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The Longue Durée

a n d W o r l d - S y S t e m S a n a ly S i S

e d i t e d and w i t h an int rodu ct ion by

Richard E. Lee

wit h a ne w t r an s lat i o n o f

Fernand Braudel’s
“Histoire et Sciences sociales:
La longue durée”
Wa l l e r S t e i n
The Longue Durée and
World-Systems Analysis


Series Editor: Richard E. Lee

The Fernand Braudel Center Studies in Historical Social Science will publish works
that address theoretical and empirical questions produced by scholars in or through the
Fernand Braudel Center or who share its approach and concerns. It specifically seeks
to promote works that contribute to the development of the world-systems perspective
engaging a holistic and relational vision of the world—the modern world-system—implicit
in historical social science, which at once takes into consideration structures (long-term
regularities) and change (history). With the intellectual boundaries within the sciences/
social sciences/humanities structure collapsing in the work scholars actually do, this series
will offer a venue for a wide range of research that confronts the dilemmas of producing
relevant accounts of historical processes in the context of the rapidly changing structures
of both the social and academic world. The series will include monographs, colloquia,
and collections of essays organized around specific themes.

V olu m es in this series :

Questioning Nineteenth-Century Assumptions about Knowledge I: Determinism

Richard E. Lee, editor
Questioning Nineteenth-Century Assumptions about Knowledge II: Reductionism
Richard E. Lee, editor
Questioning Nineteenth-Century Assumptions about Knowledge III: Dualism
Richard E. Lee, editor
The Longue Durée and World-Systems Analysis
Richard E. Lee, editor

The Longue Durée and
World-Systems Analysis

Edited and with an Introduction by Richard E. Lee

With a new translation of Fernand Braudel’s

“Histoire et Sciences sociales: La longue durée”
by Immanuel Wallerstein



Published by State University of New York Press, Albany

© 2012 State University of New York

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever

without written permission. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system
or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic, electrostatic,
magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise
without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

For information, contact State University of New York Press, Albany, NY

Production by Diane Ganeles

Marketing by Kate McDonnell

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The longue durée and world-systems analysis / edited by Richard E. Lee ; with a new translation of
  Fernand Braudel’s “Histoire et Sciences sociales: la longue durée” by Immanuel Wallerstein.
    p. cm. —  (Fernand Braudel Center Studies in historical social science)
  Includes bibliographical references and index.
  ISBN 978-1-4384-4193-1 (hardcover : alk. paper)
  1.  Social sciences—Research—Methodology.  2.  Braudel, Fernand.  I.  Lee, Richard E., 1945–

  H62.L67 2012
 300.72—dc23 2011021785

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


Introduction: Fernand Braudel, the Longue Durée, and

World-Systems Analysis 1
Richard E. Lee

The Order of Historical Time: The Longue Durée and Micro-History 9

Dale Tomich

History and Geography: Braudel’s “Extreme Longue Durée” as Generics? 35

Peter J. Taylor

Dutch Capitalism and Europe’s Great Frontier: The Baltic in the

Ecological Revolution of the Long Seventeenth Century 65
Jason W. Moore

The Semiproletarian Household over the Longue Durée of the

Modern World-System 97
Wilma A. Dunaway

In the Short Run Are We All Dead? A Political Ecology of the

Development Climate 137
Philip McMichael

The Longue Durée and the Status of “Superstructures” 161

Richard E. Lee

Nomads and Kings: State Formation in Asia over the Longue Durée,
1250–1700 171
Ravi Arvind Palat

Long-Term Problems for the Longue Durée in the Social Sciences 201
Eric Mielants

Journalism, History, and Eurocentrism: Longue Durée and the Immediate

in Braudel and Wallerstein 225
José da Mota Lopes

History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée 241
Fernand Braudel

Index 277


Fernand Braudel, the Longue Durée,

and World-Systems Analysis

Richard E. Lee

Is it possible somehow to convey simultaneously both that conspicuous his-

tory which holds our attention by its continual and dramatic changes—and
that other, submerged, history, almost silent and always discreet, virtually
unsuspected either by its observers or its participants, which is little touched
by the obstinate erosion of time?
—Fernand Braudel

F ernand Braudel, preeminently influential French historian and historiographer,

has been celebrated to the extent that for decades his name has been cited in
its adjectival form. More specifically, his insistence on the plurality of social times,
anchored in the longue durée as structure, has been a, if not the, fundamental
conceptual underpinning of world-systems analysis—underlined by the fact that,
as Alain Brunhes writes, in 1977 “his career was consecrated internationally, par-
ticularly in the United States, with the founding of the Fernand Braudel Center”
(2001: 11, translation—REL) by Immanuel Wallerstein at the State University of
New York at Binghamton.

Fernand Braudel was born the son of a teacher in 1902, lived his early child-
hood years in rural France, and went on to study history at the Sorbonne where
he took his degree in 1923. He then taught the subject in Algeria from 1923 to
1932; Paris from 1932 to 1935; and Brazil from 1935 to 1937. He was appointed
to the IVe section, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris in 1937, by which time
he was already working on his thesis. As a German prisoner-of-war from 1940
to 1945, he finished writing most of this thesis, which he defended in 1947 and
published as La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II
in 1949. In that same year, 1949, he was elected to the Collège de France, suc-
ceeding Lucien Febvre. Braudel was as much an organizer and institution-builder
as innovator. In 1956, he became editor of the journal Annales and president of
the VIe section, É.P.H.É., the epicenter of Annales scholarship, and from 1962 he
served as chief administrator of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. Fernand
Braudel was elected to the Académie Français in 1984.
La Méditerranée, itself the product of many years of reflection and research in
archives around the Mediterranean, immediately established Braudel’s reputation, and
his place in the Annales tradition in which his influence soon became dominant.
The journal, Annales d’histoire économique et sociale, founded by Lucien Febvre and
Marc Bloch in 1929, changed its name, emphasizing its scope, to Annales: Écono-
mies, Sociétés, Civilisations in 1946. The movement the journal anchored exhibited
a set of interconnected characteristics. History was to be totale and its writing
problem-oriented; it was to be “histoire science du passé, science du present . . . in
dialectical opposition” to traditional history, Ranke’s “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist”
(Wallerstein 1978: 5); the result was an interdisciplinary outreach to all the sci-
ences of man. Attention broadened from the political and the diplomatic to the
economic and the social and the longue durée, the time of the long-term structures
of social reality, was privileged over the time of events (only “dust” for Braudel).
The plurality of social times grounded by the concept of the longue durée is
already explicitly specified in La Méditerranée. The structure of the book begins
with the long-term “history whose passage is almost imperceptible, that of man in
his relationship to the environment, a history in which all change is slow, a history

of constant repetition, ever-recurring cycles”; continues with the medium term of
“slow but perceptible rhythms”; and concludes with “traditional history—history,
one might say, on the scale not of man, but of individual men, what Paul Lacombe
and François Simiand called ‘l’histoire événementielle’, that is, the history of events:
surface disturbances” (Braudel 1972a: 20–21).
In 1958, in response to what he considered “a general crisis in the human
sciences” (Braudel 2009: 171) and as a plea for their rapprochement, Braudel
presented an in-depth clarification of his idea of time as a social construct, rather
than a simple chronological parameter, in his “Histoire et Sciences sociales: La
longue durée” (Annales E.S.C. XIII, 4: 725–53). The intent of this article as cri-
tique, and indeed, as “a call for discussion” (Braudel 2009: 203) is apparent from
its publication under the rubric Annales specifically intended for such interventions,
“Débats et Combats.” He reiterated his conception of time as durée, duration,
and his differentiation of a plurality of social times—the short term of events or
episodic history (for instance, political history), the medium term of conjunctures
(such as, among others, economic cycles), and the long term, the longue durée,
of structures (the regularities of social life whose change is almost imperceptible).
Here, however, he notes a fourth time, that of the very long term (la très longue
durée, such as to be found in the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss), “which knows no
chance occurrences, no cyclical phases, no ruptures” and limits “us to the truths
that are a bit those of eternal man” (Braudel 2009: 195, 196). In so doing, he
thus insists that the longue durée is not eternal and thereby avoids the problem of
ahistorical generalization in nomothetic social science (unlike the traditional social
sciences) as well as the ephemeral quality of the event privileged by traditional
history. As Immanuel Wallerstein has written:

Braudel’s insistence on the multiplicity of social times and his emphasis on

structural time—what he called the longue durée—became central to world-
systems analysis. For world-systems analysts, the longue durée was the duration
of a particular historical system. Generalizations about the functioning of such
a system thus avoided the trap of seeming to assert timeless, eternal truths.

If such systems were not eternal, then it followed that they had beginnings,
lives during which they “developed,” and terminal transitions (2004: 18).

We are indebted to Maurice Aymard for the original idea of an international series
of colloquia commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Braudel’s
article at which the chapters included in this volume were presented. As part of
this Fernand Braudel Center celebration, Immanuel Wallerstein produced a new
translation in English of the French original; it is included here as an appendix.
However, these articles are not just a reverent acknowledgment of a debt to the
past. They also bear witness to how the crisis Braudel recognized in the mid-1950s
is no less of a crisis today, a crisis, however, that developments in world-systems
analysis have confronted directly. Certainly one of the hallmarks of this collection
is the way in which, as a whole, it conforms to the very first argument Braudel
makes in his path-breaking article, namely, that “the first thing we urgently need
to do is to come nearer to each other. . . . In addition, the bringing together of
the social sciences must be all-inclusive” (Braudel 2009: 172). Indeed, it would
be difficult to place any of these articles squarely in the confines of any of the
traditional disciplines, even though today in a period of economic downturn and
straightened economic circumstances in the major institutions of knowledge produc-
tion, the universities, the traditional disciplines have reacted typically by circling
the wagons and policing their borders against intruders or their own colleagues
with cosmopolitan tastes.
The impact of Braudel’s thought and the way it has influenced, and continues
to nourish, the conceptual development and practical research in world-systems
analysis is foregrounded from the very beginning of the book. Dale Tomich is
concerned with the practicality of using the concept of the longue durée in the
construction of an historical social science that emphasizes Braudel’s insistence on
objects of enquiry as ensembles of changing relations, or analysis “grounded in
a single spatially-temporally differentiated and complex unit subject to multiple
determinations” in contrast to “formal comparison of commensurate units.” Sub-
stantively, he explores the work of Ernest Labrousse and its impact on Braudel and

the “second Annales” followed by an in-depth discussion of Italian microhistory.
Braudel himself was concerned with the relationship among his multiple temporali-
ties: if we view the world only in the long term “the role of the individual and
the event necessarily dwindles; it is a mere matter of perspective.” Indeed, added
Braudel, are we right to take an “Olympian” view? If “we view history from such a
distance, what becomes of man, his role in history, his freedom of action” (Braudel
1972b: 1242–43)? But, argues Tomich, after concentrating on the short term as
a response to the serial history practiced by the Annales school (linking this sec-
tion to the discussion of Labrousse), “what the microhistorians have yet to do is,
in Braudel’s phrase, to turn the hourglass over the second time, that is to say, to
reverse the methodological procedure and examine the longue durée and structural
time through the lens of the short term, the local, the particular.”
Much as Tomich argues that Braudel “recuperates the complexity of historical
temporality by prioritizing geophysical-social space,” Jason Moore redeploys Braudel’s
emphasis on the geographical structures of the world and the way they shape history
by elaborating the processes they underpin. His contribution examines in detail the
geo-history, that is the environmental history, of Dutch hegemony—“capitalism
as ‘world-ecology’.” This may be seen, he argues, as the march of commodity
frontiers (from Poland to the New World) of grain, timber, and metals, and their
relationship to the accumulation of capital. Philip McMichael is likewise concerned
with environmental questions, reflecting a deepening awareness in world-systems
analysis of the relationship between the processes of historical capitalism and the
material conditions of the world and the consequences of their differentiation across
the globe. Taking up the question of the “metabolic rift” (that Moore has previ-
ously explored), McMichael treats it as an epistemological break: “Epistemically,
to restore an understanding of ecological constraints means focusing on the limits
to capital’s attempt to overcome ecological barriers, limits that express themselves
in degradation of natural resources, including global warming” and argues for a
reformulation of “what we mean by ‘value’.”
Peter Taylor argues that Braudel uses “his historical concepts to straddle times
and spaces.” In consonance with Braudel, Taylor then resuscitates the idea of

the extreme longue durée by focusing on city/state relations and uses case studies
to investigate city networks in terms of commercial practices. Wilma Dunaway
takes off from Braudel’s perception of a large-scale inertia of the poor that has
characterized the longue durée of historical capitalism and that has repeated itself
in endlessly renewed cycles. In teasing apart this statement, she examines in detail
the processes associated with “households” (above all the semiproletarian house-
hold) and especially the dialectical relationship between proletarianization and
housewifization. In sum, she concludes that not only is the work of “housewifized
laborers . . . a structural necessity of capitalism . . . [but moreover] the deepest
secret of the modern world-system is that capitalists acquire much of their wealth
by extracting surpluses from and exacting costs to households.”
Ravi Arvind Palat’s contribution illustrates how the concept of the longue durée
might be applied in the non-West; indeed, for Braudel, “history is the sum of all
possible histories—a set of multiple skills and points of view, those of yesterday,
today, and tomorrow. The only mistake, in my view, would be to choose one of
these histories to the exclusion of all the others” (Braudel 2009: 182). Richard E.
Lee offers an example of the way the structures of knowledge approach—directly
related to Braudel’s statement that “mental frameworks are also prisons of the longue
durée” (2009: 179)—may be directly applied to a theoretical category, in this case
that of “superstructures.” Eric Mielants reminds us of the hurdles that remain to
be cleared in order to implement a long term approach in social research to reach
beyond Eurocentricism and the narrow confines of the traditional disciplines.
Finally José da Mota Lopes links Immanuel Wallerstein to Braudel through an
analysis of the former’s bi-weekly “Commentaries.” These commentaries, published
twice monthly and available on the Fernand Braudel Center Web site in thirty-
five languages “are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as
seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.”
According to the author, the “Commentaries” express a specific epistemological and
methodological practice by bringing together the short term of events with a longue
durée perspective—neither of which according to Braudel could exist alone. Indeed,
we can only agree with Mota Lopes that the “Commentaries” express Braudel’s

dialectic of continuities, which emerge from the work of the historian’s repeated
observations. Nothing is more important in our opinion, than this living,
intimate, infinitely repeated opposition between the instantaneous and the
time that flows slowly. Whether we are dealing with the past or the present,
an awareness of the plurality of temporalities is indispensable to a common
methodology of the human sciences (Braudel 2009: 173).

The articles presented in this volume thus reflect both the spirit and practice
of the intellectual agenda espoused by Fernand Braudel in “History and the
Social Sciences: The Longue Durée.” They demonstrate how the home disciplines
represented by the scholars included here (history, sociology, and geography) can
come together—overcoming the limitations imposed by their isolation—around
the concept of the longue durée. Indeed, they are evidence of how the dialectic of
multiple temporalities and the social production of space that Braudel championed
have been carried forward in world-systems analysis for a more socially relevant
understanding of the world and its future possibilities.


Braudel, Fernand. 1972a. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of
Philip II, vol. 1, trans. by Seân Reynolds. New York: Harper and Row.
———. 1972b. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, vol.
2, trans. by Seân Reynolds. New York: Harper and Row.
———. 2009. “History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée,” trans. by Immanuel
Wallerstein. Review 32 (2): 171–203.
Brunhes, Alain. 2001. Fernand Braudel : Synthèse et liberté. Paris: Éditions Josette Lyon.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1978. “Annales as Resistance.” Review 1 (3/4): 5–7.
———. 2004. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. Durham: Duke University Press.

The Order of Historical Time
The Longue Durée and Micro-History

Dale Tomich

Pour moi, l’histoire est la somme de toutes les histoires possibles—une collection
de métiers et points de vue, d’hier, d’aujourd’hui, de demain. La seule erreur, à
mon avis, serait de choisir l’une de ces histoires à l’exclusion des autres. Ce fût,
ce serait l’erreur historisante.
—Fernand Braudel

Introduction: Fernand Braudel and the Longue Durée

I n his remarks at the conference inaugurating the Fernand Braudel Center at

Binghamton University in 1977, Braudel emphasized the practical character of
his conception of the longue durée and plural time. His intent was not to produce
a work of theory or to “philosophize.” Rather, it was to organize the ideas that
he formed while writing The Mediterranean (Braudel 1978: 244–45). In a similar
vein, this chapter is concerned with practical questions of historical inquiry raised
by Fernand Braudel’s conception of longue durée, rather than with attempting to
“theorize” either Braudel or “historical temporalities.” It examines the longue durée

as a concept of historical social science and its deployment as a practical tool for
constructing historical inquiry and conducting research by specifying the longue durée
within Braudel’s concept of “plural time” and interrogating the critical response of
Italian microhistoria to the notions of structural time and serial history put forth
by Braudel and Ernest Labrousse.
At the outset, I would like to note that Braudel proposes various formulations of
longue durée. In this chapter, I privilege the historically singular and geophysically
specific construction of longue durée structures that is most evident in the first part
of Braudel’s The Mediterranean. In my understanding, this temporal movement is
produced through very slow, almost geological, societal interaction with geography
and environment over the very long term. It is perhaps what Braudel refers to as
the “time of the sages.” I emphasize this construction of longue durée because it
is the longest conceivable historical temporality and most comprehensive ground
for historical interpretation. In addition, it opens the way for the integration of
geography and environment into historical analysis. At the same time, Braudel
puts forth other formulations of longue durée, for instance Ernst Robert Curtius’
account of the cultural system of Latin civilization from the fall of the Empire to
the fourteenth century or Pierre Francastel’s treatment of the “geometric space of
Western painting” (Braudel 2009: 179–80). Similarly we may look to Immanuel
Wallerstein’s conception of world-system as a longue durée structure or Ernest
Labrousse’s construction of the longue durée of the Ancien Régime French economy.
In each case, the longue durée is simply the most stable temporal relation of the
longest duration in the problem under consideration. It forms the stabilizing ground
against which cyclical variations of other temporal structures are established, and
it allows the ordering of historical inquiry.
I wish to emphasize that each of these formulations of the longue durée makes
use of evidence differently and is constructed according to different criteria. I call
attention to these differences not to make the case for a correct interpretation of
longue durée. It is, in the final analysis, a methodological tool that is constructed
for the analysis of particular problems. Rather, the point I wish to emphasize is that
these diverse formulations entail constructions of temporality that are quantitatively
commensurate and comparable, and at the same time, are qualitatively distinct and

based on incommensurate kinds of evidence. These differences are consequential
and need to be taken into account in the elaboration of other temporalities and the
reconstruction and interpretation of the totality of relations under consideration.
Ignoring such qualitative differences increases the danger that we reify our conceptual
tools and conflate them with the object of our study. We are then left with a
classificatory schema ordered by the longue durée that easily lapses into functionalist
explanations that are ordered a priori by our own analytical categories.
In “Histoire et Sciences sociales : La longue durée,” Braudel (1958) makes the
case for a historical social science and a conception of history that is adequate to
such an approach. He does this by emphasizing the plurality of historical time and
privileging the longue durée as the structuring element of this temporal construction.
From this perspective, Braudel attacks the linear conception of historical time and
emphasis on the event that characterize positivist history. At the same time, through
an examination of the conception of historical time in the various social sciences,
he argues for the importance of plural temporalities and for the longue durée as
the methodological ground for a unified historical social science.
Braudel’s approach is at once empirically oriented and experimental. On the
one hand, he seeks to establish the longue durée as a substantive historical relation,
and, on the other hand, he proposes it as the methodological scaffolding on
which he builds his conception of history. Empirical without being empiricist, he
constructs the object of his inquiry through an open-ended approach that moves
back and forth between empirical research, methodological reflection, and historical
reconstruction in order and to make intelligible historical material. The longue
durée is the key to his historical method.
The longue durée may appear to be an ambiguous concept that resists hard
definition. It is more accessible through description than precise concepts and
hypotheses (Braudel 1995, 1: 23–272). Braudel conceives of the longue durée as a
real historical structure formed at the interface of human activity with geography
and nature in their broadest sense. It is an embracing concept that refers to temporal
rhythms so slow and stable that they approximate physical geography. The longue
durée encompasses and is constituted by singular and non-repeatable phenomena as
human society interacts with definite and relatively stable geophysical phenomena

across almost unimaginably long historical time.1 Those geophysical phenomena
that are formative of the longue durée have histories that extend beyond human
history. As Reinhardt Koselleck argues, they provide the conditions of possibility
for human history, but they are not at the disposition of humanity. Humankind
can only take advantage of them (Koselleck 2001: 99–100). Within the range of
possibilities, human societies may respond to these natural conditions in diverse
ways. But natural environments are highly resistant to human intervention, and for
particular human actors they appear as given. It is no easy task to move mountains
or drain seas. Nonetheless, such environments are subject to millennial societal
action. Braudel emphasizes persistent and common elements across distinct social
formations over virtually infinite generations in order to conceptualize the longue
durée. Such general collective human interaction with physical nature forms an
extremely slow-moving, almost imperceptible temporality—a structure perhaps, but
a structure subject to historical mutation.
This conception of longue durée is of critical substantive and methodological
importance for Braudel’s conception of history. Most historians opt for the priority
of time over space with little theoretical foundation. For them history occurs in
space and in time. Yet they regard space and time as formally distinct categories.
Space is relegated to the contextual background in which history happens. Time is
treated as an empty category that is filled by sequences of events to be ordered and
comprehended by means of chronology. In such a conception, historical inquiry is
concerned with the unique because sequences of events are regarded as unrepeatable
and highly contingent (as classically illustrated by Isaiah Berlin’s interpretation of
Cleopatra’s nose) and thus not given to systematization (Koselleck 2001: 96–97).

1.  Although Braudel is elaborating a concept of structural time (that is historical temporalities
beyond direct and immediate human or social intervention) and speaks of the longue durée as a
structure, it should be stressed here that he is not proposing a structuralism. The longue durée
is not a structure in the sociological sense of the word, which is a fixed attribute of the social
system (as in Parsons’ sociology or Althusser’s Marxism). Nor is Braudel’s historical account a
“grand narrative.” Rather, the longue durée is a more or less stable historical relation that allows
an open and experimental approach to the theoretical reconstruction of long-term, large-scale
world historical change.

In contrast, Braudel recuperates the complexity of historical temporality by
prioritizing geophysical-social space. His conception emphasizes the physical
characteristics of the earth, geography, natural resources, material processes, and
culture as constitutive elements of human history.2 The theoretical assumption
supporting Braudel’s conception is a human history formed through the “structures
of the longue durée.” The condition and limit of that history is the finite planet
that we all inhabit—a single physical world and twenty-four hours in a day. Here,
the geophysical space and historical time of the long durée serve as the mediation
between natural and social history.3 They are both supports of and obstacles to
human action, and they form the social historical limit against and through which
human praxis pushes (Braudel 2009: 178–79).
In Braudel’s conception, the longue durée provides the unifying element of human
history. Humans make their history through space and time. Space creates time:
time unifies space. In this way, Braudel discloses a densely textured, multilayered
spatial-temporal world that is unique because it is spatio-temporally singular. Indeed,
it is this very density and complexity that makes it susceptible to analysis. Such a
conception avoids the illusions of a purely social or cultural conception of history.
At the same time, it enriches the possibilities for the development of historical
social science by opening the way for environmental history and the history of
material life as constituent elements of all history.

2.  In his Preface to the first edition of The Mediterranean, Braudel writes: “I could not neglect
this almost timeless history, the story of man’s contact with the inanimate, neither could I be
satisfied with the traditional geographical introduction to history that often figures to little
purpose at the beginning of so many books . . .” (Braudel 1995, 1: 20; cf. Koselleck 2001:
3.  “The resulting picture is one in which all the evidence combines across time and space, to
give us a history in slow motion from which permanent values can be detected. Geography in
this context is no longer an end in itself but a means to an end. It helps us to rediscover the
slow unfolding of structural realities, to see things in the perspective of the very long term.
Geography, like history, can answer many questions. Here it helps us to discover the almost
imperceptible movement of history, if only we are prepared to follow its lessons and accept its
categories and divisions” (Braudel 1995, 1: 23; cf. Koselleck 2001: 94).

It is in this context that I wish to emphasize the methodological importance
of Braudel’s concept of the longue durée. The longue durée is a tool for historical
cognition and analysis that provides the ground for Braudel’s conception of history
and of historical social science. It forms a comprehensive social and analytical unit
that enables Braudel to construct categories or objects of inquiry through their
relation to one another within this shared analytical and practical field. In this
flexible, dynamic, and open approach, objects of inquiry are understood not as
things with properties, but as ensembles of changing relations forming configurations
that are constantly adapting to one another and to the world around them through
definite historical processes (Editorial 1989: 1319–20). Within this framework,
the establishment of relational categories—e.g., longue durée, conjuncture, event, or
material life, market economy, capital—and the specification of relations in time
and space, are keys to interpretation and analysis.
The longue durée is the central analytical category in Braudel’s distinctive approach
because of its methodological role in articulating his entire conceptual framework
and establishing the coherence of his project of histoire totale. In his view: “on
the basis of these layers of slow history, one can rethink the totality of history,
as though it were located atop an infrastructure. All the stages, all the thousands
of stages, all the thousands of explosions of historical time can be understood
from these depths, from this semi-immobility. Everything gravitates around it”
(Braudel 2009: 181). For Braudel the task of the historian is to divide and then
to reassemble time. Methodologically, he proceeds by differentiating within a unity
rather than integrating dualities. He reminds us that, “In fact, the temporalities
that we differentiate are bound together. It is not so much duration that is the
creation of our mind, but the splitting up of this duration” (Braudel 2009: 198).
The unifying historical structures of the longue durée provide the point of
departure for Braudel’s differentiation of social-historical time. He elaborates other
temporal structures of shorter duration through their relation to the longue durée.
At the same time the longue durée provides the unifying element that orders the
plurality of social times in relation to one another and constructs the relational
whole. Although Braudel’s approach encourages inquiry into the great diversity of
historical temporalities, he constructs his model of plural time in terms of three

temporalities—the longue durée; cyclical time or the conjoncture, a structural time of
intermediate duration; and the event, or more properly the (very) short term—as a
guide to historical analysis and reconstruction. Each of these three temporalities is
conceived in relation to the others, not only in terms of duration, but also in terms
of the processes that constitute it, its structure and coherence, and its centrality for
historical analysis. Taken together, they form a framework that allows examination
of temporally complex historical phenomena (Grenier 1995: 235, 238–42).
This conceptual approach discloses complex, heterogeneous, hierarchically
structured, and historically shifting temporal totalities: “these fragments come together
again at the end of our work. The longue durée, cyclical phases (conjoncture), and
events fit together easily, for they are all measurements on the same scale. Hence,
to enter mentally into one of these temporalities is to be part of all of them”
(Braudel 2009: 198). According to Braudel “if one wants to understand the world,
one has to determine the hierarchy of forces, currents, and individual movements,
and then put them together to form an overall constellation. Throughout, one must
distinguish between long-term movements, and momentary pressures, finding the
immediate sources of the latter and the long-term thrust of the former” (Braudel
2009: 182). This conception of plural temporalities is clearly opposed to the
homogeneous, linear, and empty time of event history.4 It at once permits and

4. Braudel’s conception of plural and structured historical time resolves the conceptual
dilemma presented by event history. If event is the only temporal category at our disposition,
we have no way to talk about diverse and complex temporal phenomena of varying duration
and the relations comprising them. The French Revolution is often described as an event.
The storming of the Bastille, the flight of the king to Varennes, and the Tennis Court Oath
are also events. If the Revolution is regarded as an event, it has the same logical structure as
its constituent elements. All are events, defined simply by having the property of a definite
beginning and a definite end, a “minimal ‘before’ and ‘after’ that constitutes their unity”
(Koselleck 1985: 106). They are “timeless” except through reference to an external chronology.
The Revolution may perhaps then be seen as an event of events, in which case, its temporal
structure is established by the summing up of its parts. It is at once constituted and explained
by narrating (contingent) sequences of events with arbitrary beginnings and ends. From such a
perspective, the Revolution has no structure, and the tools available for explaining it extremely
limited at best.

requires Braudel to specify phenomena in time and space and to establish the
relations between them. It thereby allows theoretical comprehension of spatially
and temporally complex historical phenomena.5
Thus, the longue durée implies a distinctive methodological approach and logic
of explanation that redefines the intellectual heritage handed down from the
nineteenth century. In contrast to more conventional social science logics based on
formal comparison of commensurate units with common properties or the infinite
repetition of individual actions, the assumption here is that analysis is grounded
in a single spatially-temporally differentiated and complex unit subject to multiple
determinations. From this perspective, phenomena do not repeat themselves.
World economies, cities, markets, etc. are conceived as constituent parts of a more
encompassing whole. None is like any other. Each is singular in time and space
and in relation to other phenomena. Hence, the basic concepts of historical social
science recognize the historical uniqueness of the phenomena under examination.
It is a science of the singular. Its object of investigation is a unified, but spatially-
temporally complex historical whole and the focus of analysis is the formation
and reformation of relations through diverse spatial-temporal scales. From this
perspective, the assumptions of conventional social science do not obtain. Rather,
it is necessary to elaborate new procedures on the basis of different assumptions.
Focusing on the methodological rather than substantive historical role of the longue
durée discloses a tension within Braudel’s “Histoire et Sciences sociales : La longue
durée.” Conventionally, this article is viewed as a sort of manifesto for structural
time—the longue durée and the conjoncture. In it, “events” appear to receive short
shrift. They are “explosive.” They “blind the eye with clouds of smoke.” Braudel
would prefer to speak of the “short term” rather than the “event,” but even this

5.  “Clearly there are different kinds of structure just as there are different kinds of conjuncture,
and the duration of either structure or conjuncture may vary. History accepts and discovers
multidimensional explanations, reaching, as it were, vertically from one temporal plane to
another. And on every plane there are also horizontal relationships and connections” (Braudel
1995, 1: 16).

is the “most capricious and deceptive form of time.” The “event history” (histoire
événementielle) that he is criticizing is “totally lacking in time density” (Braudel
1972: 14–15). Indeed, serial history, the longue durée, and conjunctural history are
generally regarded as the characteristic features of Braudel’s scholarship and that
of the Annales during its “second period.”
However, a closer reading of “Histoire et Sciences sociales : La longue durée”
reveals a more nuanced appreciation of the event or short term. “Nothing, in our
opinion,” writes Braudel, “comes closer to the heart of social reality than this lively,
intimate, constantly recurring opposition between the instant and the long-term”
(Braudel 1972: 13). In the midst of his discussion of the exceptional importance
of the longue durée, Braudel recovers the event or the short term. This openness
to the event is nowhere expressed more clearly than in The Mediterranean itself:

Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies,
hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not
into oblivion. Every event, however brief, has to be sure, a contribution to
make, lights up some dark corner or even some wide vista of history. Nor is
it only political history which benefits most, for every historical landscape—
political, economic social, even geographical—is illumined by the intermittent
flare of the event. . . . I am by no means the sworn enemy of the event
(Braudel 1995, 2: 901).

Here Braudel’s treatment of the event draws our attention to the plurality
of social time rather than the longue durée in itself. Outside of plural time, the
event “blinds us with clouds of smoke.” But within the plurality of social time, it
finds its place, if only a limited one, through its relation to the changing totality
of temporalities. In Braudel’s words, “Each ‘current reality’ is the conjoining of
movements with different origins and rhythms. The time of today is composed
simultaneously of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, and of bygone days”
(Braudel 2009: 182). From this perspective, the “exceptional value” of the longue
durée is its role in conceptually and practically ordering the relation among diverse

temporalities within the totality of social time. Indeed, in his discussion of Sartre’s
biographical analyses of Tintoretto and Flaubert, Braudel suggests that the study
of a specific case can lead from the surface to the depths of history. He comments
that Sartre’s inquiries would better parallel his own “if the hour-glass were turned
in the two directions, from the event to the structure and then from the structures
and models back to the event” (Braudel 1958: 751, translation—DT).

