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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american feminist literature, american literature, feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, humanism, lgbtq, philosophy, politics, science and technology, sex reassignment, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Judith Butler, “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.4 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001), 621-636.

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(photo credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler)

Bodies and their artistic nature of gender, sex identity and expression is a complicated notion. In the essay entitled “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” Judith Butler discusses these complications in discussing the social construction of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler uses a Foucauldian framework to talk about body politics and the “regulatory regime” of medicine on bodies (621). Butler does this by specifically focusing on one individual in particular identified as “the case of Joan/John” (625).

The case of Joan/John is not a uncommon story but is an example of the ways in which the medical establishment constructs bodies that are “viable” and are coherent for the nation-state. In short the case of Joan/Joan is a story of an infant that goes through a botched circumcision, in which the doctor convinces the parents it will be better for the child to grow up with no penis and assume the identity of a female then to grow up with a deformed penis (622). The narrative gets more complicated as Joan/John grows up and ends up identifying more as a male than his produced female more identity (623). Through this case study, Butler identifies the debate between social and biological arguments for sex/gender (623) More important, this essay offers a theoretical framework for discussing the forced construction of gender on individuals and their bodies. Butler’s thesis states, “in recounting this story and its appropriation for the purposes of gender theory.…I hope to underscore here is the disciplinary framework in which Joan/ John develops a discourse of self-reporting and self-understanding…by which his own humanness is both questioned and asserted” (628-629).

Lasting thoughts from this piece are productive invitations to discuss the body and nation. Asking academics and intellects alike the question of what ultimately constitutes humanness?  Butler asserts there is  major “limits to the discourse of intelligibility [coherent/identification/taxonomy]” (635). If that is so, Butler’s contributions challenge the constructed categories of the nation-state and binary body politics. This essay highlights the nation-states perceived need for these categories to propel nationalism and its citizenship. I would recommend this essay to academics, intellectuals, and social activists. This is a perfect essay to sit down and discuss with like-minded thinkers. I guarantee you will engage in an exciting and stimulating conversation reading this and discuss it with peers or colleagues! 

10/10

feminist studies, history of europe, history of india, postcolonial theory, subaltern studies, world history

Book Review: Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Though and Historical Difference (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000), Pp. 301.

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Dipesh Chakrabarty’s monograph is a dense and heavily theoretical text on the history of modernity in Europe and its relation to global history. Specifically Chakrabarty uses examples of colonial contradiction in discussing the postcolonial thoughts on modernity and how this is discussed in the larger history of India’s Independence of 1947. The authors major issue is with the notion of modernity and its association with Europe. Chakrabarty’s central claim is to deconstruct Eurocentrism to expose the “imaginary figure,” specifically exhibited in  “social sciences to address questions of political modernity in South Asia” (4). Looking to modern education systems in Bengali, the author discusses the  European educational system and  suggest that the history of translation is at the center of modern manifestations.  The author starts out by looking at certain modalities of discourse and how they are historicized. To understand what Chakrabarty is trying to get at can be noted in his explanation of historicism stating, “historicism—and even the modern, European idea of history—one might say, came to non-European people in the nineteenth” (8). The author notes the epistemological side of how those who came in contact with Europeans were exposed to this notion of “modernity.” One of the most helpful examples, in this confusing monograph,  is the autobiographies of Nirad Chaudhuri and Ramabai Ranade. In these autobiographies Chakrabarty notes the history of desire to be “modern,” through music and notions of patriarchy. The example of Nirad Chaudhuri and his wedding night in which, the very notion of marriage as a “bourgeois legal fiction of citizenship,” was described as a moment in which Chaudhuri is trying to show and teach his new wife about the modern music of Beethoven” (36).  This is the central theme of the book, to show how the idea and history of modernity was a concept that not only Europeans strived for, but so did the colonized “other.” For the purposes of this essay I will try and discuss what Chakrabarty is getting at in his history on abstract ideas of subaltern, capital, class, and how South Asia is at the heart of his analysis. Chakrabarty springboards into the work of Karl Marx, looking at the critique of capital and its importance to the history of modernity and the Euro-centric notion of class. For Chakrabarty the importance of capital is more of a “philosophical-historical category;” by which the translation between cultures and peoples is rooted in some sort of notion of capital (70). South Asia’s labor system, in conjunction with the secular notions of culture, and practice are shown in this counter history in India (72). For example, the history of what constituted as a public holiday is negotiated between a South Asian and European discourse. For instance, the festival in India known as Vishvakarama and the European festival of Christmas are paralleled to illuminate the “secular narrative that would apply to any working-class religious holiday anywhere” (77). Even though there are similar class, secular, and discursive histories within the global framework of history, conversion and translation are not solely a European attribute. In the 1700s the “translation of divinities” such as Hindu gods into Islamic ones is not solely a European function of modern secular history (84). What Chakrabarty is getting at is that there is nothing intrinsically more modern about Europe than any other place, especially South Asia.

Chakrabarty’s  ontological treatment of  what he calls the “birth of the subject” is recorded in European time but also in Bengali time. For example, literature and magazines are a way in which places and times situate their history and their global position. In Calcutta the documentation of suffering in 1991 showed the ways in which widows still had not had any “historical change,” complicating the notion or narrative of progress (117). Notions of suffering also challenges the European notion of modernity. Taking the widow for example a step further, one can look at the history of sati.

Historically, sati has been a way in which female loyalty could be manifested India female culture predominately in the mid ninetieth-century. With the advent of social sciences and notions of modernity the ability to “critique” Bengali ritual as “not modern,” has become popular in Eurocentric historical narrative (118). The nuances of critique and “modern observation of suffering” allows for another way in which this notion of modern becomes sutured to the “Enlightenment thinkers of Europe” (119 &122).  European gaze become a way in which the differences can be critiqued and then reformed; thus, ultimately flattened into a single status and labeled as “modern.” The history of universality or the “universal subjects” in European Empires is essentially what Chakrabarty’s narrative is critiquing. The last example that is helpful to note in this complicated historical narrative by Chakrabarty is the example of Adda. The social practice of Adda in Calcutta represents “‘a place’” in which usually male friends would talk (181-182). Throughout the twentieth-century this tradition was said to be loosing its relevance in the advent of capitalism and ways in which intellectuals were starting to see themselves, mostly through literary apparatuses (198-199). Adda has made many different adaptations in the ways in which literature, women’s spaces, and capitalism have interacted with notions of modern and global exchanges of culture and the performance of male citizenship. For instance, in 1850 women were starting to participate in the public sphere of education, drastically changing the ways in which they were able to participate in Adda (208). Ultimately, Adda transforms into a “modern and hybrid space of Bengali” culture that becomes apart of the institution, education, and is adapted to meet the “tension brought about by the discourses of modernity and capitalism” (212). The gender aspects of Adda had to meet the capitalistic conditions. Justifying these conditions and transformations of culture and social space by the notion of “global modernity” and “progress.”  Unfortunately, by the end of the book Chakrabarty has unraveled and sabotaged his work by stating, “for at the end of European imperialism, European thought is a gift to us all” (255). This already confusing narration on the history of modernity through a postcolonial lens, was strong in its description of cultural parallelism. The monograph lost merit in falling back into narratives that stabilize the universalizing language, space, and time in Euro-centric terms.

10/10

 

american feminist literature, american literature, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, history of africa, history of europe, history of india, history of magic, history of the united states, literature, political theory, postcolonial theory, religious studies, science and technology, short story, subaltern studies, Uncategorized, witchcraft, world history

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“You ran away to find freedom, and you found it. You made it. Now you gotta tell it. You gotta figure out how to tell the story.” — Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha