economic history, eurasian history, history, history of asia, history of capitalism, history of europe, history of the united states, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press), Pp. 416.

Narratives about world history have been riddled with complication, debate, and imbalance. Some historians have decided to take a European centered approach, known as Eurocentrism. This approach has been noted, and is agreed upon by many scholars, as extremely problematic. Are their alternative way to write or discuss world history? This weeks author, Andre Gunder Frank discusses and offers an alternative to this complicated debate. In Franks book entitled, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, there is a major change in the world history narrative. Frank takes old narratives, Eurocentric approachs, and uses a different approach entirely which “instead works from the whole world inward” (51). This can be understood as taking the entire historical normative, static, and flattened world history narrative and repositioning the center as Asia; refashioning the narrative “which is thereby turned on its head” (51). This advent takes on a different focal point, in which Europe is exposed as behind not forward in the advances of the times.

Frank takes on the narrative project of world history by not only starting with Asia as center but also by pointing out the faulty foundation of European expansionism. Frank states, “It is completely counterfactual and antihistorical to claim that…. ‘Europe built a world around itself.’ It did not; it used its American money to buy itself a ticket on the Asian train” (xxiv-xxv). One of the authors central points is in highlighting European’s access into Asian market economy. By doing this, Frank shows how Asia really was interested in one commodity in particular—silver. Frank states, “Asians would buy nothing else from Europe other than the silver it got out of its colonies in the Americas” (134). This was the in for European market economy. This was particularly true in 1492 and 1498. Frank notices the gain in access from Europeans to Asian markets via American silver gave access to Europe becoming a major player (59). But one may ask why silver? If silver is the major commodity that shifts the market, why and how does this happen in the first place? Frank explains by situating the importance of coin vs paper economics  in the Ming dynasty. Frank discusses the important element of supply and demand stating, “Chinese public demand for silver and the large size and productivity of the Chinese economy and its consequent export surplus generated a huge demand for, and increase in the price of, silver worldwide” (112). This shifting importance drove to major contributing factor in supply and demand within the market. Europe had an in (silver)  and this would now be their one commodity that they could sell and also gain a position in the global economy. Before that Europe wasn’t even a main player in the global economy and certainly not among Asian markets.

This analysis that Frank gives highlights Europe’s weakness. Frank asserts this notion stating, “That it may have been the other way around, that maybe it was the world that made Europe” (3). Europe had no special or innate characteristic in their historical relevance. Frank drives home this point stating, “Despite their access to American money to buy themselves into the world economy in Asia, for the three centuries after 1500 the Europeans still remained a small player” (185). Frank ultimately wants to challenge and highlight  a “temporary” situation (258). By relying on a more inclusive approach to historical analyses by critiquing the binary of traditional vs modern Frank, most interestingly, tries to answer the question on how and why Europe got into a position of power.  Frank states, “Why the West won (temporarily)…One answer is that the Asians were weakened, and the other answer is that the Europeans were strengthened” (258). Frank asserts one of the reasons of “growing economic and political strains in Asia” (267). This may have put Asia at a disadvantage when delegating world power and domination in the world economy. Fusion of economic and political structure was critical to the shift in Asia to European power relations. Frank states, “Economic advantage of Asia between 1400 and 1800 may have been turned to its own disadvantage and to the advantage instead of the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (259). This is accounted for in the events of the Chinese opium trade. Frank asserts, “In China, rapid economic dislocation occurred only in the early nineteenth century, via the opium trade and its bullion drain of silver out of China, which destabilized the entire economic system” (274).

Frank concludes his book driving home his point that Europe didn’t hold any particular advantage to the rest of the world. Frank states, “The Europeans had no exceptional, let alone superior, ethnic, rational, organizational, or spirt-of-capitalist advantages to offer, diffuse, or do anything else in Asia” (283). This alternative narrative that Frank offers is directly critiquing Eurocentric or diffusionist approach that many historians have taken when discussing world history. One of the most sought after explanations in European dominance is the technological advances arguments. Frank goes after this argument by stating, “These technological developments of the industrial revolution should not be regarded as only European achievements. Instead, they must be understood more properly as wolf developments whose spatial locus moved to and through the West at the time after having long moved about the East” (285). Movement rather than an intrinsic or special attribute of Europe is Franks focus. Franks final conclusion, or even seen as a prediction, asserts, “Therefore, it is conceivable that the West and the East will again trade places in the global economy and in world society in the not to distant and already dimly foreseeable future” (320). Taking world history on a route in tracking the historical direction, center, and re-shiftings in the future is an alternative offering in world history. Alternative narratives of world history add to a more expansive and conclusive rendering of the past, present, and provokes intrigue into the future historical possibilities. I would suggest all historians expose themselves to this monograph as well as anyone who wants a reference to argue against problematic diffusionist and Eurocentric narratives.