Plural Time and Serial History: Ernest Labrousse

Under the influence of The Mediterranean, Braudel’s conception of plural time

dominated French historiography during the period of the “second Annales” from
1956–1968 and was closely associated with the practice of serial history (Aguirre
Rojas 1999: 141–70). In Braudel’s tripartite temporal scheme, the problem that
serial history presents is most evident at the level of the conjuncture. Whereas the
longue durée focuses on unique phenomena, serial history is a strongly quantitative
approach that is concerned with repetition, regularity, and quantity. It selects and
constructs series of phenomena, often through statistical operations, as a function
of their repetitive character in order to identify stable spatial-temporal relationships
and establish causal relations between them.6 Such structural relations are regarded
as integral entities, not as the sum of individual events. Despite the differences
between longue durée and conjunctural phenomena, both may be regarded as
instances of what Koselleck refers to as structural time, that is, “temporal aspects of
relations which do not enter into the strict sequence of events that have been the
subject of experience (Koselleck 1985: 107; also Grenier 1995: 239). By focusing

6.  Pierre Chaunu defines serial history as “a history that is concerned less with the individual
fact (the political fact, naturally, but also the cultural or economic fact) than with the repeated
element [that is], therefore integrable into a homogeneous series, and immediately susceptible
to being the object of classical analytical procedures of mathematics, susceptible, above all,
of being linked up with the series habitually utilized by the other sciences of man” (Chaunu
1987: 16).

on repeatable phenomena and stable regularities, serial history emphasizes the social
and economic over the political, and breaks with practices of arbitrarily determined
periodization (Pomian 1984: 76).
The methodological issues posed by serial history are perhaps most clearly
expressed in the work of Ernest Labrousse (1933, 1944). Labrousse was interested in
the history of France and, above all, the French Revolution. However, he advocated
a scientific approach to history through the statistical reconstruction of series of
economic and social data, and he sought to explain the origins of the French
Revolution through analysis of the economic cycles of the eighteenth century and
their consequences. Labrousse was closely associated with Braudel in many respects,
although there were also significant differences between their approaches. Labrousse’s
innovative approach to the history of economic cycles influenced Braudel strongly
and is incorporated into the latter’s model at the level of the conjuncture (Borghetti
2005: 202–09; Pomian 1984: 83–92; Grenier 1995: 234–35).
Labrousse’s purpose was not to reproduce an objectively true historical past
through documentary criticism, but rather to develop plausible causal explanations
for particular historical phenomena, in his case the French Revolution. His
experimental approach to economic and social history rested upon empirical
observation and description of historical materials. However, it depended not on
the interpretation of individual documents but on the establishment of regular
relations between repetitive facts expressed in series of related documents in order
to construct explanatory models. Labrousse thus privileges the repetitive over the
singular, and the efficacy of his approach derives from the reduction of multiple
observations to a descriptively invariable type (Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1344).
The elaboration of explanatory models required Labrousse to construct a new
object of inquiry and to utilize new sources in order to do so (see Borghetti 2005:
138–53). Rather than using actual business records and the prices that obtained in
real transactions, he went against convention and used the data compiled by the
French state in mercuriales, or market price lists. Economic historians disparaged
the use of mercuriales as a source of evidence because they did not reflect the
actual activities of economic actors. However, Labrousse argued that the procedures

and the checks and balances entailed in the compilation of the mercuriales were
sufficient to make them a valid reflection of average prices (Labrousse 1944: 12–13;
Pomian 1984: 77–78; Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1342, 1350).7 He then statistically
manipulated the data in the mercuriales in order to construct stable, homogeneous,
‘pure’ facts by removing all accidental variations and intervening factors. He was
thereby able to constitute homogeneous series of facts that are directly commensurate
with one another. Such series allowed him to trace the movement of prices and
other economic data, and to distinguish economic factors from other intervening
factors (Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1345–46). The resultant curves were directly
comparable with one another, and the relations between them could be rationally
ordered to disclose explanatory factors and specify the conditions accounting for
particular historical situations.
In his two major works, Esquisse du mouvement des prix et des revenues en France
au XVIIIe siècle (1933) and La crise de l’économie française á la fin de l’Ancien Régime
et au début de la Revolution (1944), Labrousse analyzes the movements of prices and
revenues in eighteenth-century French economy and provides the classic account of
cyclical crises of the Ancien Régime. In these works, he meticulously reconstructs
the fluctuations of the price of wheat and other subsistence goods of the mass of
the population, as well as of rents and wages during the eighteenth century. He
is able to differentiate between a long-term movement, cyclical oscillations, and
seasonal movements. However, his analysis is not only economic. He also analyzes
the consequences of these price movements for different social categories—nobles,

7.  Labrousse argues that only the mercuriale, “based on a considerable mass of transactions,
drawn up at least from week to week or from fair to fair, by market professionals [professionnels
du marché] using identical qualities and following identical procedures, supervised by
competing interests, largely purged of minor errors with which it teems by the law of large
numbers, can express the price trend in the full elasticity of the market being considered and
permits the calculation of a monthly or annual average price. By means of it and it alone can
one find, after employing controls and elaborations, . . . representative averages, representative
of the ensemble of transactions during the ensemble of months during the year as a whole.
Account books often only provide episodes of this history” (Labrousse 1944: 12–13).

ecclesiastics, bourgeois, and above all peasants. Each movement has a social effect
specific to it, while taken together they modify the position of the different social
categories. Thus, Labrousse seeks to establish causal relations among the price
movements and their effects on various social categories. His analytical procedure
identifies the mechanisms that create the crises typical of the Ancien Régime
agrarian economy and demonstrates the economic and social origins of the French
Revolution in a specific conjuncture of long-term and intermediate cycles together
with short-term agricultural cycles (Labrousse 1933, esp. 2: 640–42; Pomian 1984:
80–82; Borghetti 2005: 205, 209–70). This violent conjuncture put pressure on
popular, above all peasant, subsistence and incomes as it drove proprietors, Church,
and State to increase exactions on the populace.
For Labrousse temporality is at once an instrument of research and an organizing
principle of historical processes. It is an analytically powerful tool that enables him
to reconstruct temporal movements and economic cycles and to identify ruptures,
accelerations, and reversals. However, his close identification of the conceptual and
the real creates tension in his approach. A statistical tool—the average—is the
link between the reality of things and the constructed representation produced by
scientific discourse. His statistical construction of the “real” movement should result
in an analysis capable of grasping representative economic mechanisms (Borghetti
2005: 150, 186–87, 190; Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1351). According to Labrousse:
“Statistical knowledge—with its elaborations of averages and averages of averages,
at once as close to the concrete and as representative as possible—is in its way
conceptualization of the real” (Le prix du froment en France au temps de la monnaie
stable (1726–1913). Réédition de grands tableaux statistiques. Introductions et notes,
par E. Labrousse, R. Romano, F. G. Dreyfus, [Paris: 1970], XLV) cited in Grenier
and Lepetit 1989: 1351). Grenier and Lepetit argue that this perspective creates a
degree of ambiguity in Labrousse’s work. At times, he treats the average as if it is
at once an abstraction and an effective reality (Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1351).
The close identification of the real and the conceptual in Labrousse’s approach
creates two sets of difficulties for historical analysis. Labrousse’s methodological
procedure entails the construction of stable facts, elaboration of the object of inquiry,

and analysis of explanatory factors. He constructs a model of the interaction of
prices, production, profits, and salaries not to establish universal causal laws, but
to causally analyze the particular effects of specific economic movements (Borghetti
2005: 121). By privileging price, Labrousse successfully identifies price movements
of various durations and amplitudes and constructs temporalities. He seeks to
determine the distinct economic significance and particular mechanisms of action of
each temporal movement and then reconstitute the relations among the particular
movements (Borghetti 2005: 191–93). In the statistical manipulation of data to
construct the object of inquiry, cyclical movements are constituted in relation to
the movement of the longue durée. Likewise, social variables are constituted in
relation to price through categories of revenues, wages, etc.
Thus, Labrousse’s model is unilaterally oriented toward price movements, above
all that of the longue durée. However, the first difficulty derives from the fact that
price has no explanatory power in this scheme. Rather, it is taken as the result of
supply and demand that is itself presumed as given and remains unanalyzed as an
historical relation. The model treats the effects of price, but what produces price
beyond simple supply and demand is eliminated from consideration. Because the
social is constructed as the effect of the economic, the articulation of the economic
and the social is one-sided and loses its explanatory value. The temporality specific
to the social disappears, and economic relations themselves are treated unilaterally
without regard to social determinations. As the model so closely approximates the
real it is difficult to evaluate the data. The danger in this procedure is that the
order of causality and structure of dependency may be constituted a priori in the
formulation of the object of inquiry. In such a case, the various movements are
functionally integrated around the longue durée, which assumes causal primacy.
Thus, there is a tendency toward tautology. Both the approach and its temporal
categories may be reified. Causal explanations then risk being reduced to descriptions
of the mechanisms revealed by the series themselves (Grenier and Lepetit 1989:
1352–55; Borghetti 2005: 193–94).
Despite these tensions and ambiguities, Labrousse’s statistical manipulation of
repeatable facts enables him to establish regular and stable economic and temporal

relations and to indicate the structural causes and conditions of the revolution.
However, it also creates the second difficulty. The very assumptions of his approach
necessarily produce a residue of unstable and non-repetitive facts that are external
to the explanatory categories. This residue can only be accounted for as sequences
of accidental and highly contingent events that cannot be integrated into his
model and must be explained by other means. This duality between regularities
and irregularities, structures and events is evident in Labrousse’s account of his
analysis of the French Revolution:

the general characteristics of the crises under the economic ancien régime,
the solidarity through which they are manifested, their aggravation in 1789
[which is] attributable to the violence of the cyclical movement and the
movement of the longue durée, permit us to better evaluate the pressure
exerted by the economic milieu on events (Labrousse 1933, 2: 640–41).

Here the structural relations between economic cycles account for the revolutionary
crisis. The events of the Revolution are removed to the second plane. In their
critical evaluation of Labrousse’s work, Grenier and Lepetit note that: “accidental
causality does not appear as an element that is outside of the explanatory rationality.
Rather it is a necessary complement to the determination of regularities. This form
of endogenization is the mark of a causal insufficiency. . . . The event loses its
creative novelty and change is no longer a category to be thought.” In their view,
the functional causality of regularity is opposed to accidental causality. The event
is thought by means of structural regularities and the singular is reintroduced as
an element of the interpretation (Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1354–55; Borghetti
2005: 196–97).
The appearance of Labrousse’s Esquisse du mouvement des prix in 1933 provoked
sharp criticism by Henri Hauser, France’s preeminent economic historian. The
debate took place between1936 and 1939 in the context of the meetings of the
Comité international pour l’histoire des prix, an international project for the study
of price history under the direction of economists Sir William Beveridge and

Edwin F. Gay (Dumoulin 1990; Borghetti 2005: 147–53). It pitted an older
positivist and ideographic event history against Labrousse’s innovative structural
and statistical approach to historical interpretation.
Hauser, director of the French section of the Comité international, challenged
both Labrousse’s sources and their role in historical interpretation. He rejected
Labrousse’s use of mercuriales and argued that private documents—registers and
account books of actual enterprises—were superior to them as sources for economic
history. Further, Hauser defended a traditional approach to the critical examination
of individual documents as against Labrousse’s statistical and nomothetic approach
(Hauser 1936: 37–45). For Hauser, the purpose of price history was to illuminate
social conditions and ultimately to describe the type of life of individuals (Hauser
1936: 1–2, 61–72; Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1342; Borghetti 2005: 152). More
specifically he argued that

at least in the times before the generalization of industrial civilization, it is

the accidental, of place or of time, that dominates the reality of economic
life. Man does not live by averages or by variations of the longue durée; he
lives by real bread, sold at such a price for such a weight at such moment.
Consequently we will give all the curves in the world for the humble chronicle
where the clerk of the tribunal, the parish priest, the noble landowner has
inscribed week by week the price of grain, of wine, of meat. The infinite
detail of these entries, the sharp and multiple variations that they register,
reveal the general facts to us, that is, during epochs of bad communications,
empirical agriculture, and submission to meteorological accidents and finally
political insecurity, the same setier of wheat varies enormously from one year
to another, sometimes from one month to another, and from one parish to
a neighboring parish (Hauser 1936: 72).

“In history,” Hauser emphasized, “the only science is of the particular” (Hauser
1936: 71; Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1342n; Pomian 1984: 77).
In response, Labrousse insisted on the value of the repetitive fact, his statistical

approach, and the new perspectives that it provided for economic and social history:
“here the repetitive has more human value than the accidental. In economic history,
differently from what is observed in other branches of history, all that is important
is repeated” (Labrousse 1944: 171; Grenier and Lepetit 1989: 1351; Pomian 1984:
78). In the course of the debate, Labrousse’s approach was validated. Hauser and
an older event history were never able to fully confront in their own terms the
new methods or the new interpretive framework put forward by Labrousse (Paris
1999: 22; Borghetti 2005: 150). Labrousse’s work introduced the new nomothetic
approach of serial history. This approach not only influenced Braudel, but also
dominated “second Annales” from the 1950s to the 1970s (Borghetti 2005: 150,
170–80, 200–03; Grenier 1995: 227).

Italian Microhistory and the Reinvention of the Short Term

Within the context of this emphasis on plural time, serial history, and the
methodological significance of the longue durée, I would like to turn to the short
term and particularly Italian microhistoria, associated with such figures as Carlo
Ginzburg, Giovanni Levi, Edoardo Grendi, and Carlo Poni. Not a school or a
systemic approach, what has come to be known as microhistoria in Italy is described
by one of its main practitioners as a “community of style” (Grendi 1996: 233). It
developed as a response to serial history as practiced by Fernand Braudel and the
French Annales school, with which it has maintained a complex relation even while
following an independent and, in a certain sense, opposite path of development
(Ginzburg and Poni 1991; Ginzburg 1993; Lima 2006: 64–85).8
Italian microhistory may be seen as an attempt at renewal in response to what
was seen as the ossification and exhaustion of serial history in the 1970s. Central

8. The dialogue between structural time and microhistory, of course, continues with the
initiatives for a “fourth Annales” associated with Jacques Revel, Jean-Yves Grenier and the late
Bernard Lepetit (Annales 1989; Aguirre Rojas 1999: 190–212).

to the formation of the microhistorians’ project was their critical engagement with
the Annales school, and especially the conceptions, evidence, and documentary
interpretation, causality, and the construction of temporality that characterize the
practice of serial history. Through what Carlo Ginsburg refers to as a process of
“equalization of individuals,” serial history disregards particulars and cognitively
recognizes only what is homogenous and comparable (François Furet and Jacques
Le Goff, “Histoire et ethnologie,” Méthodologie de l’histoire et des sciences humaines,
vol. 2 of Mélanges en l’honneur de Fernand Braudel (Toulouse 1973), 231, cited in
Ginzburg 1993: 18; Ginzburg 1993: 21; Grenier and Lepetite 1989). In the eyes
of the microhistorians, such a procedure with its concern for regularities implies,
at least tacitly, a homogeneous conception of time and causality that produces
continuity between levels. Plural time could be interpreted as a stable hierarchy
where each temporality simply unfolds on the axis formed by the one superior
to it. In which case, the whole approach risks producing a functionalist account
of historical change, a history of structures and structural transformations (Levi
1991: 109; Lepetit 1996: 75–76).
In response, Italian microhistorians have deployed a highly experimental and,
indeed, eclectic set of historiographical practices whose common thread is a self-
conscious reduction in the scale of observation. They embrace the singular, the
peculiar, the out of series, the anomalous, and engage in close analysis of highly
circumscribed phenomena such as a village community, a group of families, or
an individual person, event, or object. However, their concern with reduction in
scale is not a preoccupation with the local and small-scale systems. As Giovanni
Levi writes, “it becomes immediately obvious that even the apparently minutest
action of, say somebody going to buy a loaf of bread, actually encompasses the
far wider system of the whole world’s grain markets.” Rather, reduction in scale
is an experimental and analytical procedure whose purpose is to reveal previously
unobserved factors (Levi 1991: 95–97; Revel 1985: XI, XV–XVI).
Thus microhistorical practice entails intense methodological and historiographical
experimentation with the short term, the local, and the particular. It is as if the
microhistorians are intentionally looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

The radical reversal of perspective and reduction in scale illuminates otherwise
undisclosed relations and processes. Microhistory seeks to discover “the social context
in which an apparently anomalous or insignificant fact assumes meaning when the
hidden incoherences of an apparently unified order are revealed” (Levi 1991: 107).9
By analyzing the contradictions within prescriptive and oppressive normative
systems, microhistory seeks a more realistic account of social action. There is
no automatic mechanism through which actors align themselves with structural
transformations and shifts. Rather, “all social action is seen to be the result of an
individual’s constant negotiation, manipulation, choices and decisions in the face of
a normative reality, which though pervasive, nevertheless offers many possibilities
for personal interpretations and freedoms” (Levi 1991: 94; “Histoire et sciences
sociales. Un tournant critique,” Annales 1989: 1320). Individual and collective
strategies, choices, and negotiation are interpreted in close relation to their contexts
but cannot be reduced to them. Microhistorical approaches are concerned with
the exercise of relative freedom “beyond, though not outside, the constraints of
normative systems (Levi 1991: 94). This individualizing perspective produces results
that possess what Ginzburg describes as an “unsuppressible speculative margin”
(Ginzburg 1992: 96–125, esp. 105–07).

Conclusion: Ordering Historical Time

Within the interpretation that I am proposing, the results of microhistorical

research may be seen as the world historical individual. Each microhistorical site

9.  Levi continues: “The reduction in scale is an experimental operation precisely because of
this fact, that it assumes that the delineations of context and its coherence are apparent and it
brings out those contradictions which only appear when the scale is altered. This clarification
can also occur, incidentally, as Jacques Revel has rightly observed, by enlarging the scale. The
choice of micro dimensions arose as a direct result of the traditional preponderance of macro
contextual interpretation, in view of which it was the only possible direction to take” (Levi
1991: 107).

or instance is necessarily different from the others and none can be reduced to
the general conditions. Such instances are spatially and temporally dense, complex,
and multifaceted points of convergence, confluence, and concentration of multiple
temporalities. Here we may perhaps see Braudel’s rationale for wanting to encapsulate
the event in the complex and volatile structure of the short term. The microhistorians
have taken us far beyond the understanding of the event as simply a temporal
structure with a distinct beginning and end, which is interpreted through narration.
Rather, we may see in the work of the microhistorians what Reinhardt Koselleck
refers to as the contemporaneity of the non-contemporaneous. This perspective
leads to a radical redefinition of “context.” Rather than the external “background”
against which the short term unfolds, the longue durée and conjoncture are actively
present as structuring agencies shaping constraints and possibilities.
Microanalysis thus gives access to the highly particular and local conditions
and environments in which agencies are formed and strategies for social action are
deployed. It allows us to contextualize acting subjects at the intersection of multiple
spatial and temporal levels and establish the specific conditions and relations that
form actors and actions. It thereby gives specific content to Marx’s dictum that men
make history but only such history as it is possible for them to make. But, with
apologies to Giovanni Levi and the microhistorians, the microhistorical is no more
“real” than other levels of spatial temporal analysis.10 It too is a reconstruction. It
is simply capable of greater degrees of complexity (at the expense of its range of
applicability) and is more adequate for certain problems.
The microhistorical project discloses the discontinuity and heterogeneity that is
necessarily a part of plural time. The microanalytical, the temps court, maintains
its individuality. The results of fragmentary and singular microhistorical analysis
cannot automatically be transferred to the more general structural spheres and vice

10.  “It seems to me that microhistory moves more firmly towards the non-quantitative branches
of mathematics in order to furnish more realistic and less mechanistic representations, thus
broadening the field of indeterminacy without necessarily rejecting formalized elaborations”
(Levi 1991: 109, emphasis added—DT).

versa (although they are necessarily produced through one another). If we were
to stop here, we would achieve the theoretical reconstruction of specific historical
complexes, the reproduction of the world historical individual as the concentration
of many determinations. Such historical reconstruction is necessarily a part of
world historical social science—the concrete analysis of the concrete situation as
one twentieth-century thinker put it.
But particularization is not the point. Within the methodological assumptions of
world historical social science, of a world-systems perspective, we gain knowledge
by the continual movement back and forth between the general and the specific,
the macro and the micro, repetition and difference. What the microhistorians
have yet to do is, in Braudel’s phrase, to turn the hourglass over the second
time, that is to say, to reverse the methodological procedure and examine the
longue durée and structural time through the lens of the short term, the local,
the particular, to do what Michael Zeuske calls microhistory as “world history
from the perspective of the individual” [“Weltgeschichte aus der Perspektive von
Menschen”] (Zeuske 2006: 9).
Such a procedure recalls Terence Hopkins’ discussion of the ground and figure
movement. Reflecting on the methodological approach of world-systems analysis,
Hopkins writes:

I have in mind the figure-ground movement, where if one refocuses what

was figure becomes ground and when one refocuses again, what was ground
becomes figure. For us, the figure-ground movement seems to take place
between social relations and agencies of action, between role and relation.
I think that the methodological relation with which we work is that our
acting units or agencies can only be thought of as formed, and continually
re-formed, by the relations between them. Perversely, we often think of the
relations as only going between the end points, the units or acting agencies,
as if the latter made the relations instead of the relations making the units.
Relations, generally, are our figures and acting agencies are our backgrounds.
At certain points in conducting analysis, it is of course indispensable to shift

about and focus on acting agencies; but I think we too often forget what
we have done and fail to shift the focus back again (Hopkins 1982: 149).

In contrast to Hopkins’ world-system approach and other “structural” histories,

long-term structures are commonly treated as ground and short-term structures and
acting agencies are taken as figure. However, differences in scale are methodological
differences, not ontological differences. Reversal of this treatment of the relationship
between ground and figure is both possible and necessary if we are to comprehend
the multilayered and asymmetrical spatial-temporal relations forming units and
acting agencies. (Indeed, in these terms, we may think of Braudel’s innovation as
just such a reversal—taking the longue durée as figure rather than ground.) The
microhistorical approach itself seems to hold open such a possibility.11
Nonetheless, as Hopkins cautions, it is important not to reify the units and
agents and treat them outside of the relations through which they are formed.
Insofar as we view temporal units of observation quantitatively, that is, as units
of homogeneous time of varying duration, such units are commensurate with one
another and therefore comparable. At the same time, we must keep in mind that
there are qualitative differences between such units. They are constituted differently
and embody different explanatory logics. Consequently, they cannot be simply
transposed or substituted for one another. Rather, we must take into account
both similarity and difference as we shift ground-figure relations and continually
move back and forth between different analytical levels in order to grasp the
complexly structured spatial-temporal relations constituting the social historical
world (Borghetti 2005: 167).

11. Carlo Ginzburg contends: “Though pretensions to systematic knowledge may appear

more and more far-fetched, the idea of totality does not necessarily need to be abandoned. On
the contrary, the existence of a deeply rooted relationship that explains superficial phenomena
is confirmed the very moment it is stated that direct knowledge of such a connection is not
possible. Though reality may seem to be opaque, there are privileged zones—signs, clues—
which allow us to penetrate it” (Ginzburg 1989: 123).

Such a reversal of procedure yields insight into the complex, highly mediated,
historically uneven character of world historical processes. They reveal how structural
and cyclical temporalities do not produce uniform results, but local difference and
global heterogeneity, even results that run counter to the general trend. They are
simultaneously unifying and differentiating processes.
Turning the hourglass the second time allows us to move back to the world
historical whole, reconstituting it through the complex historical interrelation of
phenomena. The perspective of the longue durée and world historical analysis allows
us to systematically move back and forth between specific and general relations
and, taking as our point of renewed departure the concrete relation, the historical
interrelation, interdependence and mutual formation of specific complexes of
relations within the world historical whole. Here, methodological hierarchy does
not imply a causal hierarchy. There is no fixed causal structure. Such a back-and-
forth movement entails the manipulation of spatial and temporal scales and the
deployment diverse analytical and interpretive strategies within the framework
provided by the longue durée in relation to the particular problem at hand (Aguirre
1999: 200). Such procedures entail a double movement. They allow us to specify
particular historical relations and processes in time and space as we reconstitute
the spatial temporal complexity of the world historical whole. In this way we may
reconstitute the world economy as a concrete historical whole and, by incorporating
unity and world historically produced difference, reconstruct the highly mediated
and historically uneven relations of world historical processes as we live them.

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Braudel, Fernand. 2009. “History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée,”
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———. 1995. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip
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Clues, Myths and the Historical Method. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
University Press.
———. 1993. “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It.” Critical
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and the Historical Marketplace.” Pp. 1–10 in Microhistory and the Lost
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Umrisse, Anfänge, Akteure, Vergleichsfelder und Bibliographien. Berlin: LIT

History and Geography
Braudel’s “Extreme Longue Durée” as Generics?

Peter J. Taylor

Histories (Time)

O ver the last decade I have been studying contemporary globalization through
urban lenses. In this literature globalization is often interpreted in geographical
scale terms as a pincer movement on the state with power moving both upward
and downward. This is entirely consistent with my long-term concern for thinking
beyond the state, which originally brought me to world-systems analysis some three
decades ago. As a result I have found studying globalization to be intellectually
exhilarating because it has sharpened my thinking outside the knowledge box that
is modernity. Globalization is a severe challenge to the embedded statism of the
orthodox social sciences: put simply, to understand contemporary globalization it is
sometimes more useful to take stock of social change processes before the 200-year
modernity geocultural interlude. This is the case when the specifics of social change
in modernity blind us to the wider generics of social change in human history.
This train of thought has led me to Fernand Braudel’s reference to the “extreme
longue durée” in his classic 1958 paper on the three time spans of history (events,

cyclical movements, and longue durée) (1972a: 41, 45). In his discussion of the
extreme longue durée as a possible fourth time span, Braudel explores “timeless
realms of social mathematics” (1972a: 47) and “myths . . . developing slowly” as
examples of what he also calls “very longue durée” (1972a: 46) and “excessive longue
durée” (1972a: 47). Immanuel Wallerstein has interpreted these as “normative social
science” (1991: 144) and, following Braudel, “the time period of the sages” (1991:
137). Both scholars are skeptical about the relevance, and even existence, of this
“eternal time.” However, it seems to me that it does not have to be quite so eternal.
The extreme longue durée can be returned to the historical if it is interpreted as
the generic form of institutions, collective processes that can be traced over very
long time periods. This is, of course, Marxism’s transhistorical concepts; in world-
systems analysis we might call them trans-system processes. The idea is that there
is an institution/concept/process that has a specific reality within a historical era,
which has been created from an existing generic reality. The exception is first
creations of the process, the historical beginnings that have their own specificities
but also lay the foundation for all subsequent historical developments. The classic
Marxist example is class conflict. Braudel’s discussion of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s work
on communication/language fits this position well (1972a: 43–44); in this paper
I concentrate on city/state relations in the extreme longue durée.
This choice derives from my engagement with the globalization literature wherein
world cities are often described as breaking free from their state containers. In
particular, in my own research the role of cities has been found to be at variance
with the established paradigm of macro-urban studies. Here cities were deemed to
form “national urban systems” with strict city hierarchies ultimately derived from
central place theory and related simple notions such as the rank size rule. Cities
in globalization simply do not fit into such conceptualizations. In other words the
specifics of the modernity interlude seem to be giving way to a new global specifics
requiring new models and theories. But, as is the nature of history, the (modern)
present had been widely projected backward to other periods—historians appear
to love central place theory. And, of course, central place theory and the rank
size rule have featured prominently in urban historical research in world-systems

analysis. Hence, part of the purpose of this paper is to update urban models in
world-systems analysis while at the same time interpreting city/state relations in
terms of the specifics and generics of cities and states.
One final point on histories: Braudel is adamant that his three time spans “fit
into each other neatly” (1972a: 48) and therefore the “cardinal error” is “to choose
one of these histories to the exclusion of all others” (1972a: 34). If we rehabilitate
the fourth span by returning the extreme longue durée to history, then the above
positions need to be extended to four histories, none of which can be ignored.
In summary: (i) states and cities are generic, trans-systemic processes and their
relations can be interpreted as constituting extreme longue durée; (ii) a specific
relationship has developed in making the modern world-system which may be
dissipating under conditions of contemporary globalization; and (iii) therefore
city/state relations in other world-systems are newly relevant for understanding
the possibilities of the present.

Geographies (Space)

According to Braudel, “time sticks to [the historian’s] thinking like soil to a

gardener’s spade” (1972a: 47); the same can be said for the geographer and
space. Braudel ends his essay with a plea to bring geography into his proposed
history-social sciences dialogue in terms of “spatial models” and “a concentration
on place” (1972a: 52). Of course, Braudel’s books are awash with geographical
concepts integrated into his history: for instance, he begins what is arguably his
most influential book, The Perspective of the World, with a discussion entitled
“Economies in space” wherein geography is treated as a set of “ground rules”:
“tendencies which will clarify and even define [world economies’] relations with
geographical space” (1984: 25). Thus are world economies treated generically and
classed with other concepts such as “civilizations, states and even empires” (1984:
24). But geographical thinking has moved on from treatment of geography as a
backdrop to history and social sciences.

Social spaces are constructions that, like social times (Braudel’s historical times),
are integral to social change: societies do not pass through time in space but are
constituted as time and space. This is explicit in Wallerstein’s (1991) conception
of historical systems with their cycles and core-periphery structures and is spelled
out clearly in his extension of Braudel’s historical times into TimeSpaces. These
are defined by adding space-scopes (geographical scales) to Braudel’s time-spans
(1991: 139). But his identification of this “space parallel” to Braudel’s times does
not take into account space’s extra dimensions compared to time’s unidirectional
nature. This difference between space and time means that there are non-parallels
between construction of social spaces and social times; there is more to geographical
spaces than geographical scales.
I have found Manuel Castells’ (1996) theory of social space to be particularly
useful for identifying spatial concepts that encompass the dimensions of space. He
interprets globalization as a new network society that is replacing industrial (modern)
society. With the advent of instantaneous electronic communication, he argues that
the necessity for contiguity and simultaneity in social relations (place) is being
superseded by simultaneity only (flows) to define a new social era. In terms of the
construction of social spaces, this is interpreted as old “spaces of places” giving way
to new “spaces of flows.” Without buying fully into this social theory, these two
concepts of spatial form are extremely useful tools for understanding how social
spaces are constituted in social change. Thus although Castells’ interest is in the
changing strategic balance between these two space constructions in contemporary
globalization, the two concepts can be deployed more broadly.
In order to use Castells’ (1996) space concepts generically it has to be understood
that they are abstractions from a single social space construction. All spaces of places
depend of spaces of flows for their construction and vice versa. This is proven by the
limiting cases that turn out to be impossible social spaces: a space of places without
flows is an unlivable mosaic space; a space of flows without places is an unlivable
fluid space. Hence in this theory of social space both construction processes are
always in operation and the interest lies is in the relation between them in specific
instances (like Castells’ network society). In this paper I am interested in the spaces

of flows that are city networks, the spaces of places that are state territories, and
their interaction in different historical systems. But in order to use Castells’ spatial
concepts in this way it is necessary to imbue them with relevant social substance,
in other words a theory of cities and a theory of states.

Making A Living (Work)

In giving the two spatial forms social substance I take a materialist approach that
privileges work. Social spaces are formed through the everyday work processes in
making a living. It is individuals in households who make a living, but they can
only do so in a collective enabling context that has to be ongoing: social spaces
are a critical element of this necessary reproduction. According to Jane Jacobs
(1992) there are, in fact, only two basic ways of making a living: as part of the
commercial world (making and trading) or as part of the guardian world (taking
and governing). These are very different and require contrasting work ethics
enabling their reproduction.
Trust is the basis of any ongoing social enterprise; once trust between participants
breaks down so to does the social institution. Jacobs (1992) delineates two moral
syndromes that she argues are necessary for the reproduction of commercial and
guardian work. Jacobs identifies commercial and guardian moral syndromes through
which trust is established and reproduced to make work possible. Each syndrome
consists of a set of behavioral “precepts,” one set that enables the reproduction of
commercial work, and a very different one for guardian work. These syndromes
are best introduced through what Jacobs terms their “key precepts”: be honest
and be loyal, respectively. Successful commerce requires participants to be honest
in their transactions; for instance, markets require honesty to build the trust to
operate. Guardian work, on the other hand, has its trust built upon loyalty between
participants; for instance, wars require loyalty to justify the sacrifice. To be sure,
there will be dishonesty in commerce and disloyalty in guardian work; but the point
is that when these reach a certain level a tipping point occurs and reproduction

of their respective work practices becomes impossible: markets collapse, armies
disintegrate. To emphasize that these are two contrasting moralities, note that
honesty and loyalty are not interchangeable: loyalty in a market is bad business;
honesty in war preparations is a recipe for defeat.
The two complete sets of precepts are listed in Table 1 where their divergence
is all too apparent. I have grouped precepts into clusters to ease interpretation
and comparison. Where do these syndromes come from? Jacobs has gleaned these
precepts from a very large-scale textual analysis of reports on different appropriate
and inappropriate work behaviors and numerous texts about what is and what is not
suitable behavior in myriad work contexts. Jacobs claims that the syndromes derive
from “millennia of experience with trading and producing, on the one hand, and
with organizing and managing territories, on the other hand” (1992: xii). In other
words they are generic to human work practices. Whether trading and producing
in Uruk Mesopotamia, Inca Peru, Ming China, or contemporary United States this
work requires honesty to be supported by not forcing agreements, nondiscrimination,
keeping to contracts, enterprise, inventiveness, dissent, and productive investment.
Whether raiding and governing in Sargon’s Akkad, Republican Rome, Shogunate
Japan, or the USSR this work requires loyalty to be supported by exerting power,
building tradition, respecting hierarchy, deceiving, discriminating, being ostentatious,
and dispensing largesse.
One final point: although the commercial syndrome appears to be innately more
preferable to modern sensibilities (it appears to be “modern” but is actually trans-
systemic), Jacobs emphasizes that in any society both commercial and guardian
moral syndromes are necessary. And each syndrome is implicated in a different
social space construction.

State Territories (A Constellation of Guardian Practices)

Jacobs is explicit that the guardian syndrome is implicated in territories in terms

of “territorial responsibilities . . . the work of protecting, acquiring, exploiting,

Table 1.  Syndromes by Clusters of Precepts


Clusters Precepts Clusters Precepts
“Key virtue” Be honest “Key virtue” Be loyal

Other basic cluster Shun force Other basic cluster Shun trading
Come to voluntary agreements Exert prowess
Adhere to tradition
Operating cluster Collaborate with strangers and aliens Be obedient and disciplined
Compete Respect hierarchy
Respect contracts
Use initiative and enterprise Action cluster Take vengeange
Deceive for the sake of the task
Progress cluster Be open to inventiveness and novelty
Be efficient Lifestyle cluster Make rich use of leisure
Promote comfort and convenience Be ostentatious
Dissent for the sake of the task Dispense largesse
Be exclusive
Capital cluster Invest for productive purposes Show fortitude
Be industrious
Be thrifty Life cluster Be fatalistic
Treasure honour
Life cluster Be optimistic

administrating, or controlling territories” (1992: 29). But she does not develop an
associated theory of states. For this I turn to James Scott’s treatise on how states
operate to “radically simplified designs for social organization” (1998: 7). This is
a generic theory of states.
For Scott, “legibility is a central problem of statecraft” (1998: 2); the more
legible a society, the better a state can carry out its “classic” functions of “taxation,
conscription, and prevention of rebellion.” This is directly reflected in the
construction of state spaces: quite simply, for state activities, spaces of places are
more legible than spaces of flows. Thus are policies predicated upon spaces of
places. Furthermore, under the right conditions, spaces of places can be redesigned
in the image of the state itself as ordered, hierarchical, and regimented. Spatially
this simplification takes geometric forms such as the Roman Empire’s network of
straight roads and gridiron cities, post-Revolutionary France’s equal-size “hexagonal”
departments, the straight-line boundaries common to European and European-settler
imperialisms in the Americas, Africa, and Australia, and the planning of “high
modernist” cities like Brasilia (Taylor 1999; Scott 1998). These are all guardian
spaces reflecting political power.
According to Scott, the techniques for projecting state power have been generic:
“appropriation, control, and manipulation . . . remain the most prominent”
(1998: 79). These have made centralization and territoriality ubiquitous to the
political process. Accumulating power and defending it is most easily accomplished
through territorial behavior: demarcating a space, controlling access to that space,
and influencing the composition of the space. The modern interstate system is a
straightforward example of this, whereby mutual acceptance of territorial sovereignties
is the foundation of international law. But this worldwide political mosaic is very
specific to modernity; more generally political territories are separated by frontiers
rather than lines. Whereas modern states aspire to territorial homogeneity behind
boundary lines, previous political territories more typically consisted of core zones
of vital people and resources surrounded by a land buffer: the Roman Empire’s
division of its British province into a productive civilian zone in the south and
east behind a military defensive zone in the north and west is a classic example

of such territorial behavior. Smith (2007) describes exactly the same structure
for ancient states. And the United Provinces operated in this way in its 80-year
war of independence. Dutch territory was treated as two zones, a core zone of
maritime cities and a buffer zone to act as a bulwark against invasion (Taylor 1994;
Braudel 1984: 202) provide a map of the Dutch Republic as a “fortified island.”
Of course, it was the success of this “un-modern” guardian territorial policy that
made a major contribution to the rise of the modern interstate system formally
adopted at Westphalia in 1648.
Scott argues that states’ practices of social simplification cannot adequately deal
with “essential features of any, real functioning social order” (1998: 6). Whatever
states have in mind, societies remain very complex matrices of flows and function
on the basis of myriad “informal practices and improvisations.” In other words,
guardian state practices creating spaces of places cannot properly deal with the
complexities of spaces of flows, as exhibited by cities in particular. All states,
because of their inherent guardian territorial imperative, invariably treat “people
who move around” badly (1998: 1). Scott lists the following, who “have always
been a thorn in the side of states”: “slash and burn farmers, nomads, pastoralists,
hunter-gatherers, Gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, and runaway slaves
and serfs” (1998: 1). In other words, states have problems dealing with people
whose lives are centered on spaces of flows. Note, however, that Scott does not
include long-distance merchants in his list, presumably because their wealth usually
precludes them from becoming victims of states. Nevertheless, they too have a history
of undermining state policies. But guardian practices cannot ignore such flows.
For instance, Braudel, after listing the fall of several cities to territorial expansion
of states in early modern Europe, illustrates the limitations of state territoriality:

The victorious states could not take control of and responsibility for
everything. They were cumbersome machines inadequate to handle their new
superhuman tasks. The so-called territorial economy of textbook classification
could not stifle the so-called urban economy. The cities remained the driving
forces. States that included these cities had to come to terms with them

and tolerate them. The relationship was accepted the more naturally since
even the most independent cities needed the use of the space belonging to
territorial states (1972b: 308–09).

This restates the points that spaces of places and spaces of flows are always
entwined and that guardian and commercial practices are inevitable interlocked.
Let us now see how a theory of cities can show how spaces of flows are created
through commercial practices.

City Networks (A Constellation of Commercial Practices)

The theory of cities I use is that of Jacobs (1969, 1984) supplemented by

Globalization and World Cities research network (GaWC) research on contemporary
cities in globalization. The basic starting point from both Jacobs (1969) and Castells
(1996) is to treat cities as a process: networking practices that create spaces of
flows. Thus, cities are never singular; they come in groups that form city networks.
According to Jacobs (1969) cities are the source of economic expansion; it
is through the unique comingling of myriad people from different contexts
(cosmopolitanism) that economic changes are invented, adopted, and adapted. Put
simply, this expansion in commercial life is the result of two economic externalities—
extra-market advantages—that occur through cities. The first are externalities within
cities resulting from knowledge-rich economic milieu wherein commercial practices
generate and maintain the latest ways of conducting business in both production
and services. These are economic clusters through which Jacobs’ ideas have made
inroads into economic theory (Glaeser et al. 1992). Second, there are externalities
between cities resulting from knowledge-rich connections through which commercial
practices are informed of and adopt or adapt new business. These are economic
networks in which cities are the nodes of this commercial work. In effect I am
generalizing John Hicks’ (1969) internal and external growth through cities in the
“Mercantile Economy” to commercial activity across all societies.

In and of themselves cluster externalities and network externalities do not
generate the full potential of city economic expansion. It is when they interact that
something special happens through import replacement. For Jacobs (1969) import
replacement in a city frees up new resources for cumulative growth in massive spurts
of new work. Thus it is that economic expansion occurs in cities through their
economic clusters within their economic networks. As well as expansion resulting
in city growth, the process also produces geographical extension through growth of
the city network. It is the latter we have been studying in GaWC where we have
developed an interlocking network model of intercity relations through analyses of
the worldwide office networks of advanced producer service firms (Taylor 2001,
2004). Unlike other network models, this one has not two but three levels: the net
level in the world economy, the nodal level (the cities), and, in addition, a sub-nodal
level of firms with offices in numerous cities. It is these financial, professional, and
creative service firms that “interlock” cities through their everyday work, generating
a largely electronic space of flows between offices. We now treat this model as a
generic theory of cities—central flow theory—since the interlocking process can
be found in all vibrant city networks: “agents” in some form or other are required
across cities to facilitate and augment commercial work (Taylor et al. 2010). Good
examples of where this process is clearly evident are in the commercial practices of
medieval Europe (Pirenne 1969; Spufford 2002) and ancient Mesopotamia (Stein
1999; Algaze 2005). We call this network space-making the process of city-ness.
City-ness does not exhaust the category of urban work and activities; we identify
also the process of town-ness. This is a space-making process that encompasses the
work that relates an urban settlement to its hinterland. Whereas city-ness is non-
local and complex because of its extra-market basis, town-ness is local and simple,
based upon just markets. This is the process that central place theory describes
with its market areas organized into a hierarchy. It is not relevant to economic
expansion because hinterlands alone cannot generate new work. But the simplicity
of central place theory makes it popular with state guardians in their planning
practices and administrative organization. However, their neglect of central flow
theory, and therefore cities, is not a problem because economic expansion is not

a matter of guardian work through its spaces of places; it is what commercial
work creates through its spaces of flows. This is why state economic development
planning is generically doomed to failure, as “second” and “third” world guardian
practices in the last quarter of the twentieth century illustrated all too well (Jacobs
1992; Taylor 2006a).
The division between local and non-local is a commonplace distinction. For
instance, Hicks (1969) refers to “petit commerce” and “grand commerce,” and
Braudel (1982: 376) shows this to be reflected in different terms used for trade
in different languages (Table 2). Interestingly he notes that the “long distance”
merchants have typically come to form a ruling group (1982: 68), that is to say,

Table 2.  Differentiating Local and Non-local Commercial Work

Mercatura* Mercanzia*
Language (the art of trade) (mere shopkeeping)

Islam Tayir Hawanti

India Katari Sogador

France Négociant Marchand

Marchand grossier
Marchant bourgeois

Italy Negoziante Mercante a taglio

English Merchant Tradesman

German Kramer Kaufherr

*These are terms used in Cotrugli’s book on commerce published in 1456/8
Source: derived from Braudel (1982: 377)

their original commercial prowess is converted into guardian status. The theoretical
arguments above allow us to develop this further. Jacobs (1969: 135) notes that in
medieval Europe, guilds were divided into three types: “merchant guilds, strictly
local guilds, and craft guilds.” The first two correspond to Braudel’s list of “traders”
and the third one is about producers. The merchant guilds “settled down with
warehouses, counting houses and agents in this city” (1969: 135) indicating that
they produced networks but not necessarily economic expansion as they transmuted
into “merchant-princes.” The local guilds—bakers, butchers, coopers, and other
shopkeepers—were concerned with urban hinterland relations, buying off farmers
and merchants, and facilitating exchange. The crafts guilds—weavers, saddlers,
smiths of various hues—are further divided by Jacobs into “shopkeeper-craftsmen”
and “merchant-craftsmen.” The former are local (hinterland) but some expand their
trade into non-local markets to become their own merchants (1969: 136). George
Unwin (1963: xxxi, 61) identifies these crafts, especially the weavers, as being as the
main economic challengers to the merchant-princes. And it is their combination of
producing and trading that Jacobs singles out as particularly important for economic
expansion: they are able to seek out and expand specific new markets for their
goods in ways that general merchants did not and really could not do. Thus are
merchant-craftsmen central to expanding city economies in medieval Europe. But
where trade and crafts are kept apart (e.g., in caste systems) cities are stultified and
economic expansion diminished (Jacobs 1969: 134–35). The key point is that this
argument about division of work in terms of space-making is generic:

Taken together, the three types of guilds give us a picture of the economy
of the city that is not only valid for medieval times but for our own times
as well: local goods and services that remain local; exports, starting with
the initial exports; and local goods and services that become exports (Jacobs
1969: 137).

City-ness is about economic clusters and economic networks combining in

commercial work to expand space-economies.

Town-ness is also generic. Because we conceive of city-ness and town-ness as
processes, they can be treated as happening together simultaneously in urban
settlements. Thus we argue that all urban settlements encompass both city-ness
and town-ness processes but to very different degrees (Taylor et al. 2008). However
our focus here will be on city-ness and its making of spaces of flows.

Using History (Beyond Modern Geographies)

If we treat globalization seriously as a collection of processes taking us beyond

modernity (i.e., the demise of the modern world-system), then history becomes
especially important to social scientists. If new structures are emerging, then past
modern experiences (and theories based thereon) are becoming less salient and may
even become obstacles to strategic understanding. In contrast, knowledge of times
before social knowledges were nationalized in modernity may become relevant.
These histories are not tied to events but are likely to be longue durée times or
phases thereof (cyclical time).
In this section I employ two brief case studies to illustrate the previous theoretical
arguments. I use some detailed historical scholarship to first, answer a question
about commercial practice and then, second, to shed light on guardian practices.
My chosen examples are economic expansion in Leeds during the early Industrial
Revolution and the governance of Genoa in the Middle Ages. In both cases I use
other cities to show alternative paths of change.

Commercial Practice: Leeds Woollen Industry in the Eighteenth Century

It is well known that the Industrial Revolution in England turned the economic
geography of the country upside down. At the beginning of the eighteenth century,
London was hugely dominant but by the end of the century a very different space-
economy had been produced centered on the great industrial cities of northern

England. The London-based economy was based upon relations between government
and merchants, generally referred to as the “Old Corruption.” In contrast, the
new industrial world was far from the center of political power—most of the new
industrial cities had no direct representation in Parliament. Hence, here we have
a distinct change in city/state relations from guardians being central to economic
processes in the London city-economy to commercial work being relatively free
from state guardian influences in the dynamic cities across the north of England.
This represents an ideal situation—a sort of “post-hoc social experiment”—for
exploring the key themes of this essay.
Far away from national guardian constraints, Leeds’ commercial experience
was one of the great economic success stories of the eighteenth century. Woollen
textiles were, of course, not a new production of the Industrial Revolution; they
had been the main industrial sector in England since the late Middle Ages with
production centered on the West Country and East Anglia. This geography was
still extant in 1700. But by the end of the century the Yorkshire woolen industry
centered on Leeds had become dominant. Why? The first point to make is that
was not simply because of the rise of the factory system; as Derek Gregory argues,
this northern industry’s “drive to national supremacy was largely completed in the
eighty tears or so before the advent of the factory system” (1982: 47).
The explanation for Yorkshire’s industrial success is to be found in Jacobs’
(1969) ideas on production and distribution being integrated to facilitate economic
expansion. In the case of the West Country and East Anglia the work process was
dominated by merchants who transacted their business through London. In contrast
in Yorkshire “local mercantile houses were much more important” (Gregory 1982:
57) with the whole process dominated by “independent master clothiers”:

[Merchants] in Leeds and Wakefield concentrated entirely on the export of

cloth; they knew their business as woollen exporters backwards, and they had
a deep knowledge of the actual production of cloth unlike their counterparts
in London, who relied on factors for their cloth purchases (Wilson 1971: 52).

The outcome is wholly predictable:

The difference between the ways in which the West Riding trade was handled
by the active merchants of Leeds, Wakefield (and eventually Halifax) and
the exports of every other production area from Norwich down, which were
all monopolised by non-specialist London traders often working within the
restrictions of the trading companies themselves accounts in good measure for
Yorkshire’s growing supremacy in the eighteenth century (Wilson 1971: 52).

Thus it is not just that the traditional value chains in the south of England
transferred value to London (in a dependency relation) whereas chains in the north
retain much value in local cities; in addition, chains in the north are expanded to
produce new networks of business in ways impossible for London general merchants.
Leeds “active” merchants knew their product and searched out new markets and
opportunities across Europe; whereas, for London merchants, woollen goods were
just another commodity to buy cheap and sell dear. Hence, the massive economic
expansion of Leeds, its region, and its business networks that were a critical element
of the English Industrial Revolution.
There was nothing inevitable about the rise of northern cities; the process
of industrialization was very uneven. Thus while Leeds was becoming a vibrant
center of a great woolen textiles industrial region through the eighteenth century,
Newcastle was consolidating its position as a stagnant city in a resource exporting
region at the same time. The latter city and its port were controlled by an oligarchy
of coal landowners and coal merchants prospering from sending coals to London.
Through this local guardian process other work with non-local potential (city-
ness) was prevented from developing (Middlebrook 1950: 64–66; Jacobs 1969:
155). The result was the “Black Indies,” a dependent region like the other two
more well-known “Indies” (East and West), with a one commodity economy and
urbanization only sufficient to service its simple export trade pattern (Ellis 2001).
Thus was Newcastle’s great industrial spurt postponed until after the breaking of
the port’s monopoly in 1850 (Johnson 1985), a century later than for the other
great northern cities (Taylor et al. 2009).

In summary, the geography of the English industrial revolution is clearly amenable
to the type of analyses ntroduced in this essay.

Guardian Practice: Governing Genoa in the Middle Ages

For the guardian case study, Genoa is contrasted with the other three leading Italian
cities: Florence, Milan, and Venice. As Giovanni Arrighi (1994) has demonstrated
so clearly, whereas the latter cities finally went down the territorialist path of
city-state formation, Genoa embarked on an altogether different trajectory. Its
guardian requirements were satisfied under Habsburg rule in the sixteenth century
allowing what Braudel (1984: 164) called its “discrete rule” through finance. This
early-modern separation of economic networks centered on Genoa from territorial
governance based upon Castile is truly un-modern (in the sense of no spatial
congruence of economy and polity as in the nation-state; see Taylor 2007) and
therefore surprises contemporary political scholars. But the roots of this “strange”
governance arrangement lay deep in Genoa’s history.
The rise of “outside” governance of Genoa takes place in two phases that
broadly reflect the medieval European economic cycle. Arrighi (1994: 88) has
shown that in the growth period, city cooperation was commonplace; whereas,
with the onset of stagnation, competition and rivalry became the norm and this
is reflected in the changing form of Genoa’s governance. In the first phase Genoa
is not untypical of other northern Italian cities, but diverges from other cities in
the more dangerous second phase.
The norm of governance for many Italian cities in the thirteenth century was what
Daniel Waley (1969) calls “the institution of podesteria.” This was an instrument
to solve the problem of conflict inherent in the concentration of people into cities.
This problem had become endemic and critical in northern Italy reflecting imperial
versus papal rivalries. A podestà was a “single executive official . . . from another
(not neighboring) commune trained in law and holding his office for six months
or a year” (1969: 68) who came with a team of lawyers and guards. The key point
is that these time (short-term, temporary) and space (from distant, non-competing
city) characteristics of the guardian position were deemed to provide government

“above the fray.” Various rules were instituted to reinforce the neutrality through
space-of-place making including prohibition on trading while in office and not
leaving the city without permission (1969: 68–69). Genoa decided to suspend its
government and change to the podestà system in 1190 “because of so much civil
discord, conspiracies and divisions [that] wracked the city” (Epstein 1996: 88).
The first podestà in 1191 was from Brescia (1996: 88), a second in 1194–95 was
from Pavia (1996: 89), and the system continued through the next century until
the last podestà in 1296 (1996: 325). Steven A. Epstein refers to the podestà as
“a temporary foreign ruler” (1996: 88), but in the next century Genoa turned to
foreign rulers that were not so temporary.
After the neutrality of the podestà system, foreign guardianship was still sought
but without the neutrality: important political figures were offered the government
of the city to reflect the current winners in the local Guelf versus Ghibelline
conflicts. Thus was Emperor Henry IV made ruler of the city in 1310:

An agreement was made: Genoa agreed to cede itself to Henry for twenty
years, and he agreed to end divisions in the city and restore peace. . . . The
Genoese renounced their own autonomy, not in the face of external force,
for Henry’s power and resources were limited, but because self-rule no longer
worked (Epstein 1996: 184).

He was followed by Robert of Naples (with Pope John XXII) in 1318, the
Archbishop of Milan in 1354, Charles VI of France in 1396, Francesco Viscounti,
Lord of Milan in 1421, and Charles VII of France in 1458 (Epstein 1996: 196,
220, 245, 265, 286). This serial love of “foreign rule” is even more curious when
we consider how Charles VI was chosen: “After public deliberations and backstairs
dealings in 1396, the Genoese decided to hand themselves over to the king of
France, even though they knew that from time to time he suffered from mental
illness” (Epstein 1996: 245). He may not appear to be a good candidate but he
was not without competition; in the debate the proposal was that “the doge and
a group of citizens negotiate with the king of France, or England, or the emperor,

or another prince, or the Tuscan league, to find a leader” (Epstein 1996: 247). But
this is only unusual to our modern sensibilities. What we have here is a traditional
separation of commercial and guardian work in the specific circumstances of
church and state rivalry in medieval Italy. First, the podestà system was invented
to counter internal conflict and second, powerful foreign rulers were brought in
to provide protection also from outside enemies. However, neither the podestà
as a “hired hand” nor powerful rulers were ever allowed to control the Bank of
San Giorgio; writing in the 1480s “Machiavelli astutely observed that even as
the Genoese handed over their state several times to various foreign rulers, San
Giorgio remained firmly in local hands and carefully secured its privileged status
from whatever ruler controlled the state” (Epstein 1996: 280). And so the Genoese
making their money under Hapsburg guardianship in the sixteenth century is not
so surprising after all. They will have felt quite at home in the commercial world
of Seville while guardian matters were attended to in Madrid (Pike 1966).
But this governance arrangement is not completely unheard of in our
contemporary modern world. There is one very important “modern political
economy anomaly”: Hong Kong, which has been arguably the most economically
successful city of the last half-century. And through this period it has never had
sovereignty: it was ruled until 1997 as a British colony and since then as part of
Communist China but with a guaranteed separate economic system. The separation
of commercial and guardian processes seems not to be such a bad thing; as the
modern interlude comes to a close the new “global governance” might become
awash with such “modern anomalies.”

Using Geography (Beyond History’s Reach)

Using geography in history has two different meanings. Most commonly it is

a reference to physical environmental conditions. For instance, when the main
channel of the Euphrates changed course about 2350 BCE it had a massive effect
on relations between ancient Mesopotamian cities (Nissen 1988: 131). However,

geography references are sometimes to human geography in the sense of socio-spatial
patterns. In this case the overwhelming example is the use of central place theory
to explain settlement patterns. This theory became a major source of research work
in geography from the 1950s to 1970s and then largely disappeared as a research
topic in the 1980s. However it continued to be used by historians without reference
to new ideas about interurban relations in globalization research. As portrayed
above, central place theory defines a process that is essentially local; for non-local
interurban relations, city network formation (central flow theory) is the process to
study. And yet we find, post-Pirenne, in the very rich urban historical tradition of
Belgium, central place theory being deployed to understand Flemish cities such as
Ghent and Bruges whose importance was constituted by their location in Europe-
wide urban networks (Stabel 1997; see Taylor et al. 2010 for historians’ debates
on this). In this section “using geography” means deploying central flow theory
to understand intercity relations.
By “beyond history” I mean debates about periods when there is little or no
documentary evidence. The mixture of archaeological and historical evidence
that is available is massively incomplete, fragmentary, and most definitely non-
random. Although more evidence is potentially available and is continually being
found, with interpretation modified accordingly, there will never be enough data
coverage to overcome the systemic dearth of information on the societies being
studied. Thus, in these cases there is a real sense that we “can never know”; all
interpretation must perforce be modest interventions into debates. Interpretation
is only as good as the evidence available and the theory being deployed to stretch
it into a plausible social story.
The two case studies I discuss here are definitely from the evidence-challenged
end of historical scholarship. First, I use the debates about urban development
in the period between the fall of the Roman Empire in the west and medieval
commercial revolution of the eleventh century. This is the debate sparked by Henri
Pirenne (1969). Second, I engage with the question of urban origins. This is about
whether Mesopotamia has the honor of having the first cities, as conventionally
asserted, or whether there were earlier city networks. The two things these debates

have in common is the use of central place concepts to the almost total neglect
of city network formation. Hence, this section is about what happens to the
interpretations in these debates when central flow theory is introduced.

The Debate over Cities after the Fall of Rome in the West
(The Pirenne Thesis)

Pirenne (1969: 3) views the Roman Empire as “an essentially Mediterranean

commonwealth”; it was constituted as a federation of “city-states” combining
existing (“allied”) cities in the East with new planted cities (founding colonies and
municipia) in the West (Grimal 1983: 109). Thus in terms of its urban constituents
the empire existed as two parts with the greatest cities in the East (Pirenne 1969:
4). However, Pirenne’s thesis is that the deposing of the last Emperor in the West
was not decisive because the Mediterranean commonwealth continued: “a clear-cut,
direct continuation of the economy of the Roman Empire” (Pirenne 1969: 12).
The break occurred not with the Germanic invasion from the north but rather
three centuries later with the Islamic invasion from the south. The result is a shift
to northern Europe where Charlemagne’s empire is categorized as “a closed state; a
state without foreign markets, living in a condition of almost complete isolation”
(Pirenne 1969: 29). It is only with the revival of trade with the east via Venice and
the Flemish coast in the eleventh century that cities revive as commercial centers:
“Just as the trade of the west disappeared with the shutting off of its foreign
markets, just so it was renewed when these markets were reopened” (Pirenne 1969:
82). In this way Europe “regained that essential characteristic of being a region of
cities” (Pirenne 1969: 103).
This is the barest bones of the Pirenne thesis that has been highly controversial
since its definitive statement in 1925 (Hivighurst 1976). It is a thesis broadly
adopted by both Jacobs (1969) and Braudel (1994: 92–93); according to Michael
McCormack (2001: 2) “it predominates today” but without the assumption that it
was the Arab conquests that are a primary cause. The core of the majority view is
that the Carolingian economy was the nadir of post-Roman economic changes in

Europe. But, asks McCormack (2001), what does this downturn really represent?
Was there such an isolated Carolingian state?
McCormack’s (2001) impressive answer to this question is both honest about
the evidence and path-breaking in its dealing with it. He argues that “the volume
of scholarly discussion” on the Pirenne thesis “far outweighs the evidence to which
it is devoted” (2001: 3). But he counters this with a prosopographical research
exercise that puts together what evidence is available in one large data collection
exercise in order to create a geography of communications for this period.
Although there is little information on commerce, there is a lot of evidence for
the movements of travellers, information, and various artifacts. He creates data
sets based upon nearly 700 journeys between 700 and 900 CE, over 400 letters,
and over 800 movements culled from documentary sources from 600 to 970 CE,
plus other evidence such as coin hoards. The result is an immense amount of
information on this data-challenged research area. The whole book describes an
historical space of flows not equaled for any other period to my knowledge. And
it is shown conclusively that Pirenne’s rhetoric on the isolation of the Carolingian
world needs reconsideration and, at least, further careful specification. On the basis
of this new evidence McCormack is mindful to agree with Pirenne’s critics in this
reopening of the debate.
From a geographical perspective there is a problem with this interpretation
of the new data. I take issue with McCormack’s work in two respects. First, the
focus is on communications. I am interested in the key economic process described
above that is about city networks linking city clusters. Both are needed to define
a world economy. In other words showing reams of communication in the form
of people, knowledge, and commodities is simply not enough. These flows have
to be tied together in productive nodes of economic expansion—cities. Cities as
a theoretical concept is absent from McCormack’s arguments; they just appear as
beginnings, stops, or ends in the flows with no discussion of how the flows might
have created an economy (2001: 575). And this is, of course, because there were
no Carolingian cities to carry an economy. Furthermore, this is precisely what

Pirenne (1969) understood though his explicit focus on cities. It is the absence of
cities that is the key, not the absence of communication even where the latter are
commerce. Carolingian society had ecclesiastical and fortress urban settlements (for
guardian functions) but no commercial cities (1969: 56), just towns with weekly
markets (1969: 65–66). Pirenne contrasts Kiev with its strong commercial links
to Constantinople and Baghdad with Aachen, which was merely Charlemagne’s
favorite residence—“it was to become a real city only four centuries later” (1969:
62). Later scholarship suggests the size of Aachen never got beyond a couple of
thousand (Barraclough 1979: 109), whereas Constantinople is estimated to have
had some 250,000 people in 800 CE growing to 300,000 in 1000 CE when
Kiev reached a population of 45,000 (Chandler 1987: 14–15). These are different
economic worlds and should be understood as such.
Second, McCormack mixes commercial and guardian work flows together in a
data set where the former are in a very small minority, for instance only 2 percent
of “eastern travelers” were merchants (2001: 212). From the perspective adopted
here his prosopographic approach is theoretically naïve for understanding his chosen
subject, “the origins of the European economy.” We need to acknowledge that
there are two processes that lead from the demise of the Western Roman Empire
to the creation of Europe: a guardian story that embodies continuities from Rome
and a commercial story that, as Pirenne argues, does not: Venice is the beginning
(Taylor 2006b). They are entwined but separate and should be understood as such.

The Debate over Urban Origins (The Jacobs Thesis)

One of the most established assumptions in ancient history is that the first cities
were created in Mesopotamia five thousand years ago; large agricultural surpluses
from the exceptional fertility of the alluvial lands created the “urban revolution”
(Childe 1950). But given the evidential basis in very early history, we can never
be certain about claims to being earliest. This is a world of scholarship consisting
only of “reasonable conjecture” and “limited finality” (Jacobsen 1970). And yet the

urban revolution remains an unmovable watershed in conventional thinking on
human evolution. It looks very much like “the ideological wall . . . that has been
placed at 5,000 years ago” that Richard Rudgley (1998: 209) claims.
Jacobs (1969) has nimbly scaled this wall in her controversial “cities first, rural
development later” thesis. Since cities are the basis of economic change, it follows
that agriculture is an urban invention. This means that it is hunter/gatherer societies
who will have created the first cities as a prelude to the agricultural revolution. In
other words, cities should appear at the beginning of the Neolithic period when
agriculture was established. And this is what Jacobs finds at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia.
With a concentration of population of perhaps 10,000, some 9,000 years ago,
she interprets this settlement as an early city trading with other unknown cities.
Being near an important source of obsidian, initial trade would have included
exchanging this mineral for food to feed the growing population. But at some
point the innovative process of import replacement generated new work in local
food production (the Neolithic agricultural revolution) thus freeing exports to buy
additional new goods (which is Jacobs’ definition of economic expansion). This is
the primary example of cities molding their environs to their own needs, a process
that has culminated in contemporary globalization.
Although garnering support in geography—Edward W. Soja (2000) treats
Çatalhöyük and its ilk as the first urban revolution, with Mesopotamia relegated to
second revolution, and industrial modernity representing the third—Jacobs’ thesis
is dismissed out of hand by archaeology scholars (Balter 1998).
One of the interesting things about these archaeologists is that they themselves
draw heavily on geographical tools in their interpretations. For instance, Colin
Renfrew (1975: 3) develops his influential theory of the emergence of civilization
based on the use of “quantitative methods inspired by geography.” But when he
argues that “the rise or origin of civilization can profitably be considered in terms
of the genesis of . . . spatial organization” (1975: 12), he is being lured into
a dominant spaces-of-places geography. Thus, we are told that “a permanently
functioning central place system is a feature of every civilization” (1975: 12) in
which “the hierarchy of central places . . . carries with it a hierarchy of central

persons” (1975: 24). This is an endogenous theory wherein exogenous processes
“outside the civilization territory” are not necessary (1975: 26–31). Since it is not
part of a central place system, Renfrew is able to dismiss Çatalhöyük as merely
an “early farming village,” albeit of “almost urban size” (1975: 7). Renfrew’s ideas
are broadly applied by Hans J. Nissen (1988) in his history of “ancient Near
East” from 9000 to 2000 BCE wherein both Çatalhöyük and early Mesopotamia
feature in his story. I will critique his space-of-places history from a more recent
spaces-of-flows perspective.
Nissen’s story is as follows: from 9000 to 6000 BCE the Near East consisted of
“separated settlements” with few connections (1988: 32–33) wherein Çatalhöyük, and
Jericho (another inconvenient early large settlement) are treated as exceptions because
they are not part of a settlement system (1988: 36–38). Having no “real centrality”
(1988: 38), Çatalhöyük and Jericho are deemed not to be urban settlements but
rather they are interpreted as “extremes of a . . . spectrum” of settlement sizes.
And because “further development seldom proceeds from the extremes,” such
large settlements have only minimal relevance. For instance, Jericho is considered
to be just a “river oasis” (1988: 37). Such dismissal does not address why such
large settlements were created and what effect such concentrations of people might
generate. Why should an oasis on a river be so large? (Çatalhöyük was also on a
river [Balter 1998].) Could non-local trade be a factor? Such a thought does not
occur here because there is no sense of a space of flows. Urban development must
await the making of a central place hierarchy in Susiana several thousand years
later. And this phase of the story is also instructive in showing the narrow spatial
thinking. We are told that a “completely developed settlement systems can, for
the first time, be identified in the period we call the Late Susiana period” (Nissen
1988: 52) and the locale is described thus:

The plain lies at the junction of two natural routes through an otherwise
impassable mountain area  .  .  . The early settlements certainly took advantage
of it, because the relationships we can prove to have existed at that time
between the civilizations west and east of the Zagros must have made use

of this route. It is then easy to suppose that Tepe Sohz, by far the largest
site, had a part to play on the connecting route, about which, for the time
being, we cannot be more specific. However, the location of this site near
the spot where the Marun River flows into the plain shows that its primary
importance had a different basis. Because of its location, the site was in a
dominant position for an irrigation system that drew its water from the
Marum, a little to the north of Tepe Sohz (Nissen 1988: 53–54).

He concludes that “there is no doubt that we are dealing here with a simple
settlement system” (1988: 54) on the grounds that settlements are in a line (a
possible canal course) and consist of three size-groups (a possible hierarchy).
Note that Nissen has a choice of what to emphasize: the non-local space of
flows (an important trade route) or local space of places (a three tier settlement
system). Of course, the fact of irrigation and hinterland in no way disqualify the
process of city network first, local development second. Nissen proceeds to a four-
tier settlement pattern in the Uruk period so that Mesopotamian urbanization is
itself largely interpreted in central place terms (see also Gregory 1975).
The key point in all this is that the Jacobs thesis should not be so easily dismissed.
Nissen’s (1988: 36) “certainty” of “even development” (meaning no urbanization)
before 6000 BCE does not square with his explicitly recognition of critical problems
relating to evidence—he devotes his entire first chapter to this topic and refers
to it throughout the book. This makes his archaeological orthodoxy look like an
ideological response to evidence. Certainly it is clear that Çatalhöyük and Jericho
are not alone as large Neolithic settlements; important examples have been found in
Japan (Sannai Maruyama [Hudson 1996]), in North America (Cahokia [Chappell
2002]) as well as elsewhere in the Near East (Jawa [Helms 1981]) (other examples
are to be found in Soja [2000] and Hansen [2000, 2002]). From a space-of-flows
position these are all evidence of cities first (central flow theory) and towns second
(central place theory) with the latter urban settlements as minor service centers to
agricultural villages further away from the city but still in its hinterland (Taylor
2010). Of course, none of this can be known in any definitive sense but it is a
“reasonable conjecture” based on geographical theory and growing evidence.

Conclusion (In the Spirit of Braudel?)

The substantive parts of this paper are quite conventional in relating geography
and history. On the one hand, human geography (representing social science)
is using historical scholarship (specifics to support generic arguments), and on
the other hand, history (with archaeology) is using human geography for its
theoretical insights (generics to frame specific arguments). Braudel is, of course,
a major exception to this commonplace interaction between historians and social
scientists. He uses his historical concepts to straddle times and spaces: he thinks
generically. It is appropriate, therefore, to end with a further linkage between
Braudel’s history and current geographical work. In particular, I consider Braudel’s
(1979) most contrarian ideas on capitalism (Wallerstein 1991) to Jacobs’ moral
syndrome analysis of work.
In my use of Jacobs’ moral syndromes I have applied them to cities and states
in a way that equates the guardian syndrome with politics and the commercial
syndrome with economics. However Jacobs’ ideas are somewhat more subtle than
this; like Braudel she has no truck with the modern disciplinary division between
political and economic processes. Although superficially the guardian syndrome
appears to be about politics and the commercial syndrome about economics, this is
not the case. Certainly commercial processes are about part of economics (markets)
but the guardian syndrome also involves monopolistic economic players, as well as
the state. Big city financiers in globalization as “masters of the universe” were, until
very recently, running a truly opaque “global financial market” in largely guardian
ways. Of course, this is very much like Braudel’s (1979) definition of capitalism
based upon both political and economic monopolies in the top tier in his tripartite
structure of society (Wallerstein 1991). Braudel separates his capitalism from the
market of his second tier, which, for Jacobs, reproduces itself via her commercial
syndrome of ethics.
Jacobs’ guardian syndrome underpins agency in Braudel’s top tier and Jacobs’
commercial syndrome underpins Braudel’s middle tier: now here is an opening
for further thoughts on history and geography via the seminal ideas of Braudel
and Jacobs.

Works Cited

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Mesopotamian Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Arrighi, Giovanni. 1994. The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origin of Our
Times. London: Verso.
Balter, Michael. 1998. “The First Cities: Why Settle Down? The Mystery of Communi-
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Dutch Capitalism and
Europe’s Great Frontier
The Baltic in the Ecological Revolution
of the Long Seventeenth Century

Jason W. Moore

“ uring the Middle Ages,” Fernand Braudel once observed, “the Baltic was a
sort of America on Europe’s doorstep” (1984: 207). But is this not an even
better description of the Baltic after the Middle Ages, during the era of Dutch
world primacy? The Dutch Republic was, as Marx puts it, the “model capitalist
nation of the seventeenth century” (1976: 916), its tentacles reaching from central
Sweden to northeastern Brazil to southeast Asia. And while the social history of
Dutch capitalism has been told many times (see, inter alia, Arrighi 1994: 127–58;
Aymard 1982; Boxer 1965; Hoppenbrouwers and van Zanden 2001; Israel 1989;
de Vries and van der Woude 1997; Wallerstein 1980: 36–71; van Zanden 1993),
its environmental history is scarcely understood. In what follows, I show how
Dutch hegemony was an audacious project and process that reconstituted the socio-
ecological whole of capitalism—what I call capitalism as “world-ecology,” through
which the accumulation of capital and the production of nature are dialectically
bound (Moore 2003c, 2010c, 2011). The “social” and “environmental,” far from

discrete historical movements, were differentiated moments in the totality of
Dutch-led capitalism in the long seventeenth century. At its center was a world
ecological revolution unprecedented in human history, one that pivoted on the
commodity-centered transformation of an extended Baltic for its indispensable
supplies of timber, forest products, metals, and grain.
The Dutch either pioneered directly, or were implicated in, an extraordinary
wave of socio-ecological transformations in the century or so after 1568: (1)
northeastern Brazil’s rise to the commanding heights of the world sugar economy,
displacing São Tomé in the late seventeenth century; (2) the movement of the
African slaving frontier from the Gulf of Guinea to Angola and the Congo; (3)
the zenith of Peruvian silver, centered on Potosí, after 1571; (4) in the spice islands
of southeast Asia, the destruction of clove trees, nutmeg, and mace, casualties in
the Dutch East India Company’s battle to control the lucrative spice trade in
the opening decades of the seventeenth century; (5) the draining of the fens in
England, and of wetlands across the Atlantic, from Pernambuco to Warsaw; (6) the
relocation of Spanish shipbuilding to Cuba, where one-third of the fleet was built
by 1700; (7) the re-centering of European copper and iron production in Sweden,
beginning in the late sixteenth century, displacing Hungarian and German centers;
(8) the ever more expansive forays of the herring, cod, and whaling fleets across
the North Atlantic; (9) the movement of the forest products frontier from Poland
and Lithuania to southern Norway in the 1570s, followed by renewed movements
into the hinterlands of Danzig (again), Königsberg, Riga, and Viborg; and (10)
the rise of the Vistula as Europe’s granary in the 1550s (Moore 2010a, 2010b).

