18 September 2020

Saskia Sassen receives the 2020 Edgar de Picciotto International Prize

The 2020 Edgar de Picciotto International Prize was awarded to Saskia Sassen during the opening lecture of the academic year on 15 September.

Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a Member of Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired until 2015. She is a student of cities, immigration and states in the world economy, with inequality, gendering and digitisation three key variables running though her work. 

Throughout over 20 years of research, Professor Sassen published eight books. In addition, she is the editor or co-editor of four books, which have been translated into over 20 languages. In addition, she has received many awards and honours, among them, multiple doctor honoris causa, the 2013 Principe de Asturias Prize in the Social Sciences, an election to the Royal Academy of the Sciences of the Netherlands and made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government. She has also been a committed and influential participant in the public debate, appearing in many journals, including The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, Die Zeit and The Financial Times, among others.

On this occasion, Professor Sassen delivered the opening lecture of the new academic year entitled, “Can Complexity Camouflage Violence”, by video conference. Her lecture focused on modes of power, and how those that we think of as positive should increasingly be recognised as acts of violence. Focusing on the sector of high finance, Professor Sassen stated: “the intermediary is the actor in our economy that rarely loses. The ones that end up losing are the originator and the final buyer.”

Denouncing the proliferation of extractive intermediaries, she declared our current period to be increasingly drawn to complexity, saying that, “complexity functions as a secret we need to disrupt”. On a positive note, Marie-Laure Salles, the Institute’s new Director who introduced and moderated the discussion, underlined that the Covid crisis is one of the moments in which we can consciously change our way of living.

The Edgar de Picciotto International Prize was created as a tribute and token of thanks to Edgar de Picciotto who, along with his family, gifted a generous contribution for the realisation of the Edgar and Danièle de Picciotto Student House, which hosts students coming from all over the world to the Graduate Institute. The Prize, awarded every two years, is intended to reward an internationally renowned academic whose research has contributed to the understanding of global challenges and whose work has influenced policy-makers. 

The Prize was first awarded in 2012 to Amartya Sen, who is the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. It was subsequently awarded in 2014 to Saul Friedländer, Emeritus Professor at the University of California Los Angeles and recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, in 2016 to Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and in 2018 to Joan Wallach Scott, Emerita Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.

You can watch the entire opening lecture below.