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Center for Historical Enquiry & the Social Sciences
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Inaugural CHESS Gala – Yale Club, New York 20 February 2014

February 24, 2014 - 10:19pm

Members of the CHESS faculty steering committee and outside supporters of CHESS gathered for a lively evening of wide-ranging discussion and lively conviviality in the Council Room of the Yale Club in New York City.

Julia Adams, professor of Sociology and co-founder of CHESS, emceed the affair, which featured short presentations of recent work by the professors in attendance, and an examination of its multidisciplinary influence and contemporary impact. Naomi Lamoreaux, professor of Economics and History, kicked off the evening by describing her somewhat surprising finding that U.S. legal concepts of “corporate personality,” based on research undertaken with Ruth Bloch of UCLA have a more complex and longer history than is usually assumed. Her presentation led Jonathan Massey a guest, to describe the ways this scholarship facilitated his filing (on behalf of Naomi and other scholars) of an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent Hobby Lobby case. Naomi emphasized that she hadn’t foreseen that her research would have such contemporary relevance, but that, in good CHESS fashion, one should always be open to such possibilities.

Professor Naomi Lamoreaux

Lamoreaux was followed by Professor Steven Wilkinson of the political science department. Steven discussed his new project on the relationship between warfare and political upheaval. What role did veteran soldiers play in in major political change? Based on a soon to be published book comparing the role of the military in post-independence Pakistan and India, he hypothesizes that soldiers learn skills in the army that become politically relevant at home, ranging from combat experience to organizational techniques. He offered the example of French soldiers who returned from fighting in the American Revolutionary War to play significant roles in the French Revolution.

Professor Steven Wilkinson

Finally, Ayesha Ramachandran, who recently joined the Comparative Literature faculty, presented key ideas underpinning her forthcoming book on “cosmopolitan world-making”and the primacy of maps in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was in this period, rather than our own, Ayesha pointed out, that many begin to think about the world as a totality. Globalization, Ramachandran concludes, was emphatically early-modern in conception.

Professor Ayesha Ramachandran

The presentations stimulated exciting discussion among the participants and collectively demonstrated what we are trying to do in CHESS. CHESS, I pointed out, seeks to bring the humanities and social sciences together – with potential input from the sciences as well – to think through problems of contemporary relevance in new ways by adding an historical dimension. While many other universities have responded to the “crisis of the humanities,” the problem of what role the humanities should play in the 21st century, by creating humanities centers, we think this poses the question too narrowly. We at CHESS are committed to the notion that we can best invigorate the humanities by bringing them together with the social sciences to address questions and problems of common concern.

I described our first year of regular Friday workshops held at Yale with pre- circulated papers by presenters ranging from sociology to law, from economics to comparative literature, bringing together faculty and graduate students. One week before the gala, we hosted the first annual CHESS lecture, by Professor Margaret Jacob of UCLA’s history department. Jacob spoke persuasively about the important contribution of education, particularly in the popularization of Newtonian mechanics, in triggering the industrial revolution. Jacob carefully shaped cultural and political evidence to tackle a major problem in economic history. The audience was remarkably engaged – and even more remarkably, present in large numbers given the snow storm that had closed New Haven schools and many local roads.

This discussion of what has already been done led naturally to a discussion of what more CHESS can accomplish in the future. Guests Cyril Smith and Emily Rose raised the issue of what CHESS could do for Yale undergraduates. Randy Nelson pointed out that Yale’s current undergraduates have a more robust and varied skill set than earlier generations. Many felt that CHESS needed to be able to attain the resources necessary to design and offer courses that would address well known problems in new ways — to teach courses on literature that would deploy quantitative measures and perhaps digital recognition software, for instance. Chuck Weller raised the question of how new techniques and pedagogical methods developed through CHESS can reach an audience beyond Yale. What role could MOOCs play, he wondered? Waring Partridge chimed in that CHESS’s imperative to reach beyond traditional disciplines will serve to equip Yale undergraduate and grad students with the problem-solving techniques so highly valued in today’s economy and world.

We all left the evening feeling invigorated and excited – feeling that we have already achieved a great deal at CHESS, but that there is so much more we want to be able to do. We look forward to continuing the conversation both at CHESS’s annual conference on Empires, Nations and States, in New Haven on 9-10 May, and then at the next gala, to be held at Tudor Place Historic House & Garden in Washington on the 12th of May.

The Yale Club in New York City


Inaugural CHESS Gala – Yale Club, New York 20 February 2014

February 24, 2014 - 10:19pm

Members of the CHESS faculty steering committee and outside supporters of CHESS gathered for a lively evening of wide-ranging discussion and lively conviviality in the Council Room of the Yale Club in New York City.

Julia Adams, professor of Sociology and co-founder of CHESS, emceed the affair, which featured short presentations of recent work by the professors in attendance, and an examination of its multidisciplinary influence and contemporary impact. Naomi Lamoreaux, professor of Economics and History, kicked off the evening by describing her somewhat surprising finding that U.S. legal concepts of “corporate personality,” based on research undertaken with Ruth Bloch of UCLA have a more complex and longer history than is usually assumed. Her presentation led Jonathan Massey a guest, to describe the ways this scholarship facilitated his filing (on behalf of Naomi and other scholars) of an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent Hobby Lobby case. Naomi emphasized that she hadn’t foreseen that her research would have such contemporary relevance, but that, in good CHESS fashion, one should always be open to such possibilities.

Lamoreaux was followed by Professor Steven Wilkinson of the political science department. Steven discussed his new project on the relationship between warfare and political upheaval. What role did veteran soldiers play in in major political change? Based on a soon to be published book comparing the role of the military in post-independence Pakistan and India, he hypothesizes that soldiers learn skills in the army that become politically relevant at home, ranging from combat experience to organizational techniques. He offered the example of French soldiers who returned from fighting in the American Revolutionary War to play significant roles in the French Revolution.

Finally, Ayesha Ramachandran, who recently joined the Comparative Literature faculty, presented key ideas underpinning her forthcoming book on “cosmopolitan world-making”and the primacy of maps in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was in this period, rather than our own, Ayesha pointed out, that many begin to think about the world as a totality. Globalization, Ramachandran concludes, was emphatically early-modern in conception.

The presentations stimulated exciting discussion among the participants and collectively demonstrated what we are trying to do in CHESS. CHESS, I pointed out, seeks to bring the humanities and social sciences together – with potential input from the sciences as well – to think through problems of contemporary relevance in new ways by adding an historical dimension. While many other universities have responded to the “crisis of the humanities,” the problem of what role the humanities should play in the 21st century, by creating humanities centers, we think this poses the question too narrowly. We at CHESS are committed to the notion that we can best invigorate the humanities by bringing them together with the social sciences to address questions and problems of common concern.

I described our first year of regular Friday workshops held at Yale with pre- circulated papers by presenters ranging from sociology to law, from economics to comparative literature, bringing together faculty and graduate students. One week before the gala, we hosted the first annual CHESS lecture, by Professor Margaret Jacob of UCLA’s history department. Jacob spoke persuasively about the important contribution of education, particularly in the popularization of Newtonian mechanics, in triggering the industrial revolution. Jacob carefully shaped cultural and political evidence to tackle a major problem in economic history. The audience was remarkably engaged – and even more remarkably, present in large numbers given the snow storm that had closed New Haven schools and many local roads.

This discussion of what has already been done led naturally to a discussion of what more CHESS can accomplish in the future. Guests Cyril Smith and Emily Rose raised the issue of what CHESS could do for Yale undergraduates. Randy Nelson pointed out that Yale’s current undergraduates have a more robust and varied skill set than earlier generations. Many felt that CHESS needed to be able to attain the resources necessary to design and offer courses that would address well known problems in new ways — to teach courses on literature that would deploy quantitative measures and perhaps digital recognition software, for instance. Chuck Weller raised the question of how new techniques and pedagogical methods developed through CHESS can reach an audience beyond Yale. What role could MOOCs play, he wondered? Waring Partridge chimed in that CHESS’s imperative to reach beyond traditional disciplines will serve to equip Yale undergraduate and grad students with the problem-solving techniques so highly valued in today’s economy and world.

We all left the evening feeling invigorated and excited – feeling that we have already achieved a great deal at CHESS, but that there is so much more we want to be able to do. We look forward to continuing the conversation both at CHESS’s annual conference on Empires, Nations and States, in New Haven on 9-10 May, and then at the next gala, to be held at Tudor Place Historic House & Garden in Washington on the 12th of May.

The Yale Club in New York City


Comment on Sarah Kinkel, “The Royal Navy and the modernization of the British Empire, 1740-1776″

January 26, 2014 - 9:36pm

Sarah’s paper, “The Royal Navy and the modernization of the British Empire, 1740-1776,” asks us to reconsider both the importance of the Royal Navy in the period before the Revolutionary War and its relationship to the larger ideological and discursive trends that led up to it. Sarah, ultimately, wants us to resist the critical tendency to reduce changes in the Navy to what she characterizes as “exogenous forces,” and instead see this branch of the military as developing from and alongside ideological currents that had already begun to produce resistance from colonists before the Seven Years’ War. For her, the increasing professionalization and authoritarian character of the Royal Navy had as much—or more—to do with the ways British subjects conceived of the proper relationship between the government and themselves as it did with the need to respond to particular exigencies that arose from the difficulty of maintaining an empire. As Sarah herself puts it, the battles over what the military should be and how it should be run originated from “an internal logic rather than an external catalyst.” If, as she says, a different political party had ended up in charge, the Royal Navy—and, I suspect she would want to suggest, the nature of the British Empire—would have “looked extremely different”; “it might or might not have played a role in sparking an imperial rebellion.”

Sarah opens her paper with something of a polemic, arguing that scholarship to this point has either ignored or misunderstood the role of the Navy in the period leading up to the Revolution. Traditional accounts of the Revolution, Sarah suggests, divide roughly into two camps, the “whig” and the “progressive.” The former argues that the Revolution was caused by an ideological rift over the nature of the constitution: just as in a failed marriage, the two sides of the Atlantic developed “irreconcilable differences.” In this story, the Navy was a neutral force and was largely unrelated to the central issues: it just protected liberties, however conceived. In the latter camp, “the progressive,” the problem came down to money: who could and could not collect taxes. Here, the Navy was involved because it enforced the collection of customs, but animus toward it had nothing to do with it being the Navy in particular: it was just one of many tax collectors.

Against these positions—and against more recent accounts that assign a role in the drama to the army but not the Navy—Sarah tells us “that we […] need to understand what the Navy meant to American radicals, who were largely located in the very port cities the Navy was most able to affect directly.” Later she writes, “The Navy [was] a perceived barometer for the virtue and vitality of British Society”; to contemporaries, “it was a microcosm of the social order.” Sarah’s argument agrees, yes, that there were some “socioeconomic concerns at stake, but that they were mediated by ideology”; “when colonists resisted the navy, they were rejecting something larger than taxation.” This “something larger,” we learn, was an ideology that she labels the “authoritarian whig” ideology. The authoritarian whigs, who came to control the Royal Navy, saw the cause of problems, both in society at large and in the Navy in particular, as the result of a weakening of traditional hierarchies and obedience. The problem, for them, was the lower classes, who caused disorder. Against the authoritarian whigs were the “patriots” and the “radicals”, who believed that the hierarchy itself was the problem, that the solution was “popular” involvement, which would weed out things like corruption and class-based cronyism. Whereas the authoritarian whigs saw the problem as coming from below; the patriots and radicals saw it as coming from above. And they saw the professionalization of the Navy and its attendant hierarchy as giving too much power to government ministers.