European Colonialism or Capitalist Advance: American and

European Frontiers in the Rise of Capitalism

In this essay, I will focus on the last two of these movements—the timber and grain
frontiers of the extended Baltic and its generative relations with Dutch capitalism
and the capitalist North Atlantic. It is an unusual strategy, to focus on the European

frontier rather than the conquest of the Americas. Environmental historians prefer
the latter as the favored terrain of modernity’s earliest ecological revolutions (e.g.,
Dean 1995; Crosby 1986; Ponting 1991). The “new” world historians, eager to
unpack the myths of Eurocentric historiography, have largely ignored the commodity-
centered transformation of early modern Europe in order to reveal the Americas
as “the” region that allowed Europe’s escape from pre-modern limits to growth
(e.g., Pomeranz 2000). And there is a much longer historiographical tradition,
reinforced by environmental historians, that views the early modern movements of
geographical expansion as European expansion, creating the “Atlantic economies”
through the agencies of “seaborne empires” (e.g., Davis 1973; Boxer 1965, 1969;
Parry 1966). The difficulty with the externalist approach is a restrictive focus on
the advances of the colonial empires and the world market, with little attention
to the commodity-centered transformation of European political ecologies. An
alternative perspective, one that emphasizes the combined and uneven development
of capitalism in Europe and the Americas, can explain how commodity frontiers
within Europe operated in essentially the same fashion as those outside of it. The
two movements were mutually conditioning. What Walter Prescott Webb once
called the “Great Frontier” (1964), the source of the long boom of the modern
world, was neither European nor colonial but quintessentially capitalist.
Sugar and silver, the New World’s greatest commodity frontiers, were valorized
through their relations to the mining, forest products, fishing, and cereal frontiers
within Europe, especially in Scandinavia and the Baltic. The expansion and
development of capitalism in the Americas and the expansion and development of
capitalism in Europe pivoted on a cascading and reinforcing series of commodifying
movements—some propelled by the coercive-intensive strategies of empires, others
by the capital-intensive operations of capitals, nearly always by some combination
of the two. These aimed at enlarging the boundaries of the system in the interests
of liberating cheap supplies of labor power and natural resources, and this entailed
the treatment of all of nature (human and extra-human alike) as a “free gift,” to
use Marx’s felicitous, and emphatically critical, turn of phrase. The expansion of
American silver mining made possible, for instance, by successive and dramatic

extensions of commodity relations in northern Europe, where cereal and forest-
product commodity frontiers provided crucial inputs of cereals and forest-products
vital to the upward spiral of Dutch accumulation in the seventeenth century. This
upward spiral, in turn, provided the capital and shipping for sugar and other
American products to move from New World to Old (Moore 2007).
The social natures of the North Atlantic provided the raw materials indispensable
to consolidation of capitalism and its imperialist vanguards—timber, fiber crops,
naval stores, metals, cereals, whales (Moore 2010b). I am not so sure that this
early modern North Atlantic, pivoting on Amsterdam, is best described as a
creation of merchant capitalism (e.g., van Zanden 1993)—although there is no
denying that distributional capacities were central. Jan de Vries and Ad van der
Woude rightly bend the stick in the other direction, emphasizing the technical
and organizational innovations within the “first modern economy” (1997). I would
take this one step further. “The first modern economy” was indeed Dutch, but not
only Dutch. Eric Hobsbawm once suggested that we consider “all the maritime
states . . . as one large, diversified home market . . . [a] collective home market”
(1965: 49, 57, emphases added). In de-linking the category of home market from
the naturalized geography of the nation-state, Hobsbawm suggests a new way of
seeing this process. Did not an expansive (and expanding) early modern North
Atlantic comprise a vital, self-propelling and self-contradicting matrix unifying
the three decisive (if overlapping) accumulation sectors—(1) the production of
the means of production (shipbuilding especially); (2) expansion of consumption
markets, albeit more extensively than intensively, to be sure; and (3) the “primitive”
organization of successive agro-extractive resource zones?
If so, we can see this “collective home market” taking shape from a nucleus
that comprised the British Isles, France, the Low Countries, parts of Scandinavia,
and the southern Baltic. In the decades opening the “second” sixteenth century
(1557–68), this capitalist North Atlantic would expand through successive
commodity frontier movements to incorporate Finland, the greater Vistula Basin,
the present-day Baltic states, Russia as far as the Urals, and North America by the
end of the eighteenth century. It would also become progressively intertwined with

the plantation economies of Immanuel Wallerstein’s “extended Caribbean” (1980:
175) and Fernand Braudel’s “global Mediterranean” (1972).
Dutch capitalism and the extended Baltic were partially constituted through
a commodity frontier strategy, above all in forestry and cereal cultivation, that
looks strikingly similar to the commodity frontier pattern of socio-ecological
exploitation, exhaustion, and relocation that characterized the South Atlantic, the
sugar complex especially (Moore 2000b, 2007: ch. 6). That commodity-centered
frontier movements were indeed central to the rise of capitalism is widely-accepted
but weakly analyzed (e.g., Richards 2003). The point I would underscore is that
these commodity frontiers did not merely produce environmental “consequences”
but were socio-ecological projects in themselves. Pivoting on the commodity frontier
strategy, the uneasy fusion of merchant-finance capital, commodity production,
seigneurial power, and military conflict that accompanied and indeed enabled the
first tentative advances toward the capitalist mode of production after 1450 effected
two world-historical ruptures of signal importance. In the first instance, ecological
wealth—from forests, fields, mines, and communities (qua labor power)—would
be extracted in the quickest way possible. Waste was of little concern so long as
it failed to enter the register of profitability. The rapid movement of ecological
overdraft tended to undermine the socio-ecological conditions of production and
therefore eventually the conditions of profitability—typically within 50 to 75 years
in any given region. Once the extraction of this regionally-delimited ecological
wealth faltered—perhaps from the scarcities resulting proximately from commodity
production, but more likely scarcities differentially created by social resistances
intertwined with ecological shifts and market flux—this modern instantiation of
the “metabolic rift” compelled the search for new commodity frontiers (Moore
2000a, 2000b, 2003a, 2003b, 2007, 2010a, 2010b).
While accumulation was sustained through geographical expansion and therefore
early capitalism’s ecological regime is rightly called extensive, the uneven synergies
of generally rising demand and generally escalating competition (between and
amongst states and capitals) translated to agro-extractive strategies of hit-and-run—
hit where the ecological wealth was most accessible (cheapest), extract it as fast as

possible, and then move as quickly as possible once declining ecological returns
registered a significant contraction of profitability. That human nature as labor
power figured prominently in capital’s globalizing appropriation of ecological wealth
can hardly be overemphasized. In commodity frontiers as ecologically diverse and
geographically distant as North Sea fisheries, Norwegian timber, Brazilian sugar,
Peruvian silver, and Polish cereals, we see regional commodity regimes ascend to
strategic primacy in world accumulation over the course of 50 to 75 years, only
to meet with relative decline just as rapidly. Regional booms therefore did not lead
to the absolute collapse of commodity production—this was the medieval pattern.
Rather, sugar, or timber, or silver complexes became, at best, second-tier producers.
Thus Antwerp’s, and then Amsterdam’s, successively more expansive metabolic rifts
during the long sixteenth century, and the commodity frontiers they entrained,
cannot be comprehended solely in quantitative terms. The expansion of effective
demand for raw materials and grain must be paired with the transformation of
environments, and the eventual exhaustion of the regional ecological formations
(such as Polish seigneurialism or Brazil’s sugar plantocracy) that rendered such
transformations useful and profitable.
Thus early capitalism developed so rapidly because it generated successive local
ecological crises, not in spite of them. These contradictions developed most rapidly
and most extensively in those regions entirely new to commodity production (such
as the New World), or in those places where the “natural economy” was historically
predominant (such as northern Europe). In these zones, the implantation of
commodity production latched onto indigenous ecological wealth (including local
supplies of labor power), drawn into the circulation of capital as “free gifts” (Marx
1976). The ensuing rapid commodification of land and labor pushed these regional
ensembles of “fictitious commodities” (Polanyi 1957) to the breaking point. The
stage was set for the rapid exhaustion of land and labor, establishing a remarkably
consistent cyclical phenomenon of boom and bust. Thence the search for new
frontiers began anew, and with it the cycle of expansion, crisis, and expansion.
Here was an epochal transformation of time and space indeed, some three centuries
before the Industrial Revolution.

“Exceeding Groves of Wood”: The Sylvan Conditions and
Consequences of Dutch Capitalism

In early capitalism, everything turned on the forest. Metals, construction

materials, stockraising, glassmaking, and agriculture all relied on forest zones.
Very little of the Dutch miracle was possible without timber and forest products,
or without fresh land carved from the forest. And yet the Dutch enjoyed few
forests. “Of all the European powers, the Dutch had the most unfavorable ratio
of domestic forests to overseas ambitions” (McNeill 2004: 397). Indeed, the
immediate hinterlands of Dutch shipbuilding centers offered less good timber
even than Venice, perhaps the most famous instance of early modern timber
scarcity (Appuhn 2009). If there was so little timber to be found in the Dutch
Republic, why then do we find Sir Walter Raleigh lamenting England’s sylvan
poverty, whilst their rivals enjoyed access to the “exceeding Groves of Wood in
the East Kingdomes [yielding] . . . huge piles of Clapboard, Firdeale, Masts and
Timber” (Raleigh 1653: 26).
Wherever Dutch capital came ashore, it set in motion new commodity frontiers
in grain and timber. And this meant strong if uneven pressure on those forests
within the orbit of Dutch power. One need not postulate a continental forest
crisis to see that these commodity-centered environmental transformations were
implicated in recurrent waves of capitalist expansion across northern Europe.
These transformations owed much to the remaking of New World political
ecologies, especially the contemporary commodity-centered refashioning of Peru
with Potosí’s silver veins at its center, and the sugar/slave nexus pivoting, for the
moment, on northeastern Brazil. The retreat of forests throughout the extended
Baltic in the long seventeenth century was paired with the initial phases of the
“destruction of the Atlantic rainforest” in Brazil (Dean 1995). The New World
silver and sugar frontiers intersected with the Dutch agricultural revolution, and its
attendant competitive edge in manufacturing, to drive forward a series of cascading
environmental transformations, widening and deepening a specifically capitalist
geography of production and exchange in the North Atlantic.

We may begin with shipbuilding and the timber commodity frontier. Over the
course of the early modern era, Dutch capital would cast “an ever-growing net over
the timber-producing capacities of Norway, Poland, and the Baltic states” (Jacks
2000: 23). But this was less one net—the fishing metaphor seems especially relevant
for the Dutch—and rather more a succession of nets, nets as webs of entrapment
and as networks of power. This succession of commodity frontiers constituted the
geographical law of motion underpinning the “national” triumphs of the Dutch-,
and then British-led, North Atlantic. (The Industrial Revolution was built with
Swedish and Russian iron.) It was the skill with which these nets were cast, and
the quality of the nets themselves, that gave Dutch shipping (and therefore Dutch
power) a decisive competitive edge over its competitors, at least through the 1660s,
driving down shipbuilding costs to between one-half and one-third those of the
English (Albion 1926: 156; Barbour 1930: 267).
The first of these nets was cast upon Norway’s southwestern coast. If “the economic
life of the Scandinavian countries was honeycombed by Dutch enterprise,” in
Norway, Dutch capital was the Queen Bee (Barbour 1950: 118; also Braudel 1984:
251–54). The dramatic expansion of Dutch shipbuilding—its tonnage increased
ten times between 1500 and 1700 (Sella 1974; Unger 1992: 260–61)—moved
in lockstep with the Dutch penetration of southern Norway. Norway, formally
incorporated into the Kingdom of Denmark, emerged as Holland’s principal timber
colony after 1570. For Marian Malowist, Norway’s sylvan ascent was strongly
related to rising timber prices at Danzig, especially after 1570. What was driving
costs upward? “Not only the general price increase [the ‘price revolution’], but
also the diminution of the timber supply of Poland and Lithuania” (Malowist
1960: 36, 39). Such diminution could also be seen in contemporary northern
Spain (Moore 2010a: 55–62). Pierre Chaunu even goes so far as to implicate this
in the “great structural crisis” of the seventeenth century Atlantic: “Was not this
crisis of timber an important characteristic of the general crisis that joins these
two centuries?” (1960: 43).
Starting in the 1550s, sawmills spread like wildfires as the Dutch advanced into
southern Norway. Nowhere to be found less than a century before, there were

over 500 mills by 1600. What ensued was one of modernity’s first great logging
booms (Sevetdal and Grimstad 2003: 14). So important was Norwegian timber
that the advance of Dutch capital across the North Atlantic, and the introduction
of the greatest technological innovation of Dutch world primacy—the fluitschip
(or “flyboat”)—coincide almost perfectly. The Dutch timber trade with Norway
expanded quickly from the 1570s (Sögner 2004); the first fluitschips appeared in
1595, manufactured, yes, from Norwegian wood (de Vries 1976: 117–18; Derry
1979: 142).
As in the Baltic grain trade, Dutch agents in coastal Norway deployed the power
of ready cash to buy when prices were lowest and sidestep the middleman (Barbour
1930: 273). Dutch merchants “fetched the timber in their own ships, trading with
the peasants on very cheap terms and leaving scarcely any profit” (Kiaer 1893:
332). The strategy was so successful that Dutch shipbuilders obtained masts and
shipbuilding timber at prices below their Norwegian competitors (Barbour 1930:
273)! Securing high volumes of very low cost pine reinforced the overall commercial–
industrial dynamic by making possible the mass production of fluitschips based on
standardized design and a labor process “inclining strongly toward standardized,
repetitive methods” (Wilson 1973: 329). The new vessels were, moreover, “more
lightly built and thus had a shorter lifetime” (Cederlund 1985: 168)—probably not
longer than a decade—which was possible only on the basis of an agro-extractive
regime of low-cost timber, one premised in turn on abundant sylvan wealth and
effective economic organization.
No wonder, then, that Norwegian and Baltic timber had definitively displaced
Rhine sources by the early seventeenth century (Unger 1997, 4: 9). Moreover, the
North Sea was a free trade zone relative to Europe’s heavily regulated river networks.
The Rhine especially was “encumbered with man-made obstacles, mills, fish-weirs,
and, above all, tolls. The Rhine was probably the most heavily encumbered, probably
because there was more to tax than elsewhere” (Pounds 1990: 244).
The century-long expansion of shipbuilding timber and naval stores production,
and the continuing growth of Norway’s iron sector, combined to “inflict [wood]
shortage, and in some places devastation of the forests” (Sevetdal and Grimstad

2003: 10; also Berg 1997). There were definite signs of forest exhaustion relative
to Dutch demands by the 1660s (Davis 1973: 190). By this point, the Dutch
were importing 300,000–375,000 m3 of timber annually from Norway (Sipkens
1996: 36; de Vries and van der Woude 1997). It was a gigantic sum, the natural
increment of no fewer than 400,000 hectares.1 A noticeable “thinning of the
forests situated along the coasts” could be seen by the 1650s (Kiaer 1893: 332),
inducing a shift toward eastern Norway’s timber zones in the later seventeenth
century (Sögner 2004: 45; Øyen et al. 2006: 321). It became a “necessity  .  .  .  [to]
float timber from the interior” to sustain exports (Kiaer 1893: 332). It was much
the same to the south, in the Ryfyllke timber region, where “the best timber
was cut out and only timber in smaller dimensions” remained a major export
item at mid-century (Sögner 2004: 45). Lillehammer, observing a 75 percent
drop in Ryfyllke’s board production between the 1660s and 1680s, argues that
“what . . . seems to have happened was that further deforestation in the easily
accessible woods” drove the collapse of output (1986: 108). By one reckoning,
in the century after 1650, Dutch timber imports from Norway declined from
130,000 lasts, approximating 260,000 tons, to just 38,000 lasts (Sicking et al.
2004: 7). It surely was not coincidental that the purchase price of a new buss,
the specialized fishing vessel of the Dutch herring fleet, nearly doubled in this
period (van Bochove 2008: 224–25).
The decline of Norway’s timber exports was surely conditioned by factors
beyond forest depletion pure and simple. Denmark sought to mobilize Norway’s
resources in classical mercantilist fashion. The Danish Crown barred the export of
masts and “other big stocks” in 1640 “under the pretext of Norway running out of
timber” (Tossavainen 1994: 74). But was it pretext? More likely, relative depletion
now threatened what remained of Danish power. And would not the pressure to
apply mercantilist measures have been even stronger under conditions of escalating
relative scarcity? There were indeed “strict forest regulations” in the first half of

1.  Assuming a natural increment of 1.5 cubic meters per hectare, and a conservative estimate
of wastage in transport and sawmilling of 50 percent (Moore 2007: chs. 2, 4).

the eighteenth century, but the sharp decline in timber exports was “most likely
due to the lack of mature pine timber” (Øyen et al. 2006: 322).
That Norway’s forests were thinning is hardly in question. Norwegian masts
“were described as the worst in Europe as early as 1637” (Bamford 1956: 137)—no
doubt an exaggeration (the source is English), but surely one with a kernel of truth:

[Norway] had supplied masts and timber to the Hanseats for centuries, and
more recently [c. 1550–1650] the Spanish, Dutch and English demands had
drastically reduced the available supplies. The metallurgical industries and
the enormous demands of the Norwegian lumbering industries, unrestrained
by forest legislation or effective conservation measures, did much to ruin
what remained of the forests, and to destroy the mast traffic in the last three
decades of the seventeenth century (Bamford 1956: 136–37).

By the later seventeenth century, escalating “supply problems in Norway” (Bamford

1956: 136–37) led the Dutch, and increasingly the British, to resume the long
march of the timber frontier. The Baltic timber trade quadrupled in volume
between 1661 and the 1690s. In the decade of the 1660s, 1.5 million pieces of
timber passed through the Sound. By 1689, in just a single year, 1.3 million pieces
were shipped (Unger 1959: 215). In Russia, the fur trade was quickly eclipsed by
naval stores in exchange for Dutch metalwares and munitions (Kotilaine 2003:
306). Indeed, Dutch capitalists quickly moved into coastal Russia to establish
the first sawmills (Ozveren 2000), as they had done in Norway a century earlier.
Although forest products would still be drawn from the southern Baltic, with its
epicenter at Danzig, the general movement was toward the eastern and northeastern
Baltic. Königsberg, Riga and Reval supplied 8.6 percent of sawn timber passing
through the Sound in 1641, but nearly 32 percent in the 1680s. The eastern
Baltic would in turn be displaced by Finnish timber. The eastern Baltic’s share of
the Sound trade contracted more than half by the 1720s (to 14.4 percent), and
Finland’s would rise, ballooning to nearly two-thirds by this point (Unger 1959:
215; Åström 1975; Layton 1993: 283). Dutch ships reached as far north as the

northern Dvina by 1578, ousting English competitors, and with renewed vigor in
the 1630s (Tossavainen 1994; Kotilaine 2003: 311).
But it was more than rising demand for forest products that propelled the
renewed advance. As a source of cheap timber, Norway would give way to the
Danzig and the Vistula, then to Königsberg–Memel and the Niemen, Riga and
the Dvina, and onward to Viborg and St. Petersburg (Albion 1926; Kirby 1990:
229–32; Smout, MacDonald and Watson 2005: 124–31). And this movement had
everything to do with the eminently modern political ecology of the situation.
Wojciech Szcygielski sees a century-long advance into Danzig’s sylvan hinterland
after 1550, strongly connected to the extraction of masts, naval stores, potash, and
other forest products (1967). Fraiture (2009), examining Flemish panel paintings
using Baltic wood, reports that the widest planks (over 30 cm), were 14 percent of
the total in 1500. Just a century later, they had entirely “disappeared.” Meanwhile, the
thinnest planks had risen from 35 to 92 percent of the total, indicating a situation
of rising difficulty “in procurement and an increasing concern for economizing the
raw material” (Fraiture 2009: 106, 110).
Between 1610 and 1640, Danzig’s exports of ash and “finished planks” declined
85 percent, falling to almost nothing by the 1650s (Unger 1959). In part, the
steep decline was driven by war with Sweden (1655–60). But the export sectors
were ultimately more responsible. David Kirby puts it bluntly: “[T]he exhaustion
of timber supplies in the Vistula hinterland persuaded traders to look eastward
for the potash, boards, deals, pitch and tar” (1990: 230). The geography of New
World bullion exports from northwestern Europe to the Baltic mirrored (and
reinforced) the commodity frontier. Just as Danzig’s bullion imports were drying
up, in the 1650s, we find Königsberg enjoying a 30 to 40 percent export surplus,
made good by massive bullion inflows (North 1989: 61–62).
Danzig’s decline was Riga’s gain. The proportion of ships sailing from Danzig
through the Sound declined by half between 1610 and 1690 (Kirby 1990: 230–31).
Ninety-six vessels set anchor in Riga’s harbor in the first decade of the seventeenth
century; by the 1650s, there were 263 ships, nearly 85 percent carrying the Dutch

flag (Zoutis 1960: 82). Riga was by this point a bigger port than Stockholm,
accessing the Dvina’s vast hinterland (Stoye 1969: 151).2
If, by the 1690s, Riga had emerged as Danzig’s chief rival in the Baltic, the timber
frontier would roll onward well into the nineteenth century. By the 1880s around
Königsberg, timber supplies from its 27,000 square miles of once thickly forested
terrain were “becoming scarce and dear. The distance to haul [was] increasing”
(Brown 1884: 247). This movement was driven by the very intersection of endless
accumulation and rising material throughput that lay behind the expansion of
the silver commodity frontier to the New World. The Baltic timber trade, R. G.
Albion reminds us,

was not a matter which affected Danzig, Riga, Longsound, and other timber
ports alone. Extending even into Bohemia, Galicia, and the Ukraine, it afforded
employment to men living hundreds of miles in the interior. . . . [As] the
old sources of supply grew inadequate [because of overcutting, it] became
necessary to go farther and farther up the rivers and deeper into the woods away
from the rivers in order to find suitable trees, which naturally increased the price
of timber. . . . Even the rivers grew shallower as a result (1926: 143, 145,
second emphasis added).

The shipbuilding timber frontier enclosed space out of all proportion to its
quantitative demand for timber. Even in the late eighteenth century, shipbuilding
timber made for perhaps 1 percent of European consumption (Warde 2006: 40–41).
The sector’s demands were disproportionate because shipbuilding timber was
highly selective and dependent upon slow-growing trees such as oak. “Shipbuilders,
because they needed grand and ‘outsized’ trees, overwhelmingly oak, vociferously
feared scarcity. This was in part because the curved ‘compass timbers’ required

2.  The West Dvina River as the Dvina—not to be confused with the North Dvina, which
finds its outlet to the White Sea at Archangel.

for ships’ parts were not generally found conveniently amassed” (Warde 2006:
40–41). Most shipbuilding timber was simply out of reach. High transport costs
precluded moving timber more than a few kilometers. Just how far this timber
could be hauled overland is uncertain. Thirty kilometers may be regarded as a
theoretical maximum, with some allowance for sledding in winter (Albion 1926:
145; Moore 2007).
Nor was timber the only vector of exploitation pressing upon the Baltic’s
forests. A wealth of forest products also flowed from eastern Europe into Dutch
and English manufacturing centers. Wherever commodification reached a critical
mass in European forests, competition and class conflict ensured a “battle for
wood” (Westermann 1996), sometimes between different commodity producers,
other times between peasants and the commodity system. In the Baltic, pressure
on the forests was amplified not only by the contest between timber extraction and
agricultural clearing, but also by two other activities: (1) tar- and pitch-making,
essential to protecting ships from water damage; and (2) potash production, crucial
for gunpowder and bleaching fabrics. Both were devastating. They were perhaps the
only activities in the European world-economy—aside from agricultural clearing
pure and simple—that came close to realizing total deforestation. Deploying the
same power of ready cash that we saw in Norway, by the later sixteenth century,

Dutch merchants encouraged Baltic peasants to distil . . . tar for

export. . . . Peasants scorched the base of trees to kill them, allowed the sap
to trickle down into the lower trunk for a couple of years, then felled the
tree and heated the wood . . . to extract the sap. . . . Forest-clearing was
an intrinsic aspect of the tar trade, and Dutch merchants encouraged Baltic
peasants to convert from a traditional forest economy to agriculture based
on wheat and flax for export [using tar-extraction as a necessary intermediate
step]. . . . Large areas of Prussia, then southern Sweden and finally Finland
were gradually cleared and converted in this manner, creating a boom in cheap
tar, wheat, and linseed oil that peaked in the seventeenth century. With their
formula of clear-cutting and “total tar” distilling, Dutch merchants were able

to sell tar at prices well below those of the sustainable pitch trade. Their
success earned them the admiration and enmity of England and France
(Loewen 2005: 239–40).

Amongst the consequences of this admiration and enmity was the advance of tar-
making to Canada at the end of the seventeenth century (Loewen 2005: 239–40).
This battle for wood was also joined by potash. Potash production was no simple
expression of merchant capitalism, of buying cheap and selling dear. Potash was
so profitable because it was central to the high value-added strategy of Dutch
capitalism: “Where did the biggest profit margins lie in textile manufactures? Not
in spinning or weaving or growing wool but in the refined technology of dyeing
and dressing the cloth which provided the key to the control of the markets”
(Wilson 1968: 31).
Like shipbuilding timber, potash relied on oak stands, and it was more profitable.
Around 1650, Tossavainen explains, the “middleman in a loading port” enjoyed
a 40 to 90 percent profit in the potash trade, but only 16 percent in trading
clapboard, “the most important . . . type of timber”:

The subcontractors and landowners did not care about the future of the
forests. They felled large areas totally empty of hard wood such as oak and
beech, best suited for potash production. When the forest was cleared, the
subcontractor simply made an agreement with another landowner who still
had suitable types of timber. This was especially disastrous to the oak, because
it takes decades before oak is big enough to be used for wainscot. . . . The
short-sighted clear-cutting of forests together with the internal and external
factors already mentioned were enough to cause a disaster in Danzig’s timber
trade (1994: 73–74).

The toll on the forests registered in Danzig’s potash exports through the Sound,
which collapsed after 1625. Rising twentyfold between 1600 and 1625 (to nearly
11,000 shippounds), and peaking in the 1630s at nearly 20,000 shippounds

annually, Danzig’s potash exports would not again reach even as high as 3,900
shippounds for another century (North 1996, 2: 11–13). Sweden would pick up
the slack, but again, the Swedish moment of this globalizing potash frontier would
not endure for more than a half-century (c. 1675–1725), to be displaced in turn
by St. Petersburg (North 1996, 2: 12–13).
Such was the deforestation around Danzig—“the unreasoning greed of man
[had] destroyed these trees”—that sand dunes invaded (Brown 1884: 96–97).3 By
the early eighteenth century, the dunes not only consumed nearby “meadows and
fields, . . . [but had] completely buried” two nearby villages (Brown 1884: 96–97).
A century later, the problem had become so advanced that only state intervention
averted its “growing danger  .  .  .  [to the] commerce of Danzig” (Brown 1884: 120–21).

Baltic Grain, Cheap Food, and Dutch Capitalism

In the long seventeenth century of Dutch hegemony, Poland became a vast

monocultural zone—or, more to the point, an ensemble of monocultures with grain
as king. The two frontiers, grain and timber, “degraded the forests of the Vistula
basin and more generally those of southern and central Poland” (Richards 1990: 169;
also Malowist 1960). There was, as Szcygielski puts it, a movement of “exhaustive
cultivation” in full flower by the later sixteenth century (1967: 97). By this point,
cereals made for 70 percent of exports; by the early decades of the seventeenth
century, 80 percent (Bogucka 1978: 14). No wonder that Glamann (1974: 459) sees
in sixteenth century Poland the “lopsided development of agriculture and forestry
under the massive pressure of western demand”! It was a lopsided development
enabled by the commodity frontier. As zones of early exploitation were exhausted,
new frontiers came online to make good the shortfalls—an old pattern perhaps,

3.  And not for the first time. During the Thirty Years War, “the Swedes, who needed money,
cut down vast areas of forest in Pomerania with the result that many regions were afterwards
invaded by sand-dunes” (Braudel 1981: 365).

but one that now moved in decades rather than centuries. A quantity–quality shift,
to be sure! By the early seventeenth century, “even very distant regions, five or
six hundred kilometers from the Vistula estuary and Danzig,” were shipping out
grain and timber (Maçzak 1970: 125; Wazny 2002).
The rise of this Baltic granary is, of course, the topic of one of the more
intriguing debates within Marxist historiography (e.g., Wallerstein 1974; Brenner
1977). I want to ask the reader to join with me in bracketing, for the moment,
the thorny debate over the relative primacy of what is clearly the persistently
seigneurial character of east Elbian agriculture and what is, equally clearly, the
decisive role of east Elbian agricultural surpluses in the rise of the Dutch and the
making of the Global North Atlantic. My question may be put squarely. Did the
geographical movement of agricultural expansion and forest clearance in Poland, and
the extended Baltic, crystallize a new world-historical pattern, what I am calling
the commodity frontier? Or did it resemble more closely the medieval pattern of
colonial settlement and gradual forest clearance?
Poland was to the Dutch what Ireland would later become for the English: “an
agricultural district . . . which happens to be divided by a wide stretch of water”
(Marx 1976: 860). But if the political economy of the town–country antagonism
seems rather straightforward, a big question still persists. Was there a significant
political ecology of this uneven development in the long sixteenth century? Some
precious clues suggest an affirmative answer. Poland’s emergence as a vast agro-
export zone compelled an equally vast movement of forest clearance. The timing
of large-scale grain exports from the Baltic to the northern Netherlands, and the
large-scale transformation of Baltic forest into arable land after 1550, was tightly
connected. Williams and Richards suggest that 500 to 700 thousand hectares of
forests were sacrificed to feed northwestern Europe and the Mediterranean in the
early modern era (Richards 1990: 169, 177; Williams 2003: 176). Just how much
of this was concentrated in Poland remains unclear, but given the export data,
two-thirds appears to be an absolute minimum.
The road to core capitalism in the modern world has always been paved with
cheap food. And cheap food issues not only from rising labor productivity in

agriculture but also from the global extension of agrarian spaces. The geography of
town and country is central. The rapid urbanization of the northern Netherlands—
the number of city dwellers nearly tripling in the sixteenth century—occurred at
the same time as the rapid agrarianization of Poland. The two movements were
strongly related. In Poland, the number of people living in cities fell by almost
one-third over the seventeenth century, even as aggregate population increased 20
percent. Among other major European countries, only Spain suffered a meaningful
drop in urban population, and this by just 5 percent (calculated from Allen
2000: 8–9). The ecological moment of this double reconfiguration of town and
country is easily missed but simply stated. First, given low labor productivity in
agriculture, a relatively decreasing urban population and a relatively increasing
rural population meant a larger potential food surplus for export. All things being
equal, fewer people living in Polish cities meant that more people could live in
Dutch cities. And there is evidence that peasant diets were also squeezed by 1650,
extending still further the food surplus available to the Dutch, and the degradation
of human nature within Poland that it implied (Topolski 1962). Second, cities
consumed forest products at a ferocious pace—above all, timber for construction
and charcoal for manufacturing. The same town–country relation that shaped the
allocation of the food surplus therefore also determined the distribution of energy
and timber surpluses. Less for the Poles meant more for the Dutch. This is one
key to unraveling Wyrobisz’s “paradox,” through which early modern Poland was
Europe’s strategic timber and forest products exporter “while simultaneously  .  .  .  her
own industry felt the lack of this raw material” (Wyrobisz 1985: 38).
The dramatic expansion of Baltic cereal exports became evident in the 1550s,
when the trade reached four times the volume of a half-century earlier (Malowist
1959; van Tielhof 2002: 43). Over the following century, between 1550 and 1650,
113,000 ships carried 6.5 million tons of grain through the Danish Sound (Wilson
1976: 20). About half these shipments originated in Poland. And 60 percent of
these were carried in Dutch bottoms until the mid-seventeenth century (Glamann
1974: 461; Bogucka 1978: 14).
Poland, in this instance, signifies an expansive region shaped by the Vistula,
which contained “a larger volume of water than [today], since the water-table

was higher, thanks to the extensive forests. . . . The supplying districts associated
with the Vistula trade were thus substantially bigger than the ‘hinterland’ drained
by that river alone—which is itself bigger than that of the Rhine” (Glamann 1974:
458, emphasis added).
Like contemporary Brazil’s sugar plantations, Poland’s manorial cultivation
rapidly mined the soil, and therefore represented a disproportionate share of
this deforestation, as exhaustion compelled the creation of arable land from the
forest. Just how big a share is impossible to know with any precision. Assigning
responsibility between the peasant and manorial sectors is probably less important
than identifying the emergent relations between the two. The unstable and uneven
articulation of what Parker (1979: 326) calls “feudal capitalism” in the East, and
“bourgeois capitalism” in the West, was one pillar of an epochal shift in the scale
and speed of forest clearance. The uneven and unstable articulations of these
capitalisms with the peasant economy was another. We are dealing with layers
within layers. Kula (1976: 114) puts forest clearance between 1550 and 1750
at 3,310 km2 in Great Poland, the expansive western zone centered on Poznań.
Richards (1990) estimates 500,000 hectares for the extended Vistula. Was it
possibly even higher? North believes that 3.5 million m3 of wood were consumed
every year during the 1630s, just for potash exports (1996, 2: 9). Assuming very
high forest productivity and highly efficient extraction, say 200 m3 per hectare,
this level of potash production would have consumed 175,000 hectares in this one
decade alone—more than one-third of Richards’ estimate for the two centuries after
1550.4 This was a rate of deforestation unknown in human history, except for the
deforestation ongoing at the very same time (1550–1750) in northeastern Brazil
(Dean 1995; Moore 2007: ch. 6).5

4.  For an extended discussion of forest productivity and harvesting, see Moore (2007: ch. 2).
5.  The furious pace of deforestation explains the reduction in biodiversity in early modern
Poland and Lithuania: “The originally most important tree species of the forest—the yew-
tree—as well as species of wild animal like aurochs and wild horse, disappeared” (Dunin-
Wasowiczowa 1993: 178).

