International Relations, Historical Sociology and the Eurocentrism Debate

Eren Duzgun

Abstract

At the forefront of the bourgeoning field of International Historical Sociology has been the effort to overcome Eurocentric conceptions of world history. This review article reconsiders the issue of Eurocentrism by critically engaging with Alex Anievas and Kerem Nı̇şancioğlu’s How the West Came to Rule, which is the most recent and arguably one of the most sophisticated contributions to the anti-Eurocentric turn in International Relations. How the West Came to Rule provides a critique of Eurocentrism through a systematic inquiry into the question of the origin of capitalism. Despite its originality, I argue that the book remains hamstrung by a number of methodological issues, which ultimately undermine the authors’ effort to go beyond the existing literature on Eurocentrism and provide a truly non-hierarchical international historical sociology. A clear specification of these problems, which haunt most anti-Eurocentric approaches to IR, provides us with the preliminary outlines of an alternative non-Eurocentric approach to world history.

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Thoughts on How the West Came to Rule

Ayse Zarakol

How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism by Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancıoğlu is a remarkable book that offers much needed correctives to mainstream accounts of the emergence of capitalism. Working generally within the “uneven and combined development” framework as first articulated by Leon Trotsky, Anievas and Nişancıoğlu argue that “capitalism is best understood as a set of configurations, assemblages, or bundles of social relations and processes oriented around the systematic reproduction of the capital relation, but not reducible — either historically or logically — to that relation alone” (2015, 9). Seen as such, its emergence cannot be explained by studying national histories alone. This insight gives rise to the two main contributions of the book. On the one hand, the authors advance very compelling criticisms of other influential Marxist inspired accounts of the emergence of capitalism, such as that of Wallerstein and Brenner, as being Eurocentric.On the other hand, the authors offer their own substantive account of the emergence of capitalism, pointing to factors heretofore either ignored or under-scrutinised in the literature: “a demographic crisis brought about by the Black Death; the Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry; the discovery of the New World and its division along linearly demarcated spaces of sovereignty; the festering atmosphere of revolt and rebellion; the economic significance of colonisation” (4). Especially significant in their account is the ‘contributions’ of the Mongolians and the Ottoman Empire to the development of capitalism.

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Uneven and Combined Development in the Longue Durée: Beyond World-System Analysis?

Eric Mielants

Anievas and Nı̇şancioğlu’s text, How the West Came to Rule, attempts to offer not only an insightful critique of a contemporary consensus within Orthodox Marxist historiography, but also explores the incomplete narratives embedded within postcolonial studies and world-system analysis. In this contribution I argue that they succeed more in the former challenge than in the latter and suggest that a careful analysis of recent world system research is really less Eurocentric than Anievas and Nı̇şancioğlu claim. Extending their analysis into the present would make their theoretical model less divergent from Wallerstein’s approach than they suggest. As they point out, a myopic and biased interpretation of the Rise of the West is not only related to a rigid adherence to obsolete theoretical models, but also to the creation of separate disciplines within the modern university system which tends to (re)produce Eurocentric epistemology about past, present and future conditions.

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The Costs of Weaponizing Emancipatory Politics: Constituting what is Constitutive of Capitalism

Naeem Inayatullah and David L. Blaney

Introduction

Scholarly learning often challenges one’s politics. For example, we wanted to diagnose the ills of capitalism so we turned to Marx. In his work we found a profound critique but also an appreciation of capitalism’s progressive credentials. Indeed, we now believe it is Marx’s generosity to capitalism that allows his deep diagnosis.1 In modern society, Marx claims, humans individuate themselves within a system that constitutes them as legal equals and constructs a sphere of individual freedom. Simultaneously, capitalism expands and differentiates needs while producing material capacities that satisfy those needs (Marx 1973: 156, 241-3, 496). These possibilities are linked to capitalism’s greatest achievement: a process of expanded wealth production. As Marx puts it, “Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labor beyond its natural paltriness, and thus creates the material elements for the development of a rich individuality, which is the as all-sided in its production as in its consumption” (Ibid: 325). Yet the promise of rich individuality is thwarted where “this complete working out of the human content appears as a complete emptying out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing down of all limited one-sided aims as the sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end” (Ibid: 488). That external end is capital accumulation. Here, Marx strikes a delicate balance. His critique is ruthless, but his analysis is nuanced: the gains associated with capitalism are real relative to past social formations but they are limited by the organization of capitalism itself and bought only dearly.

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Why Europe? Anti-Eurocentric Theory, History, and the Rise of Capitalism

Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancıoğlu

Introduction

In How the West Came to Rule (HWCR) we conclude with a call for ‘readers to address, research and fill out… the gaps made evident in this study… as there remains a great deal more to say’ (278). We are flattered and privileged that in this symposium our call1 has been taken up with such enthusiasm and sincerity by our colleagues Gurminder Bhambra, Ayse Zarakol, Eren Duzgun, Eric Mielants and David Blaney and Nayeem Inayatullah.2 In particular, we are grateful for the care and patience with which our arguments have been read, as well as the force of the criticisms posed. As with all good critical engagements, the pieces in this symposium are demanding. They have pushed us to clarify or refine our arguments and in some cases compelled us to revise them. Where we have disagreed with our critics, their criticisms have offered us the opportunity to develop responses and clarifications that we would have been unable to do otherwise. It is in this spirit of productive engagement set by our interlocutors that we reply.

