Thursday, September 10, 2009

Before European Hegemony Commentary-1

Nell Ross
Commentary 1

Abu-Lughod writes Before European Hegemony to communicate his analysis of the formation of European’s dominance within the world economic system. He first seeks agreement with his readers on a logical date for the start of European hegemony. On page nine, the author emphasizes the lack of concurrence about this beginning by additionally noting Karl Marx’s uncertainty, an established social theorist of the world economy. Ultimately, Abu-Lughod finds the sixteenth century to be an appropriate estimation for the start of European’s supremacy.

After this was decided, Abu-Lughod aimed to explain why Europe became a world power in the sixteenth century by looking at its history. Going back to the Jurassic Era or earlier would be a tedious task although potentially insightful. Instead, the author chose to use the thirteenth century as a baseline of comparison to the sixteenth century because of Europe’s highly contradictory shift in the global economy. Abu-Lughod does not deny the existence of world economies prior to the thirteenth century, but feels they were not globally sustained or developed and were very miniature in size. During the thirteenth century, where there was no primary hegemonic power, an international trade economy was conceived. This began the trade from Western Europe to China connecting most large cities in between. By the sixteenth century Europe became a leader in the world’s economy, a shift that Abu-Lughod and many historians still seek to figure out.

European’s dominance in our modern world sometimes blinds us to the history of world capitalism. The Middle East, India, and China, once the economic forerunners of the world core, now are in the semi-periphery of our global system. European’s slow rise to the top by the sixteenth century is surprising to me because of its current high status; more curious is the reasoning for its dominance over the former core powers from the east. What caused the decline in the Middle East, India, and China? Did Europe’s rise have the greatest effect or was the East’s shift from core to semi-periphery due to internal economic and political affairs?


  1. I thought the same thing on how it was hard to comprehend that the countries that we see as under developing or developing currently to be the powerhouses just a couple centuries ago. And it makes me wonder if in just another couple of centuries the roles would be switched as well. And what were some of the ways that Europe was able to build its economy up while others were deteriorating.

  2. I agree with both of you, as well. Imagining a world in which Europe is what Abu-Lughod describes as "an upstart peripheral to an ongoing operation" is new and fascinating - at least to me. Why didn't I learn about this before? I think growing up I had the impression that there was no world trade system at one time and then as contacts grew and trade routes formed everyone developed together at relatively the same rate before Europe forged ahead, but never that it was a loser region that for the most part no one bothered to trade with. The study of the processes leading to Europe's hegemony and success, the overturning of trade-power relations in the 16th century,will become increasingly important as we head toward what very well might be another reformation of trade-power relations in the 21st century. Perhaps recognizing signs now similar to those leading up to the 16th century could help us at least prepare for an upheaval even if we cannot prevent it.