In this weeks reading, Janet Abu-Lughod discusses the importance of location in the world system. We learn from this novel, from Abu-Lughod continuous reinforcement, that strategic location alone cannot ensure permanent hegemony. Although, strategic location does present the opportunity for permanent hegemony. First, she introduces Egypt as the central link between the Middle Seas and the Green Seas. Egypt’s ability to protect and nurture that link from Europe led to its critical importance to the economy. When it was unable to maintain this link after the 15th century--due to the threat of European crusaders, Central Asian Mongols, and the Black Death—rising core players swiftly replaced Egypt.
Second, South Chinese Sea was also crucial. The world system divided the South Chinese Sea into three interlocking circuits: 1) westernmost circuit consisted of Muslim ship owners and major merchants, 2) middle circuit, and 3) easternmost circuit considered the Chinese “space” sea.
Lastly, the Indian subcontinent literally and figuratively thrust India into the world market. Literally, the geography of the subcontinent is such that the southern tip protrudes into the Great Sea created a “natural link and divider of the great sea route”. Gradually, India became the center of commerce. India was a significant player in production with numerous goods such as textiles, spices, and other luxury items. India was self-sufficient and indifferent to many of the “heavily-traded commodities”.
Janet Abu-Lughod states that if location was enough, India should have “enjoyed unrivaled dominance in the world system”. Everyone was bringing goods to their market. Everyone was buying Indian goods. Why were they unwilling or unable to strike forth and take it? Is it every that simple?
No, even if India had displayed tremendous effort in securing its position as hegemonic power, it would never have lasted. Hegemony is futile. It is frail, and forever changing, because the playing field is forever changing.
The market system for the Fairs of Champagne is fourth cousins twice removed in the family of the world market compared to the trade that developed in India. Compared to today, Champagne Fairs are the adopted child of the cousin I knew once. The field is constantly evolving into something novel. The newly contemporary market leads to new developments in trade in order to deal with the new field, which in turn leads to yet another new field.
In a world where society is continuously changing whether it is rapid or sluggish, can we ever go back? How can we develop the perfect system if the situation it is designed to fill is constantly revolutionizing? Can we use the mistakes and feats of the past, when they are crucial to the players and irrelevant to the present situation?