How much grain was flowing from the Vistula breadbasket? Richards figures
an annual average of 60,000 tons of cereal passing through the Sound during the
sixteenth century. Periodization is crucial here. Braudel’s (1953) “second” sixteenth
century (c. 1557–1648) is probably the more useful temporal unit. Malowist (1958)
reports 10,000 lasts—one last amounting roughly to two tons—exported annually
from the Baltic to western Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, and then
a significant jump to 40,000 lasts by the 1540s. Shipments rose to 100,000 tons
by the late 1590s, and to 120,000 tons annually by 1618 (van Tielhof 2002: 43).
There were, of course, tremendous oscillations of the trade, driven by climate and
war, but Richards’ estimate for cereal’s share of the deforestation appears sound.
My guess is that aggregate deforestation was at least twice as great over the period
1550–1650, as much as one million hectares.
The fate of the forest and the fate of the soil were therefore dialectically
bound. Perhaps Poland’s respectable yields in the 1550s—just barely above the
European average—owed something to reclaiming arable land from the forests. If
so, this would explain at least part of the subsequent downward revision of yield
ratios, evident even before cereal prices declined in the early seventeenth century.
For Szcygielski (1967) the two movements, forest clearance and declining yield
ratios, were closely linked. There were, he points out, two principal strategies
for sustaining a grain surplus, even in the face of a middle-run tendency toward
soil exhaustion. One could sustain output “by deviating from the fundamental
principles of rotation in tilling the soil” (Szcygielski 1967: 97, 94). The second
strategy was necessitated by the first. Exhausted land was abandoned, and new
arable land carved from the forest. Soil exhaustion and deforestation were two
sides of the same coin.
It is quite certain that this double movement cannot be explained solely in
terms of the extension of the modern world market. By the same token, we
can be equally confident that the expansionary cycle of forest clearance and soil
exhaustion was not the unmediated outcome of a peasant–seigneurial cycle, as in
the long medieval expansion (Seccombe 1992). For one thing, neither seigneurial
nor peasant production was capable of moving so fast. World market forces were

strong, but not that strong; seigneurial and peasant production was expansionary,
but not that expansionary. It was, rather, a situation in which the two forces
combined in unstable and dynamic tension, preserving in crucial respects a set
of precapitalist arrangements, even as these latter were entrained within—and
recast by—the gravitational pull of Dutch-led capitalism. It was a combination,
in other words, that amounted to more than the sum of its peasant, seigneurial,
and Smithian parts. Poland’s cereal exports crested sometime between 1600 and
1625, declining by one-quarter on the eve of Swedish invasion in 1655 (Parker
1979: 39). Poland had sustained a strong demographic expansion in the sixteenth
century, which meant an expansion of the peasant economy (McEvedy and Jones
1978: 73–77). This accounts for one moment of the drive into the forest. The
threefold expansion in cereal exports between 1540 and the early seventeenth
century constituted another, linked but relatively autonomous, driver.
What emerged along the Vistula was the pattern of commodity frontier
development that we see unfolding across early capitalism. Poland in the later
sixteenth century remained, as it had been for medieval Europe, an open frontier,
for the peasant economy and market-oriented seigneurs alike. During this half-
century, “there still seems to have been enough  .  .  .  virgin land to satisfy seigneurial
ambitions for demesne expansion, so that land held by peasants was only occasionally
absorbed” (Blum 1957: 829). After 1600, however, the seigneurs moved strongly
against the peasantry, with the result that “an ever increasing number of peasant
holdings were reduced to cottars, left without any land at all, or had the size of
their holdings much reduced” (Blum 1957: 829).
Whether or not this amounts to a market-driven “second serfdom” is another
question. Is it possible that the seigneurial offensive of the late sixteenth century
expressed not only a Smithian response to favorable markets, but also a response
to the soil exhaustion issuing from a half-century of booming cereal exports?
Were yields sustained through frontier movements and seigneurial appropriations,
such that the relative exhaustion of land and labor was connected to intensifying
seigneurial exactions? In this period, “the nobles began to limit the area of their
peasants’ cultivation,” and thereby to enlarge manorial cultivation. But this was only

one moment of the seigneurial offensive; it was paired with expansion “towards
the east” (Malowist 1959: 186). And frontier expansion meant forest clearance.
The point I wish to underline is that the drive toward the “expropriation of
peasant holdings” and the drive into the forest were systematically combined in
Braudel’s second sixteenth century. They were movements of a singular socio-
ecological process expressive of the commodity frontier. While the socio-spatial
moment is crucial, so is the matter of timing. For the cereal and timber commodity
frontiers (or was it perhaps a singular frontier?) produced not only space but time.
We see, once again, a 50- to 75-year cycle of expansion and ascent, followed by
decline—an especially dramatic decline in the case of seventeenth century Poland.
It is therefore not terrifically surprising that we see an agro-ecological crisis
within Polish cereal zones by the mid-seventeenth century. Van Tielhof identifies
soil exhaustion as a serious problem from the 1660s (2002: 54), at which point
Szcygielski begins to speak of a “catastrophic” decline of agricultural productivity
(1967: 86). Moreover, the ramping up of corvée labor by the market-oriented
nobility deprived poor peasants of animals, thereby undermining a key source of soil
fertility (Wallerstein 1980: 132). That yields were declining is widely agreed, from
5:1 in the mid-sixteenth century to 3:1 (or lower) in the later seventeenth century
(Topolski 1962; DuPlessis 1997: 82). As if that were not bad enough, widespread
deforestation led to mounting soil erosion problems as early as the seventeenth
century—erosion representing a quantum leap in nutrient loss relative to more
depletion. These problems were surely intensified by the cold, wet winters of the
Little Ice Age (Wyrobisz 1985: 38; Dunin-Wasowiczowa 1993: 178; Klimowicz
and Uziak 2001).
Was this crisis the outcome of the market orientation of Polish agriculture?
Or was it, alternatively, the resurgence of a seigneurial–agrarian dynamic? The
late seventeenth century was an era of “severe agricultural depression” across the
Continent, which in certain respects replayed the crisis of the long fourteenth
century (Abel 1980: 182; Seccombe 1992). The question is one of relative causal
weight. Abel provides one clue. For him, the depression was “less pronounced”

in Scandinavia “because subsistence agriculture still played a larger part in the
management of farms and estates than in the neighboring countries  .  .  .  [above all]
east Germany and Poland” (1980: 178–79). The comparative strength of peasant
production insulated some regions from the downturn. This was the diametric
opposite of the logic of the fourteenth century’s crisis. Danzig’s grain exports fell
some 90 percent between the late sixteenth century and the early eighteenth.
It was, then, not the weakness, but the strength, of capitalist advance in Poland
that drove the crisis. It was a crisis that resulted from more than a century of
capitalist restructuring—even, and indeed especially, as it preserved and reproduced
on new terrain an ensemble of arrangements predating the rise of capitalism. The
commodity frontier strategy effected, in the same breath, the creative destruction
and the preservation of extant socio-ecological arrangements: “the expansion of
capitalism not only absorbed pre-capitalist economic systems; it created them”
(Fox-Genovese and Genovese 1983: 59, emphasis added).
Poland was, by the late seventeenth century, undercut decisively by English
grain. England shipped out “more [grain] than all Baltic exporters combined”
between 1700 and 1760 (de Vries 1976: 81). Surely we can explain this in terms
of rising English agricultural productivity and the capitalist relations that enabled
it (Brenner 1977). But was not this higher productivity achieved in part by what
Mark Overton (1996: 117) describes as the “cashing in on reserves of nitrogen
under permanent pasture for short-term gain,” productivity gains that would turn
to stagnation after 1750 (Allen 2004: 409)? And was not Danzig also undercut
from the other direction by “a shift towards the eastern Baltic” in the grain trade by
the eighteenth century (Glamann 1974: 462), that is, towards frontiers defined by
the very low commodification of nature? This latter commodity frontier movement
would in turn reproduce the deforestation that characterized earlier phases of the
cereal frontier—creating, for instance, widespread deforestation in Estonia and
elsewhere in Baltic Russia toward the end of the eighteenth century (French 1983:
30–41; Veski et al. 2005: 1484). It was, Wallerstein observes, a “self-consuming
method” (1980: 133).

One, Two, Many Americas? The Commodity Frontier in the
Rise of the Capitalist World-Ecology

Wallerstein’s turn of phrase—a “self-consuming method”—is more suggestive

than it may initially appear. The decisive ecohistorical innovation of capitalism
was its capacity to escape the “self-consuming method” of tributary formations.
For medieval Europe, this self-consuming method led to an erosion of the socio-
ecological regime that sustained the agricultural surplus, and which led in short
order to the collapse of feudalism (Moore 2003b). By the early modern era,
Europe’s capitalist and territorialist agencies had turned strength to weakness. A
self-consuming method became a self-propelling method, as the rapid exploitation
and ensuing exhaustion of regional ecological formations expanded capitalism’s
“ecological surplus,” providing a way to mobilize, with minimal expense, nature’s
free gifts in the form of cheap food, energy, and raw materials. It was a powerful
strategy, then as now (Moore 2010c), for counteracting the tendency toward
declining profitability in the metropoles.
Strategic elements of this ecological surplus were not only to be found within
Europe, but were the precondition for early capitalism’s audacious global conquests
that culminated in the world ecological revolution of the long seventeenth century.
Norwegian forests and Polish wheat fields were every bit as decisive as the silver
mines of Potosí and the cane fields of Bahía. By 1750, there had emerged a vast,
integrated capitalist world-ecology that stretched from the Ural Mountains in Russia,
to the Great Lakes in North America, from the North Atlantic cod fisheries to
the African slaving port of Luanda. While no one would deny the distinctiveness
of Old and New World political ecologies over the longue durée, the analysis
suggests a common—if uneven—historical geography shared by the North and
South Atlantics. Commodity frontiers moved forward, boomed, went bust, and
relocated toward the frontier, in a remarkably consistent cycle of 50 to 75 years.
This was true of the commodity frontiers we have surveyed, and of many others
beyond. Potosí’s moment of global pre-eminence (c. 1570–1620), replayed on an
extended scale Central Europe’s metallurgical boom of the first sixteenth century (c.

1450–1520). Was this not remarkably similar to the middle-run pre-eminence of
Norwegian timber between 1580 and 1650, succeeded by a series of Baltic timber
frontiers whose exports through the Sound quadrupled between 1660 and 1700?
And to the highpoint of Poland’s agro-forestry complex (c. 1550–1625), displaced
by England’s agricultural revolution and by lush timber frontiers in the eastern
Baltic and Finland in the long eighteenth century? And also to the golden age of
Swedish iron, which, like Brazilian and Caribbean sugar planting, was not one
but several frontiers—a second great iron frontier opening in 1650 after the initial
boom that commenced in the 1570’s? To the zenith of the Dutch whaling frontier
(c. 1660–1720) (Richards 2003: 600)? And in the South Atlantic, to the sugar
commodity frontier in its successive movements across the Atlantic, from Madeira
(c. 1470–1520), to São Tomé (c. 1530–1580), to Pernambuco (c. 1570–1630s)
and Bahía (c. 1620s–1670s) in Brazil, and thence towards the Caribbean by the
mid-seventeenth century?
The implication is that there was indeed a political ecology of underdevelopment
for the North Atlantic as well as for the New World, one that reinforced and
sustained the political economy of uneven development on a world-scale. All of this
suggests that these commodity frontiers were increasingly occupying and producing
the same “place” of the capitalist world-ecology, even as this place was quite evidently
transformed by distinctive socio-ecological conditions and specific regional contexts.
The patterns of boom and bust were still loosely, and yet increasingly, articulated
through the circuits of capital, and the machinery of empire.
What kind of capitalism was this? There is a strong current in Marxist thought
(and not only Marxist thought) that views early capitalism as little more than a
proving ground for the “real” capitalism that emerged in the nineteenth century
(e.g., Wolf 1982; Fox-Genovese and Genovese 1983). The conventional wisdom
locates the origins of today’s ecological crisis in the English Industrial Revolution of
the long nineteenth century. But once we take a closer look at the environmental
history of the period 1450 to 1750, a different picture emerges. Early capitalism
was indeed real capitalism. The environmental history of Europe, and of the
Americas, in these centuries indicates a profound rupture with medieval political

ecologies. Early capitalism’s ecological regime was one premised on a highly
effective combination of military conquest, the vigorous geographical extension
of commodity production directly (as in the plantation system) and indirectly
(as in Poland’s agro-export expansion), the creation of financial structures that
radically accelerated turnover time and sustained economic interdependence on
a globalizing basis, and the maximization of technological development oriented
towards geographical expansion.
The centuries after 1450 witnessed the emergence of capitalism’s holy trinity,
as the endless accumulation of capital, the endless conquest of nature, and the
commodification of everything were systematically (albeit unevenly) combined. The
very rapidity of the commodity revolutions that ensued—enabled by a remarkable series
of innovations in productive techniques, from shipbuilding to mining and metallurgy
to printing and sugar processing—radically reshaped nature–society relations in one
region after another. The serial character of these revolutions was paramount, and
one that found no precedent in world history. Driven by the competition of states
and firms for access to the riches of commodity production, the era’s commodity-
centered revolutions generated unceasing demands upon biophysical nature, not only
more and more, but faster and faster. As these human and biophysical natures were
successively exhausted, given the extant socio-technical organization of production,
greenfields were sought out, and the commodity form globalized.

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The Semiproletarian Household over the
Longue Durée of the Modern World-System*

Wilma A. Dunaway

Only from below—at the bottom—can the whole be seen as a whole.

—Smith et al. 1984: 146

W hat has capitalism “to do with the humble lives at the bottom of the
ladder?” queried Fernand Braudel (1973: 445, 28–29). “Everything,” he
responded, because capitalism “incorporates them in its game.” Braudel contended
that history is “a succession of landscapes” consisting of two major levels of human
existence: the realm of major historical events and “the ground floor and the first
story” that lies in “images of daily life” (1981, 1: 559, 29). He argued that the
task of the historian is to reveal the dialectical interplay between the upper and
lower levels (1979: 28–29, 16). But he complained that the lower level is too
often ignored, so that everyday life has been “the great absentee in history.” He
contended that we cannot understand the most complex layer of history—the
economy—unless we investigate how the ethnographic details of people’s everyday
lives are intertwined with it. While he envisioned the economy to be frequently

*I would like to thank Donald Clelland for his conceptual challenges, his bibliographic
recommendations, and his critical review of earlier drafts of this paper.

innovative, he maintained that everyday life was an enormous layer of “stagnant
history” in which the deprivation of the living conditions of the poor altered in
such tiny increments as to seem unchanging. According to Braudel, “the large scale
inertia of the poor” has typified the longue durée of capitalism, and their past is
a history that repeats itself and works itself in cycles which are endlessly renewed
(1981, 1: 318; 1980: 3, 31, 33).1
Rather than searching for dramatic or sudden historical changes, Braudel insists
that we should “seek to unveil subtle, often invisible, continuities between present
and past” that occur over a century or longer. If we analyze the longue durée of
capitalist history, he is convinced we will discover that “centuries have something
in common” because there is a “certain ‘horizonality’ of time over a long period.”
He argues that some structures of capitalism, “become stable elements for an
infinite number of generations: they get in the way of history, hinder its flow, and
in hindering it shape it.” Such structures persist even when “a thousand reversals
and ruptures totally alter the face of the world” (1980: 172). Since the sixteenth
century, the semiproletarian household has been such a resilient structure. I am
convinced that we cannot capture the history of the capitalist world-system unless
we make visible the operations of this fragile institution which has always nurtured
the vast majority of the world’s population. Because they stretch backward and
forward over several generations that span a century or longer (Dickinson 1995: 19),
these households exhibit a stunning degree of similarity across time. In addition,
consistent patterns can be discerned across very different cultures and societies.

“Historical Stagnation”:
Living Conditions of Semiproletarian Households

Let me pinpoint two graphic indicators of Braudel’s “historical inertia” (1981, 1:

33). The dirt floor and lack of public sanitation typified the homes of a majority

1. For the purpose of this study, I am referring to the entire history of the modern world-
system as its longue durée.

of Europeans and Asians over the first 300 years of capitalism. Throughout the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the dirt floor continued to transmit parasites,
disabling molds, and damp cold to poor Europeans, Asians, and Americans. In
colonized areas, poor white settlers, slaves, and indigenous peoples could claim
common ground through their similar dirt floors in one-room rustic shelters
(Dunaway 2008: 196–99). As during the first century of capitalism, households of
the fourth century of the modern world-system were at risk from grossly inadequate
sanitation methods that caused repeated epidemics of infectious diseases (Snowden
1995; Dunaway 2003). Throughout today’s world, a majority of households
continue to watch their young children crawl, learn to walk, and become ill on
dirt floors, a high percentage of them serving as the foundations for slum shacks
or overcrowded rural huts that are situated in communities without safe drinking
water or spatial separation from livestock (UN-HABITAT 2003). Parallel to the
sixteenth century, less than half the current population of poor countries has
adequate sanitation (UNICEF 2007: 24).
I will investigate three broad topics to assess the degree to which semiproletarian
households have exhibited “the shared characteristics over generations” that Braudel
predicted (1981, 1: 33; 1980: 172). First, I will explore the dialectical shaping of these
households by the contradictory processes of proletarianization and housewifization.
Second, I will describe the mechanisms through which capitalists extract surpluses
from and externalize costs to these households. Third, I will examine the inequitable
internal dynamics through which these households struggle to survive.
Even though a small percentage of semiproletarians have always existed in richer
countries, I will focus on households in poor countries where a majority of these
workers are concentrated. For historical details and contemporary comparisons,
I have drawn upon 289 case studies that span a diverse array of societies and
cultures. World-systems analysts have been studying the semiproletarian household
and sexism more than forty years (Arrighi 1967; Wallerstein and Martin 1979;
Wallerstein 1983).2 As its beginning points, this research is informed by those early

2. Lenin (1899) and Mao (1926) provide the earliest analyses of the semiproletariat that I have
been able to locate.

analyses and by the published works of faculty and graduate students who were
active in the 1980s in the Fernand Braudel Center Research Working Group on
Households, Labor Force Formation and the World-Economy.3 However, I seek to
revise and to extend these earlier conceptualizations in several ways.

The Siamese Twins of Capitalism:

Proletarianization and Housewifization

There is widespread consensus among international development agencies (United

Nations 1999), among radical feminists (e.g., von Werlhof 1984), and among
world-systems analysts (e.g, Smith et al. 1984: 131–47) that the vast majority
of the world’s workers have never been fully proletarianized. The mainstream
view is that the world’s nonwaged workers are “redundant people” who are too
flawed to be successful in a capitalist system (Smith et al. 1984: 145). In contrast,
Immanuel Wallerstein contends that there are so many nonwaged workers in the
world because proletarianization leads to reduced profit levels in the capitalist
world-economy (1983: 23, 36, 91). Consequently, the “partiality of wage labor”
is an historical hallmark of the modern world-system (McGuire et al. 1986), and
“households whose incomes are based entirely upon remuneration through the
wage mechanism have never been fully developed” (Stauth 1983: 289). Simply
put, complete proletarianization is too costly for capitalists because full integration
of all workers into waged work “puts the onus on capital to reproduce its labor
force” (Broad 1991: 566). In fact, new processes of nonwaged labor have been
created far more rapidly and consistently than workers have been integrated into
waged labor (Hopkins and Wallerstein 1987: 773).

3. For this early conceptual background, see Review 3 (2); 5 (3); 7 (2); Smith et al. (1984) and
Smith and Wallerstein (1992).

Capitalist Goal: The Semiproletarian Household

Indeed, capitalists have always promoted the continued existence of the

semiproletarian households that makes possible “the lowest possible wage”
(Wallerstein 1983: 91) and the exploitation of “producers who work without
wages” (von Werlhof 1985: 15). Since the sixteenth century (Smith 1989), the
wage has covered only part of the cost of provisioning and reproducing the labor
force (Dickinson 1995). Consequently, workers have been forced to depend
upon nonwaged income and resources (Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 254, 262).
According to Claudia von Werlhof, “these non-waged labor forms are the product
of constraints specific to the capitalist world-economy. . . . [T]hese informally
organized relations are not some survival from a precapitalist past nor are they
just a method of subordinating women. . . . Non-waged labor is, in terms of the
modern world-system, no less ‘capitalist’ than the labor in the most advanced
robotized plant” (1983: 321). On the one hand, capitalism has always needed
“small producers whose labor power is not being ‘utilised fully’ and who are
available as cheap laborers” (von Werlhof 1983: 338). On the other hand, wage
workers “are only marginally or partially proletarianized as, over their life cycle,
they derive the bulk of the means of subsistence for their families from outside
the wage economy” (Arrighi and Saul 1968: 149).

The Counter-Process of Housewifization

At the same time that capitalism tends toward proletarianization, the system offsets
that creation of waged laborers through the process of housewifization. Because
invisible household labor is a structural necessity of capitalism, housewifization is
that process through which capitalists obscure the economic value of nonwaged
and nonmonetary contributions to capital accumulation (von Werlhof 1983:
356). In reality, the wage laborer and the housewife constitute the two poles of
a continuum of capitalist production. “Only if women remain outside the formal

sector and are socially defined as housewives can the double exploitation of their
labor go on,” argues Maria Mies (1981: 500). “The integration of women  .  .  .  into
a world-system of capital accumulation has not and will not transform them into
free wage-labourers. It is precisely this fact—their not being free wage-labourers,
but housewives—which makes capital accumulation possible.” As a result, the
parasitic relationship between wage labor and housewife production constitutes
“the basis of all capitalist relations of production” (Smith et al. 1984: 140, 266).
Little wonder, then, that proletarianization has moved slowly and impacted
only a small percentage of the world’s population. Instead, the typical capitalist
worker has been “the marginalized, housewifized, unfree labourer, most of them
women” (Mies 1986: 116). By externalizing the maintenance and reproduction
of households outside the range of capitalist costs of production (von Werlhof
1985: 19), housewifization justifies low wages and renders invisible and inequitably
remunerated a large part of world labor (Chang 1995). “Women are the optimal
labour force because they are now universally defined as ‘housewives,’ not as
workers.” Whether for household consumption or market, their work “is obscured”
and left unpaid or relegated to the informal sector where it is priced low (Mies
1986: 116). On the one hand, housewifization has been a functional requirement
of capitalism to such an extent that household-based work—not wage labor—has
been predominant in the modern world-system (Smith et al. 1984: 141). On
the other hand, housewifization is “the great ‘Other’ of the market” (Dalla Costa
and Dalla Costa 1999: 154) because capitalism lays a “veil of invisibility” over
household-based work, especially that of women (Blumberg 1979: 448). Indeed,
“the secret of all capitalist life” is that unwaged labor supplies much of the surplus
that capitalists accumulate (Dalla Costa and Dalla Costa 1999: 176).

How Do Capitalists Extract Surplus from Households?

Because of the parasitic nexus between waged labor and housewifization, the vast
majority of the world’s workers are marginalized into semiproletarian households

where capitalists can more easily exploit laborers (Dalla Costa and Dalla Costa
1999: 176). Indeed, these households are the loci of “human capital accumulation”
because they produce the future labor supply and make the necessary investments
in survival needs, education, and health that are required to sustain that labor
over its life cycle (Terleckyj 1975: 230–31).4 However, these households serve
another essential function for capitalism. They represent millions of structural
units that enable capitalists to conceal their systematic extraction of surpluses from
workers and from women. Because capitalists drain surpluses from households,
consumers never pay the full cost of any commodity. If capitalists compensated
households for all their hidden subsidies, externalized costs, and unpaid labor,
prices would be driven so high that most commodities would not be competitive
in the world-economy. At the macrostructural level, the commodity chain is
the global mechanism through which surpluses are extracted from households
(Dunaway 2001).

Hidden Household Subsidies of Capitalist Commodity Production

A commodity chain is more than a long string of spatial points at which mechanical
processes occur to generate a marketable product. Because it consists of successive
layers of unequal exchanges, a commodity chain is an interconnected network of
nodes at which laborers are directly and indirectly exploited to permit surplus
extraction. Indeed, every exchange within a commodity chain is unequal, for there
is a polarized distribution of the means of production (including natural resources)
not only between nodes but also within every single node (Dunaway 2001). As
depicted in figure 1, a commodity chain structures multiple opportunities to extract
surpluses from households through:

4. In this unusual study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (Terleckyj
1975), U.S. economists acknowledge that “human capital is self-productive” because “firms do
not pay for any of these costs.”

Production Node of a Commodity Chain

Semiproletarian Household Subsidies to

the Capitalist Production Process

Unpaid Labor Paid Paid Capitalist Costs that

To reproduce Nonwage Nonwage are Externalized to
& maintain Labor for Household Households
cheap wage Commodity & Informal
labor, Production, Sector
(including including Inputs into
their health home-based commodity
care) putting out production
To provide systems
hidden inputs

Threats to Ecological Direct Public Inequitable

Household & Costs & Household Societal Risks borne
Human Survival Risks Impacts Costs by Women
& Girls
Loss of provisioning Resource Household State
resources scarcities restructuring subsidies of
Below-subsistence Ecological Export of capitalism
wages degradation surplus Culture or
Health risks Deruralization of laborers ethnic
Deindustrialization: laborers into Household disruption
destruction of centralized work consumption Cost of
household crafts sites work ecological
Loss of provisioning Increased cleanup or
markets as imports sanitation recovery
expand locally problems, health
Instability due to risks, mortality
loss of wage jobs
during economic

Figure 1. How Capitalists 1. How
Extract Capitalists
Surpluses fromExtract Surpluses from
Semiproletarian Semiproletarian

Unpaid reproduction and maintenance of the labor force
Unpaid household labor that is contributed to the production of a
capitalist commodity
Under-paid household and informal sector outputs that are inte-
grated into commodity chains
Putting out systems
Higher node extraction of surplus that was produced by households
at a lower node.

Unpaid reproductive labor. The first level of hidden inputs into commodity
chains occurs through women’s biological ability to reproduce and to sustain new
laborers. Historically, capitalism triggered the division of the economy into visible
and invisible sectors (Mies 1986: 100–10) to capture the hidden value of unpaid
household labor. Only that which has value in the marketplace was assigned to the
formal economy while the work necessary to produce and maintain households was
redefined to be “non-work.” Labor that earned money in the capitalist workplace
or marketplace came to be defined as “productive.” Concomitantly, labor inside
the household was devalued with the myth that it generated no surplus that could
be appropriated (Seccombe 1974: 29; Wallerstein 1983: 24). Even though it is
not priced in the marketplace, housework has economic value, and its unwaged
character makes it highly profitable. The housewife’s unpaid work is “embodied in
the waged labor, and it is a direct input into production. It is not necessary for
the housewife to sell her labor to the capitalist for her labor to generate economic
surpluses. Traded first to the husband for partial subsistence, it then existed in the
husband’s labor as an element of subsistence made available to capital for free”
(Boydston 1986: 21–22). For this reason, non-proletarianized labor is essential to
capitalism, for the highest profits result when nonwaged forms of labor subsidize
the wages of proletarians (Wallerstein 1976: 279). In semiproletarian households,
wages “can be reduced below the level of household reproduction because the
household supplements this income with its other income-generating activities”
(Wallerstein 1995: 5–6).

Unpaid contributions to capitalist commodities. The second level of hidden subsidies
occurs through unpaid household labor that is contributed to home-based capitalist
commodity production. I am challenging the Western feminist (e.g., Matthaei 1982)
claim that the household and the capitalist enterprise are two separate spheres. In
that scenario, the household is supposed to be the women’s sphere of domestic
activity while the productive process is externalized into the male-dominated
capitalist realm. Woman’s work in the home is described as “a premarket form of
labor” in which the household never engages in income-earning activities that are
traded publicly. In this bifurcated typology, the household relies on the unpaid
labor of women and the paid labor of males, so this conceptualization ignores all
household labors other than unpaid labor reproduction and household maintenance.
In reality, the semiproletarian household is a locus of production in which members
simultaneously produce use-value and exchange-value (Blumberg 1979). Because of
their combined subsidization of capitalism through reproductive labors and their
unpaid market-oriented labors, households have been the “pillar of accumulation”
throughout the history of the world-system (Smith et al. 1984). For instance,
women and girls are more likely than males to be unpaid workers in family-based
enterprises or farms (United Nations 2003: 109–27). In agricultural households, for
example, women’s labor remains hidden behind that of adult males who cultivate
cash crops for export (Mies et al. 1988; Dunaway 1995). Virtually every wife and
most children are expected to contribute labor as assistants to the market-oriented
production of the husband, but that “family labor” is neither valued economically
nor acknowledged socially (Boydston 1986: 9).

Under-paid contributions to capitalist commodities. The third level of hidden

subsidies occurs when households and women receive low remuneration for their
nonwage inputs into a capitalist production process. Capitalists do not only extract
surpluses through unpaid household labor, for paid work that is household-based
is also devalued and rendered invisible. A narrow emphasis upon those waged and
nonwaged laborers who are involved directly in manufacture of the commodity can
ignore three types of hidden laborer inputs. There can be direct and indirect flows

into the production process from household provision pools, from the informal
economy, and from illegal sectors (Dunaway 2008). The informal sector provides
cheaper goods to capitalist workers, and informal goods and services are routinely
integrated into capitalist commodity chains (Portes 1983). In peripheral regions,
women and children receive below-market prices for household-based inputs into
commodity chains, including the collection of ecological resources and the retrieval
of recyclable items from the garbage (Mies 1986; Dunaway and Macabuac 2007).
Locally and globally, nonwaged household workers supply foodstuffs, raw materials,
and other inputs that provision the capitalist production process (Dunaway 1996).
Even though their household-based labor generates market commodities or informal
sector inputs into the export production process, their inputs are priced at below-
market levels (Mies 1981).

Putting out systems. The fourth level of hidden subsidies occurs when workers engage
in home-based production of goods and services that are integrated into commodity
chains. Such putting out systems have been an enduring feature of capitalism since
the sixteenth century (Braudel 1981, 2: 298–99), and “feminization is a crucial
dimension of its structural nature” (Tabak and Crichlow 2000: 66). Throughout
the longue durée of capitalism, women have completed piece-rate labor through
cottage industries and putting out systems (Littlefield and Reynolds 1990; Dunaway
1994, 2008). In poor countries, industries integrate nonwaged workers directly into
their commodity chains by employing casualized labor and other forms of home-
based contract work (Smith et al. 1984; Beneria and Roldan 1987; Ward 1990).
By employing putting out mechanisms, capitalists can revert to earlier production
forms that rely on cheap nonwaged labor and inexpensive material inputs that are
contributed by households (Portes 1983: 171). In the contemporary period, these
forms of nonwage labor are still common all over the world (Mies 1981; Nash
and Fernandez-Kelly 1983; Beneria and Roldan 1987). Through these exploitative
mechanisms, capitalists externalize much of the costs of production to households
by paying a level of remuneration that falls far below the wages paid to factory
workers. Households assume the costs for provisioning workers, for the integration

of unpaid children, for equipment, for electricity and support goods and services,
and for any public accountability associated with ecological damage. Many Asian
women “have been housewifized” (Mies 1986) to subsidize textile commodity
chains through their integration into low-paying piece-rate contracts (Mies 1981).
Despite the significance of their labor inputs into commodity chains, homeworkers
are rendered publicly invisible because they are neither counted in national statistics
nor as part of the waged labor force (Beneria and Roldan 1987).

Higher node extraction of lower node surplus. The fifth level of hidden subsidies
occurs when households and women at lower nodes of a commodity chain subsidize
households, laborers, or consumers at higher nodes. In effect, the commodity
chain structures a network in which consumer and laborer households at higher
nodes benefit from the exploitation of households at lower nodes. Through the
commodity chain that exports shrimp from the Philippines, for example, capitalists
exploit nonwaged producers in order to export food to the core working class. In
this context, the low wages, malnutrition, and degraded ecosystems of Philippine
subsistence fishing households keep the global prices of shrimp low, permitting
the distant consumer to avoid the real costs of production and to pay cheap prices
for this luxury food. While the distant fisherwife and her children go lacking in
essential protein and iron, the Japanese working-class housewife feeds her offspring
an abundance of hidden Philippine sacrifices for which she does not pay (Dunaway
and Macabuac 2007).

How Capitalists Externalize Costs to Households

In addition to these hidden semiproletarian subsidies, capitalists maximize profits

by externalizing costs of production to households and to the ecosystems that
provision them. In reality, capitalists externalize most of the real costs of commodity
production. “Externalized costs are unseen and unpaid bills that are additional
components of unequal exchange. They are part and parcel of normal capitalism,
and they are to be found at every node/link of every commodity chain” (Wallerstein

1995). Over the longue durée, households have absorbed production and distribution
costs from commodity chains at six levels (see figure 1):

Reproduction, maintenance, and health care of waged laborers

Threats to household and human survival
Household restructuring to react to capitalist changes and economic crisis
Export of surplus laborers
Household work to consume capitalist goods
Greater risks for women and girls.

Wage labor costs. At the most fundamental level, capitalism transforms women
into “the last link in a chain of exploitation, permitting by their unpaid labour
the reproduction of the work force” (Mies et al. 1988: 29). Thus, capitalism
externalizes to mothers the costs associated with the bearing and raising of
successive generations of laborers.5 Despite its dependency upon this natural female
contribution, however, capitalism has externalized child rearing outside the realm
of the economic (Sen 1980: 82). Moreover, the household is the site in which
women undertake unpaid labor for those members who are waged laborers. To
generate family survival requirements, women engage in “shadow work” outside
formal capitalist structures (von Werlhof 1985). However, the housewife does not
simply produce use-values. On the contrary, “the productivity of the housewife
is the precondition for the productivity of the (male) wage labourer.” Thus, the
housewife’s labor is “not outside of surplus value production” but is, instead, “the
basis of the process of capital accumulation” (Mies 1986: 31).

Threats to survival. The second category of externalized costs consists of threats to

household survival. Over the longue durée, capitalism has generated chronic scarcity
of resources that are needed to supply the basic survival needs of households.

5. Perhaps the most expensive externalized costs are health care-giving and medical treatment
for workers injured on capitalist jobs.

Capitalism “has always been unsustainable since it has assumed, from the start and
continues to assume, extermination and hunger for an increasingly large part of
humanity” (Dalla Costa and Dalla Costa 1999: 17). Even though capitalism cannot
grow without the profits that accrue from exploitation of the world’s households,
the modern world-system threatens their survival by concentrating the world’s assets
and resources into very few hands. Through super-exploitation of semiproletarian
labor, capitalists appropriate “so many of the fruits of the workers’ labor that
the workers cannot maintain themselves or reproduce their labor power” (Frank
1981: 87). In addition, capitalist enterprises in poor countries target a minority of
workers while “preventing the majority from entering the occupational niches that
export-oriented economic policies foster.” As a result, “workers are leaving waged
employment and self-employment at earlier moments in their lives, and they are
becoming disposable earlier and younger than in the past” (de la Rocha 2001: 92,
88). Moreover, capitalist commodity chains replace household crafts with imports
and capture a high proportion of local consumer goods for export production.
Capitalists also expropriate and degrade land and natural resources that are
essential to household provisioning. In every historical epoch, the modern world-
system has been characterized by declining biodiversity and crisis in fresh water.
Industry-generated global warming has led to rising sea levels and desertification
of the periphery. Capitalist agriculture has degraded so much of the world’s soil
that the percentage of arable land has declined to critical levels (Goldfrank et al.
1999). Since agricultural production has been increasingly integrated into world
commodity chains, food self-sufficiency has declined sharply in poor countries.
Peripheral countries now import two-thirds or more of the food needed for local
consumption, raising the prices of basic survival needs above levels that the poor
can afford (Spieldoch 2000). Throughout the longue durée of capitalism, the poor
have never received their equitable share of the world’s food (Braudel 1981, 1:
104–80). Since 1900, the proportion of hungry and malnourished people in the
world has risen, and per-capita calorie intake has steadily declined in poor countries
(Patnaik 2008).

Household boundary restructuring. The third category of externalized costs results
when households are forced to restructure their boundaries and internal dynamics
to confront capitalist changes. Over the longue durée of capitalism, the household
has repeatedly been “redefined and reshaped as part of the pulling and tugging that
constitutes accumulation on a world scale” (McGuire et al. 1986). Consequently,
household restructuring is needed to ameliorate the impacts of capitalist incorporation
of a geographical area (Wallerstein 1983: 39), to offset the effects of the widening
and deepening of capitalism in an area, or to adjust to the economic cycles of the
world-economy (Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 19–21). Even when capitalist states
have initiated policies that were intended to speed up proletarianization, the vast
majority of laborers have been marginalized from waged occupations (Arrighi 1970;
Munslow and Finch 1984: 121–47). As a result, households have repeatedly been
forced to alter their composition in reaction to growing immiseration caused by
capitalism (Korzeniewicz and Smith 1996: 133–50).

Export of surplus laborers. The fourth category of externalized costs result from
the household disruption associated with the export of surplus laborers. In every
century of the modern world-system, capitalists have destabilized households
by removing members for labor migrations (Boss 1993; Gisbert et al. 1994),
including the slave trade (Dunaway 2003). To aid employers in securing cheap
laborers, states historically removed children from semiproletarian households and
indentured them to wealthier employers (Dunaway 2008). In order to centralize
capitalist labor forces in cities, capitalists have depopulated rural areas in every
historical era, weakening their subsistence capacity (Goldfrank et al. 1999). Since
the 1970s, women’s reproductive work has been restructured internationally to
redistribute core household “care” work onto peripheral women, as evidenced by
the current transnational migration of domestic servants, the emergence of an
international baby market, and the booming international sex tourism industry
(Dalla Costa and Dalla Costa 1999). To permit migrants to be employed in
distant countries, contemporary “transnational families” (Boss 1993; Parrenas

2005) absorb the shortfalls caused by absent members. Through the “international
transfer of caregiving,” reproductive labor of migrant domestic workers is shifted
from peripheral children to middle-class women in richer countries. In turn, the
migrant women must transfer to poorer females in their home countries their child
care and unpaid household labor (Parrenas 2000).

Unpaid consumption work. The fifth category of externalized costs is unpaid

consumption work that keeps capitalist distribution costs low. Because capitalists
need to “create and maintain households of a shape and form that will create an
optimal market for wage-goods” (Wallerstein et al. 1982: 441), people become more
dependent on the market to supply their basic needs. Economist John Kenneth
Galbraith observes that “the volume and diversity of consumption increase and
therewith the number and complexity of the tasks of household management. The
distribution of time between the various tasks associated with the household  .  .  .  and
forms of consumption becomes an increasingly complex and demanding affair.
In consequence, and paradoxically, the manual role of the women becomes more
arduous” (Lloyd 1975: 112). Through the work she does to locate and purchase,
to assemble and to utilize, or to make commodities edible, the consumer-housewife
does unpaid labor “in order to lower the costs for the realization of capital” (Mies
1986: 126). As poor countries become increasingly dependent on food imports,
women must work every day to locate scarce goods at affordable prices, to transport
them home, and to prepare them for consumption. At the same time, the household
also absorbs rising prices for foods that were previously obtained through household
provisioning or informal sector activities (von Werlhof 2007). Moreover, reallocation
of household labor time toward the pursuit of capitalist commodities leads to
the decline of handicraft production, causing loss of livelihood for thousands of
households (Wallerstein and Martin 1979: 198; Dunaway 1994).

Greater risks suffered by women and girls. This represents the sixth category of
externalized costs. Because the inequalities are so stark, it is easy to be fooled into
thinking that all peripheral men, women, and children experience the same degrees
of immiseration. However, the world-system has structured “a modern form of

patriarchal relations, in which women experience a social reality very different from
their brothers in capital or labor” (Salleh 1994: 108–09). Consequently, peripheral
men and women do not experience the same degrees of exclusion and poverty. If
we are to capture the workings of the household, therefore, we must recognize that
there are two classes of people among the semiproletarians: the doubly exploited
(women) and those who are both exploited/exploiters (men). “Men are socially
enabled to compensate for their exploitation (partly/totally?),” explains von Werlhof,
“by appropriating the labor-power/sexuality and bodies of women” (1980: 40–41).
Indeed, gender differences comprise many of the worst inequalities of the world-
system. A majority of women control very little wealth; 70 percent of the world’s
illiterate adults are women, and there is an increasing trend toward feminization of
poverty all over the world (United Nations 1999). Women are disproportionately
endangered by the ecological degradation that accompanies capitalist development,
and they are the household members who must contribute the labor needed to
care for those made ill by environmental risks or resource depletion (Warren 1997:
8–9). Worldwide, resource scarcities impact women much more severely than men
(Shiva 1988: 9). Water shortages, desertification, deforestation, land degradation,
and coastal pollution are forms of resource depletion that pose special hardships
for women. Malnutrition is the most fundamental act of environmental sexism
that is inflicted by the capitalist world-system upon women and girls. Moreover,
capitalism externalizes to females the nutritional battering of children and high
child mortality rates in peripheral countries (Scheper-Hughes 1991).
Because the modern world-system has institutionalized the cultural devaluation
of the work of women and girls (Wallerstein 1983: 103), integration into capitalist
commodity chains brings destructive economic results for women. Historically and
currently, women have been targeted for the dirtiest, most back-breaking aspects
of the capitalist production process (Dunaway 1995), while higher-skilled, higher-
paying artisan jobs have been reserved for males (Dunaway 2008). In the face of
capitalist expansion, peripheral women lose artisan jobs to imports and see their
local markets subsumed by commercialized agriculture (Mies et al. 1988). Peripheral
females are entering the waged labor force faster than adult males, and this is a
trend expected to continue into the twenty-first century (United Nations 2003).

Domestic violence increases when capitalist enterprises target female workers and
exclude males (Mies 1986). To keep production costs low, capitalists are breaking
the bodies of peripheral girls and young women at an alarming rate. The world-
system is currently structuring a vast international sex industry which targets females
of all ages to be exploited (Mies 1986: 137–42). By eliminating safety equipment
and sanitary working conditions, corporations externalize to females the health
costs of industrial injuries and disabilities, work-related diseases, and the higher
incidence of birth defects and mother mortality due to exposure to chemicals and
industrial waste. Yet most of these women live in countries with grossly inadequate
medical systems (Madeley 1999).

How Do Semiproletarian Households Persist

Through Capitalist Threats?

It is tempting to romanticize households as arenas of greater nurture than can be

found in the marketplace. But it is not that simple. Households are microcosms of
the inequities of the modern world-system, so they are structures which juxtapose
market values against the conflicting basic needs of human survival (Ulshofer
1983). Consequently, two simultaneous processes unfold within households. On
the one hand, labor and other surpluses flow out to subsidize capitalist commodity
chains. On the other hand, householders need greater income as desperately as any
capitalist requires wealth accumulation. As a result, households seek remuneration
from the very system that threatens their safety and survival. Over the longue
durée, households have employed five broad mechanisms to try to survive the
immiseration caused by capitalism:

Inequitable management of scarce labor time

Inequitable management of scarce resources
Restructuring of household boundaries
Alteration of gendered labor roles
Antisystemic resistance.

Inequitable Management of Scarce Labor Time

The first household survival mechanism is management of scarce labor time. Over
the longue durée and across societies, three patterns are consistently exhibited in
the strategies through which work is allocated within households: (1) allocation of
members’ labor time and energy into a diverse portfolio of labors, (2) inequitable
allocation of work to members, and (3) self-exploitation by members.
Historically, households have woven together a creative tapestry of labors in order
to accumulate a consumption fund adequate to sustain their members (Dunaway
2008). Thus, “the production and reproduction of labor power have always been
based on a mix of wage-labor with nonvalorized domestic, rural, and artisan
labor” (Tabak and Crichlow 2000: 31). Households have always been arenas for
both reproductive work and productive income-earning labors (Dunaway 2008).
Throughout the longue durée of capitalism, householders have routinely superimposed
several types of income-generating labor upon their domestic responsibilities, and
females have played crucial roles in the household’s diverse portfolio of labors.
Currently, unpaid household labor is the principal activity of only one in four
women in poor countries, as more females become economically active (UNICEF
2007: 38–39).

Diverse labor portfolio. To varying degrees depending on its geographical location,

class, and racial status, a semiproletarian household articulates several unpaid, waged,
and nonwaged activities in a complex portfolio of labors, sometimes merging both
agricultural and nonagricultural work. Over the longue durée, households have
frequently comingled eleven categories of labor. Typically, women engage in five
types of unpaid household labor, including biological reproduction and child rearing,
household provisioning and maintenance, labor inputs into an income-earning
family enterprise or farm, inter-household networking, and/or unpaid community
service (Boydston 1986). In addition, households have historically engaged in
an array of informal sector activities, including home-based activities to generate
goods and services for local markets, informal waged labor, enterprise ownership,
and labor indenturement of household members, especially children (Schlemmer

2000: 21–47). Finally, households can simultaneously be involved in one or more
types of income-earning labor that is integrated into a capitalist commodity chain,
including waged or salaried work or home-based putting out systems.
Semiproletarian labors are far more deeply integrated into the informal sector than
into capitalist commodity chains, and women are over-represented in the informal
sectors of most countries (United Nations 2003; UNICEF 2007). The quantity
of informal sector labor has dwarfed the mass of capitalist wage labor in every
historical epoch (Tabak and Crichlow 2000: 1–19, 28). Such nonwaged activities
have continued to exist and proliferate, especially during economic downturns
(McGuire et al. 1986). In the early twenty-first century, “labor that is not directly
organized by the wage is on the increase everywhere in the world” (Smith et al.
1984: 65), so the vast majority of the world’s workers draw their income from the
informal sector (United Nations 1999). Contemporary development programs have
redefined such work to be “livelihood strategies” for underemployed households in
poor countries (Bose and Acosta-Belen 1995). Consequently, current development
policy is to encourage and to broaden these forms of semiproletarian work since
there are too few waged opportunities with capitalist enterprises (Beneria and
Roldan 1987). As a direct result of 1990’s neoliberal policies, the informal sector
has exploded in poor countries, creating “a surplus population working in unskilled,
unprotected and low-wage informal service industries and trade” (United Nations
2004: 40, 46). Indeed, the twenty-first century informal sector is creating one-
half to two-thirds of the new jobs in poor countries, and informal employment
will absorb 90 percent of new urban workers in the future (UN-HABITAT 2003;
United Nations 2004).
Households juggle an ever widening work portfolio, in order to have a security
net that provides a “hedge against failures in any one component of their survival
package” (Dunaway and Macabuac 2007: 333). Even though householders practice
“risk spreading” through diversification of livelihood strategies (Baker 1995), these
diverse forms of labor do not operate autonomously. In fact, the articulation of
different types of labor has the effect of making households vulnerable to the
loss of wages, even when that type of income comprises a minority of the total

household pool. Subsistence production is no longer independent from wages, and
people without such regular income face great difficulty in funding informal sector
activities. According to de la Rocha (2001: 91–93), self-provisioning activities and
production for household consumption are dependent on regular wages. “Petty
commodity production, domestic production of goods and services for household
consumption, and social exchange through networking are not activities that can
be taken for granted. They require money investment.”

Inequitable allocation of work. Households manage their diverse labor portfolios

through inequitable allocation of work to members. What was new under
historical capitalism was “a steady devaluation” of the work of householders and
“a corresponding valorization of waged labor” (Wallerstein 1983: 24–25). Because
households reflect these market values, waged laborers contribute less total work
toward household survival than their nonwaged peers. Consequently, women
worldwide work more hours than men (Beneria and Roldan 1987; Wilk 1987;
Waring 1988; Deere 1990).6 According to a recent UNICEF (2007: 37–38,
22–23) study, women spend six to eight times more hours at household chores
than men. In addition, girls do more of the unpaid household labor than boys.
Even when wives in poor countries provide significant income to their households,
their contributions do not afford them enough leverage to convince males to assist
with domestic work. Beneria and Roldan found that women’s capacity to maneuver
the duty component of their total workload is very limited. “In fact, women’s
bargaining capacity is reduced to deciding whether to concentrate on paid or unpaid
work. . . . They can mobilize claims to other women’s labor. In no case, however,
have women been able to significantly diminish their own contribution by having
husbands undertake a share of domestic work” (1987: 135, 146).

6. However, it is important to note that part of the inequitable workload of females is assigned
to them by other older females who are protecting the interest of their husbands or sons
(United Nations 2003).

Crisis management through self-exploitation. Households juggle diverse labor portfolios
and manage crises through self-exploitation. During crises or shortfalls in basic
needs, households have few options for broadening their resource pools (Rosas
2002). Consequently, they more deeply self-exploit by working longer hours,
sleeping less and intensifying use of family labor (Smith and Wallerstein 1992:
51–57; Rosas 2002). As one Philippine semiproletarian observed, “it is solely your
body that earns a living. If you rest, you will have nothing to eat” (Dunaway and
Macabuac 2007: 333). During crises, households most often expand their resource
pool through an intensified work load for women and girls. In addition to taking
in rent-paying boarders whom they must service, more wives and daughters enter
the labor force as wage earners or expand their cash-generating informal sector
activities (Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 33–50). In order to accommodate these
new extra-household labors, women are forced to lengthen their work days in
order to articulate their income-earning labors with conflicting household chores,
provisioning, and gathering activities (Moser 1996). While women take on the
burden of double or triple work days, males do not typically match the level of
female contributions through the same degree of self-exploitation (Moser 1996;
Rosas 2002).
Historically during crises, households have expanded their survival pools by
maximizing the economic value to be accrued from child labor. Many households
increase the number of income earners by removing children from school to earn
wages or informal sector income, to beg on the streets, or to assume the household
or provisioning labor that a newly-waged mother can no longer handle (Smith
and Wallerstein 1992: 192–94; Dickinson 1995; Young and Alderman 1997; de
la Rocha 2001; Rosas 2002). Girls are almost always the children kept out of
school to do home-based work during crises (UNICEF 2007: 41; World Bank
2001). Historically, parental indenturement of child laborers has been a common
practice in capitalist societies (Dunaway 2008). In the contemporary period, the
numbers of children trapped in the international sex tourism industry have been
fed by the willingness of parents to indenture their offspring to brothels and sex
traffickers (Dottridge 2002). Desperate households have engaged in even more

extreme forms of self-exploitation. By harvesting the body organs of the poor,
semiperipheral hospitals now cater to rich medical tourists in need of transplants
they cannot secure in a core country (Scheper-Hughes 2002).

Inequitable Management of Scarce Resources

The second household survival mechanism is inequitable management of scarce

resources through three strategies: (1) unequal member contributions to household
survival pools, (2) inequitable distribution, and (3) power struggles. Because
capitalism marginalizes a majority of workers outside the wage labor force (Arrighi
1970) and because capitalism remunerates men and women at differential levels
(UNICEF 2007), household members are positioned to make unequal contributions
to household pools. Even though males are over-represented in waged jobs, women
routinely contribute an inequitable share of the total pool (Bose and Acosta-Belen
1995). In this way, the household mirrors “the basic inequality of partners that
underlies the capitalistic process” (Braudel 1979: 62–63), and women are doubly
housewifized. On the one hand, females are concentrated in low-paying informal
sector and home-based work (United Nations 2003), positioning them to bring
less income to the total household pool. On the other hand, husbands often render
invisible the diverse array of female inputs and assume a greater degree of control
over management of the pool. In a majority of households historically, husbands have
exercised an inequitable degree of control over their own earnings and over budget
priorities. In many households, wives are responsible for budgeting and allocation
of resources, but their degree of control is minimal (Dunaway and Macabuac 2007:
330–31). In fact, the wife’s control “is largely illusory, for she has no financial
autonomy. The pool she manages must cover unavoidable expenditures. In addition,
husbands do not withdraw from the scene after delivering their contribution; rather
they exercise several mechanisms of control. Most important . . . a husband makes
sure that ‘his’ money is spent to cover basic family needs as well as his desired level
of personal consumption” (Dwyer and Bruce 1988: 235). In most case studies, males
withheld part of their earnings, forcing women to make up shortfalls or unexpected

expenses. Many males also took control over part of their wives’ income (Beneria
and Roldan 1987: 135). Moreover, women tend to assume responsibility for the
extra weekly medical and educational expenditures of children, and crises do not
necessarily cause husbands to lower their demands for pocket money.

Inequitable distribution of resources. Rather than being egalitarian, the household is a

capitalist structure in which conflicting interests lead to unequal access to resources
(de la Rocha 1994). Resource pooling “for the common good does not mean that
all members of the group have equal benefit from them.” On the contrary, intra-
household inequality is pervasive around the world (Dreze and Sen 1989; Haddad
and Kanbur 1990). Because they reflect the capitalist valorization of income-earning
labor (Wallerstein 1983: 24–25), households allocate an inequitable share of their
resources to waged workers (Wilk 1987). Access to resources is determined by a
household member’s status in a hierarchical order based on income-earning capacity,
gender, and age, with the male wage earners at the top and mothers falling last (Young
et al. 1981: 88–111). Like the capitalist system itself, the household is grounded
in patriarchal principles that derive from the processes of proletarianization and
housewifization. Like capitalists, some householders are so driven by self-interest that
they exploit the altruism of others. Wage earners often behave in the household as
though their monetary contributions are far more valuable than the back-breaking
labor of others. They expect to be treated as though they are entitled to greater
recognition and privilege, that the wage alone is enough to validate their demand
for a greater share of household resources and a lesser share of unpaid household
labor (Thomas 1990). Consequently, women and girls receive an inequitable share
of the total pool of resources even though they contribute more labor power to
household survival than males (Mies et al. 1988).
Because their scarce resources do not permit long-term planning or saving,
households are vulnerable to low-level global and national economic forces. A
household has often not recovered from a previous resource shortfall when the
next crisis befalls it (Wolf 1992). In a majority of African and Asian households,
women and men prioritize provisioning in very different ways. Indeed, “husbands

and wives differ in the definition of the basic necessities of the family complex,
their consumption priorities, the way in which income should be distributed, and
the proportion to be allocated for the common fund” (Beneria and Roldan 1987:
123). When resources are scarce, women generally prioritize the nutrition of family
members above other personal and household issues. Thus, income-earning women
spend three-quarters of their funds on family food while men allocate less than
one-quarter of their income to food. Moreover, increased female income leads to
additional household spending on basic survival needs, but an increase in male
income does not necessarily expand household food (UNICEF 2007: 26).
Historically, households have primarily reduced expenditures and lowered
consumption by eating fewer calories, by eating cheaper foods, and by eating less
protein (Dickinson 1995; Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 211; Smith et al. 1984:
233–50). During shortfalls, the household will rarely be able to have fish, meat,
or other protein (Dunaway and Macabuac 2007). During crises, the inequitable
allocation of household resources becomes most pronounced, but malnutrition
and hunger are not spread evenly across all household members (Dreze Sen
1990, 1: 49–65; de la Rocha 2001). In one-third to one-half of all poor country
households, parents go hungry in order to feed children, the mother experiencing
the greatest degree of deprivation (UNICEF 2007). In another one-third to one-
half of households, there is a hierarchical order for resource allocation that is
especially noticeable in differential access to protein. Even though they work more
than household males, women consume less of the food pool (Deere 1990). In
times of shortage, wage- or income-earning males (followed by wage-earning older
daughters) take precedence over nonproductive children, and the mother almost
always receives the lowest allocation (Smith et al. 1984: 230). Nonworking children
do not receive an equitable share in relation to adult or teen males, but girls receive
the lowest allocations of food (Van Esterik 1985). Despite mothers’ sacrifices, one
of every four children in poor countries is underweight (UNICEF 2007: 23). Sick
children receive the least food, followed by adults who are ill enough to be likely
to die (McMillan 1986; Scheper-Hughes 1991). With respect to the allocation of
extra-household services that require monetary payments, households often engage

in “selective neglect.” Males are less likely than their wives to prioritize child
health care (UNICEF 2007: 26). As a result, income-earning males are more likely
to receive health care than ill children, girls, or pregnant women (Larme 1997;
UNICEF 2007: 26). When resources are limited, poor households are more likely
to invest in the education of boys. As a result, the vast majority of the world’s
illiterate adults are females (United Nations 2004). When resources are scarce,
female fetuses are more frequently aborted while infanticide and selective neglect
are most often directed toward girls (Wadley 1993).

Power struggles and domestic violence. As a reflection of capitalism, the household

is a structurally contradictory unit in which human nurture coexists with power
struggles and domestic violence. Because their “internal processes are regulated
by market relations,” households exhibit patterns of internal exploitation and
competition over resources (Ulshofer 1983: 191). Households are not only units
in which people’s survival is nurtured; they are also the loci of power struggles
to try to gain individual entitlements (McC Netting et al. 1984: 353–81). First,
households do not typically allocate scare resources or labor time through democratic
processes; instead, decision-making is controlled and/or manipulated by the most
powerful (Wilk 1987; Wolf 1992). In many poor countries, one-third to two-fifths
of husbands make decisions alone about daily household expenditures and about
health care for wives and children (UNICEF 2007: 18–19). Second, husbands
have played historical roles in keeping housework invisible and outside the wage
calculation. When male wage workers have protested low pay or working conditions,
they have not “objected to the fiction that wages were meant to cover the full
value of household maintenance” (Boydston 1986: 22). In a recent United Nations
study, 60 percent of interviewed males in Africa, Asia, and Latin America argued
that men should have more right to a waged job than women (UNICEF 2007:
6). Third, husbands in many poor countries have played pivotal roles in keeping
women trapped in exploitative nonwaged systems. Similarly, a high proportion of
husbands oppose their wives’ entry into waged occupations, but they are willing

to tolerate low-paying female industrial homework (Beneria and Roldan 1987).
In this way, men have acted as agents for capitalism because they benefit directly
from the artificial economic separation of wage labor and household-based labor
(Salleh 1994: 114). Fourth, power struggles over ecological resources dominate case
studies of peripheral and semiperipheral societies. Females produce 80 percent of
the crops consumed locally, and they account for a majority of agricultural workers
in poor countries. However, women own only about 1 percent of all agricultural
land (UNICEF 2007: 42). When capitalist incorporation creates new wage and
trade opportunities for males, those economic activities quite often threaten the
ecological resources from which women produce household sustenance and informal
sector commodities (Shiva 1988; Dunaway 1997). While women struggle to retain
land use for household provisioning, males prefer to allocate limited resources to
the production of export crops (Moock 1986: 105–21). Finally, household power
struggles are evidenced by the rising incidence of domestic violence. Worldwide,
male violence toward women and children is highest during (a) economic downturns
and (b) when women become pregnant. In addition, domestic violence increases in
contexts in which women contribute more household income than males (White
1993). In short, the household is a unit of human capital accumulation (Terleckyj
1975: 230–31), but it is also a space in which the very people who create that
life—women and girls—are devalued and violently mistreated.

Restructuring Household Boundaries

Threats to the household production base require the transformation of householding

patterns (McGuire et al. 1986). Consequently, the third survival mechanism is
restructuring of household membership and household spatial boundaries to adapt
to crises or change. Case studies reflect two broad trends with respect to capitalist
impacts on household boundaries. In reaction to cyclical upswings and downturns,
households widen inter-household networks and/or decrease or increase their size.
On the one hand, “stagnations in the world-economy create pressures on small

household structures to enlarge boundaries” (Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 15),
so some units persist by widening their membership. In an attempt to increase
the number of income-earning adults, smaller households take in extended kin,
merge with other small households, or take in non-kin boarders who pay rent
(Thompson 1991; Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 209, 242; Moser 1996; Young
and Alderman 1997; de la Rocha 2001; Rosas 2002). It is not surprising that
inter-household networks are the second most frequent survival mechanism that
households employ during resource shortfalls (Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 211;
de la Rocha 2001; Rosas 2002). Worldwide in every historical epoch, households
have retained inter-household networking systems that reach beyond their own
confines, and they receive one-quarter to one-half of all resources and credit
through these networks (Smith et al. 1984: 59; Deere 1990; Dickinson 1995). In
this way, “several households may form a reproductive system for one individual
member of the labor force” (Meyers 1983: 277).
On the other hand, capitalist policies and labor recruitment strategies have
historically denuded households of members. In the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, for example, the international slave trade permanently destroyed household
and kinship ties (Dunaway 2003), and core states routinely removed children from
poor families in order to indenture them long-term to capitalists (Dunaway 2008:
250–54). Colonial states designed regulations to coerce householders to transform
into wage laborers. Through vagrancy laws and regulation of labor mobility, the
Southern African colonial states forcibly removed males from households (Arrighi
1970). In addition to these forced separations, households of every historical epoch
have survived by decreasing their number of members (Smith and Wallerstein
1992: 192–94, 33–50). For example, the number of street children has ballooned
in peripheral countries, as a growing proportion of households try to overcome
resource shortfalls by putting youngsters out to live and work (Schlemmer 2000:
211–15). Historically, households have been denuded when members migrated
great distances, as is the case in the contemporary period when “transnational
families” are being created by the division of households that are based in two
countries (Parrenas 2000).

Alteration of Gendered Labor Roles

The fourth survival mechanism is the tendency of households to alter gendered

labor roles in the face of crisis or resource shortfalls. Over the longue durée,
capitalist-driven change:

Has stimulated new patterns of biological reproduction

Has threatened women’s household maintenance work
Has shifted men’s work to females
Has housewifized male wage laborers.

Historically, recruitment of females into the waged labor force has altered women’s
marriage and fertility patterns (Ward 1985; Seccombe 1993). Patterns of later
marriage dates and lower fertility have been common (Young et al. 1981: 88–111).
To survive resource shortfalls, parents may either delay marriages of income-earning
adult daughters or encourage marriages at an earlier age for nonproductive females
(Young and Alderman 1997). Moreover, women’s economically-productive work
outside the household often conflicts with their socially-expected reproductive roles
(Dunaway 2008: 196–264). Extra-household income-earning activities quite often
lead to neglect of female provisioning work, endangering the pool of household
resources (Wallerstein and Martin 1979: 205). In poor countries, parents are often
absent because they have migrated in search of wage labor. In these situations, the
household and provisioning work of the absent member either goes undone or
is shifted to other members (Smith and Wallerstein 1992: 243). Since 1980, the
transnational migration of peripheral women to work as domestics has generated
an “international division of reproductive labor” in which poor women leave the
mothering of their offspring to others in order to become paid caregivers to children
in richer households (Parrenas 2000).
It is not likely that the housewife will ever disappear, for capitalists maximize
profits through “housewifization of the proletarian,” without respect to gender.
On the one hand, men’s work may be shifted to females. As ecological resources

become scarce or degraded, women take on more of the male workload in order
to replace lost resources normally generated by husbands (Dunaway and Macabuac
2007). On the other hand, the housewife has been such a profitable invention of
the modern world-system that it is “probable that a sort of ‘housework’ will even
be imposed on men” (von Werlhof 1985: 34, 39). As capitalists target the cheap
labor of females in poor countries, males are increasingly pushed out of waged
labor opportunities (Beneria and Roldan 1987). Thus, males are experiencing
“deproletarianization,” as full-time employment is replaced by part-time waged
work, self-employment, informal sector activities, putting out systems, and other
forms of homework (Broad 1991: 557–60). Of necessity, men assume some of
the household roles of their wives, leading to the housewifization of male wage
laborers. In order to break the dominance of trade unions and to flexibilize labor,
transnational capital will increasingly housewifize male labor (Smith et al. 1984).

Antisystemic Resistance

Especially during economic downturns, households are loci of antisystemic resistance,

the fifth survival mechanism (Meyer and Labao 2003). According to Wallerstein,
worker efforts to insure that waged employment “is remunerated minimally at
the level of household reproduction . . . ha[ve] been central to the class struggle
throughout the history of the modern world-system” (1995: 6). It is no surprise
that the semiproletariat has been pinpointed in every historical epoch to be
central to antisystemic activism (Lenin 1899; Mao 1926). Householders resist the
commodification of their provisioning resources and activities and of their petty
commodity production (Wallerstein et al. 1982: 452). Historically, peasants and
indigenous peoples have resisted when their ancestral lands have been threatened by
capitalist encroachment (Scott 1976; Dunaway 1997). Peripheral social movements
resist decline in livelihoods caused by capitalist expansion (Smith and Wallerstein
1992: 131–32), and they press for land reforms when natural resources become
concentrated into the hands of agrarian capitalists (Smith and Wallerstein 1992:
148, 175–76; Dunaway 1997). Women’s activism is overwhelmingly based within

households where they often combine income-earning with resistance (Adams
2003; Nettles 2007) and employ household resources to mobilize their movements
(Moser 2003; de Volo 2006).
In addition to these forms of organized activism, women have struggled
against structural and cultural pressures toward the isolated autonomous capitalist
household. The housewife and the household as a singular unit of consumption
and reproduction of the labor force did not exist in their present form prior
to capitalism (von Werlhof 1984). Instead, precapitalist peoples were tied to
larger communities which pooled survival and reproduction resources (Dunaway
1997). When an area is incorporated into the world-system, capitalists effect
policies that lead to the elimination of such alternative household and family
arrangements (Smith and Wallerstein 1992). In order to force the emergence of
households that were organized to depend on wage labor (Stauth 1983), capitalist
states implemented policies that eliminated the communal and inter-household
networking systems of precapitalist communities (Arrighi 1970; Wallerstein and
Martin 1979; Smith et al. 1984: 56–58; Smith and Wallerstein 1992; Dickinson
1995; Dunaway 1997). All over the world, colonial governments attempted
through public regulation and economic coercion to constrain and to disband
female-controlled compound systems and to mandate nuclear patrilineal families
(e.g., Arrighi 1967). However, women have resisted such threats to their survival
networking systems. In the early 1800s, for example, indigenous American females
organized long-running social movements to deter destruction of matrilineal clans
and to counter missionary attacks on their traditional reproductive rights (Dunaway
2008: 61–63, 199–202). In the contemporary period, a high proportion of the
world’s semiproletarians have retained non-Western network systems as part of
their survival repertoire. In many sections of contemporary Africa, there are few
independent, self-sustaining households with a collective consumption fund, but
many networks of interconnected households. In these contexts, there is no pooling
of property between married spouses, and the wife remains more closely tied to
matrilineal clans than to her husband’s kin. Rather “the ultimate guarantor of a
woman’s reproduction is her lineage,” not her conjugal household. Consequently,

“processes of consumption and reproduction are not necessarily confined to the
isolated household as a self-sufficient unit” (Smith et al. 1984: 56–58). Instead,
the boundaries extend outward to encompass several other households, broadly
expanding the base of resources and labor. In Southern Ghana, for instance,
women’s activities and resources are spread across many households that comprise
a matrilineal family system (Vellenga 1985: 295).


Because of the parasitic relationship between waged labor and housewifization, the
vast majority of the world’s workers are situated in semiproletarian households.
On the one hand, these households are the loci of “human capital accumulation”
because they reproduce and invest their limited resources in the future labor supply.
On the other hand, they represent millions of structural units that enable capitalists
to conceal their systematic extraction of surpluses from workers and from women.
In spite of the immiseration caused by capitalism, these units persist through their
management of scarce labor time and resources, their restructuring of household
boundaries, and their alteration of gendered labor roles. In their internal dynamics,
these households mirror the structural contradictions of capitalism. Consequently,
they are characterized by inequities and by power struggles that result in females
working longer hours for which they are allocated fewer resources than males.
As Braudel observes, formal history silences the everyday hardships that poor
people suffer (1979: 16). In the early twenty-first century, the semiproletarian
household in poor countries is at a greater risk of extinction than ever before. A
recent United Nations study warns that households are no longer able to reproduce
themselves through their traditional survival mechanisms and self-exploitation (de la
Rocha 2001: 89). If that is true, we must ask ourselves: How then can capitalism
survive? For the invisible work of housewifized laborers is a structural necessity of
capitalism. Indeed, the deepest secret of the modern world-system is that capitalists
acquire much of their wealth by extracting surpluses from and externalizing costs

to households. The happy capitalist only feels at ease when semiproletarians bear
their burdens in silence. Without their self-exploitation, his capital accumulation
is impossible.

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In the Short Run Are We All Dead?
A Political Ecology of the Development Climate

Philip McMichael

T he subject of this article is climate change, as an ontological question. By

this I mean not simply the overproduction and accumulation of greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere beyond the absorptive capacity of extant
natural sinks, but how we address its relationship to human history, now that
we realize “our technical capacity to alter the world’s climate massively” (Duncan
2007). I am inspired by Colin Duncan’s assertion that “the fast and vast climate
change we are facing makes all other environmental problems, past and present, so
trivial as to be practically irrelevant. What this means is that in the last hundred
years we have had no idea what we were really doing on this planet” (2007: 3).
Commenting on the transition from theology to an increasingly fractured and
haphazard array of scientific and disciplinary “information,” he continues:

Instead of rethinking our possible role on the planet, instead of qualifying or

revising our anthropocentric habits, we have shamelessly used the decline of
theology relative to science as an excuse to elevate our own importance further.
Logically we should have replaced theology with ecology, before enlarging
the parameters of our behavior by the heavy use of fossil fuels (2007: 4).


Compared to the planet our species has not been around for long, but com-
pared to what historians or sociologists talk about, we certainly have. For
too long, and for absolutely no good reasons, the human past has been seen
as excessively discontinuous, temporally broken down into putative “stages”
and/or “revolutions” (2007: 4).

Duncan’s point is ultimately that the modern sciences have been so preoccupied
with human history from the dawning of an agricultural civilization, that

people who lived before agriculture have been condemned to what has been
called, with breathtaking arrogance: “pre-history” . . . [and that] because
historians in particular refused to consider humans in deep time that modern
science has actually had no ecologically relevant cultural impact, at least not
yet (2007: 11).

I propose to consider how to recover, or insert, ecological value into historical

analysis, especially of the modern capitalist era.
My argument is that climate change has introduced a certain temporality into
the environment that alters our perception of, and relationship to, ecology. It is
perhaps important now to bring that new temporality to bear on Keynes’ quip,
which went like this: “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In
the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a
task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past
the ocean is flat again” (1924: 80). But faith in the restoration of the market,
or focusing on short-run crisis management, won’t cut it anymore. In the short
run, maybe less than a decade, the world must act decisively to head off the real
possibility of accelerating climate catastrophe, which is already devastating the lives
of its most vulnerable inhabitants (Roberts and Parks 2007). How does this affect
our understanding of the longue durée? Is the long run dead? Does its salience

depend on reconsidering human history in deep time? Should the longue durée
be refashioned to gain perspective on climate change? Or do we simply have a
death wish?

Braudel’s Environmentalism

In his celebrated The Mediterranean, Fernand Braudel divides his subject into
its three temporalities: the longue durée, the conjoncture of social history, and the
traditional history of events. He describes the first temporality as “a history whose
passage is almost imperceptible, that of man in his relationship to the environment,
a history in which all change is slow, a history of constant repetition, ever-recurring
cycles” (1966: 20). What is notable about this “almost timeless history” (1966: 20)
is that his understanding of the environment, and climate, is essentially spatial.
Certainly it interacts with humans, but it is anchored in a notion of “geographical
cycles” of “periods of construction and deterioration” (1966: 102) regarding shifting
relationships between mountain dwelling and settlement of the plains, traversed by
oscillating circuits of nomadism or transhumance. As Braudel writes:

In this almost motionless framework, these slow-furling waves do not act

in isolation: these variations of the general relations between man and his
environment combine with other fluctuations, the sometimes lasting but
usually short-lived movements of the economy. All these movements are
superimposed on one another. They all govern the life of man, which is never
simple. And man cannot build without founding his actions, consciously or
not, on their ebb and flow. In other words, geographical observation of long-
term movements guides us towards history’s slowest processes (1966: 102).

The subtitle of The Mediterranean is And the Mediterranean World in the Age of
Philip II, and the study is, as Moore notes, centered on a tension between structural
and conjunctural time-space (2003: 434). This tension finds expression in part in

environmental relations; however, these are essentially spatial, expressed in “the
Mediterranean world-economy’s urban-territorial dialectic” articulating with Braudel’s
“conception of town-country relations,” anchored in agro-ecological transformations
linked through class conflict to the circulation of capital in the Mediterranean,
as urban capital invades agrarian relations (Moore 2003: 435, 437). Jason Moore
goes on to theorize the inherent tendency to geographical expansion in capitalism,
and its reorganization of a world-ecology (conceptualized by Immanuel Wallerstein
in The Modern World-System), as deriving from capital’s unsustainable relationship
to the soil, conceived by Marx as a rupture of ecological metabolism. In so doing
Moore reformulates Braudel’s environmentalism, activating its impact through the
lens of capital. This is an issue to which I return below.
Braudel was pointedly critical of viewing environment as descriptive context,
preferring to weave environmental forces into his narrative. As he wrote: “Geography
in this context is no longer an end in itself but a means to an end. It helps us to
rediscover the slow unfolding of structural realities, to see things in the perspective
of the very long term” (Braudel 1966: 23). Here Braudel considers geography,
and by extension environment, as a lens through which to situate and examine
social change. While this might be properly called and credited as environmental
history, it nevertheless remains essentially spatial in its conception, and role. Braudel
underlines this in offering a unifying conception of climate. Noting that there is
variation on the east/west Mediterranean axis, he avers:

At a time when climatologists are attentive to detail, the Mediterranean is

rightly regarded by them as a complex of different climates that are to be
distinguished one from another. But that does not disprove their fundamen-
tal, close relationships and undeniable unity. . . . Everywhere can be found
the same eternal trinity: wheat, olives, and vines, born of the climate and
history; in other words an identical agricultural civilization, identical ways
of dominating the environment (1966: 235, 236).

One might argue from this that Braudel’s structural history of the long run focuses
more on environmental unity as the space within which the shorter run social

history under examination plays out. And if so, what of the structural history we
inhabit? Are we now to be deprived of a long run, in which the history of human
relationships to the environment will be anything but imperceptible?
Well, Braudel had both the hindsight and the foresight to consider climate
change. At one remove he implied it when he observed that “the climate does
not favor the growth of ordinary trees and forest coverings. At any rate it has not
protected them. Very early the primeval forests of the Mediterranean were attacked
by man and much, too much, reduced. . . . Compared to northern Europe, the
Mediterranean soon became a forested region” (Braudel 1966: 239). But then in a
section entitled “Has the Climate Changed Since the Sixteenth Century?” he claims
everything changes, “even the climate. Nobody now believes in the invariability of
the elements of physical geography” (1966: 267). He mentions human intervention,
in the forms of deforestation, neglected irrigation, and abandoned crops leading to
desertification, noting “a growing body of contemporary literature which accepts
that there have been and still are climatic changes in operation. The Arctic ice cap
has apparently retreated since 1892–1900 while the desert has made advances in
both northern and southern Africa” (1966: 268). Nevertheless, he appears to revert
to form, suggesting that if there is evidence of identical climatic or environmental
conditions between then and now, this “proves nothing either way about periodical
variations of the climate. The real problem is to establish whether or not there
has been periodicity, and recent writings incline towards the hypothesis that
there has. . . . So the climate changes and does not change; it varies in relation
to norms which may after all vary themselves, but only to a very slight degree”
(Braudel 1966: 269).
Climate variation, on both micro and macro scales, is regulated by periodicity.
Planetary climate patterns combine a complex of oscillations articulated with
geological changes. Tens or hundreds of millions of years ago global temperature,
regional precipitation and ice sheet size varied with plate-tectonic reorganizations
of the earth’s surface. At shorter intervals, such climatic oscillations over tens of
thousands of years are now linked to the earth’s orbital variations as it circles
the sun, and over centuries or decades climate change is a function of volcanic
activity and changes in solar power (Ruddiman 2005: 8). Cycles matter. But in the

twenty-first century there now appears to be a secular trend that is progressively
concentrating the long run into a short run. The conventional theory is that this
trend is associated with the Anthropocene period in the earth’s history coinciding
with industrialization, following the invention of the steam engine in the late-
eighteenth century, and heralding a perceptible human impact on the earth’s climate.
Accordingly, the upper limit for global warming that would reduce the likelihood
of catastrophic climate change is pegged at 2 degrees above “pre-industrial levels”
(we are already 0.6 degrees above).
William Ruddiman, in Plows, Plagues and Petroleum, however, stretches the
Anthropocene to 8,000 years, arguing that in fact humans have been altering the
climate significantly over this longer period:

Climate scientists have long viewed the last 8,000 years as a time of naturally
stable climate, a brief interlude between the previous glaciation and the next
one. But the story presented here suggests that this warm and stable climate
of the last 8,000 years may have been an accident. It may actually reflect a
coincidental near-balance between a natural cooling that should have begun
and an offsetting warming effect caused by humans. If this new view is
correct, the very climate in which human civilizations formed was in part
determined by human farming activities. Even thousands of years ago, we
were becoming a force in the climate system (2005: 95).

Ruddiman’s hypothesis, based on curious counter-cyclical patterns of unusually

high methane and carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, around 5,000
and 8,000 years ago, respectively, is attributed to riziculture,1 domestication of
animals, and deforestation. As Ruddiman claims:

1.  Braudel emphasized the agronomic conditioning of civilizations in Europe (wheat), Asia
(rice) and the Americas (corn)—and rice production’s relative labor intensity, matched with a
fivefold yield advantage (Moore 2003: 440).

Nearly 5,000 years ago, irrigation was first used to flood low-lying terrain
and grow wet-adapted strains of rice in China and Southeast Asia. In effect,
irrigation was being used to created artificial wetlands in which rice could
be grown. In these wetlands, vegetation (both rice and weeds) grew, died,
decayed, and emitted methane, but this methane was from human, rather
than natural sources.
Other human activities also generated methane. Livestock had been
domesticated thousands of years earlier in the Near East, and just before
5,000 years ago in Southeast Asia. Livestock generates methane at both ends,
both from the manure produced and from gaseous emanations (burps and
belches) from stomachs (2005: 79–80).

And for the 8,000 years ago impact:

The primary way humans would have released CO² to the atmosphere dur-
ing this interval was by cutting forests. A carbon release of 300 billion tons
between 8,000 and 250 years ago would require more than twice as much
forest clearance before the Industrial Revolution as has occurred during the
200 years of the industrial era. Modern rates are very high because of rapid
clearance of tropical rain forests in South America and Asia. By comparison,
the estimated annual clearance rate just two centuries ago was almost ten times
smaller than today, and the rates faded away back in time toward trivially
small amounts for earlier intervals. . . . [I]t seems preposterous to propose
more than twice as much total forest clearance prior to 1750 as afterwards.
But the conventional-wisdom view failed to take into account one key
factor—time (Ruddiman 2005: 88).

Ruddiman’s point is that even though forest clearance rate may have been only 5
percent of the industrial-era average, the interval being 40 times longer, “you end
up with twice as much in total emissions” (2005: 89), much like the fable of the
tortoise and the hare.

So this is the very long run of eight millennia. Braudel might say it appears
like a stable climate; nevertheless, as Ruddiman suggests, it was likely regulated by
human activity offsetting the normal periodicities. Interestingly, Braudel notes “the
beginning of a long period of inflowing cold and rain” in the sixteenth century,
linking it to the Little Ice Age, and wondering aloud whether it actually affected
life in Europe and the Mediterranean. He concludes that the jury is out, citing
Le Roy Ladurie’s argument that “the progressively later dates of the grape harvest
can be attributed to man’s preference for the higher alcohol content of riper
fruit” (Braudel 1966: 274, 275). While Braudel cannot explain the Little Ice Age
phenomenon, the paleo-climatologist Ruddiman uses more recent data to postulate
that the Little Ice Age correlated with the decimation of populations across the
world by the Black Death pandemic of the mid-fourteenth century (and outbreaks
in the sixteenth century) allowing reforestation of deserted farmland, and higher
rates of absorption of CO² (Ruddiman 2005: 130; Flannery 2005: 67). This, in
conjunction with tens of millions of Chinese deaths at the hands of the Mongols
in the thirteenth century, and in the “arid Near East, where agriculture had
originated, the Mongols destroying most of the existing irrigation-based agriculture,
and populations fell precipitously” (Ruddiman 2005: 129), lowered atmospheric
concentrations of CO² and cooled the climate. While this thesis is the subject of
ongoing vigorous debate, refuted but not disproven (Muir 2008),2 it does at least
underline the idea of a climatic temporality conditioned by, and conditioning,
human activity during the period of Braudel’s longue durée.
Braudel concludes his climate discussion ambiguously: “Whether or not there is
a Jet Stream, there is certainly a common source for all climatic change. The ‘early’
sixteenth century was everywhere favored by the climate; the latter part everywhere

2.  For example, the charge that there was not sufficient forest on earth to account for the
anomalous rise in CO2 has been conceded by Ruddiman, whose response is that feedback
mechanisms were at work. As Muir notes: “Climate scientists all agree that the magnitude of
the temperature changes as the Earth has gone in and out of ice ages cannot be explained by
orbital changes alone” (2008).

suffered atmospheric disturbance” (Braudel 2005: 275). Now Braudel was writing
two decades before climate scientists first began putting together systematic data,
nevertheless there are two points to be made here. First, environment and climate
are more than spatial vessels within and through which cycles occur; they are
also temporal phenomena constituted by ecological and biospheric cycles. While
discussion of the metabolic rift (Foster 2000; Moore 2000) emphasizes the systematic
disruption of the nutrient cycle by capital accumulation,3 it does not address the
“biospheric rift” (Clark and York 2005),4 and its accumulating consequences.5 As
I shall argue, this is an ontological problem. Second, under conditions of urgency,
scientific knowledge is providing us with data that perhaps allows us to fully
incorporate ecology, as a time-space attribute, into political economy. I would argue
that our political economy prioritize historicization rather than capital theory, as
such. These two points can be addressed in reviewing the concept of the “metabolic
rift,” which, through the development lens, transforms a spatial relation (city/
countryside) into a sequential relation governed by an epistemic hierarchy, which
has left agriculture in the shadow of capitalist modernity.

Metabolic Rift as Foundation

Arguably, contemporary climate change owes much to the “metabolic rift,” Marx’s
term for the separation of social production from its natural biological base (Foster

3.  Colin Duncan (1996) insists the metabolic rift pre-dated capitalism, noted recently also by
Jason Moore (2008).
4.  Clark and York subscribe to the view that “the law of value remains central to understanding
capitalism and the ecological crisis” (2005: 407).
5. Note that Jason Moore argues that environmental change was both condition and
consequence of European expansion, renewing and extending “cycles of unsustainable
development on a world-scale” (2003a: 309). The focus here on accumulation cycles and their
environmental foundation is important, but partial.

2000). Broadly, the metabolic rift expresses the subordination of agriculture to
capitalist production relations, that is, the progressive transformation of agricultural
inputs (organic resources to inorganic commodities), reducing nutrient recycling
in and through the soil and water, and introducing new agronomic methods
dependent upon chemicals and bioengineered seeds and genetic materials produced
under industrial conditions. As such, as Moore (2000) notes, the metabolic rift
underlies the historic spatial separation between countryside and city, as agriculture
industrializes. This, in turn, depends on manufacturing technologies, whose
metabolic rift involves expanding inputs of energy and natural resources, and
industrial wastes—recycled today, but largely outside of natural cycles. Fossil fuel
dependence is, of course, a fundamental consequence of this rift, and contributes
greatly to carbon emissions.
Moore’s treatment of the metabolic rift articulates the social division of labor
and its world-scale, and imperial implications (otherwise known as the “ecological
footprint”). The mediation of the urban/rural spatial relation by commodity circuits,
rather than cycles of waste and regeneration of natural processes, deepens the
metabolic rift. Historically, the world was reordered along these lines—initially via
the colonial division of labor, anchored in monocultures producing tropical products
for metropolitan industrial and personal consumption. With the development of
chemical agriculture and biotechnology, the growing abstraction of agriculture as
an “input-output process that has a beginning and an end” means that rather
than a complex embedded in, and regenerating, local biological cycles, agriculture
can in principle be relocated to specific locales anywhere on the planet as the
“intrinsic qualities of the land matter less” (Duncan 1996: 123, 122). In effect,
agro-industrialization increasingly replicates the spatial mobility of manufacturing
systems, including the subdivision of constituent processes into global commodity
chains (such as the animal protein complex).
However, the metabolic rift is not only about a material transformation
of production, with spatial consequences; it is also about an epistemological
break. Henceforth, in the capitalist conjuncture, productive relations, and social
institutions, are increasingly embedded in the market, and thereby subordinated to

value relations.6 Under these historical circumstances, the “market operates as an
abstract disciplinary mechanism through which concrete productive activities are
compared and value is socially ascribed” (Taylor 2008: 25). The social content of
value became, of course, the methodological pivot in Marx’s critique of capitalism
where he demystified the phenomenon of “price” by revealing it as the fetishized
form of underlying social relations. By denaturalizing “value,” Marx historicized the
value relations governing the movement of capital, including the ongoing process
of “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey 2003).
Arguably, Marx’s critique is constrained by the exigency of demystifying “value”
as the foundational principle by which capitalist social reproduction is understood
and theorized. In launching his critique, Marx confirms the relations (if not the
terms) of reproduction—meaning that his theory of capital takes as its point of
departure and critique the very relations privileged by economic liberalism (net
of ecology). In so doing, the “metabolic rift” produces an ontology privileging a
value relations interpretation of social reproduction. Along these lines, Marx wrote
in Grundrisse:

It is not the unity of living and active humanity with the natural, inorganic
conditions of their metabolic exchange with nature, and hence their appro-
priation of nature, which requires explanation, or is the result of a historic
process, but rather the separation between these inorganic conditions of
human existence and this active existence, a separation which is completely
posited only in the relation of wage labour and capital (1973: 489).

This formulation of an explanandum rules out discussion of ecological relations. It

is not as if Marx was not aware of the significance of the need for a sustainable
social/natural metabolism. Indeed he claimed the “conscious and rational treatment

6. Arguably, Polanyi’s characterization of the dialectic of social thought regarding the

discovery of society in the construction and reconstruction of the market, as instituted process,
reproduced this episteme.

of the land as permanent communal property [is] the inalienable condition for the
existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations” (quoted in Foster
2000: 164). Nevertheless, his analytical point of departure concerns the generation
of value, which is a relational attribute of capitalism, where, alongside exchange-
value created by labor-power, the use-value of agricultural products embody natural
“wealth.” So, in the critique of political economy the focus on value encloses and
reproduces an ontology that, proceeding from the original fact of the metabolic
rift, discounts alternative values such as ecological relations.
This is not to say that nature is asocial. In fact, in Marx’s quote above the unity
of social/natural processes is critical to understanding the materiality of social life,
the natural environment, and their mutual conditioning. Nevertheless, on the one
hand, the human/nature relation involves unintended environmental consequences
(cf. Benton 1996), not amenable to value theory, and on the other hand, value
theory diverts attention from conscious ecological practices at odds with capitalist
market structures. However, the point is that given the metabolic rift, capitalist
value relations claim ontological priority. Thus the conversion of agriculture to a
branch of industry privileges capital in its subordination of landed property in the
name of value. Such subordination reconstitutes “landed property” through the lens
of capital.7 But the inversion is in the structure of thought as well, superimposing
a capitalist logic on history (as opposed to historicizing capitalism).
Tomich is helpful here, in distinguishing between Marx’s theory, and the
history, of capital. His solution, to go “against the grain of Marx’s classical theoretical
presentation,” requires that we move from “rational abstractions . . . toward
engagement, appropriation, and theoretical reconstruction of diverse historical
relations excluded by the logic of Marx’s presentation” (Tomich 2004: 38). In other
words, rather than view the history of capital from the logic of value relations
alone, governed by its principal social contradiction between capital and wage-labor,
it behooves us to recover the ecological and social presuppositions of the social/
natural metabolism ruled out by the logic of the “metabolic rift” (see, e.g., Moore

7.  Lenin demonstrates this method brilliantly in The Development of Capitalism in Russia.

2000, 2003b). Embedded within this foundational story is the key to restoring an
ecological dimension to capitalist history—an ecological dimension that has both
epistemic and ontological implications.
Epistemically, to restore an understanding of ecological constraints means focusing
on the limits of capital’s attempt to overcome ecological barriers, limits which express
themselves in degradation of natural resources, including global warming. Capital’s
drive to convert natural processes into value relations is realized politically, and this
cycle has continued in the debates about Kyoto2, and the extension of carbon trading
to manage emissions. A notable attempt to overcome the epistemic rift expressed in
the fetish (and critique) of value relations was that of Karl Polanyi. While he did
not speak of a metabolic rift, nevertheless Polanyi identified the epistemic rift in
his concept of land and labor as “fictitious commodities,” subject to annihilation,
as “the human and natural substance of society,” by “the idea of a self-adjusting
market” (1957: 3). The politically-instituted self-regulating market, under the aegis
of economic liberalism, realized its limits in the countermovements of agrarian and
working classes, and the end of the gold regime. This hiatus, or interregnum,8 in
capitalist history was short-lived, and short-circuited Polanyi’s vision of social and
ecological protections with a virulent stabilization of agricultural programs through
which petro-farming was adopted universally, beginning in the United States and
spreading, via the Marshall Plan to Europe and the food aid program and then the
green revolution, to the rest of the world (McMichael 2007). However, Polanyi’s
metaphor of “society” protecting itself against socio-ecological degradation addressed,
if not resolved, the epistemic rift embodied in Marx’s value theory.
The theory of value governs Marx’s method of political economy, through which
he models how we should historicize capitalist relations. Proceeding from the historic
fact of “the conversion of agriculture to a branch of industry,” he enjoins us to invert
the historical succession of landed property to capital, inverting it in thought to

8.  Farshad Araghi (2003) argues cogently that this period interrupts capital’s elaboration of
a global value regime, beginning in the late-nineteenth century, and proceeding apace since
the 1970s.

establish capital’s determinate role. With this methodological inversion we “see like
capital,”9 and forms of ground rent and property are henceforth understood through
the value theory lens. To be sure, the dynamic hinges on contradictions between
the forces and relations of production, so that conceivably pre-capitalist forces of
production retain some relative autonomy, but once the value lens is adopted, the
subordinating relations assert themselves in thought, if not in material reality.10
Accordingly, the inversion Marx performs in order to reformulate the historicity
of landed property under capitalism restructures thought/knowledge, bringing a
capitalist narrative to history, transforming it from the particular to the general,
in thought. Arguably, this method of abstraction privileges an ontology that elides
understandings, practices, and processes not governed by (market) value relations.

Ontology of the Market Calculus

This ontology (promoting a “market calculus”) does appear to reproduce structures

of thought unable to comprehend that ecological contradiction is not simply
“internal” to capitalism, but also “external” in the sense that there is an ecological
other—whether the planetary carbon cycle, or its micro-histories. Here is where
the ontological implication comes into play in discounting not only the climatic
dimension of capitalism, but also ecological values embodied in the reproduction
of farming, forest, and fishing cultures on the margins of the market culture. This
is not to say that capitalist value relations do not impinge on such cultures—quite

9.  Cf. Scott (1998). This ontological perspective is exemplified in Jason Moore’s comment, in
distinguishing capitalism’s value form from nature’s wealth: “Marx does not deny that external
nature does work useful to humans, only that (from the perspective of capital) its productions do
not directly enter into capitalism’s particular crystallization of wealth” (2003b: 450, emphasis
10.  Conventional formulations of the “agrarian question” are a case in point (e.g., McMichael

the contrary, in most instances they are under pressure from the market culture to
surrender ecological values (Martinez-Alier 2002). The encroachment on so-called
“marginal lands” by indebted governments and corporations in the name of the
global agrofuels project is often a direct assault on access to a “commons” valued
by its provision of grazing lands, medicines, fuel, housing materials, and food in
the reproduction of smallholder and nomadic communities (Cotula et al. 2008).
The carbon market, as an institutionalization of value relations, with local
consequences, is a case in point. In his discussion of the funding of carbon offset
projects associated with the Kyoto Protocol and the European Emissions Trading
System, Lohmann associates the assault on cultures with relatively light carbon
footprints (“survival emissions”), with the allocation of carbon credits to businesses
or organizations to pursue carbon projects to offset emissions generated elsewhere
(“luxury emissions”) (2006: 171). Similar to biopiracy’s extension of intellectual
property rights over cultivars, the extension of atmospheric property rights discounts
and dispossesses agro-ecology. Under the terms of the carbon market, not only do
low-carbon lifestyles not count (or even provide models), but also they receive no
compensation or credit for their historically low emissions. The right to carbon
dumps, then, is simply the artificial superimposition of a property regime in
newly enclosed spaces of the planet (see Cotula et al. 2008). The right stems
from a virulent development episteme, which renames “common lands” as “idle”
or “marginal” lands, and projects commensurate market-based aspirations on to
the associated cultures
Such methods of enclosure fractionate culture and ecology into equivalent
measures of “value” to facilitate allocative “efficiencies,” via trading rights to carbon
dumps among polluters. What’s the point? First, through the device of this “fictitious
commodity,” corporate interests obtain rights to offset, that is maintain, their
emissions by renaming and appropriating “resources” offshore. Second, appropriation
involves dismantling the integrity and viability of more ecologically-embedded
cultural practices. And third, it reveals the premises underlying such “violence of
abstraction”—namely, that “market efficiency” is about power and exploitation, and
that the expropriation upon which (capitalist) value is founded includes alienation

of other, more fundamental values (originating in the metabolic rift).11 One might
say that a market calculus displaces an ecological calculus; the difference rests on
a fetishization of “carbon.” As Vandana Shiva notes, the UK Stern Review “fails
to differentiate between the dead carbon in fossil fuels and the living carbon of
biodiversity and renewable resources. It focuses on carbon emissions, rather than
addressing the health of the carbon cycle” (2008: 19).
From a value relations perspective, the market calculus originates in “primitive
accumulation”—an historical and logical necessity for the commodification and
alienation of human labor as the source of value. David Harvey’s reformulation as
“accumulation by dispossession” underlines the constancy of this process—extending
recently to public asset stripping and private revaluing via structural adjustment.
By analogy, the revaluing of the carbon cycle accomplishes a similar “wealth”
stripping, insofar as ecological practices by peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, and
forest-dwellers are fractionated and instrumentalized to optimize monetary value
rather than ecological security (cf. Sivini 2007: 40).
How should we account for this? Arguably, there are other co-produced values
out there—not so much Stephen Bunker’s natural resource values, which are
essentially material, but rather resource-embedded practices that may maintain
the carbon cycle. Certainly Bunker opens the door to exploring how to integrate
ecological value, with his critique of classical political economy’s “unidimensional
calculus of value” (2007: 251). Marx did not develop a theory of the production
of use-value, he simply noted that: “A thing can have use-value, without having
value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labor. Such are air,
virgin soil, natural meadows, etc.” (1967: 40).12 Bunker argues that “the attribution
of value exclusively to labor is definitional, and therefore arbitrary” (2007: 249),

11. These values include tacit knowledges of farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and forest-
dwellers, displaced through the processes of the metabolic rift (e.g., Dickens 1999; Schneider
and McMichael 2010).
12.  As Schneider and McMichael (2010) note, for example, soil’s ecological value is as a living
ecosystem, the content and texture of which contribute to soil fertility as an intrinsic dynamic
over and above the human/soil nutrient pathway on which Marx focused.

and he notes that Marx’s theory “that all values are produced within the capitalist
mode of production, is a heuristic device that diverges from historical reality and
from the physical fact that much of the matter and energy whose expanded and
accelerated consumption is necessary for capitalism’s ‘laws of motion’ come from
non-capitalist extractive economies” (2007: 251). I would modify this claim to
underline Marx’s use of “value” as a methodological device in the first place, which
comes to assume the kind of ontological status Bunker attributes to it. Because
of the abstract character of the concept of value, it loses sight of value’s historical
materiality insofar as the exercise of social labor includes an appropriation (and
transformation) of the natural world.13
Marx’s representation of natural values as original, or pristine, limits understanding
of nature’s active biophysical cycles and how they might articulate with (and degrade)
social labor.14 Moore has emphasized Marx’s refusal to separate land and labor in his
analysis of capital, which “does not exploit land and labor so much as it exploits
the land through labor” (2003b: 450). But this “value in motion” perspective tends
to objectify the environment, in an either passive or reactive sense. It resonates in
Bunker’s focus on the extractive exchange between social production and natural
production (the articulation with natural production leaving nature in a relatively
passive state), which is certainly self-transforming at the point of production,15

13.  A promising attempt to reunite value with its environmental presuppositions is in Araghi
14. In contrast, James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, according to microbiologist, Lynn
Margulis, states “that the surface of the Earth, which we’ve always considered to be the
environment of life is really part of life. . . . When scientists tell us that life adapts to an
essentially passive environment of chemistry, physics and rocks, they perpetuate a severely
distorted view. Life actually makes and forms and changes the environment to which it adapts.
Then that ‘environment’ feeds back on the life that is changing and acting and growing in it”
(quoted in McMichael 2001: 316).
15.  Thus: “Theories of value based exclusively on labor neglect the usefulness to continued
social reproduction of energy transformations in the natural environment” (Bunker 2007:

but not transformative in its constituent cycles as a consequence of the extractive
relationship. This would be the source and dynamics of climate change.
Even as Bunker (1985) attempted to restore a thermodynamic dimension to
capitalism and unequal exchange, paralleled in Braudel’s, Wallerstein’s, and Moore’s
attempts to build a world-ecology into a theory of capital accumulation, the
question of the self-organizing character of the earth’s biophysical processes, and, by
extension, the interruption of its self-regulating cycles by human impact has been
left aside. As I am arguing, the ontological basis for this came from capitalism and
its critique, that is, the priority given to the value relation. As Harriet Friedmann
observes: “By linking and displacing local ecosystems, the modern world-system
obscured human relations to the rest of nature. It created the first basis for human
illusions about markets and money as the apparent basis of life” (2000: 502, emphasis
added). In fact, since the reproduction of industrial agriculture is linear, rather
than cyclical, leading to depletion and waste rather than renewal and absorption,
Friedmann presciently argues “suppressed material cycles eventually reappeared at
the global level, bringing awareness of the biosphere supporting human economy
and human life” (2000: 502). In other words, the micro-interruptions of local
ecosystems are realized increasingly at the macro-climatic scale.16
Clark and York adapt the “metabolic rift” notion to the macro-scale through the
concept of the “biospheric rift:” “Capitalism . . . effectively plunders the historical
stock of concentrated energy that has been removed from the biosphere only to
transform and transfer this stored energy (coal, oil, and natural gas) from the
recesses of the earth to the atmosphere in the form of CO². In this, capitalism is
disrupting the carbon cycle by adding CO² to the atmosphere at an accelerating
rate” (2005: 409). They invoke the Jevons Paradox—whereby “greater efficiency in
resource use often leads to increased consumption of resources” (2005: 411)—to
underline the path dependence of capitalism, and the complicity of states and

16.  The reverse is also true: as climate change alters weather patterns, these macro-interruptions
create the conditions for a revaluing of more resilient small-scale agricultures, embedded in
local or micro-environmental practices.

carbon sequestration policies in sustaining this reverse destructive cycle (see also
McMichael 2009). But behind this structural force lies the value episteme.
To the extent that value relations remain the lens through which climatic changes
are understood, such as in environmental impacts of capitalism or carbon market
constructions, solutions to emissions accumulation deny the significance of the
ecological calculus, by which ecological cycles can be renewed at their earthly base.
In denying this calculus, value theory renders invisible those who (must) work to
renew and sustain ecological cycles, and the values by which they (must) live. As
Friedmann notes, “humans have developed two competing and evolving visions of
the earth: global production chains managed by transnational corporations, which
disrupt and attempt to replace self-organizing cycles; and a biosphere in which
humans work with the self-organizing, material, living processes of the planet”
(2000: 508). The former vision creates the “biospheric rift” (Clark and York 2005)
while the latter vision is the one we want, the “rational” one, according to Marx:

The way that the cultivation of particular crops depends on fluctuations

in market prices and the constant changes in cultivation with these price
fluctuations—the entire spirit of capitalist production, which is oriented
towards the most immediate monetary profits—stands in contradiction to
agriculture, which has to concern itself with the whole gamut of permanent
conditions of life required by the chain of human generations (quoted in
Foster 2000: 164).

The contradiction between these visions is expressed in the obscuring of ecological

practices and the needs of future generations as a prerequisite to corporate rights to
pollute through the fiction of a carbon market. The fiction is realized through the
priority accorded to capitalist value relations in a universe in which “economy” is
disembedded. The rational form of value refers to ecological relations in a universe
in which “economy” may be socially embedded, and the metabolic rift is minimized.
It is a grounded value. In their study of social movements for biodiversity on the
Colombian Pacific coast, Escobar and Pardo note that these movements focus on

the political right to a territory “as an ecological, productive, and cultural space”
emphasizing “articulations between settlement patterns, uses of space, and meaning/
use practices concerning resources, which are expressed, in the case of indigenous
populations, in ancestral cosmologies,” and which are essential to the political
resolution of debates on biodiversity, between economic and ecological reasoning
(2007: 307, 309, 310). The principle at stake regarding the (territorial) integrity of
ecological metabolism underlies the general preservation of a healthy carbon cycle.
It is a principle that Joan Martinez-Alier claims is alive in the way in which
the transnational peasant movement, Vía Campesina’s ecological critique localizes
universal themes:

Issues of global environmentalism . . . are transformed into local argu-

ments for improvements in the conditions of life and for cultural survival
of peasants, who are learning to see themselves no longer as an occupation
doomed to extinction. . . . This is not a phenomenon of post-modernity, in
which some live (or try to make a living) by buying Monsanto shares, others
eagerly eat hogs grown with transgenic soybeans, others are macrobiotic, and
still others do organic farming. It is rather a new route of modernity, away
from Norman Borlaug, a modernity based on scientific discussion with, and
respect for, indigenous knowledge, improved ecological-economic accounting,
awareness of uncertainties, ignorance and complexity, and, nevertheless, trust
in the power of reason (2002: 147).

At present such ecological practice is concentrated in the remaining peasant/

smallholder cultures across the world,17 which represent capital’s final barrier—
currently targeted by corporate and political elites under the guise of a new green
revolution to address the food crisis (McMichael 2008c). Among these cultures

17.  See, e.g., Holt-Giménez (2006); it is matched, or paralleled, by community-supported

and local organic agricultures, local farmers’ markets and the Slow Food movement in the
global North.

there are mushrooming movements to politicize the global food system, denaturalize
dispossession, and promote agro-ecological practices (Desmarais 2007; McMichael
2008b), claiming (through the International Planning Committee on Food
Sovereignty) that the world’s peasantries “feed the world and cool the planet.” It
is this kind of movement that Marx had in mind when he opined: “The moral
of the tale . . . is that the capitalist system runs counter to a rational agriculture,
or that a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system (even if
the latter promotes technical development in agriculture) and needs either small
farmers working for themselves or the control of the associated producers” (quoted
in Foster 2000: 165).


As implied, carbon credits are the ultimate “fictitious commodity” in value terms,
because there is no standard of carbon value—the emission cap is an arbitrary
construct of governments and multilateral institutions. It is a device of power.
Returning to the historic separation of humans from the means of production,
it may be the conceptual threshold of capitalism, but it also accomplishes the
separation of humans from the means of reproduction—that is, from renewable
ecological relations (including ecological knowledges). While these are both long-
drawn-out and variable historical processes, the expropriation of the subsistence
producer and the intensification of the metabolic rift are mutually reinforcing.
Together they intensify the rift in the carbon cycle, as accelerating fossil fuel
emissions have accompanied industrialization of both branches of the social division
of labor arising from the metabolic rift.
The long run is telescoping into a short run, and we need to address this
threat by integrating a political ecology of emission accumulation into our political
economy of capital accumulation. And this in turn requires reformulating what
we mean by “value,” and learning to revalue what has been devalued by the value
episteme. The first step is to “go against the grain” of value theory and apprehend

and incorporate ecological relations elided by the capital accumulation episteme. This
means taking account of ecological practices (enhancing and containing emissions),
keeping sight of the circuits of dead and living carbon, for instance, and learning
to value practices working with, rather against, ecological cycles.