The “authoritarian whigs” ended up getting their way when it came to the Navy, and their reforms, to use Sarah’s words, “reinvigorated the Navy’s fortunes.” It had suffered a number of defeats before them, and it saw increased victories after. So, quoting Sarah: “the authoritarian whigs saw their naval reforms as only part of a larger project of refashioning Anglo-imperial society into a unified but hierarchically organized whole. […] From the 1740s, the professional navy had ideological ties to a particular model of ordered, hierarchical governance and to a centralized disciplined empire. From 1760, authoritarian whigs used it to attempt to impose that model of governance on the empire.” It began to enforce controversial taxes, even after authorities on land gave up in the face of increasing resistance—the Navy became the empire’s police force. By controlling transportation to and from the colonies, the Navy “was more effective than other means of exerting colonial authority.” Again, Sarah reiterates, the “debate was not simply over paying increased taxes to Britain. At issue was whether to have a standing, professional navy, and how that might influence the relationship between government and society.”

As the paper articulates them, the payoffs of this story are that the changes to the Royal Navy were very much a choice, part of a coherent political project to reassert hierarchies and instill obedience, a political project rooted in the first half of the eighteenth century and even earlier. And that this choice, as Sarah concludes, “led to the fracturing of the very empire it had helped to acquire.”

I will end with two questions. Earlier, I mentioned two terms—“barometer” and “microcosm”—terms that Sarah uses to describe the relationship between the Navy and the larger political situation. They imply that the case of the Navy stands as a useful example or instance that helps us see or identify the central ideological tension of the period. Here there is not necessarily any strong causal claim: that is, the Navy qua Navy isn’t necessarily a particularly important agent of the changes we see. Later, though, as I quoted, Sarah says that the Navy was the strongest agent of colonial authority. And at the end she also says that the Navy was “at the heart of the authoritarian whig imperial project,” which suggests that it was quite central indeed. Sarah, could you make a little more clear just how strong of a causal role you think the reformations of the Royal Navy played in the story of the Revolution, in relation to other causes that historians have put forward?

Finally, I’ll ask the “biggest” question I have, a question that brings us back to Sarah’s title, “The Royal Navy and the modernization of the British Empire, 1740-1776”: how does the story told about changes to the structure of Royal Navy and their connection to “authoritarian Whig” ideology impact our understanding of “the modernization of the British Empire”? “Modernization” is not a word that appears in the body of the paper itself, and as a non-specialist who works on the sixteenth and early to mid seventeenth centuries, I find myself wanting to know what precisely “modernization” means in this context. What about the professionalization of the Navy or the desire for a more authoritarian and hierarchical model of empire is “modern”? I offer this question not as a challenge to the paper, but rather as an opportunity to tease out its larger implications for how we understand historical change. Thank you.

-Aaron T. Pratt


Comment on Sarah Kinkel, “The Royal Navy and the modernization of the British Empire, 1740-1776″

January 26, 2014 - 9:36pm

Sarah’s paper, “The Royal Navy and the modernization of the British Empire, 1740-1776,” asks us to reconsider both the importance of the Royal Navy in the period before the Revolutionary War and its relationship to the larger ideological and discursive trends that led up to it. Sarah, ultimately, wants us to resist the critical tendency to reduce changes in the Navy to what she characterizes as “exogenous forces,” and instead see this branch of the military as developing from and alongside ideological currents that had already begun to produce resistance from colonists before the Seven Years’ War. For her, the increasing professionalization and authoritarian character of the Royal Navy had as much—or more—to do with the ways British subjects conceived of the proper relationship between the government and themselves as it did with the need to respond to particular exigencies that arose from the difficulty of maintaining an empire. As Sarah herself puts it, the battles over what the military should be and how it should be run originated from “an internal logic rather than an external catalyst.” If, as she says, a different political party had ended up in charge, the Royal Navy—and, I suspect she would want to suggest, the nature of the British Empire—would have “looked extremely different”; “it might or might not have played a role in sparking an imperial rebellion.”

Sarah opens her paper with something of a polemic, arguing that scholarship to this point has either ignored or misunderstood the role of the Navy in the period leading up to the Revolution. Traditional accounts of the Revolution, Sarah suggests, divide roughly into two camps, the “whig” and the “progressive.” The former argues that the Revolution was caused by an ideological rift over the nature of the constitution: just as in a failed marriage, the two sides of the Atlantic developed “irreconcilable differences.” In this story, the Navy was a neutral force and was largely unrelated to the central issues: it just protected liberties, however conceived. In the latter camp, “the progressive,” the problem came down to money: who could and could not collect taxes. Here, the Navy was involved because it enforced the collection of customs, but animus toward it had nothing to do with it being the Navy in particular: it was just one of many tax collectors.

Against these positions—and against more recent accounts that assign a role in the drama to the army but not the Navy—Sarah tells us “that we […] need to understand what the Navy meant to American radicals, who were largely located in the very port cities the Navy was most able to affect directly.” Later she writes, “The Navy [was] a perceived barometer for the virtue and vitality of British Society”; to contemporaries, “it was a microcosm of the social order.” Sarah’s argument agrees, yes, that there were some “socioeconomic concerns at stake, but that they were mediated by ideology”; “when colonists resisted the navy, they were rejecting something larger than taxation.” This “something larger,” we learn, was an ideology that she labels the “authoritarian whig” ideology. The authoritarian whigs, who came to control the Royal Navy, saw the cause of problems, both in society at large and in the Navy in particular, as the result of a weakening of traditional hierarchies and obedience. The problem, for them, was the lower classes, who caused disorder. Against the authoritarian whigs were the “patriots” and the “radicals”, who believed that the hierarchy itself was the problem, that the solution was “popular” involvement, which would weed out things like corruption and class-based cronyism. Whereas the authoritarian whigs saw the problem as coming from below; the patriots and radicals saw it as coming from above. And they saw the professionalization of the Navy and its attendant hierarchy as giving too much power to government ministers.

The “authoritarian whigs” ended up getting their way when it came to the Navy, and their reforms, to use Sarah’s words, “reinvigorated the Navy’s fortunes.” It had suffered a number of defeats before them, and it saw increased victories after. So, quoting Sarah: “the authoritarian whigs saw their naval reforms as only part of a larger project of refashioning Anglo-imperial society into a unified but hierarchically organized whole. […] From the 1740s, the professional navy had ideological ties to a particular model of ordered, hierarchical governance and to a centralized disciplined empire. From 1760, authoritarian whigs used it to attempt to impose that model of governance on the empire.” It began to enforce controversial taxes, even after authorities on land gave up in the face of increasing resistance—the Navy became the empire’s police force. By controlling transportation to and from the colonies, the Navy “was more effective than other means of exerting colonial authority.” Again, Sarah reiterates, the “debate was not simply over paying increased taxes to Britain. At issue was whether to have a standing, professional navy, and how that might influence the relationship between government and society.”

As the paper articulates them, the payoffs of this story are that the changes to the Royal Navy were very much a choice, part of a coherent political project to reassert hierarchies and instill obedience, a political project rooted in the first half of the eighteenth century and even earlier. And that this choice, as Sarah concludes, “led to the fracturing of the very empire it had helped to acquire.”

I will end with two questions. Earlier, I mentioned two terms—“barometer” and “microcosm”—terms that Sarah uses to describe the relationship between the Navy and the larger political situation. They imply that the case of the Navy stands as a useful example or instance that helps us see or identify the central ideological tension of the period. Here there is not necessarily any strong causal claim: that is, the Navy qua Navy isn’t necessarily a particularly important agent of the changes we see. Later, though, as I quoted, Sarah says that the Navy was the strongest agent of colonial authority. And at the end she also says that the Navy was “at the heart of the authoritarian whig imperial project,” which suggests that it was quite central indeed. Sarah, could you make a little more clear just how strong of a causal role you think the reformations of the Royal Navy played in the story of the Revolution, in relation to other causes that historians have put forward?

Finally, I’ll ask the “biggest” question I have, a question that brings us back to Sarah’s title, “The Royal Navy and the modernization of the British Empire, 1740-1776”: how does the story told about changes to the structure of Royal Navy and their connection to “authoritarian Whig” ideology impact our understanding of “the modernization of the British Empire”? “Modernization” is not a word that appears in the body of the paper itself, and as a non-specialist who works on the sixteenth and early to mid seventeenth centuries, I find myself wanting to know what precisely “modernization” means in this context. What about the professionalization of the Navy or the desire for a more authoritarian and hierarchical model of empire is “modern”? I offer this question not as a challenge to the paper, but rather as an opportunity to tease out its larger implications for how we understand historical change. Thank you.

-Aaron T. Pratt


Comment on Orlando Patterson, “Institutions, Colonialism, and Economic Development: The Acemoglu-Johnson-Robinson (AJR) Thesis in Light of the Caribbean Experience”

January 25, 2014 - 3:08pm

 

Rose Hall Sugar Plantation House in Jamaica

The following is a comment by Ryan Cecil Jobson a PhD student in African American Studies and Anthropology. 

On October 4, 2013, the landmark case of Shanique Myrie v. Barbados reached its conclusion when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled in favor of the plaintiff to the tune of $3.6m Jamaican dollars. Myrie, a Jamaican, brought the case before the court following her detainment and physical harassment by Barbadian border officials who effectively violated her “right of entry without harassment” as a CARICOM national under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. In her testimony, Myrie contended that she was denied entry to Barbados without due process, subjected to a painful and demeaning body cavity search, and held overnight in an insanitary detention cell prior to her deportation. While the judgment cited insufficient evidence to substantiate Myrie’s claim that she was discriminated against due to her nationality, her testimony nonetheless recounted the verbal taunts of a female border officer who labeled Jamaicans as “liars,” and castigated Jamaican women who “only come here to steal our men and carry drugs into our country.” In the eyes of many, the case signaled the fracturing of regional unity in the Caribbean and the intensification of an anti-Jamaican sentiment. Yet as an anthropologist, my interest in the case was equally piqued by the quotidian ascription of cultural decency to Barbadians and abject moral and sexual pathology to Jamaicans. The alleged encounter between Myrie and the unnamed border official thus indexes a troubling thesis concerning a uniquely Jamaican culture of violence characterized, in the words of economist Cedric Wilson, by “a new breed of criminals without soul or conscience” (cited in Thomas 2011:54).[1] Today, it is common parlance in the Caribbean to hail Barbados for its successful transition into political independence and to posit Jamaica as a cautionary tale of a fragile postcolonial state—evinced most recently by the massacre of 73 civilians during the extradition of Tivoli Gardens don Christopher “Dudus” Coke to the U.S. on narcotics and arms trafficking charges in May 2010. However, as anthropologist Deborah Thomas opines, the viability of such culturalist arguments rests upon an equally disagreeable “epistemological violence” that “derails…a global political economic analysis that would frame violence in Jamaica within a more historical and relational context.”[2] In this instance, our capacity to evaluate the global political landscape remains hampered by a blackboxing of the postcolonial state, in which societies forged out of transoceanic markets of peoples and goods are wrested from their colonial origins and isolated as analytical units.

Among the primary offenders are to be found among proponents of a doctrine of “failed states,” which seeks to identify causal factors behind the erosion of state legitimacy and absence of a robust central government. The Failed States Index, published annually since 2005 by the think-tank Fund for Peace, is especially noteworthy in its unabashed privileging of endogenous indicators of state vulnerability, neglecting the geopolitical relationships between states and the historical legacies of colonialism that, for the many of the world’s nation-states, only formally dissolved in the past half century. One encouraging, albeit incomplete, stream of thought has emerged in the form of the institutionalist camp that Prof. Patterson generously interrogates in his paper. The Acemoglu-Johnson-Robinson (AJR) Thesis holds closely to the institutionalist view that better institutions correlate positively to economic performance, but differently posits exogenous factors derived from colonial era—in this instance, settler mortality rates—as a predictor of institutional development and, in turn, contemporary economic success. As Prof. Patterson notes, this thesis has proved resilient in the face of critics, but can be further nuanced. Ironically, it is the institutionalists that appear most unclear on what is meant by institutions, a shortcoming that bears noteworthy implications for the comparison he draws.

For Prof. Patterson, a lesson is to be derived from the divergent trajectories of Jamaica and Barbados in the aftermath of political independence in 1962 and 1966, respectively. While both Caribbean nation-states share a centuries-long history of British colonialism and plantation slavery, similar ethnic demographics, and membership in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, their economic trajectories diverge sharply, with Barbados now boasting a near threefold advantage in per capita GDP. The key here lies in a unstated distinction between declaratory and procedural knowledge of institutions—amounting to the difference between “knowing the rules of” and “knowing how to play” the institutional game—with both nations holding the former, and Jamaica comparatively lacking in the latter. Prof. Patterson attributes this discrepancy to differences in functional management of formally similar institutions such as the plantation system due to marked differences in the geography of each island. The argument for geography provides, in my view, an especially innovative sociological critique of the institutionalists by calling a new and compelling variable into play. Here, Prof. Patterson rehearses an argument regarding the pervasiveness of autonomous maroon settlements in the mountainous hinterlands of Jamaica, and the stark absence of such communities in Barbados due to its flat topography. As a result, the enslaved population in Jamaica was reproduced primarily through import and often allocated provision grounds to cultivate its own crops for subsistence and limited sale in market. In Barbados, by contrast, complete surveillance of the plantation inaugurated an economy founded in slave rearing and the intensified transmission of European cultural and institutional norms among the enslaved. Put crudely, the technologies of plantation management in Jamaica led to the emergence of a substantial rural peasantry after emancipation, while the panoptic character of the Barbadian plantation complex allowed its structure to persist long after abolition and set the stage for a deeper proliferation of procedural knowledge of British colonial institutions.

I am quite convinced by Prof. Patterson’s argument, which ultimately credits “disciplined policy choices” implemented by Barbados in the wake of the oil spikes of 1973 and 1990 for its exceptional economic stability. But understanding discipline in its Foucaultian instantiation suggests that this perhaps constitutes a version of what scholars of Middle Eastern petrostates regard as a “ruling bargain,” in which draconian free market reforms are embraced in service of greater, yet provisional, access to international capital. Given that the key period of divergence between the two countries occurred during Michael Manley’s democratic socialist experiment in Jamaica, we might consider not simply why Barbados elected to make such “disciplined choices,” but also why democratic socialism took hold in Jamaica when it did. Despite frequent diagnoses of an absence of state legitimacy in Jamaica, which Prof. Patterson roundly dismisses in his article, I will belabor his observation that Jamaicans “are fervently nationalistic.” It is worth postulating, then, that the relative autonomy of a Jamaican peasantry after emancipation laid the foundation for an emergent nationalism prior to formal decolonization, one that later awarded Manley’s friendly gestures toward the Black Power and Rastafari movements and revolutionary socialist aphorisms of “Better Mus’ Come” and “Giving Power to the People” with popular currency in the elections of 1972. Conversely, even as an independent nation, Barbados continues to enjoy the sardonic title of “Little England,” colloquially implying an ersatz nationalism that thinly veils a neocolonial subservience to the free market interests of the metropole. Without submitting to regional stereotypes such as those enacted in the Myrie case recounted earlier, the influence of geography on the distinct manifestations of postcolonial nationalism, and nationalism more generally, may offer fruitful avenues for additional research.

I want to close my comments by considering another way in which the Caribbean experience that Prof. Patterson’s so usefully deploys may further inform, or perhaps complicate, contemporary indicators of economic development and state legitimacy. As plantation colonies, the Caribbean as we know it was born out of a capitalist imperative “to create a periphery,”[3] a periphery from which imperial powers could produce and extract necessary resources and commodities. On this note, my own research on the petroleum industry in Trinidad has led me to revisit the neglected insights of the New World Group, a cohort of Caribbean social scientists—to which Prof. Patterson was a contributor, I might add—that detailed a continuity between the logic of the plantation economy to perpetually “shift terrain” to new frontiers of agricultural production, and the contemporary pursuit of new resource frontiers and technologies of extraction such as tar sands and hydraulic fracturing.[4] Perhaps, heeding this line of thinking, a broad range of colonies may be understood as “extractive,” rather than simply “settlement” or “elite settlement” colonies. It is merely the technologies and institutional management of extraction that vary, as in the examples of Jamaica and Barbados.

What Prof. Patterson’s critique demands most centrally, I believe, is greater attention to the sociohistorical particulars of colonial projects and their sustained influence in the present. The Caribbean, perhaps more so than any other region, lays bare the bankrupt logic by which nation-states are sequestered as analytical units instead of probing the relations between them. In light of Prof. Patterson’s contribution, we might consider the ways in which invocations of “the state” come to obscure the historical conditions of its emergence and the specific institutions it is constituted by. Does “the state” as an object of social scientific inquiry constitute an abstraction that obscures more than it illuminates? And what are the stakes of this “epistemological violence,” per Deborah Thomas, that demands “disciplined policy choices” on the part of former colonies to secure a place within a global capitalist economy, while calls for historical accountability—such as the recent pursuit of reparations by CARICOM member governments for slavery and the underdevelopment in the region—continue to fall on deaf ears. 

[1] Cedric Wilson, “Broken Windows and Young Minds,” quoted in Deborah A. Thomas, Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 54.

[2] Thomas, Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 69.

[3] Daniel Miller, Capitalism: An Ethnographic Approach (Oxford: Berg, 1997), 5.

[4] Girvan, Norman. Corporate Imperialism: Conflict and Expropriation (New York & London: Monthly Review Press, 1976), 18.


Comment on Orlando Patterson, “Institutions, Colonialism, and Economic Development: The Acemoglu-Johnson-Robinson (AJR) Thesis in Light of the Caribbean Experience”

January 25, 2014 - 3:08pm

 

Rose Hall Sugar Plantation House in Jamaica

The following is a comment by Ryan Cecil Jobson a PhD student in African American Studies and Anthropology. 

On October 4, 2013, the landmark case of Shanique Myrie v. Barbados reached its conclusion when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled in favor of the plaintiff to the tune of $3.6m Jamaican dollars. Myrie, a Jamaican, brought the case before the court following her detainment and physical harassment by Barbadian border officials who effectively violated her “right of entry without harassment” as a CARICOM national under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. In her testimony, Myrie contended that she was denied entry to Barbados without due process, subjected to a painful and demeaning body cavity search, and held overnight in an insanitary detention cell prior to her deportation. While the judgment cited insufficient evidence to substantiate Myrie’s claim that she was discriminated against due to her nationality, her testimony nonetheless recounted the verbal taunts of a female border officer who labeled Jamaicans as “liars,” and castigated Jamaican women who “only come here to steal our men and carry drugs into our country.” In the eyes of many, the case signaled the fracturing of regional unity in the Caribbean and the intensification of an anti-Jamaican sentiment. Yet as an anthropologist, my interest in the case was equally piqued by the quotidian ascription of cultural decency to Barbadians and abject moral and sexual pathology to Jamaicans. The alleged encounter between Myrie and the unnamed border official thus indexes a troubling thesis concerning a uniquely Jamaican culture of violence characterized, in the words of economist Cedric Wilson, by “a new breed of criminals without soul or conscience” (cited in Thomas 2011:54).[1] Today, it is common parlance in the Caribbean to hail Barbados for its successful transition into political independence and to posit Jamaica as a cautionary tale of a fragile postcolonial state—evinced most recently by the massacre of 73 civilians during the extradition of Tivoli Gardens don Christopher “Dudus” Coke to the U.S. on narcotics and arms trafficking charges in May 2010. However, as anthropologist Deborah Thomas opines, the viability of such culturalist arguments rests upon an equally disagreeable “epistemological violence” that “derails…a global political economic analysis that would frame violence in Jamaica within a more historical and relational context.”[2] In this instance, our capacity to evaluate the global political landscape remains hampered by a blackboxing of the postcolonial state, in which societies forged out of transoceanic markets of peoples and goods are wrested from their colonial origins and isolated as analytical units.

Among the primary offenders are to be found among proponents of a doctrine of “failed states,” which seeks to identify causal factors behind the erosion of state legitimacy and absence of a robust central government. The Failed States Index, published annually since 2005 by the think-tank Fund for Peace, is especially noteworthy in its unabashed privileging of endogenous indicators of state vulnerability, neglecting the geopolitical relationships between states and the historical legacies of colonialism that, for the many of the world’s nation-states, only formally dissolved in the past half century. One encouraging, albeit incomplete, stream of thought has emerged in the form of the institutionalist camp that Prof. Patterson generously interrogates in his paper. The Acemoglu-Johnson-Robinson (AJR) Thesis holds closely to the institutionalist view that better institutions correlate positively to economic performance, but differently posits exogenous factors derived from colonial era—in this instance, settler mortality rates—as a predictor of institutional development and, in turn, contemporary economic success. As Prof. Patterson notes, this thesis has proved resilient in the face of critics, but can be further nuanced. Ironically, it is the institutionalists that appear most unclear on what is meant by institutions, a shortcoming that bears noteworthy implications for the comparison he draws.

For Prof. Patterson, a lesson is to be derived from the divergent trajectories of Jamaica and Barbados in the aftermath of political independence in 1962 and 1966, respectively. While both Caribbean nation-states share a centuries-long history of British colonialism and plantation slavery, similar ethnic demographics, and membership in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, their economic trajectories diverge sharply, with Barbados now boasting a near threefold advantage in per capita GDP. The key here lies in a unstated distinction between declaratory and procedural knowledge of institutions—amounting to the difference between “knowing the rules of” and “knowing how to play” the institutional game—with both nations holding the former, and Jamaica comparatively lacking in the latter. Prof. Patterson attributes this discrepancy to differences in functional management of formally similar institutions such as the plantation system due to marked differences in the geography of each island. The argument for geography provides, in my view, an especially innovative sociological critique of the institutionalists by calling a new and compelling variable into play. Here, Prof. Patterson rehearses an argument regarding the pervasiveness of autonomous maroon settlements in the mountainous hinterlands of Jamaica, and the stark absence of such communities in Barbados due to its flat topography. As a result, the enslaved population in Jamaica was reproduced primarily through import and often allocated provision grounds to cultivate its own crops for subsistence and limited sale in market. In Barbados, by contrast, complete surveillance of the plantation inaugurated an economy founded in slave rearing and the intensified transmission of European cultural and institutional norms among the enslaved. Put crudely, the technologies of plantation management in Jamaica led to the emergence of a substantial rural peasantry after emancipation, while the panoptic character of the Barbadian plantation complex allowed its structure to persist long after abolition and set the stage for a deeper proliferation of procedural knowledge of British colonial institutions.

I am quite convinced by Prof. Patterson’s argument, which ultimately credits “disciplined policy choices” implemented by Barbados in the wake of the oil spikes of 1973 and 1990 for its exceptional economic stability. But understanding discipline in its Foucaultian instantiation suggests that this perhaps constitutes a version of what scholars of Middle Eastern petrostates regard as a “ruling bargain,” in which draconian free market reforms are embraced in service of greater, yet provisional, access to international capital. Given that the key period of divergence between the two countries occurred during Michael Manley’s democratic socialist experiment in Jamaica, we might consider not simply why Barbados elected to make such “disciplined choices,” but also why democratic socialism took hold in Jamaica when it did. Despite frequent diagnoses of an absence of state legitimacy in Jamaica, which Prof. Patterson roundly dismisses in his article, I will belabor his observation that Jamaicans “are fervently nationalistic.” It is worth postulating, then, that the relative autonomy of a Jamaican peasantry after emancipation laid the foundation for an emergent nationalism prior to formal decolonization, one that later awarded Manley’s friendly gestures toward the Black Power and Rastafari movements and revolutionary socialist aphorisms of “Better Mus’ Come” and “Giving Power to the People” with popular currency in the elections of 1972. Conversely, even as an independent nation, Barbados continues to enjoy the sardonic title of “Little England,” colloquially implying an ersatz nationalism that thinly veils a neocolonial subservience to the free market interests of the metropole. Without submitting to regional stereotypes such as those enacted in the Myrie case recounted earlier, the influence of geography on the distinct manifestations of postcolonial nationalism, and nationalism more generally, may offer fruitful avenues for additional research.

I want to close my comments by considering another way in which the Caribbean experience that Prof. Patterson’s so usefully deploys may further inform, or perhaps complicate, contemporary indicators of economic development and state legitimacy. As plantation colonies, the Caribbean as we know it was born out of a capitalist imperative “to create a periphery,”[3] a periphery from which imperial powers could produce and extract necessary resources and commodities. On this note, my own research on the petroleum industry in Trinidad has led me to revisit the neglected insights of the New World Group, a cohort of Caribbean social scientists—to which Prof. Patterson was a contributor, I might add—that detailed a continuity between the logic of the plantation economy to perpetually “shift terrain” to new frontiers of agricultural production, and the contemporary pursuit of new resource frontiers and technologies of extraction such as tar sands and hydraulic fracturing.[4] Perhaps, heeding this line of thinking, a broad range of colonies may be understood as “extractive,” rather than simply “settlement” or “elite settlement” colonies. It is merely the technologies and institutional management of extraction that vary, as in the examples of Jamaica and Barbados.

What Prof. Patterson’s critique demands most centrally, I believe, is greater attention to the sociohistorical particulars of colonial projects and their sustained influence in the present. The Caribbean, perhaps more so than any other region, lays bare the bankrupt logic by which nation-states are sequestered as analytical units instead of probing the relations between them. In light of Prof. Patterson’s contribution, we might consider the ways in which invocations of “the state” come to obscure the historical conditions of its emergence and the specific institutions it is constituted by. Does “the state” as an object of social scientific inquiry constitute an abstraction that obscures more than it illuminates? And what are the stakes of this “epistemological violence,” per Deborah Thomas, that demands “disciplined policy choices” on the part of former colonies to secure a place within a global capitalist economy, while calls for historical accountability—such as the recent pursuit of reparations by CARICOM member governments for slavery and the underdevelopment in the region—continue to fall on deaf ears. 

[1] Cedric Wilson, “Broken Windows and Young Minds,” quoted in Deborah A. Thomas, Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 54.

[2] Thomas, Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 69.

[3] Daniel Miller, Capitalism: An Ethnographic Approach (Oxford: Berg, 1997), 5.

[4] Girvan, Norman. Corporate Imperialism: Conflict and Expropriation (New York & London: Monthly Review Press, 1976), 18.


CHESS is back, with Orlando Patterson

January 16, 2014 - 4:35pm

And we’re back!

Welcome to the second semester of CHESS, or as we are formally known, the Center for Historical Enquiry & the Social Sciences. Is that a mouthful? Yes it is. That’s what comes from trying to fit things into boxes, or acronyms, and why the social sciences usually need history. But, I’m getting ahead of myself….

As you may have guessed, I am a PhD student in early modern European history at Yale. I am a new contributor to this blog (thank you Jonathan). My dissertation concerns the expansion, and religious and economics reactions to, mathematical learning in early modern England and early America. I also have strong interests in Jewish history, Atlantic history, and intellectual history, and sometimes read things outside of history as well. Sometimes.

But enough about me. This coming Friday we resume (and c’mon, the second time around is always better) CHESS’ Friday colloquium series with the distinguished sociologist Orlando Patterson of Harvard University. He needs no introduction given the range, acuity, and prominence of his work. Continuing our usual format, a paper (This week, “Institutions, Colonialism and Economic Development: The Acemoglu-Johnson-Robinson Thesis in Light of the Caribbean Experience”) has been pre-circulated. There will be a graduate student respondent (from outside the discipline of the guest) who will offer a summary and response. This week we will be hearing from Ryan Jobson, a doctoral student in the combined degree program in anthropology and African American Studies.

But as per the blog, and the informal and short responses its format welcomes, let me start us off. And for the sake of fun, let me be a tad…critical. Patterson begins his paper by defining institutions:

Institutions are durable structures of knowledge that define the rules and expectations of recurrent behavior. They are ensembles of shared schemata, precompiled information packages that reduce uncertainty and promote coordination. They range from weakly sanctioned, intermittent dyadic interactions (such as ritualized greetings) to formally sanctioned, continuous networks of rules, roles and activities designed to achieve specific goals, such as organizations.

Now, this is great. Historians, if I may indulge in a bit of self-criticism, often neglect to offer definitions, and therefore commit conceptual crimes all the time, accidentally as well as purposefully. (The purposeful ones are usually the more interesting ones). So, this is good, in theory.

On the other hand, Patterson’s definition is a bit abstract. It is so broad that it forces one to ask what is not an institution? Definitions, if they are to have power, derive it from drawing boundaries (even if they are porous), while Patterson’s definition is capacious. Very capacious.

The use of the term institution is noteworthy in two other ways. First, the importance of institutions (whatever they are) is partly attributed to the seminal work of figures like economist Douglass North. Yet North was famous for saying in his early work that they are “rules, enforcement characteristics, of rules, and norms of behavior”—ie, not organizations. This contrast is especially interesting given that so much of Patterson’s paper is concerned with organizations, which North once took care to exclude from his work.

And finally, since we’ve already had two definitions of the term institution, let me throw in a third. Not mine, but one of the historical ones, since there in fact have been many. The OED is helpful on this point. “The action of instituting or establishing; setting on foot or in operation” is the first definition it gives us, which is not opposed to Patterson’s, but interesting in how it emphasizes action or the act of establishing, rather than the formal rules or organization which is how the term is more often used today. We have the wise words of John Donne to caution on this point: “Ceremonies..may be good in their Institution, and grow ill in their practise.”

And with that, may the institution of the Chessblog and seminar become a lively institution (whatever kind of institution it is, that is).


CHESS is back, with Orlando Patterson

January 16, 2014 - 4:35pm

And we’re back!

Welcome to the second semester of CHESS, or as we are formally known, the Center for Historical Enquiry & the Social Sciences. Is that a mouthful? Yes it is. That’s what comes from trying to fit things into boxes, or acronyms, and why the social sciences usually need history. But, I’m getting ahead of myself….

As you may have guessed, I am a PhD student in early modern European history at Yale. I am a new contributor to this blog (thank you Jonathan). My dissertation concerns the expansion, and religious and economics reactions to, mathematical learning in early modern England and early America. I also have strong interests in Jewish history, Atlantic history, and intellectual history, and sometimes read things outside of history as well. Sometimes.

But enough about me. This coming Friday we resume (and c’mon, the second time around is always better) CHESS’ Friday colloquium series with the distinguished sociologist Orlando Patterson of Harvard University. He needs no introduction given the range, acuity, and prominence of his work. Continuing our usual format, a paper (This week, “Institutions, Colonialism and Economic Development: The Acemoglu-Johnson-Robinson Thesis in Light of the Caribbean Experience”) has been pre-circulated. There will be a graduate student respondent (from outside the discipline of the guest) who will offer a summary and response. This week we will be hearing from Ryan Jobson, a doctoral student in the combined degree program in anthropology and African American Studies.

But as per the blog, and the informal and short responses its format welcomes, let me start us off. And for the sake of fun, let me be a tad…critical. Patterson begins his paper by defining institutions:

Institutions are durable structures of knowledge that define the rules and expectations of recurrent behavior. They are ensembles of shared schemata, precompiled information packages that reduce uncertainty and promote coordination. They range from weakly sanctioned, intermittent dyadic interactions (such as ritualized greetings) to formally sanctioned, continuous networks of rules, roles and activities designed to achieve specific goals, such as organizations.

Now, this is great. Historians, if I may indulge in a bit of self-criticism, often neglect to offer definitions, and therefore commit conceptual crimes all the time, accidentally as well as purposefully. (The purposeful ones are usually the more interesting ones). So, this is good, in theory.

On the other hand, Patterson’s definition is a bit abstract. It is so broad that it forces one to ask what is not an institution? Definitions, if they are to have power, derive it from drawing boundaries (even if they are porous), while Patterson’s definition is capacious. Very capacious.

The use of the term institution is noteworthy in two other ways. First, the importance of institutions (whatever they are) is partly attributed to the seminal work of figures like economist Douglass North. Yet North was famous for saying in his early work that they are “rules, enforcement characteristics, of rules, and norms of behavior”—ie, not organizations. This contrast is especially interesting given that so much of Patterson’s paper is concerned with organizations, which North once took care to exclude from his work.

And finally, since we’ve already had two definitions of the term institution, let me throw in a third. Not mine, but one of the historical ones, since there in fact have been many. The OED is helpful on this point. “The action of instituting or establishing; setting on foot or in operation” is the first definition it gives us, which is not opposed to Patterson’s, but interesting in how it emphasizes action or the act of establishing, rather than the formal rules or organization which is how the term is more often used today. We have the wise words of John Donne to caution on this point: “Ceremonies..may be good in their Institution, and grow ill in their practise.”

And with that, may the institution of the Chessblog and seminar become a lively institution (whatever kind of institution it is, that is).


Artifice and Sociability in the Cosmopolitan Imagination

November 19, 2013 - 11:13am

The Following is a Comment from Anurag Sinha graduate student in Political Science, He may be contacted at anurag.sinha@yale.edu

Prof. Ramachandran’s paper urges us to reconsider “a lost history of cosmopolitanism in early modernity” (3) and offers “a new perspective on the struggle between the particular and the universal that informs much of the thinking around cosmopolitanism” (3), especially in the sixteenth century as well as our present moment. The paper argues that late twentieth- and early twenty-first century meditations on “rooted cosmopolitanism” (11, 14, 26) have a rich and complex lineage stretching back to sixteenth century humanism, particularly the writings of Guillame Postel. Against the Kantian perspective—taken as the predominant eighteenth century view—the paper provides an alternative genealogy of modern cosmopolitanisms by working through three (sets of) observations: (a) connections between those historical moments in which cosmopolitan thinking emerges or is revived, (b) the dissociation of the emergence of cosmopolitanism from political theories that take the state as its fundamental unit of analysis, and (c) cosmopolitanism as a sphere of individual rather than institutional action.

The Fool’s Cap Map, printed anonymously in 1590, is the centerpiece around which the paper develops its thesis. The image, it is argued, sets out the following claim: “the cosmopolitan both produces and is produced by a world on the brink of transformation, a world that simultaneously expands in unprecedented ways to take in a New World, but which also contracts into the body of a singular individual” (3). This is an allegory of a “project of mediation” (3), the paper argues, between the universal and the particular, the global and the local. This thematic gambit thus helps us understand the roots of cosmopolitan thought in the sixteenth century. What did it mean to be a ‘cosmopolite’ at the time? It was to have both national and global affiliations, to be, for instance, both French and a citizen of the world, transcending the bounds of the particular while being circumscribed by it—here, the nation or the state—a sentiment that resonates with our current discourse on cosmopolitanism. The Map, therefore, highlights the paradox of reconciling the particular and the universal.