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Social Standards of Self-Restraint in World Politics

Andrew Linklater

Introduction

The process sociologist, Norbert Elias (2012:89) maintained that Caxton’s comment in his fifteenth century treatise on courtesy that ‘things that were once permitted are now forbidden’ could stand as the ‘motto’ for the European civilizing process that was to come. The main course of development which would revolve around the formation of modern states and the significant pacification of the relevant societies shaped different related spheres of social interaction. According to Elias, they included the standards that governed bodily functions, changes in table manners and (of particular importance for the present discussion) shifts in emotional responses to cruelty and violence. His writings were less consistent on the subject of whether actions that were once permitted in relations between states have become forbidden in the most recent phase of the modern states-system. The main objective of the following discussion is to synthesise elements of process sociology and the English School in order to determine whether the current era is distinctive if not unique. The paper begins with a brief discussion of Elias’s reflections on international relations.

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Neoliberal Nightmares or Fear of Terrorism? A response to Japhy Wilson´s Article

Ulrich Hamenstädt

Abstract

Political scientists are increasingly interested in popular culture. Notably, films appear as reflections of social and political developments as well as mirrors of common ideologies and fears. In his article ‘Neoliberal Nightmares’, Japhy Wilson (2015) brings forward the argument that the increasing popularity of gothic themes like the zombie apocalypse, could be interpreted as a reaction towards the financial crises of 2008; according to his article, neoliberalism died but is risen from its crave, scary as it was and hungry for the consumption of human flesh. This is a popular view on the current zombie hype and it is convincing at first. In contrast to Wilson´s view, this article highlights another interpretation of this hype: Zombies are the projection of international terrorism. Therefore this article argues that we are much more scared by things, which take our system into question than by the system itself. In doing so, this article argues, contrary to Wilson’s interpretation, that the zombies hype is part of a social and political anxiety from terrorism and not the anxiety due to the capitalist system. It will be also argued that fear is a recurrent topic in popular culture. ‘Zombies’ are an expression in a long tradition of fearful (international) events – like 9/11 – but also refer to the age of bio-political control.
Keywords: Zombies, popular culture, terrorism, bio-politics

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Documenting Karl Marx: Rethinking Marx Ideas on the Commodity within a Documentary

Ulrich Hamenstädt

Abstract

Imagine a market where you have a high misallocation of commodities; this market could be the global food market. More than 150 years ago Karl Marx asked the question, why the classical economy of his time had such problems to properly explain the reasons for dysfunctional markets. The work of Marx and Engels turned the 20th century into a kind of stone quarry, where different ideological directions made use of the theory, and often misused it at the same time. This paper wants to introduce the reader to some of the core ideas of Marx’s ‘Capital’, and also illustrate how lectures – in the case of Marx – can utilise the popularisation of public media for teaching purposes. This paper introduces Marx’s idea of ‘commodity’ in the context of interviews from the popular Austrian documentary ‘We Feed the World’. By using the current global agriculture production as an example, the paper examines an urgent problem of global politics on the one hand. On the other hand, the paper aims to illustrate how the idea of joining Marx’s theory with an actual documentary can be used in order to introduce one of the core thinkers of political economy to undergraduate students.
Keywords: Karl Marx, Capital, Documentary, We feed the World, Teaching

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Saving ‘World Market Society’ from itself? Risk, the New Politics of Inequality and the Agents of World Market Society

Alex Nunn

Abstract

Socio-economic inequality is now firmly on the international political agenda. In recent years the World Economic Forum, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, World Bank and International Monetary Fund have all produced publications lamenting increased inequality and its impact on political stability, the fragility of the international financial system and growth. This paper argues that this interest needs to be located in the emergence of an expanding ‘world market society’ (WMS) that these organisations are both representative of and have sought to promote. They are now also engaged in a complex process of identifying and seeking to manage systemic risks to WMS expansion, arising from the expansion process itself, with socio-economic inequality now seen as one of these. Several factors though suggest that their efforts may not be successful. These include the lack of capacity of international organisations to manage risk independently of their mainly state-scale allies and their inability to escape the objective of WMS expansion as they seek to manage risks to it. The paper argues therefore that there is an emergent New Global Politics of Inequality whose forlorn objective is to save world market society from itself.

Key Words: World Society; Inequality; Risk; International Organisation; World Market; International Monetary Fund; World Bank; Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; World Economic Forum.

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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the lessons from Eastern Central Europe for Middle East/North African Transition

Stuart Shields

Abstract

This paper seeks to understand the role played by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in helping to consolidate the gains from the Arab Spring. There is little academic analysis of the EBRD in Eastern Central Europe’s (ECE) transition, let alone the Middle East/North Africa (MENA). Yet here is an institution in the vanguard of political economic change. The paper explores the mechanisms and strategies utilised by the EBRD to aid reforms in ECE, and then explores whether similar formulations can be uncovered in MENA by comparing the intellectual assistance to post-communist reformers in ECE with the current advice to MENA, in particular Egypt.


Key Words: EBRD, ECE, MENA, Gramsci, Neoliberalisation

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