Friday, October 2, 2009

The Multiverse

(I apologize for the nerdy title, and for the lateness of the post.  My internet died on me last night…perhaps I need a new installation of the tubes…and I apologize for the lameness, too…)


            Directly from Abu-Lughod’s world system of the 13th century, we jump into Hobswan’s world system of the late nineteenth century.  Vast differences are apparent between these two systems.  Most notably, whereas Abu-Lughod’s book deals specifically with a system without any kind of hegemonic power in any sense, even a dominant trader (indeed, the purpose of her book was to show a system that lacked such hegemony), Hobswan starts with a world with not only a hegemonic trading region, but a part of the world that has completely dominated the system, not only in trade, but also militarily, culturally, industrially, and by practically any other measure.  This difference is evidenced in the covers of the books.  Before European Hegemony features a title showing the relative equity of the world, and features Arab artwork on the cover.  Age of Empire relates a time of dominance by one area over the area, and prominently displays a picture of a European colonial soldier.  The key difference as well is that not only is the Europe the dominant trader in this system, but they have physically conquered most of the world.  The various parts of the world involved in international trade are not, like in the 13th century, equal (or near equal) trading partners, but there is a clear divide between the people who control the system and those who don’t.  As Hobswan clearly defines, this was a time when imperialism came to exist, both as a term and a process.  The two parts of this system could be neatly categorized as “developed” or “undeveloped,” which commonly translated to colonizers and colonies.  The periphery of Abu-Lughod’s system may have been mildly exploited economically (mildly being a purely relative term), but they still had some say in their own actions.  Hobswan’s system is one where the periphery is literally dominated by the core, where the developed, advanced nations of (mostly Western) Europe invaded, subjugated, and colonized large swaths of the Earth and then dictated the terms of any labor or trade that occurred there.  This often led to vast amounts of cruelty, and unbelievable exploitation or killing of the inhabitants.  As we move forward and see more detail of this system, I am interested to see how more of the details emerge.  Will similarities begin to emerge in this system, or will the trend continue to point out divergence?

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