A comparison of this remarkable piece of iconography with the frontispiece of Leviathan, I think, is instructive, especially in differentiating between the units of analysis of sixteenth century cosmopolitanism and its later-day variants. Against the centripetal force of Hobbes’s sovereign, transforming the multitude into a single artificial person (or singular body politic), the Map gives us not precisely a reverse image but one where the world is contained within an individual mind, not body. This is an imaginative circumscription, one that allows the paradox of uniting the local and the global to arise sharply. And this is where I disagree slightly with the analysis of the Map offered in the paper—it does not seem exactly to be a mediation between “the vast abstraction of the world and the circumscribed particularity of the persons who inhabit it” (3). Instead, the world itself is being circumscribed by those who inhabit it, and it is this very imaginative exercise that supplies meaning and content to various particularities in an age of encounters and discovery. Unlike Hobbes’s leviathan, the Map is an outward-looking allegory, where the individual mind is the recipient of knowledge about the world, and, my suggestion is, that it is this reception that allows for the possibilities of producing

cosmopolitan ideas. The conclusion in either case might be the same; however, to misunderstand the mechanisms that enable the conditions for creative particularities would lead to an underappreciation of the bases of cosmopolitanism thought.

Where the two images converge, however, is in the artifice that holds together each vision of common life: an absolute sovereign or an individual mind. A major theme of eighteenth century political thought was to give a theory of artificial society sustained neither by absolutism nor religion. In fact, the innovative aspect of Kant’s cosmopolitanism was not necessarily the triumph of the nation-state, but his story of sociability, what he called—to quote from the famous Fourth Proposition of universal history—the “unsocial sociability of men, that is, their tendency to come together in society, coupled, however, with a continual resistance which constantly threatens to break this society up.”1 Such societies, moderated by a cosmopolitan right, could only be operative under “principles which one would believe to apply if one came to think of all human societies as in some way partaking in associative relations.”2 What is the account of sociability deployed here if it is not the artifice of society always under the shadow of violent conflict? Since the essay also distances itself from the natural sociability of the Greek polis, what exactly is the cosmopolitan register of sociability?

***

I was not sure if this is a genealogical project like Quentin Skinner’s Liberty before Liberalism, which excavates a ‘lost’ idea, or one that illuminates certain nuances that the existing intellectual histories of cosmopolitanism tend to miss. I take the paper to be arguing that ideas of “rooted cosmopolitanism” have always persisted but were largely obscured by the preeminence of the nation-state in our categories of analysis. There is a danger in the paper of conflating ‘nation’ and ‘state’ into ‘nation-state’, a process that was from complete—or certain—in the eighteenth century. Could it be that the eighteenth century idiom or vocabulary of ‘nation’ and ‘state’ reflect the historical and exigent imperatives to which political thinkers were responding to at the time? If so, how do we understand the differences between the sixteenth and eighteenth century versions of cosmopolitanism?

Finally, a small (and general) question about literary cosmopolitanism: it seems to me that all intellectual endeavors are autobiographical, if not explicitly in form then at least in inspiration. If this is correct, what exactly is it about the autobiographical narratives of sixteenth century humanists that sets their cosmopolitanism apart?

Anurag Sinha Political Science Yale University

1 Immanuel Kant, ‘The Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’, in Political Writings, ed. by H. S. Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 44, emphasis in original.

2 Richard Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 220.


Artifice and Sociability in the Cosmopolitan Imagination

November 19, 2013 - 11:13am

The Following is a Comment from Anurag Sinha graduate student in Political Science, He may be contacted at anurag.sinha@yale.edu

Prof. Ramachandran’s paper urges us to reconsider “a lost history of cosmopolitanism in early modernity” (3) and offers “a new perspective on the struggle between the particular and the universal that informs much of the thinking around cosmopolitanism” (3), especially in the sixteenth century as well as our present moment. The paper argues that late twentieth- and early twenty-first century meditations on “rooted cosmopolitanism” (11, 14, 26) have a rich and complex lineage stretching back to sixteenth century humanism, particularly the writings of Guillame Postel. Against the Kantian perspective—taken as the predominant eighteenth century view—the paper provides an alternative genealogy of modern cosmopolitanisms by working through three (sets of) observations: (a) connections between those historical moments in which cosmopolitan thinking emerges or is revived, (b) the dissociation of the emergence of cosmopolitanism from political theories that take the state as its fundamental unit of analysis, and (c) cosmopolitanism as a sphere of individual rather than institutional action.

The Fool’s Cap Map, printed anonymously in 1590, is the centerpiece around which the paper develops its thesis. The image, it is argued, sets out the following claim: “the cosmopolitan both produces and is produced by a world on the brink of transformation, a world that simultaneously expands in unprecedented ways to take in a New World, but which also contracts into the body of a singular individual” (3). This is an allegory of a “project of mediation” (3), the paper argues, between the universal and the particular, the global and the local. This thematic gambit thus helps us understand the roots of cosmopolitan thought in the sixteenth century. What did it mean to be a ‘cosmopolite’ at the time? It was to have both national and global affiliations, to be, for instance, both French and a citizen of the world, transcending the bounds of the particular while being circumscribed by it—here, the nation or the state—a sentiment that resonates with our current discourse on cosmopolitanism. The Map, therefore, highlights the paradox of reconciling the particular and the universal.

A comparison of this remarkable piece of iconography with the frontispiece of Leviathan, I think, is instructive, especially in differentiating between the units of analysis of sixteenth century cosmopolitanism and its later-day variants. Against the centripetal force of Hobbes’s sovereign, transforming the multitude into a single artificial person (or singular body politic), the Map gives us not precisely a reverse image but one where the world is contained within an individual mind, not body. This is an imaginative circumscription, one that allows the paradox of uniting the local and the global to arise sharply. And this is where I disagree slightly with the analysis of the Map offered in the paper—it does not seem exactly to be a mediation between “the vast abstraction of the world and the circumscribed particularity of the persons who inhabit it” (3). Instead, the world itself is being circumscribed by those who inhabit it, and it is this very imaginative exercise that supplies meaning and content to various particularities in an age of encounters and discovery. Unlike Hobbes’s leviathan, the Map is an outward-looking allegory, where the individual mind is the recipient of knowledge about the world, and, my suggestion is, that it is this reception that allows for the possibilities of producing

cosmopolitan ideas. The conclusion in either case might be the same; however, to misunderstand the mechanisms that enable the conditions for creative particularities would lead to an underappreciation of the bases of cosmopolitanism thought.

Where the two images converge, however, is in the artifice that holds together each vision of common life: an absolute sovereign or an individual mind. A major theme of eighteenth century political thought was to give a theory of artificial society sustained neither by absolutism nor religion. In fact, the innovative aspect of Kant’s cosmopolitanism was not necessarily the triumph of the nation-state, but his story of sociability, what he called—to quote from the famous Fourth Proposition of universal history—the “unsocial sociability of men, that is, their tendency to come together in society, coupled, however, with a continual resistance which constantly threatens to break this society up.”1 Such societies, moderated by a cosmopolitan right, could only be operative under “principles which one would believe to apply if one came to think of all human societies as in some way partaking in associative relations.”2 What is the account of sociability deployed here if it is not the artifice of society always under the shadow of violent conflict? Since the essay also distances itself from the natural sociability of the Greek polis, what exactly is the cosmopolitan register of sociability?

***

I was not sure if this is a genealogical project like Quentin Skinner’s Liberty before Liberalism, which excavates a ‘lost’ idea, or one that illuminates certain nuances that the existing intellectual histories of cosmopolitanism tend to miss. I take the paper to be arguing that ideas of “rooted cosmopolitanism” have always persisted but were largely obscured by the preeminence of the nation-state in our categories of analysis. There is a danger in the paper of conflating ‘nation’ and ‘state’ into ‘nation-state’, a process that was from complete—or certain—in the eighteenth century. Could it be that the eighteenth century idiom or vocabulary of ‘nation’ and ‘state’ reflect the historical and exigent imperatives to which political thinkers were responding to at the time? If so, how do we understand the differences between the sixteenth and eighteenth century versions of cosmopolitanism?

Finally, a small (and general) question about literary cosmopolitanism: it seems to me that all intellectual endeavors are autobiographical, if not explicitly in form then at least in inspiration. If this is correct, what exactly is it about the autobiographical narratives of sixteenth century humanists that sets their cosmopolitanism apart?

Anurag Sinha Political Science Yale University

1 Immanuel Kant, ‘The Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’, in Political Writings, ed. by H. S. Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 44, emphasis in original.

2 Richard Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 220.


Erdoğan to Protestors: Drop Dead

September 23, 2013 - 4:28pm

Today I saw a banner, “Not a road, we want a forest”. How can this type of thing go on? There are many forests. Without a road you cannot get to the University. We should send you to the forests. Go, you can live in the forests. That is what they say. What do you expect us to give up on cities? The road is civilization. We will not abandon the road. The road enables people to reach each other.

Recep Tayip Erdoğan September 18, 2013

There were the comments of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, given at a meeting of Middle Eastern Technical University in Ankara (ODTU), one of the premier engineering colleges in the region. Around a month ago, the Municipality of Ankara announced that they would build a road connecting Anadolu Boulevard to Konya Highway in an effort to make accessing the campus easier. The move, reported to lead to the death of some 3,000 trees, predictably led to massive student protests, and perhaps the no less certain response of police force employing water cannons, tear gas, and the like.

This series of events, though on a smaller scale, bears a striking resemblance to the Gezi Park protests in Turkey earlier in the summer. Centered primarily in Istanbul’s centrally located Taksim Square, these protests became a cause celebre first for the Turkish left, and later for broader swaths of public opinion after police brutally cracked down upon them on Erdoğan’s orders. Although exacerbated by the Prime Minister’s heavy handed response, events were first set into motion by the announcement that the Park would be bulldozed. The location had once hosted an Ottoman military barracks. The structure was transformed in 1922 into a soccer stadium, which was later demolished entirely to make room for the park. Beyoğlu, the neighborhood in Istanbul where the park is located, voted to demolish the park, a gathering place for the Turkish Left for May Day parades. It was later discovered that the barracks would serve simultaneously as a luxury apartment complex as well as a shopping mall, a move that did not sit well with environmentalists, who started the protests.

Although the situation became exacerbated by repression, at its origin Gezi Park started as an environmental protest. Now, we see the same continuation by the Turkish government, the AK Party, and Prime Minister Erdoğan to push more development projects at the expense of environmental degradation. And again, we see the same cavalier authoritarian attitude toward the protestors standing in the way of the project whom Erdoğan suggests should “go live in the forests” if you don’t like it. It seems the only difference is that instead of repressing the protests as severely as in Taksim, this time Erdoğan seems content to let his bulldozers do the talking. Construction on the new road has already started, and there seems to be very little left for anyone to do anything about it.