 

 

 

10/10

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feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, world history

Book Review: Inderpal Grewal, Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neolieralisms (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2005), Pp.281.

 

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Ways in which we perceive  nationalism, citizenship and consumerism can be understood through many different lenses. Those lenses mold our ideas and set standards in our day to day lives. Investigating what or where the lens is coming from can reveal  a great deal on the nation states’ intentions and motives. Inderpal Grewal calls these types of ideas into question by exploring transnationalism through a specific icon in a her text entitled, Transnational America. Grewal’s objective states, “this book is about the 1990s, when a new phase of neoliberalism brought together market logics with concerns for reducing welfare and poverty, and in the process rearticulated feminist and postcolonial subjects out of longer colonial histories and epistemologies” (15).

Grewal analyses specifically focuses on the methods of production, consumption and the process in which transnationalism takes place. The author notes the specific manifestations in American national ideals. Grewal states, “the American dream was a discourse of both whiteness and racism, in which a white identity coexisted in an unstable and changing relationship with heterogeneous notions of being American, within as well as being outside the United States” (7). Grewal brings up an important term that can be derived out of this understanding of American nationalism and its discourse— transnationalism.  Grewal articulates further on this term stating, “transnational practices incorporated struggles for liberal democratic rights as they inserted themselves into consumer culture” (9). This crucial point that Grewal discusses in the monograph becomes a signifier to the consumer culture as a thriving vehicle of nationalism. Grewal speaks to this important feature of nationalism and its ability to shift for more power stating, “nationalism’s ability to move, change, spread across different kinds of boundaries suggests that it remained a powerful imaginary which developed in tandem with changing modes of citizenship and consumer culture” (13). The significance of consumer culture and nationalism go hand in hand, creating power, and act as a power tool to implement more ideology that circulates national discourse.

Grewal discusses this further by looking at the Barbie doll. Grewal acknowledges why she uses Barbie and why it was essential to her text. Grewal states, “I use Barbie as the entry point into understanding the transnationalization of gender through consumer culture and thus to the ways in which multinational corporations participated in altering culture in India through the 1990s” (84). These processes of investigation on how Barbie not only signifies gender but simultaneously is a tool to propel American nationalist regimes. Barbie is used as an icon of the political economy and culture producing notions of citizenship, beauty, gender, and race. These notions of citizenship, in particular, can be traced to nation state values and how transnationsalism has used its ideology to produce commodified emblem of the citizen and consumer. The citizen and consumer become synonymous. Accordingly, Barbie then becomes a symbolic icon of citizenship and political economic function. As Grewal states, “I analyze how a multinational corporation was able to sell an American product and icon in a very different cultural context” (85). Through transnationalism and production, American values were able to be written on to the body of Barbie and on to the body of the consumer.

Barbie then had to attract a certain kind of audience— Barbie had to become transnational.  Hence, Barbie became a symbol of a specific ideology of citizenship and nationalism. Grewal goes on to state, “Barbie’s global marketing practices were linked to America as a symbol of freedom and rights, especially for women. The marketing strategies linked the product to discourses of powerful “Americanness” associated with race, class, and gender hierarchies. Relying on discourses of American nationalism that linked “choice” to “freedom,” Matel used race, gender, and nationalist discourse to sell its product” (98). This imperative statement by Grewal addresses the dangerous realities of these types of cultural appropriation and  production.

In closing, what can be clearly deduced about transnationalism, by Grewal, is the reality of America’s oppressive nationalist discourse. The use of intersection by looking at barbie, gender, nation, and the like places the iconic Barbie in a new light. Grewal closes her text with a invitation for the reader to re-conceptualize the global markets stating, “if we are to rethink consumer citizenship and multiculturalism through dynamic and changing racial and gendered formations we cannot assume that civil society and the state can be seen as separate from each other” (219). Rethinking of these discussions, in particular American discourse, is paramount in deconstruction and illumination of domination. The icon is exposed as something that  is not isolated from the style of nationalist ambition. Accordingly, the critique that America becomes an icon that can use instruments such as consumerism as a vehicle to transport ideology is the main argument of this monograph. This book would be of interest to a wide variety of publics including those who are interested in subjects such as the global economy to women’s studies. Fascinating read!

10/10