Before European Hegemony
I'll be honest: this is my first (and probably will be my only) sociology class. This is my last semester and I needed the International Studies/Global Requirement to graduate. And after the first few pages of Before European Hegemony it became immediately apparent to me that this is one of those disciplines where scholars of the field tend to use terminology and modes of discussion that are not necessarily accessible to a wider audience. I probably would've been better off first taking Intro to Sociology or something along those lines, but alas, such are the ways of the University of Pittsburgh's haphazard systems of scheduling and graduation requirements.
Me? I am a Psychology/English Nonfiction Writing major, and if this text is any indication, I am not a sociology person. These are just not the sort problems my brain likes to solve. I like sociology in what it does for Psychology, but I can not really comfortably deal in these sorts of abstract pattern-relationships. Maybe I can lend an outsider's perspective: who knows.
What I'm getting at is that as Janet Abu-Lughod's book is serving the unique honor of being the first ever Sociology text I have ever begun to read, I am not finding it very accessible to me, the layperson. Her thesis is relatively clear, but in general her writing style is not. She suffers from the roundabout, repetitive style of written argumentation/persuasive writing that seems to be so pervasive in academia. She doesn't make points, she circles around them endlessly like a cat playing with a mouse, with only a lazy intention to maybe, someday attack.
You may well be inclined to defend her, and say that this text was not meant to be accessible to the layperson, that it was written to be read by Sociologists and sociology students. That's all very well, and it is obvious to me that she is intelligent and well-read and passionate about her subject, but that is no excuse for unclear, unorganized, unfocused writing. The new, modern Orwellian school of thought behind writing about anything, anything at all, postulates that if you can't write about your subject so that anyone can understand it, then you do not deserve to write about your subject at all. This still-held high-and-mighty idea that laypeople can't be expected to understand writings about relatively non-mainstream academic disciplines is what is contributing to an overall mistrust of academia as a whole in these modern, fast-paced, changing times.
Yes, if I were really interested in the subject I would find her dry, unorganized writing style more bearable. Many a psychology text I have given the writers more benefit of the doubt because I really wanted to hear what they had to say on the subject. But as someone majoring in Writing I take this sort of thing personally. Reading anything to learn about it shouldn't be boring, and it shouldn't be a chore. You can't hide behind academic buzzwords and jargon and fancy sounding conjunctions. You need to explain and you need to be clear and you need to respect the reader's intelligence, not talk down to them from a pedestal of higher learning.
So humor me, please. Maybe you can explain it better than her. What is this book about, exactly? What is she getting at, and why should I care? I get the historical-patterns, cross-societal relations, birth of globalization and a global economy thing. I understand, since she says it about twenty different times in twenty different ways, that she is "examining the processes by which international connections were forged, expanded, and strengthened during the course of the thirteenth century" and "describing the roles--cooperative, conflictual, or symbiotic--the varied participants played in the ongoing commercial exchanges." (p 37). But for what? And what does this mean for the human experience as a whole?