Unless environmentalists in Turkey can popularize their message to a wider audience base and make the public at large care about the destruction of nature, it seems as if the Turkish government will continue to engage in these kinds of projects all around the country. Gezi Park was a minor setback that will not delay the implementation of other “development” projects. Although the protestors may have won the battle, they are losing the war. Like the Occupy movement here in the states, the Achilles heel of the environmentalists in Turkey in particular, and the left in general, is the lack of an adequate institutional support base. Unless and until some semblance of a more united front to the AK Party comes to the fore, Erdoğan appears likely to be able to bully his way into getting what he wants.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all of this has been the creeping authoritarianism that has cast a pall over the Turkish democracy. If Adorno and his colleagues had been around today, they surely would have given Prime Minister Erdoğan an off the charts rating in terms of his authoritarian personality type. Just as the AK party has monopolized the Turkish right, Erdoğan has increasingly pushed dissenting voices out of the party. He may not be the only one whose opinion matters, but increasingly his ability to control and direct events have transformed him into arguably the most powerful Turkish Prime Minister since Ataturk. At the time of the Gezi Park protests, Erdoğan proposed changes to Turkish law that increased the powers of the President even greater than those of the current Prime Minister. This left open the possibility, as Sheyla Benhabib wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times, that “Turkey could find itself with an authoritarian, charismatic presidential system resembling Russia’s or Venezuela’s much more than that of the United States or France.” Time will tell whether this proposal will gain traction, although given the recent trend of increasing power consolidation by the Prime Minister, perhaps he doesn’t even need it. The prospect of a Turkish authoritarian democracy a la the Peronists in Argentina remains a distinct possibility. For those who object, I hear there are a few tree-houses left next to the new road in Ankara that you can live in.


Comments for “Do wars make states?: The British Interventionist State”

September 23, 2013 - 11:22am

The following is a post from Yingyao Wang graduate student in sociology.

In a nutshell, this paper argues that it was the political and economic commitment of politicians rather than the logic of inter-state warfare which shaped the British state formation and determined the interventionist character of the eighteen-century British state.

Explain two things? Two independent variables?

  1. (laid out in the first part of the paper) the eighteen century British state spent less proportion of their revenues(20% less compared to  which other countries??) on military matters and more on economic and social capacity building  than other states thanks to a new orientation and thinking with regard to the source of economic prosperity and national strength.
  2. The Weberian process of state making, namely, the monopoly of violence, the emergence of bureaucracy, and the development of an effective fiscal system, is a result of voluntary political choices and innovations rather than the Darwinian imperatives for survival (via military conflicts?).

I am totally convinced by the argument that warfare and efforts of state building is minimally correlated. I was looking for more clear exposition on “what it is” perhaps out of my own sociological prejudice of searching for explanatory parsimony. Currently, the paper seems to offer two equally productive directions based on different assessments of motivations of historical actors and how war figures in their of political strategies and causal stories about state making.

One direction, I call it the strong version of the non-military argument, points to the rise of economic logic that might be replacing the military logic. In this explanatory picture, state elites were reorienting themselves onto a new path to national prosperity: war-making and territorial struggles were no longer the necessary means to achieve the ends of national prosperity. Economic growth takes precedence. What underpin this transformation is the process in which state makers came around to a non-territorial and non-zero-sum understanding of wealth. They discovered the importance of manufacturing and the labor theory of value while at the same time viewed the states as regimes of capital accumulation. Certainly British economists were spearheading the intellectual transformation in these regards, I wonder whether the political practitionerswere equally on board with this new program of economics and to what extent the rise of British economic or fiscal state was able to redefine the nature of international competition in economic terms. To further departure from the military logic and make this strong version stronger, it might be necessary and interesting to examine whether the semantic and institutional separation of civic and military was taking place and the civic development contained a purpose in its own right. If national insecurity still looms large on the political agenda, for example, in the Cold War era, we know that it is difficult to dissociate squarely military and economic developments in the calculus of state elites.

In the weak version of the non-military origin of state making, which some parts of the paper seems to imply, war still has a place. War-making, in parallel to industrialization and social engineering, is one of the means to achieve national prosperity (however defined); economic development may in turn lead to more effective war-marking. This weak version does not dispense with the state’s appetite for territorial expansion and military action. It is a more pragmatic and less programmatic explanation as it argues that how war is financed, how the aims of war was set and what social programs to choose vary with historical circumstances and political competition.

In order to decide between these two versions of explanations, one perhaps needs more empirical account of the actors’ own interpretation and justification on what they were doing and tried to accomplish. A choice between the two versions might be necessary because they have very different implications on our understandings of the ongoing process of, not state making, but empire building. For example, one might ask whether imperial expansion is economically driven as to search for overseas market, cheaper base of manufacture or expand the orbit of trade or imperial expansion was still dictated by a territorial notion of wealth.

Another point:

I was fascinated by the full range of interventions by the British state. Although interventionism is such a normatively and conceptually controversial term, I can see the heuristic merit of applying this term to the eighteenth century. In my head, I was already translating and putting those projects that British state was undertaking into contemporary categories, such as public infrastructure building, R and D, industrial policies, public safety, public welfare, sanitation, education, poor relief. It is very tempting to see them as Keynesian programs in which spending, both public spending and the cultivation of healthy labor and consumers, is the engine of economic growth. But it could well be the case that states pursed these developments out of moral obligation, cultural patrimonialism or prevention of internal revolts. So I would like to know more about on what ground and for what purpose, the British state intervened.

A last related question: I am wondering whether what the British was doing, that is, the growth-minded and manufacture-oriented economic programs was really different from mercantilism. The British had definitely gone beyond the primitive stage of mercantilism, which saw the national wealth was measured by the possession of bullion. But and British French mercantilism in the eighteenth century seemed akin to each other especially during the administration of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, French Minister of Finance. Colbert equally pursed policies of promoting manufacture, population growth, imperial expansion and protectionism.  So maybe a comparison will illuminate the significance of the British case.


Comments for “Do wars make states?: The British Interventionist State”

September 23, 2013 - 11:22am

The following is a post from Yingyao Wang graduate student in sociology.

In a nutshell, this paper argues that it was the political and economic commitment of politicians rather than the logic of inter-state warfare which shaped the British state formation and determined the interventionist character of the eighteen-century British state.

Explain two things? Two independent variables?

  1. (laid out in the first part of the paper) the eighteen century British state spent less proportion of their revenues(20% less compared to  which other countries??) on military matters and more on economic and social capacity building  than other states thanks to a new orientation and thinking with regard to the source of economic prosperity and national strength.
  2. The Weberian process of state making, namely, the monopoly of violence, the emergence of bureaucracy, and the development of an effective fiscal system, is a result of voluntary political choices and innovations rather than the Darwinian imperatives for survival (via military conflicts?).

I am totally convinced by the argument that warfare and efforts of state building is minimally correlated. I was looking for more clear exposition on “what it is” perhaps out of my own sociological prejudice of searching for explanatory parsimony. Currently, the paper seems to offer two equally productive directions based on different assessments of motivations of historical actors and how war figures in their of political strategies and causal stories about state making.

One direction, I call it the strong version of the non-military argument, points to the rise of economic logic that might be replacing the military logic. In this explanatory picture, state elites were reorienting themselves onto a new path to national prosperity: war-making and territorial struggles were no longer the necessary means to achieve the ends of national prosperity. Economic growth takes precedence. What underpin this transformation is the process in which state makers came around to a non-territorial and non-zero-sum understanding of wealth. They discovered the importance of manufacturing and the labor theory of value while at the same time viewed the states as regimes of capital accumulation. Certainly British economists were spearheading the intellectual transformation in these regards, I wonder whether the political practitionerswere equally on board with this new program of economics and to what extent the rise of British economic or fiscal state was able to redefine the nature of international competition in economic terms. To further departure from the military logic and make this strong version stronger, it might be necessary and interesting to examine whether the semantic and institutional separation of civic and military was taking place and the civic development contained a purpose in its own right. If national insecurity still looms large on the political agenda, for example, in the Cold War era, we know that it is difficult to dissociate squarely military and economic developments in the calculus of state elites.

In the weak version of the non-military origin of state making, which some parts of the paper seems to imply, war still has a place. War-making, in parallel to industrialization and social engineering, is one of the means to achieve national prosperity (however defined); economic development may in turn lead to more effective war-marking. This weak version does not dispense with the state’s appetite for territorial expansion and military action. It is a more pragmatic and less programmatic explanation as it argues that how war is financed, how the aims of war was set and what social programs to choose vary with historical circumstances and political competition.

In order to decide between these two versions of explanations, one perhaps needs more empirical account of the actors’ own interpretation and justification on what they were doing and tried to accomplish. A choice between the two versions might be necessary because they have very different implications on our understandings of the ongoing process of, not state making, but empire building. For example, one might ask whether imperial expansion is economically driven as to search for overseas market, cheaper base of manufacture or expand the orbit of trade or imperial expansion was still dictated by a territorial notion of wealth.

Another point:

I was fascinated by the full range of interventions by the British state. Although interventionism is such a normatively and conceptually controversial term, I can see the heuristic merit of applying this term to the eighteenth century. In my head, I was already translating and putting those projects that British state was undertaking into contemporary categories, such as public infrastructure building, R and D, industrial policies, public safety, public welfare, sanitation, education, poor relief. It is very tempting to see them as Keynesian programs in which spending, both public spending and the cultivation of healthy labor and consumers, is the engine of economic growth. But it could well be the case that states pursed these developments out of moral obligation, cultural patrimonialism or prevention of internal revolts. So I would like to know more about on what ground and for what purpose, the British state intervened.

A last related question: I am wondering whether what the British was doing, that is, the growth-minded and manufacture-oriented economic programs was really different from mercantilism. The British had definitely gone beyond the primitive stage of mercantilism, which saw the national wealth was measured by the possession of bullion. But and British French mercantilism in the eighteenth century seemed akin to each other especially during the administration of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, French Minister of Finance. Colbert equally pursed policies of promoting manufacture, population growth, imperial expansion and protectionism.  So maybe a comparison will illuminate the significance of the British case.


Rothschild Response

September 23, 2013 - 11:18am

The following is a post from Kristen Plys, graduate student in sociology.

This paper makes important inroads in transnational history by describing the ties of the working class of Angouleme in the 18th century, to the global economy. Professor Rothschild fills an important void in the literature in the historical social sciences of the linkages of working class Europeans in the early modern period to the global economy. Through the case study of Marie Aymard and her social network of relatives, neighbors, friends and associates, Prof. Rothschild demonstrates that even though Marie Aymard was indigent and illiterate she had economic ties to far flung places through her social network. Through the analysis of this network, Prof. Rothschild challenges the claim that French interior provinces were isolated and “untouched by the productive exchanges of modern life” (6). Through her detailed archival work, she is able to make everyday economic interactions come to life in her gripping narrative of Marie Aymard.

After reading the paper, I was left with several questions mainly pertaining to theory and method. These questions can be organized into three related comments for discussion. I’ll start first with the easy one on historical method, and then get into the more theoretical questions.

  1. What exactly is “Poor Economics” doing in the story besides method? I was really surprised to see a historical analysis in which Poor Economics was the launch point, in an acritical way, especially since the book struck me as such an ahistorical approach to understanding development. More specifically, Banerjee and Duflo’s approach, in its plea for equality of opportunity (but not equality of destination) does not have any conceptualization of the development of the world-economic context over time. They like most contemporary development economists, reject macro theories or grand theories of development and instead seek to understand poverty on an individual or community level. So then, if we accept their premise, of understanding poverty on this more micro-level, then why look to historical examples in the first place? In other words, what exactly is the takeaway from this case of everyday economic insecurity in interior France in the 18th century?  One of the many things that I really love about Prof. Rothschild’s paper, is that she truly situates her case in place and time. There is no claim in the paper that the narrative of Marie Aymard is a lesson or cautionary tale for development economists working on the contemporary world. Alternately, one could think of Marie Aymard and her social network as demonstrating an aspect of the historical development of the global economy in one of its formative places and times. Or, perhaps this is history for the sake of history. However, my confusion about exactly how Prof. Rothschild employs Poor Economics, along with this question of if or in what way the case is generalizable beyond the context of 18th century France, obscures my understanding of the pith of the paper.

