy. B UC K . (1995) No polarisa tion in D utch cities? Inequali ty in a corporat ist country . W orkin g Papers of the Europea n Scienti® c Founda tion Network on Househol d Panel Studies . 357±364. 20. E SPING. References B UC K .PO LA RISA TIO N IN D UTCH CITIES : A RESPON SE 109 regimes and modes of social regulation. C olcheste r. (1991) Socia l polaris ation . and depend to a signi® cant extent on the scale and structure of welfare state intervention. As we put it: The weakness of the thesis which sees global city problems as inevitable is that it takes little or no account of the urban social and political context. in examining the im pact of the processes of globalisation on global cities. 167) and that the welfare state is less im portant under the ª new economic regimeº (p. D IELEM AN . regulati on and the urban syste m . (1994 ) G lobalisa tion. pp. In many European countries. Sassen (1991 ) almost entirely neglects the role of national variation in welfare regimes and argues that: ª the nation state is becoming a less central actor in the worldº (p. (p. G. C. Colchest er. contexts and cultures. J. 361) and we quoted Kloosterman and Lambooy’ s view that: ª the high rate of non-participation in the labour force (in the Randstad) does not have such as destructive im pact as it does in American citiesº (p. G. (1990) The Three W orld s of W elfar e Capitalis m . 363) The point of these rather extensive self-quotations is to stress that I endorse the key point of Burgers’ s argument regarding the crucial mediating role of welfare states on global restructuring . 99±105 . 359) W e added that: ª what is im portant for the Randstad and the global cities thesis in general is that it (the Dutch welfare system) com bines relatively generous welfare bene® ts with easy access to the systemº (p. H A M NETT . particularly. Unpublis hed paper for E SRC Londo n Seminar . Urban Studies . Urban Studies . . C . urba n and globa l factor s . (1994b ) Socio-eco nomic chang e in London : professi onalisat ion not polarisat ion. Hence my critique of Sassen’ s attempt to generalise a peculiarly American set of circumstances to all global cities. 361). W e concluded by stating that: There is no single global city. pp.

S M ITH (Ed. Royal Hollo way and B edford New College . U rban Affair s Annua l .) Cities in Transfor m ation . vol. B everly Hills: Sage. C. in: M . and C A STELLS . Londo n and Tokyo . N ew York: Russell Sage Founda tion . Princeton : Princeto n U niversity Press. (1991) The G loba l City: New York. (1984 ) The new labou r dem and in globa l cities. S. 5 Septe m ber. (1995) Socia l polarisa tion. J. . S AS SEN .P. M O LLENKO PF . S. 26.110 CH RIS H AM N ETT H AM N ETT . M . (Eds) (1991 ) Dual City: Restructu ring New York . Paper given at the 10th Urban Chang e and Con¯ ict Conferen ce . econ om ic restruct urin g and welfare state regimes .H . S AS SEN .

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