Now I have two related comments on this issue of method:

  1. In reading the paper while keeping the title in mind, I found myself looking for the connection between economic downturn and the French Revolution as seen from the working class of the French interior. In the paper, I didn’t see such a strong connection to the French Revolution itself, and so, it left me wondering exactly what Prof. Rothschild’s comment is on the relationship between processes of economic downturn and processes of revolution. Just because some of the actors lived through the revolution, and a few were more directly involved – such as Abraham Robin’s three sons who participated in revolutionary politics, and the apprentice boy in the “Henriette Mulatresse” legal dispute died in prison in Paris after allegedly denouncing Robespierre – it doesn’t follow that a) they were involved and b) they related their experiences of economic insecurity to their experiences of Revolution.  In my head, I kept resisting the urge to let macro-historical theory fill in this part of the story, since there is a significant literature that tells us that there is a connection between economic downturn and revolution. But this would probably be the kinds of structural macro-history that Prof. Rothschild is reacting against. So, how are we meant to reconcile this tension?
  2. And then, I have a suggestion on method. Because the theoretical power in the paper seems to be coming from the Annales school approach, Marc Bloch is mentioned briefly, Braudel could easily be brought in as well, because in the way the narrative is structured Professor Rothschild gives us glimpses of the many layers of social life that Braudel calls the historian’s attention to: the eventementelle – everyday life in Angouleme, there’s the conjoncture – the couple decades or so leading up to the French revolution, and then there’s also this implicit sense of the longue duree – but only in the framing of the paper as in dialogue with Poor Economics. And I would also find it really helpful if this discussion of the theoretical/methodological approach could come earlier in the paper, but that might just be my sociological imagination coming into play —  but analytically, it would help me as a reader to better contextualize the narrative.
  3. Now, as my second question, I want to get into what I found to be a larger issue with the paper, and that is the distinction between Transnational History and Global History (setting aside the other types of macro history such as cosmopolitan history, international history, world history, entangled history, and etc.). These distinctions weren’t addressed in the paper, and I believe that had they been, it would have given the paper far more theoretical power, which could be cashed in in order to insert this paper into broader debates within the historical social sciences. This “global turn” as some call it, is a reaction to the cultural turn having reached its limits as a tool of criticism and critique. I mean, there’s only so much one can tear apart an existing paradigm without building up a new research paradigm. And then, the events of the recent conjuncture, US wars of imperial aggression, the Economic crisis of 2008, occupy wall street and other cities across the world, mass protests in India against gender based violence, the unfortunately named Arab Spring, and the protests in Turkey, have social theorists once again looking to macro-structural explanations. Global and Transnational history is a part of this larger trend. The way I understand it, global history is the star gazing that Prof. Rothschild describes on pages 2-3, a narrative that rejects national histories and history from below in favor of macro political-economy approach. And it is this type of history that Sunil Amrith refers to in the article cited by Prof. Rothschild in the paper. Amrith uses the term ‘global’ 33 times in the article but ‘transnational’ comes up only once in the context of a list of the jargon used by historians and historical social scientists to indicate the scope of their analysis. But my understanding of transnational history, on the other hand, is more in line with the type of history that Prof. Rothschild actually does in the paper. IE Transnational history as a narrative that traces individuals or groups across the globe with the goal of looking at relationships among far flung places and people. An off hand example of this would be the growing literature on Transnational Ethnography that follows individuals as they migrate from country to country detailing their experiences as transnational citizens bringing their labor power from the global south to the global north. A good example of this type of scholarship would be Barbara Ehrenrich and Arlie Hochschild’s Global Woman. I’m sure some might dismiss this concern as simply an insignificant debate over jargon and terminology, but I’d push back and claim that it’s through our shared understanding of these terms, that one can truly make a significant intervention into the existing literature. You can’t take a stance unless you understand where you’re standing. And I believe that Prof. Rothschild’s critical intervention into many literatures will only benefit from discussion of the many types of ‘big’ history floating around the academy.
    1. And just as a sub-point, I am really intrigued by your mention of a literature consisting of “New Global Histories” of the French Revolution. I thought you could definitely add Immanuel Wallerstein’s Modern World System III to that list, as it does a brilliant job of placing the French Revolution in World-Historical perspective.
    2. Okay, so now, I’ll pose my final question, shifting focus away from these methodological and theoretical questions relating to the principal takeaway of the paper, to one of the hingepoints for Prof. Rothschild — this historical question of Interior Europe as isolated and peripheral, or connected to a world-economy. And hopefully, this will help to further explain why I’ve been so insistent on a further theoretical and methodological conceptualization of the case of Marie Aymard and her social network. So, another question I found myself asking while reading the paper, is from what perspective are we looking at pre-Revolutionary France? What is the world-historical significance of the French Revolution according to Prof. Rothschild? And it’s this perspective one takes that essentially determines whether one sees Interior France as isolated or connected. And without these methodological and theoretical anchors, I found myself unsure of who is taking what perspective and to what end. So, let me step back for a moment. In my more world-historical work, I tend to take as a launching point the Arab-Islamic empires of the Safavids, Mughals and Ottomans, in order to situate European development in the early modern period. From this perspective, the puzzle isn’t so much that working class Europeans had connections to the global economy, but that Europe, particularly north of the Mediterranean, was so isolated from the global economy compared to Africa and Asia. This hingepoint of isolation/connectedness is complicated by its relativism. For some scholarly approaches — and here I’m thinking of Giovanni Arrighi’s the Long Twentieth Century, and to some extent Andre Gunder Frank’s ReOrient, and to the Sociology of Colonialism and Empires literature — it wouldn’t be at all surprising that these global networks developed through long-distance trade and Empire.

I’ll stop here, I’m sure everyone else has lots more comments and questions for our speaker, but I just want to reiterate how much I enjoyed the paper and how much I appreciated the opportunity to engage with it as commentator. So, thank you to Professor Rothschild and to Julia, Steve, and the organizers.


Rothschild Response

September 23, 2013 - 11:18am

The following is a post from Kristen Plys, graduate student in sociology.

This paper makes important inroads in transnational history by describing the ties of the working class of Angouleme in the 18th century, to the global economy. Professor Rothschild fills an important void in the literature in the historical social sciences of the linkages of working class Europeans in the early modern period to the global economy. Through the case study of Marie Aymard and her social network of relatives, neighbors, friends and associates, Prof. Rothschild demonstrates that even though Marie Aymard was indigent and illiterate she had economic ties to far flung places through her social network. Through the analysis of this network, Prof. Rothschild challenges the claim that French interior provinces were isolated and “untouched by the productive exchanges of modern life” (6). Through her detailed archival work, she is able to make everyday economic interactions come to life in her gripping narrative of Marie Aymard.

After reading the paper, I was left with several questions mainly pertaining to theory and method. These questions can be organized into three related comments for discussion. I’ll start first with the easy one on historical method, and then get into the more theoretical questions.

  1. What exactly is “Poor Economics” doing in the story besides method? I was really surprised to see a historical analysis in which Poor Economics was the launch point, in an acritical way, especially since the book struck me as such an ahistorical approach to understanding development. More specifically, Banerjee and Duflo’s approach, in its plea for equality of opportunity (but not equality of destination) does not have any conceptualization of the development of the world-economic context over time. They like most contemporary development economists, reject macro theories or grand theories of development and instead seek to understand poverty on an individual or community level. So then, if we accept their premise, of understanding poverty on this more micro-level, then why look to historical examples in the first place? In other words, what exactly is the takeaway from this case of everyday economic insecurity in interior France in the 18th century?  One of the many things that I really love about Prof. Rothschild’s paper, is that she truly situates her case in place and time. There is no claim in the paper that the narrative of Marie Aymard is a lesson or cautionary tale for development economists working on the contemporary world. Alternately, one could think of Marie Aymard and her social network as demonstrating an aspect of the historical development of the global economy in one of its formative places and times. Or, perhaps this is history for the sake of history. However, my confusion about exactly how Prof. Rothschild employs Poor Economics, along with this question of if or in what way the case is generalizable beyond the context of 18th century France, obscures my understanding of the pith of the paper.

Now I have two related comments on this issue of method:

  1. In reading the paper while keeping the title in mind, I found myself looking for the connection between economic downturn and the French Revolution as seen from the working class of the French interior. In the paper, I didn’t see such a strong connection to the French Revolution itself, and so, it left me wondering exactly what Prof. Rothschild’s comment is on the relationship between processes of economic downturn and processes of revolution. Just because some of the actors lived through the revolution, and a few were more directly involved – such as Abraham Robin’s three sons who participated in revolutionary politics, and the apprentice boy in the “Henriette Mulatresse” legal dispute died in prison in Paris after allegedly denouncing Robespierre – it doesn’t follow that a) they were involved and b) they related their experiences of economic insecurity to their experiences of Revolution.  In my head, I kept resisting the urge to let macro-historical theory fill in this part of the story, since there is a significant literature that tells us that there is a connection between economic downturn and revolution. But this would probably be the kinds of structural macro-history that Prof. Rothschild is reacting against. So, how are we meant to reconcile this tension?
  2. And then, I have a suggestion on method. Because the theoretical power in the paper seems to be coming from the Annales school approach, Marc Bloch is mentioned briefly, Braudel could easily be brought in as well, because in the way the narrative is structured Professor Rothschild gives us glimpses of the many layers of social life that Braudel calls the historian’s attention to: the eventementelle – everyday life in Angouleme, there’s the conjoncture – the couple decades or so leading up to the French revolution, and then there’s also this implicit sense of the longue duree – but only in the framing of the paper as in dialogue with Poor Economics. And I would also find it really helpful if this discussion of the theoretical/methodological approach could come earlier in the paper, but that might just be my sociological imagination coming into play —  but analytically, it would help me as a reader to better contextualize the narrative.
  3. Now, as my second question, I want to get into what I found to be a larger issue with the paper, and that is the distinction between Transnational History and Global History (setting aside the other types of macro history such as cosmopolitan history, international history, world history, entangled history, and etc.). These distinctions weren’t addressed in the paper, and I believe that had they been, it would have given the paper far more theoretical power, which could be cashed in in order to insert this paper into broader debates within the historical social sciences. This “global turn” as some call it, is a reaction to the cultural turn having reached its limits as a tool of criticism and critique. I mean, there’s only so much one can tear apart an existing paradigm without building up a new research paradigm. And then, the events of the recent conjuncture, US wars of imperial aggression, the Economic crisis of 2008, occupy wall street and other cities across the world, mass protests in India against gender based violence, the unfortunately named Arab Spring, and the protests in Turkey, have social theorists once again looking to macro-structural explanations. Global and Transnational history is a part of this larger trend. The way I understand it, global history is the star gazing that Prof. Rothschild describes on pages 2-3, a narrative that rejects national histories and history from below in favor of macro political-economy approach. And it is this type of history that Sunil Amrith refers to in the article cited by Prof. Rothschild in the paper. Amrith uses the term ‘global’ 33 times in the article but ‘transnational’ comes up only once in the context of a list of the jargon used by historians and historical social scientists to indicate the scope of their analysis. But my understanding of transnational history, on the other hand, is more in line with the type of history that Prof. Rothschild actually does in the paper. IE Transnational history as a narrative that traces individuals or groups across the globe with the goal of looking at relationships among far flung places and people. An off hand example of this would be the growing literature on Transnational Ethnography that follows individuals as they migrate from country to country detailing their experiences as transnational citizens bringing their labor power from the global south to the global north. A good example of this type of scholarship would be Barbara Ehrenrich and Arlie Hochschild’s Global Woman. I’m sure some might dismiss this concern as simply an insignificant debate over jargon and terminology, but I’d push back and claim that it’s through our shared understanding of these terms, that one can truly make a significant intervention into the existing literature. You can’t take a stance unless you understand where you’re standing. And I believe that Prof. Rothschild’s critical intervention into many literatures will only benefit from discussion of the many types of ‘big’ history floating around the academy.
    1. And just as a sub-point, I am really intrigued by your mention of a literature consisting of “New Global Histories” of the French Revolution. I thought you could definitely add Immanuel Wallerstein’s Modern World System III to that list, as it does a brilliant job of placing the French Revolution in World-Historical perspective.
    2. Okay, so now, I’ll pose my final question, shifting focus away from these methodological and theoretical questions relating to the principal takeaway of the paper, to one of the hingepoints for Prof. Rothschild — this historical question of Interior Europe as isolated and peripheral, or connected to a world-economy. And hopefully, this will help to further explain why I’ve been so insistent on a further theoretical and methodological conceptualization of the case of Marie Aymard and her social network. So, another question I found myself asking while reading the paper, is from what perspective are we looking at pre-Revolutionary France? What is the world-historical significance of the French Revolution according to Prof. Rothschild? And it’s this perspective one takes that essentially determines whether one sees Interior France as isolated or connected. And without these methodological and theoretical anchors, I found myself unsure of who is taking what perspective and to what end. So, let me step back for a moment. In my more world-historical work, I tend to take as a launching point the Arab-Islamic empires of the Safavids, Mughals and Ottomans, in order to situate European development in the early modern period. From this perspective, the puzzle isn’t so much that working class Europeans had connections to the global economy, but that Europe, particularly north of the Mediterranean, was so isolated from the global economy compared to Africa and Asia. This hingepoint of isolation/connectedness is complicated by its relativism. For some scholarly approaches — and here I’m thinking of Giovanni Arrighi’s the Long Twentieth Century, and to some extent Andre Gunder Frank’s ReOrient, and to the Sociology of Colonialism and Empires literature — it wouldn’t be at all surprising that these global networks developed through long-distance trade and Empire.

I’ll stop here, I’m sure everyone else has lots more comments and questions for our speaker, but I just want to reiterate how much I enjoyed the paper and how much I appreciated the opportunity to engage with it as commentator. So, thank you to Professor Rothschild and to Julia, Steve, and the organizers.


Burn the Tapes

September 12, 2013 - 4:13pm

 

When most of us think of Watergate, the image that immediately comes to mind is Robert Redford as Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meeting with FBI informant Deep Throat in a parking garage, hot on the trail of a crooked president Richard Nixon. This image is attractive to us for its moral clarity with villains and heroes clearly differentiated together with an idealized muck-racking sense of justice of the kind that we would like to expect from the forth estate.  The scandal is uncovered, the reporters are awarded their laurels, and the crooked Nixon leaves the White House in disgrace, boarding his helicopter never to return.

Unfortunately, as Beverly Gage reminds us in her paper “Deep Throat, Water Gate, and the Bureaucratic Politics of the FBI”, history rarely unfolds in such an unambiguously straightforward manner. Debunking so called “romanticized” accounts, Gage argues that the Watergate scandal can only be understood as an institutional power struggle between a hyper-politicized Nixon White House and a bureaucratized apolitical Federal Bureau of Investigation under the leadership of its director J. Edgar Hoover. Gage dismisses explanations that point to the ideological nature of Watergate as a conflict between liberals and conservatives as well as a structural one that sees it as a serious misstep of an over-zealous Nixon on the road to the modern imperial presidency. Instead, Gage asserts that her institutional approach provides a more accurate view of the mechanisms that lie behind the greatest scandal of modern American political history.

According to Gage’s narrative, J. Edgar Hoover developed the FBI into a strong and independent agency free from major interference by White House. Although Nixon and Hoover were originally close allies in the anti-Communist crusade, during the Nixon presidency the two men grew increasingly estranged due to differences in their views on how the executive Branch should be run. Whether in the leaking of the bombing of  Cambodia and the subsequent Kissinger Wiretaps, the increased use of spying on the domestic anti-War left and the Huston Plan, or the surveillance of defense contractor Daniel Ellsberg after his leak of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon and Hoover repeatedly butted heads. According to Gage, Hoover bridled at Nixon’s increasing demands for the FBI to engage in increased espionage that violated individual privacy and could expose the bureau to bad publicity. Thus, Gage, in cooperating with Woodward and leaking details about the Watergate break-in to the press, was expressing his frustration at Nixon’s decision to trample over the FBI’s autonomy and outsource intelligence gathering to other agencies, particularly his in-house Plumbers who perpetrated it.

This paper succeeds in outlining how and why Hoover and Nixon, and consequently their respective agencies of the FBI and White House, gradually became estranged from one another. However, there is no magic bullet in the paper that directly connects the act of Robert Felton to the institutional conflict between the White House and the FBI. Gage makes two assumptions here: first, that Robert Felt’s attitude represented a typical one at the Bureau as a whole, and, secondly, that Felt decided to leak the information because of this and not due to personal animosity at being passed over by Nixon for leadership of the Bureau. Even if we accept the institutional narrative there is still the question of how Felt thought his actions would enhance the FBI’s credibility, whereas in fact Gage tells us that the opposite occurred. In the paper, the author herself admits that there is no way we will ever know for sure since, by the time Deep Throat revealed himself in 2005, his mental state had already deteriorated somewhat. Still, it might be helpful if the author could offer more conclusive proof connecting the setting of the institutional conflict with the act of Felt’s leak.

Moreover, at the beginning there is some theoretical uncertainty as to what the paper’s central focus will turn out to be. What exactly is the question the paper is asking, and what is it trying to explain? Watergate is an extremely complex political scandal, so that searching for a single factor to explain everything seems like an unrealistic expectation. The paper does not try to explain why President Nixon decided to break into the Watergate hotel and install wiretaps. Neither does it explain why the Watergate scandal struck such a deep chord with the American public at large. However, it does offer a plausible reason as to why one individual, Mark Felt, met repeatedly with another, Robert Woodward, and disclosed embarrassing details about the Watergate scandal. The author cannot claim, however, to explain Watergate tout court without further elucidation as to what this means.

Finally, I think this paper could serve from further development of its theoretical framework both in terms of scholarship specifically relating to the Watergate scandal itself and as a comparative case. First, Gage presents the two alternative arguments to hers—the ideological and structural explanations—but she does not provide names to these views in the text nor does she really explore their logics. Therefore, it is difficult for the reader to know to what extent her bureaucratic institutional explanation represents an improvement over previous attempts. Is the author’s account meant to supplant these other explanations or only to supplement them as an additional factor to consider? Secondly, it might be helpful to illustrate the phenomenon that the author is talking about to bring in a few additional examples from a wider variety of contexts. This way, the American case can be judged against a variety of other contexts in order to assess its significance instead of simply being a story about bureaucracy in America. Thank you.

 


Why Contribute?

September 4, 2013 - 8:57pm

Like Jonathan, I too begin this post with a question: Why contribute to the CHESS blog?

As members of a vibrant academic community here at Yale, it’s not as if there’s any shortage of opportunities to express our thoughts. We write papers for seminars, pose questions in workshops, lecture students in classes, and present papers at conferences. Why take the time to contribute to a blog? Why this blog?

Here, I share with you the three main reasons I plan on being an active member of the CHESS online community.

1. Learn how to be a scholar of the 21st century.

Be it an opinion piece in the New York Times or radio story for This American Life, scholarship is increasingly assuming a multitude of forms, beyond the standard journal article or monograph. This type of knowledge production demands that scholars cast aside many tried-and-true habits – particularly the tendency to sit with our thoughts for weeks, months, even years on end. Blog posts should be timely. Wait too long and the moment passes. As someone who hopes to share my research findings in both traditional and non-traditional outlets, I look forward to contributing to this blog. The CHESS online community will be an opportunity to gain experience in a low-stakes, low-pressure environment.

2. Communicate with people who speak another language.

So much of graduate training is devoted to learning the language of our discipline. To be sure, disciplinary language has its place. Mutually agreed-upon terms serve as shorthand for otherwise dense, abstract, or intricate concepts. This common language allows us to quickly establish foundation and focus the bulk of our effort on advancing knowledge. But specialized language can also be isolating. Scholars who explore similar social phenomena often fail to communicate with one another because they speak different disciplinary languages. Academic language can also erect a barrier between academic and non-academic communities. As scholars, our reflections on current and historical events are valuable, but are often found opaque by those outside of the academy. Writing for the CHESS blog will teach me how to overcome such language barriers without sacrificing nuanced thinking.

3. Because workshops only last an hour and a half.

The CHESS online community is an extension of the CHESS workshop. How many times have you found yourself at the end of a workshop queue, unable to ask that burning question because of time constraints? In addition to longer reflection or opinion pieces pertaining to historical inquiry, we also encourage submissions that build upon the workshops themselves. Feel free to submit any of your follow-up thoughts or unasked questions.

I look forward to meeting everyone at the first CHESS workshop this Friday!


Why Start This Now?

September 3, 2013 - 9:48pm

At the beginning of any venture, I find that it is helpful to ask the question: Why should I start this now? This at any rate will be the question that I hope to answer in this, the opening post of the CHESS blog. The CHESS workshop was created to spur the development of interdepartmental thinking about historical events relating to the social sciences and humanities. Surely bringing together intelligent people in order to exchange opinions would be reason enough to consider this a worthwhile venture. Stimulating intellectual discussion in an incredibly talent rich environment together with free food makes a winning combination.

As enjoyable as academic discussion for its own sake may be, there exists a deeper and more important reason behind the origin of CHESS. The increasing compartmentalization of academia has created a situation where scholars from different fields or those who study different topics have little to talk about to each other anymore. An anecdote about a previous workshop experience will help to illustrate what I mean. In this social science workshop participants spent most of the time discussing the author’s methodology, pulling apart the paper under discussion piece by piece. Why did we do this? Because we all studied vastly different subjects with little overlap, our shared methodological standards constituted the only thing that we could discuss. It would simply take too much explanation by the author or background knowledge on the part of the audience in order to engage intellectually with the paper’s substantive ideas.

So it is with most of the subjects covered in the academy of today.  The start of the CHESS workshop represents a movement away from this academic balkanization. We must build bridges across the gaps that divide us instead of accentuating them and reject the notion that scholars from different fields using divergent methods have nothing to say to each other. It proudly affirms the fact that the academic community is not as separated as it sometimes appears to be. While we may read different journals, attend different conferences, and belong to different professional associations, we do not need to talk past each other. The problems that we address about what the contemporary world is like and how it developed in this way connects researchers and provides them a basis for common communication. Perhaps we can even learn something from one another.

The past can serve as the glue that binds us together. Events embedded in the historical timeline do not have a disciplinary disposition. They are not members of an academic department and they do not run regressions, survey experiments, conduct archival research, or perform interviews. We, the academic community, do that to and about them. We must stop and realize that before we turn these events into data of various forms, we all study a common history, even with its complexities and ambiguities. Once we realize that history connects us we can start a genuine conversation with one another about it.

This does not mean that we should check our disciplinary backgrounds at the door. The CHESS workshop aims to be an interdisciplinary workshop, not an a-disciplinary one. I am a proud sociologist and I will bring the perspective of a sociologist to any historical discussions I have with a historian, political scientist, or anthropologist. We must learn to relish our distinctive academic tradition, while realizing that conversations about topics of mutual interest can still occur by those who do not share it. In the end, this is the motivating principle behind the CHESS workshop and the guiding light behind this CHESS blog. To use an analogy, each of us may play a different instrument, but it takes all of us to form an orchestra to play a symphony.  May the academic orchestra we form now inspire those who hear its songs for years to come.


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