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The Longue Durée and the
Status of “Superstructures”

Richard E. Lee

T he “superstructures” in the title refers to the offhand, but telling, way analysts
of many stripes continue to categorize and think about a set of social
institutions in relation to the material constituents of the social world, especially
those of production and distribution. The particular composition of this realm is
generally thought of as including language, literature, and the arts, or what many
would assign to the cultural arena along with religion and law.
The idea is prevalent in Marx’s German Ideology, but the classic formulation
is in his 1859 “Preface” to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that
are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which
correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive
forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the eco-
nomic structures of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and
political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social
consciousness (Marx 1972: 4).

Similarly stated in 1852 in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Upon
the different forms of property, upon the social conditions of existence, rises an
entire superstructure of distinct and peculiarly formed sentiments, illusions, modes
of thought and views of life” (Marx 1963: 47). Although it is always clear that
Marx had a relationship in mind, that is, of base and superstructure, the actual
substance of that relationship remains far from settled. Formulations like “relative
autonomy” or “determine in the last instance,” which allude to some effectivity,
reciprocity, feedback, or uneven development, do not really alleviate an unease with
a derivative status—super-structures, or sometimes even reflections—consigned to
such elements of social life that seem, at least existentially, so fundamental.
Marx’s metaphor is spatial; it is basically static. I shall contend that the idea
of a “longue durée” of historical capitalism as a unique and singular duration over
which the structures of the modern world-system have been reproduced points
to a useful, more thoroughly historical, reconceptualization of this relationship in
line with Fernand Braudel’s sense that “mental frameworks are also prisons of the
longue durée” (2009: 179).
Historical social systems come into being as an indivisible set of unique and
singular structures recognizable over the long term. The processes of reproduction
of these structures are manifested in secular trends and cyclical rhythms that may
be observed over the life of the system—it has a history. Eventually, however,
these processes run up against asymptotes, or limitations, in overcoming inherent
contradictions and the system ceases to exist.
The structures of the modern-world system came into being in Europe at the
beginning of the long sixteenth century. By the end of the Hundred Years’ War an
axial division of labor was developing between a western European core where high-
wage, skilled workers produced low-bulk, high value-added products and an eastern
European periphery where high-bulk, low value-added necessities were produced
under a regime of lower-cost labor. The long-distance trade in these commodities
resulted in the accumulation of capital in the core. The processes reproducing
this relationship over the long term, that is, the “accumulation of accumulation”
or profit making for reinvestment in a circular and increasing fashion underwent

periodic fluctuations, and the expansion of the system to incorporate new pools
of low-cost labor provided the solutions that turned periods of world economic
downturn into periods of upturn.
This “endless” accumulation resulting from the extraction, appropriation,
concentration, and centralization of surplus produced by labor, however, could only
take place within the context of what developed as an interstate system. At about
the same time as the axial division of labor was forming between the European core
and periphery, political organization based on “parcellized sovereignty” (Anderson
1974), or the overlapping geographic jurisdictions of feudal “realms,” mutated
into a set of multiple states with reciprocal rights and obligations, at least to the
extent that their territorial extensions and the monopoly on the use of force within
them, were recognized by other states. Here, however, it is crucial to differentiate
between the singular entity, the interstate system, and the elements of that system,
states: the first a long-term structure or system of relations, the second, physical
manifestations or products of the system that come and go, even change physical
shape or conceptual form as the system as a whole reproduces itself. If one might
be tempted to think of the “capitalist state” as superstructural, one can hardly
think of the primary longue durée structure of coercion and decision making in
the world-system as reflective or derivative of the structures of production and
distribution; the axial division of labor and the interstate system are mutually
dependent, reinforcing structures whose reproduction by expansion over time has
grounded accumulation on a world scale.
The organizational structure of the interstate system allowed fluctuating flows
of goods, capital, and labor to be controlled across semipermeable borders. Strong
states worked to loosen controls during periods of world economic upturn and
tighten controls during periods of downturn to favor accumulation and contain
and mitigate the consequences of class conflict. Controls over the movements of
people (labor) were always more stringent than those enforced over the movement
of commercial goods, while the weakest controls were exerted over financial flows.
Like its economic processes, the geopolitics of historical capitalism also underwent
periodic fluctuations. Competition among elites resulted in “world wars,” the

outcomes of which were short-lived states of “hegemony,” a status of the system
during which one strong state exercised military, commercial, financial, and cultural
dominance, before other parts of the world-system “caught up” to become once
more competitive and the cycle repeated.
World-systems analysis has not only identified a unique and unitary “world,”
exhibiting both long-term regularities and constant change, the “world” that
constitutes its unit of analysis, but has also taken steps to give scholarly legitimacy
to the phenomenological wholeness of human reality as well. Over the past three
decades, significant progress has been made in developing modes of integrating
the analytically distinct arenas of production and distribution, the economic, and
decision-making and coercion, the political, in terms of long-term processes and
medium-term fluctuations. Certainly, the literature on Kondratieff waves or waves of
capitalist development is immense, as is that treating hegemony or world leadership.
What is clearly still up in the air, however, is the status of those other elements of
social life that have to do with the production of meaning. So although progress has
also been made in the study of the social or cultural sphere, what I have called the
“third arena,” we remain to a surprising degree where we were three decades ago
when Hopkins, Wallerstein et al. asserted that “little is systematically known about
[the broadly ‘cultural aspect’]” as integral to world-historical development (1982:
43). However, if the “broadly ‘cultural’ aspect” of the modern world-system is just
as constitutive as the economic and political realms, then ad hoc, particularistic
conceptualizations would have to give way to a specification of the longue durée
structures of this “third arena” of cognition and intentionality, including the cyclical
rhythms and secular trends of the reproduction of those structures. They would
have to be recognizable over the entire life of the system—in other words, what
we need is a conceptualization that would be analogous to those we use in the
economic and political arenas (see Lee 2003). The structures-of-knowledge approach
is the outcome of this conceptual work in the arena of cognition and intentionality.
From the beginning of the long sixteenth century, the practices of knowledge
production have taken the form of an intellectual and institutional hierarchy, or
set of structures, within which authoritative knowledge, that is, where truth values
could be established, was progressively defined as the “other” of societal/moral

values. This is the primary longue durée structure that accounts for the dominant
relational setting “disciplining” human cognition and intentionality, and thus
framing the “cultural” parameters of possible action.
The progressive privileging of formal rationality, that is, disinterested calculation
as a generalized means of instrumental action, over substantive rationality or the
normatively-oriented pursuit of specifically situated ends—rationalization—drove
the secular trend in the processes of reproduction of the structures of knowledge.
Depending on the arena of discourse this might be variously labeled “scientization”
or “secularization,” in any case it amounted to the pursuit of objectivity and
the marginalization of agency and history, of subjectivity in whatever form. The
structures of knowledge of the modern world-system are, like its economic and
political structures, unique; no other historical system has created two antithetical,
contradictory epistemological bases for the production of knowledge, one excluding
human values as a basic constituent of the search for knowledge and one in
which human values are an inseparable part. Along these two lines, the long-term
intellectual and institutional opposition of the sciences and the humanities, what
has come to be called the “Two Cultures,” reached a clear delineation over the
course of the nineteenth century (see Lee and Wallerstein 2004).
Within this basic structure, the social sciences emerged in the nineteenth century
as a medium-term solution to the tensions internal to the structures of knowledge
that no longer offered practical ways of addressing the evolving geopolitics of the
world-system. In the aftermath of the French Revolution it was no longer possible
to imagine a static world; but how one interpreted social change depended on
contradictory appeals to values. The alternatives were mutually exclusive; the world
could be one in which order was achieved through the authority of tradition or
one of chaos arising from unfettered democracy. Neither offered a solution, on
which any consensus seemed possible, to the political confrontations between
conservatism and radicalism that threatened capital accumulation. Eventually, from
the late nineteenth century, the objective, value-neutral, problem-solving spirit of
science was advanced to resolve the stand-off in the English-speaking world and
the connection between meaning or values and systematic knowledge was argued
rigorously, and vigorously, in the Methodenstreit. The result was the institutionalization

of a set of disciplines, the social sciences, which would function to guarantee ordered
change in the name of “progress” through “scientific” control. Social scientists were
to be “experts” and produce “value-neutral” knowledge based on “hard facts.” In
political and economic terms, this amounted to liberal incrementalism maximizing
accumulation and minimizing class struggle.
The evolving hierarchical structure of the sciences, the social sciences, and the
humanities privileged and gave maximum cultural authority to the universalism
asserted in the sciences, the empirical and positivistic sphere of “truth.” The
particularistic knowledge produced in the humanities involving the impressionistic
and anarchic human realm of “values” simply could not muster the same legitimacy
that practical relevance afforded to the natural sciences. In this great fluctuation
in the processes of reproduction of the structures of knowledge, the social sciences
came to be situated in between the two great super disciplines, resolving in the
medium term the nineteenth-century crisis of social knowledge production. The
social sciences divided the study of the human world into isolated domains
separated intellectually in disciplines and institutionally in university departments.
However, from the moment of the greatest intellectual and institutional success
of this structure in the period immediately after 1945, the scholarly legitimacy of
the premises underlying the partitions separating the disciplines and the practical
usefulness of the distinctions became less and less self-evident, and after 1968
were overtly contested.
Summarizing the periodic fluctuations in the processes of reproduction of the
structures of knowledge, which I have called logistics, the first logistic corresponds
to the period of secular inflation and deflation identified by Rondo Cameron (1970,
1973) running generally from the middle of the fifteenth century through the
first third of the eighteenth century. The process of rationalization began with the
embryonic separation of facts from values, the true from the good, and the division
of the earthly from the heavenly. The Thirty-Years War, the Westphalian solution,
and the establishment of Dutch hegemony fall in the middle of the period. The
second logistic matches up with the second period of secular inflation and deflation
that runs from the mid-eighteenth century through the late nineteenth century. A

thirty-years-long world war and the reestablishment of a state of hegemony in the
interstate system with the United Kingdom as the leading power again fall about
in the middle of the period. The medium-term resolution of the first logistic, the
Newtonian synthesis, is confirmed and consolidated, and marked symbolically by
La Place’s rejection of any place for God in his system of celestial mechanics. The
third logistic that begins in the late nineteenth century seems just to be sputtering
out. It also witnessed a thirty-years-long world war that resulted in a new state of
hegemony. The political tensions of the second logistic were resolved in the medium
term with the new liberal consensus of popular sovereignty and the welfare state
extrapolated worldwide as developmentalism and self-determination of peoples.
These then are the three analytically distinct but functionally, and existentially,
inseparable structural arenas of the modern world-system: the axial division of labor,
the interstate system, and the structures of knowledge. Over the past three decades, the
crisis in the processes reproducing the organizational patterns of the modern world-
system in all three has become apparent (see Hopkins, Wallerstein et al. 1996), despite
neoliberal efforts bolstered by the rhetoric of globalization (the idea that there is no
other choice) to extend them. The major mechanisms through which accumulation
has been guaranteed over the past five centuries by keeping costs of production
down—the incorporation of new pools of lowest cost labor, the externalization of
the costs of infrastructure and ecological degradation, control over transfer payments
resulting in higher taxes, and the state’s ability to contain the political initiative of
popular political forces—have all run up against their limits resulting in rising costs
of production at the world level that can no longer be offset locally.
Such statements are a product of a longue durée perspective, and when we look
at the realm of superstructures from this standpoint, it becomes apparent that here
too we are in the throes of a secular crisis. The structuralisms ran a knife through
the heart of both European humanism and positivism, and from the late 1960s,
developments at the level of theory paralleled what was happening on the ground.
Those groups which had theretofore lacked a “voice” secured admittance to the
academy and began to transform it from the inside by applying their differently
situated knowledge of the workings of the social world and their alternative value

sets to highlight especially the link between ahistorical categories of social being
and human subordination.
The crisis of rationalization is a crisis of the separate epistemologies of the two
cultures and thus of the relational organization of the superdisciplines. That chance
and necessity are indivisible and give rise to irreversibility and creativity in natural
systems (see Prigogine 1997)—reinstating the idea that authoritative knowledge may
not necessarily, even at the limit, offer possibilities for prediction—are moving the
sciences back toward the “human studies.” Contingency, context-dependency, the
collapse of essentialisms, and multiple, overlapping temporal and spatial frameworks
are closing the gap between the humanities and the historical social sciences.
Just as the realization that most natural systems are deterministic but unpredictable
does not spell the “end of science” and their objects of analysis, the subject matters
we now think of as composing the humanities, will not disappear. What is changing
is the overarching structure itself that categorizes and separates the humanities
and the sciences and leaves the social sciences adrift somewhere in between.
Fernand Braudel saw the longue durée as one of the ways a rapproachement might
be achieved among the human sciences. The intellectual sanctions and practical
justifications for independent disciplines in the social sciences are disintegrating,
but we are hardly at the “end of history.” To the contrary, we are on the frontier
of a whole new “world” when time and space can no longer be treated as neutral
parameters—now in the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities—but must
be viewed as socially constructed and interdependent categories. Indeed, the longue
durée has altered our concept of history by supplying us with the conceptual tools
to overcome the dilemma of being constrained to think in either idiographic or
nomothetic terms. So today we can certainly imagine a possible future in which
not just history, sociology, and economics find more common ground, but the
likes of music and literature, biology and astrophysics will cease to live in worlds
apart defined by their differing epistemologies and recognize equally their stake
in the human condition.
A reevaluation of the way we conceptualize “superstructure” as suggested by
the longue durée approach has important consequences for us, as analysts, as we

imagine and work for those possible futures that we believe will make for a better
world during this period of systemic transition. The first is in underlying subject
matter. We are on the cusp of a transformation not just in epistemology, but to a
postmodern (world-system) ontology. It is already changing the way we view the
world from one of autonomous, preexisting but interacting, units—individuals of all
persuasions—to one of relational systems which create their elements as observables
as they reproduce themselves. The effect will eventually be to alter the possibilities
for human action that we are able to imagine as legitimate and efficacious. This
will entail a methodological revolution, as well, as the heyday of the comparative
method in its most classic forms fades and we begin to learn to exploit fully the
tools offered by analogies or homologies. Finally, as values are incorporated directly
in our analyses and not relegated simply to the attitudes of the analyst, we will
have to constantly ask the “for what,” “for when,” “for where,” “for whom,” and
“from whose point of view” questions on a regular basis. In short, consciousness,
social being, may find not only its structural location but its historical dimension
as well in world-systems analysis.

Works Cited

Anderson, Perry. 1974. Lineages of the Absolutist State. London: Verso.

Braudel, Fernand. 2009. “History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée,” trans. by
Immanuel Wallerstein. Review 32 (2): 171–203.
Cameron, Rondo. 1970. “Europe’s Second Logistic.” Comparative Studies in Society and
History 12: 452–62.
———. 1973. “The Logistics of European Economic Growth: A Note on Historical Peri-
odization.” The Journal of European Economic History 2 (1): 145–48.
Hopkins, Terence K., Wallerstein, Immanuel and Associates. 1982. World-Systems Analysis:
Theory and Methodology. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
Hopkins, Terence K., Wallerstein, Immanuel et al. 1996. The Age of Transition: Trajectory
of the World-System 1945–2025. London: Zed Books.

Lee, Richard E. 2003. “The ‘Third’ Arena: Trends and Logistics in the Geoculture of the
Modern World-System.” Pp. 120–27 in Emerging Issues in the 21st Century World-
System, ed. Wilma A. Dunaway. Westport: Greenwood.
Lee, Richard E. and Wallerstein, Immanuel, coords. 2004. Overcoming the Two Cultures:
The Sciences versus the Humanities in the Modern World-System. New York: Paradigm.
Marx, Karl. 1963. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. (Orig. 1852). New York:
International Publishers.
———. 1972. “Preface” A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Pp. 3–6 in
The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker. (Orig. 1859). New York:
W. W. Norton.
Prigogine, Ilya. 1997. The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature.
New York: Free Press.

Nomads and Kings
State Formation in Asia over the
Longue Durée, 1250–1700

Ravi Arvind Palat

T he destructive power of cannons and gunpowder appeared to be so striking

that Marshall Hodgson (1974), William McNeill (1984), and others have
argued that the introduction of gunpowder and artillery led to a decline in the
importance of the horse, and ipso facto of the nomads, as rulers of sedentary states
could effectively use the new military technologies to create strong centralized
polities—the “gunpowder empires”—all across Europe, the eastern Mediterranean,
North Africa, and Asia. Political centralization in Europe and much of the Islamic
world was attributed to the devastating force of heavy mortars, which could reduce
forts to rubble and eliminate or marginalize the power of regional potentates. Yet,
as Halil Inalcik (1980) and Iqtidar Alam Khan (2004: 8, 103, 163–90) have shown
for the Ottoman and Mughal empires, the dissemination of firearms also enabled
peasantries and local elites to more effectively resist royal forces.
More crucially, the matchlocks of the early muskets were extremely impractical
on horseback and ineffective against the speed and maneuverability of light cavalries.
Jacob de Gheyn’s The Exercise of Armes for Calivres, Muskettes, and Pikes of 1607,
for instance, details the following twenty-eight steps for reloading a weapon:

(1) hold the gun up with his left hand, (2) remove the match from the lock
with his right hand, (3) put the end of the match back in his left hand,
(4) blow any sparks out on the priming pan, (5) put priming powder in
the pan, (6) shut the pan, (7) shake any powder off the lid of the pan, (8)
blow any remaining powder off the lid of the pan, (9) pick up the gun with
both hands, (10) transfer the gun to his left side, (11) open a flask with his
right hand, (12) insert the powder and bullet into the muzzle, (13) draw the
ramrod out of the stock, (14) adjust his grip on the ramrod, (15) ram home
the bullet and powder, (16) pull out the ramrod, (17) adjust his grip on the
ramrod, (18) return the ramrod to the stock, (19) hold the gun up with his
left hand, (20) grasp the gun with his right hand, (21) transfer the gun to
his right side, (22) take one end of the match in his right hand, (23) blow
on the match, (24) insert the match in the lock, (25) adjust the match in
the lock, (26) blow on the match again, and (27) level the gun, before he
could finally (28) pull the trigger again (quoted in Chase 2003: 25).

One sixteenth-century observer figured that an archer could shoot fifteen arrows in
the time it took a matchlockman to load his piece once, and John Nef reckoned
that “an average or clumsy soldier” could take as much as ten or fifteen minutes
to load his weapon (Perrin 1980: 15).
Even if a cavalryman kept two pistols to compensate for the difficulty of
reloading them, they could not trade fire with infantry armed with muskets
because, to keep the weight of pistols manageable, their effective range was very
short. The short range of muskets possessed by Ming forces meant that they
were often ineffective against cavalry charges and at the battle of Mount Sarhu in
1619 when the Manchus first defeated the Ming, a Chinese text noted that the
“guns had hardly been fired when the [Manchu] swords had reached the [Ming
soldiers’] necks” (quoted in Di Cosmo 2004: 135; see also Needham 1986; Perdue
2005: 55, 534–35). Traveling in Mughal India in the mid-seventeenth century,
François Bernier observed with some amazement that “the cavalry of this country
manoeuvre with much ease, and discharge their arrows with astonishing quickness;

a horseman shooting six times before a musketeer can fire twice” (1916: 48).
In the hot tropical climate of the Indian subcontinent, apart from being heavy,
inaccurate, and slow to load, matchlocks rusted quickly. It was also hard for them
to function in heavy monsoon downpours even if the powder was dry (Gordon
1998; Khan 2004; Scammell 1980: 4).
Hence, a far more important climacteric in the development of state structures
in much of continental Asia over the longue durée, as Fernand Braudel recognized
was the dialectic between nomads and kings:

The real scourges [of China and India] comparable to the biblical plagues of
Egypt, came from the great deserts and steppes . . . which are torrid under
the summer sun, and in winter buried under enormous drifts of snow.  .  .  .  As
soon as [nomads] appeared in history, they were what they would remain
until their decline in the mid-seventeenth century: hordes of violent, cruel,
pillaging horsemen full of daredevil courage (1994: 164).1

This vulnerability of sedentary states to constant nomadic incursions, not only in

China and India but also in a wide swathe of territory from the Atlantic coasts
of North Africa through West Asia, stood in marked contrast to the experience of
sedentary settlements elsewhere in the eastern hemisphere. Among nomads in East

1.  Some historians have attributed the nomadic breakout from the Central Asian steppe to
droughts which reduced pasture lands. However, periods of the most marked migrations—
around 400 CE, 1200 CE, and 1600 CE—were periods of unusual cold and wet temperatures
rather than hot and dry. Climatic conditions also do not explain why the breakouts were
directed toward the east, west, and the south when pasture lands were more abundant toward
the north. Other historians have taken the opposite hypothesis: that colder and wetter weather
by extending the cold freeze prevented animals weakened by the winter from grazing in the
spring. Yet, others argue that the cold and wet temperatures, by making pastures better,
increased the numbers of animals and thus amplified the push outward (Adshead 2000:

Africa, pastoralism was the norm and horses and camels were virtually unknown
south of Ethiopia before modern times—hence they posed no significant military
threat to sedentary states (Khazanov 1983: 63–65). The broken forests, rather than
arid steppes, characteristic of the European landscape posed enormous logistical
problems for the nomads and there were no nomadic incursions into Europe
after the eleventh century—except for the Mongols on its eastern margins, and
even these stopped after the thirteenth century (Sinor 1972: 181–82; Gommans
1998a: 132; Wink 1997: 24).2 That firearms were rarely decisive in the field in
the large agrarian-commercial empires of East and South Asia until the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries is underscored by the fact that although gunpowder and
firearms were first discovered in China—the earliest evidence for firearms comes
from sculptures in a Buddhist cave temple dated to the early 1100s (Chase 2003:
32)—their development proceeded far more rapidly in western Europe and Japan,
two areas largely insulated from depredations by nomadic hordes.
Precisely as Europe’s frontier with the nomads closed in the eleventh century,
the arid regions of Central Asia “emerged as a huge continental mediterranée, a
vibrant interstitial region that widened the horizon of all its adjoining societies
and opened new channels for pastoralists, warriors, merchants, pilgrims and other
restless wanderers” (Gommans 1998a: 130). Here, Turco-Mongol horsemen began
to establish a string of conquest states stretching from the Saljuks in northern Iran
through the Ghaznavids in northwestern India to the Khitan and the Jurchen in
northern China. Between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as conquest states
of the peoples of the Central Asian steppe expanded to encompass large expanses
of China and the northern Indian subcontinent, warriors from the dry tracts of
the southern Indian peninsula—the Yadavas, the Kakatiyas, the Hoysalas, and

2.  Based on the assumption that in the early second millennium 120 acres of grazing land was
required to support one horse per year, Denis Sinor estimated that the Hungarian Plain could
provide pasture for only 205,920 horses compared to the Mongolian grasslands, which could
support 2,500,000 (1972: 181).

the Sambuvarayas—also asserted their dominance over the peoples of the fertile
riverine and coastal zones (Gommans 1998b: 14–15; 1998a: 131; Talbot 2001).
The continued vulnerability of societies in eastern Eurasia to nomadic depredations
underlined a mutual dependence between nomads and sedentary peoples in this
quadrant. As the following will indicate, although sedentary societies in both
China and the Indian subcontinent were susceptible to nomadic conquests from
the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries, geographical differences in the two zones
led to very different dialectics of nomad-sedentary relations and consequently to
different patterns of statecraft. The rapid cavalry maneuvers that the nomads used
to such ruinous effect elsewhere, however, gave them no comparative advantage
in continental Southeast Asia where dense forests and the difficulty of East-West
communications largely insulated polities from their military incursions. Better
firearms technologies did not radically alter the balance of power in China and the
Indian subcontinent—and superior European artillery also proved to be indecisive.
The nomadic frontier was eventually closed only after local powers devised military
strategies to undermine the nomads’ advantages by cutting off their escape routes.
Finally, the last section of this paper will survey strategies of war-making and
state-making in China and the Indian subcontinent in comparison to the patterns
in contemporary Europe.

Swirling Dervishes and Large Agrarian Empires

Since natural barriers did not separate nomads of the southern steppe—extending
from North Africa through Central Asia and Persia, to western India and China—
from sedentary societies, the distinctions between pastoral nomads and agriculturalists
evolved only gradually as each group increasingly specialized in activities in which
they had a comparative advantage. The slow expansion of cultivation meant that
the best lands were reserved for the cultivation of grains, vegetables, and other
foodstuff, and there was little room for grazing horses in China or India, especially
since horses had to be moved frequently because they refused to eat grass growing

around their own droppings. Due to competition from agriculturists, fodder crops
were also in short supply (Gommans 1995: 71; 2002: 111–14; Beckwith 1991;
Creel 1965). As cultivation took root, at a certain point

the marginal steppe society ceased to be marginal and committed itself

definitely to the steppe. Having reached that point it was ready to take
advantage of a steppe technique of horse usage in order to increase the
efficiency of life within the steppe environment (Lattimore 1940: 59).

And once people of the steppe, diverging from the sedentary way of life, had
realized that the practice of agriculture was less important to their standards of
importance, power, and wealth, they began to place greater emphasis on the range
and speed of their horses and on their abilities to be in command of a wide range
of pastures (Lattimore 1940: 63–64). Moreover, in addition to using bows and
arrows on horseback, mounted archers could also use spears and swords to make
charges. The mobility and maneuverability of mounted archers was their key military
advantage—and as equestrian and archery skills were integral to steppe life, these
required no special training and every able-bodied adult male was subject to call-
up at short notice and expected to provide most of his own equipment: horses
and weapons. They were sustained in the field by living off the land—by raiding
and looting villages and towns. Sedentary societies had no similar advantages:
cavalrymen had to be trained and equipped and, as garrisoned troops, they had
to be provisioned with supplies.
By the late eleventh century, mounted archers from Central Asia routinely
overpowered Byzantine, Chinese, and north Indian imperial forces (see Kaegi
1964). At the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192, Muhammad Ghuri’s victorious
forces were estimated to have had between 120,000 to 130,000 horses compared
to Prithviraj’s 300,000 horses and 3,000 elephants. Despite the overwhelming
numerical superiority of Prithviraj’s forces, his defeat indicated that the failure
to deploy mounted archers was a fatal flaw, just as the Chinese crossbow was no
match for the nomads’ mobility and speed (Lorge 2008: 28).

Since ecological conditions made it difficult to breed horses of good quality in
sufficient numbers across much of South and East Asia3 it was incumbent on rulers
to import large quantities of horses. This was all the more necessary because the
scale of warfare was much more extensive than in Europe at the time when mounted
horsemen only numbered in the thousands. In contrast, Sultan Muhammad bin
Tughluq was reported to add 10,000 Arabian horses to his stables every year while
’Alauddin Khalji claimed to have 70,000 horses. His general, Malik Kafur, is said
to have compelled the ruler of Warangal to surrender some 20,000 horses—many
of which had been brought from Yunnan via Bengal (Chakravarti 1999: 203). And
in China, according to Marco Polo, Kublai Khan marshaled a force of 360,000
horsemen and 100,000 foot soldiers to quell the rebellion by Nayan and Qaidu.
Although Polo has been shown to regularly exaggerate the scale and magnitude of
conditions and phenomena in Asia, from his survey of the evidence, Jos Gommans
estimates that some 25,000 to 50,000 horses were imported annually to India
and China and that each zone had between 1 and 3 million horses (Sinor 1972:
172–73; Wink 1997: 145; Gommans 2002: 117; 2007: 5, 9).
The costs of procuring horses were underwritten by an expanding agrarian
economy and was underscored by the relocation of political capitals at the interstices

3.  Small areas in both India and China were suitable for breeding horses though these were
not even remotely sufficient for the scale of warfare. Christopher Beckwith reports that the best
horses in China were bred in modern-day Kansi and Ningsia (1991: 185). Yunnan was also
an important center of horse breeding and traded horses not only to the Southern Song but
also to Bengal, which served as a trans-shipment point to the Deccan as well as to China (Yang
2004: 299–300). In India, the best regions for horse-breeding—Sind, Rajasthan, and parts of
the Punjab—resembled Central Asia more than the rest of the subcontinent and coincidentally
also marked the limit of Mongol advance, and the quality of horses appear to have declined
markedly in the southern and eastern parts of the subcontinent. Conditions for breeding
horses however improved considerably in the upper northeast and in upper Burma (Digby
1971: 26; Wink 1997: 83–84; Gommans 2002: 113–14). For unsuccessful Ming attempts to
breed horses in south China, see Mitsutaka (1971) and Perdue (2005: 69).

between the outer marches and the fertile agrarian heartlands of empire (Gommans
1998b: 15; 1998a: 129–30; 2002: 23–37). Prefiguring the rise of Vijayanagara
on the banks of the Tungabhadra river, by the twelfth century as Chola power
waned in the southern peninsula, the changing dialectics of war- and state-making
was denoted by the rise of the Hoysala capital, Dvarasamudram, set in the rock
hills of modern Halebid in the Kannada country, and by the Kakatiya capital of
Warangal in the stony ridges of the Telugu country—very unlike the capitals of the
Pallavas and the Cholas set squarely in the middle of the Tamil agrarian heartland
(Stein 1989: 15–17). Similarly, when Chu-ti captured the Ming throne in 1403,
he shifted the capital from Nanjing to Beijing on the empire’s northern frontier.
As the north could barely support its own population, let alone the additional
military contingents and bureaucrats staffing the imperial court, this entailed the
expansion and improvement of the canal network to draw in supplies from the
verdant south (Sinor 1972: 176; Barfield 1989: 234–35).
Despite their shared vulnerabilities to nomadic attacks, very different ecological
and geographical conditions in China and the Indian subcontinent sculpted very
different relations between nomads and peoples of large agrarian empires and the
patterns of state craft varied accordingly. Since the steppe produced only horses
in abundance, nomads depended on the Chinese empire for essential and valued
commodities just as the Chinese dynasts depended on the nomads for their means of
coercion. The relation between the Chinese empire and the nomads was a political
exchange—tribute in return for protection. The tributary missions

were an approved channel for providing subsidies and trade to frontier

peoples. Envoys would present “tribute” (often mere tokens) and in return
receive much larger gifts. . . . China gained the ideological satisfaction of
treating envoys as if they were from subject states. This allowed the court
to dispense huge subsidies, often amounting to extortion, without officially
acknowledging . . . any such thing. The appearance of a sinocentric world
order, with its peerless all-sovereign emperor, was thereby maintained while
the realities of power politics were handled flexibly. . . . A rarely admitted

benefit was that a weak dynasty could often count on military aid from the
nomads to put down rebellions or repel invasions because the nomads wanted
to maintain a profitable status quo (Barfield 1989: 248).

The symbiotic relationship between nomadic and Chinese empires meant that with
the singular exception of the Mongols, nomadic conquests occurred only when
political instability in China led to a situation where there was no government
capable of paying tribute (Barfield 1989: 9–11).
Relations between nomadic and sedentary peoples were less well-regulated in the
broad swathe of land stretching from Morocco across North Africa and Central and
West Asia to the Indian subcontinent where fertile river valleys were interspersed
with expansive tracts of dry lands. In this patchwork ecological equilibrium, lands
with less than 1000 mm of annual rainfall gave pastoral nomadism a comparative
advantage over agriculture and the presence of these internal boundaries rendered
unstable any balance of power between sedentary and nomadic societies. Additionally,
in the Indian subcontinent, dense forests sharply constrained the effectiveness of
cavalries. Towards the late sixteenth century—c. 1595—calculations of the gross
cultivated area during the reign of Akbar indicate that it is unlikely to have been
more than 55 percent of the gross cultivation in 1909–10 (Habib 1999: 1–24;
Moosvi 1987: 65–66; Singh 1995: 23). According to the Baburnama (1922, 2:
592), in his campaign against Chanderi, the founder of the Mughal empire’s army
was preceded “by active overseers and a mass of spadesmen to level the road and
cut the jungles down.” Similarly, when his grandson Akbar, waged war against
Raja Madhukar, Abul Fazl wrote “the country was forest, and the marching of
the army was difficult, they cut down the trees one day and marched the next”
(quoted in Singh 1995: 24).
Compounding matters further, extreme differences between the monsoon and
dry seasons in India meant that the grass fields which grew rapidly toward the
end of the summer became parched by year’s end. The shortness of the natural
grazing season also implied that the best time for haymaking coincided with the
kharif (September–October) harvests. The effects of the inadequate nutritional value

of the food given to horses were compounded by the subcontinent’s weather—
excessive heat and humidity (Gommans 1995: 70–73; 2002: 111–14). Hence,
Gommans (1995: 17) and André Wink (1997: 3) have plausibly suggested that
it was the lack of pasture and a harsh terrain that limited Mongol penetration
into India and that, instead of being ravaged by waves of marauders, much of the
subcontinent was subject to a series of incursions by small bands of well-organized
Turko-Afghan forces.
These differences translated into divergent state-making strategies in China and
in the Indian subcontinent. Although periodic nomadic invasions made landed
gentries in both territorial designations less secure than their European counterparts
(Gommans 2002: 40), the lack of internal frontiers enabled successive Chinese
dynasties to rely on an imperial bureaucracy. As John Dardess (2003: 117, 120)
has noted, the most enduring legacy of the Mongol conquests was the elimination
of non-Chinese dynasties ruling over Zhongguo: “the Tangut Xi Xia (1227), the
Jurchen Jin (1234), and the Tibeto-Burman kingdom of Dali in Yunnan (1254).”
By eliminating

most of the multistate system that had prevailed for centuries in continental
East Asia and replacing it with a unified sovereignty and system of government,
the Mongol conquest prepared the way for the Chinese reoccupation of what
Song policymakers and cartographers had depicted as the traditional Chinese
ecumene (Smith 2003: 7).

If the old Chinese proverb that the empire “could be won but not ruled, from
horseback” contained an important grain of truth, it was also true that the nomads
“could never afford to stray very far from their horses once they had dismounted”
(Elliot 2001: 3). The transition from raiding parties to imperial armies caused
considerable organizational and other changes as soldiers in armies, unlike nomads,
had to be supplied with horses and weapons and trained in the skills required.
Garrisoned troops also had to be provided with food and other supplies and the
Yuan dynasts initially provided land and slaves to ordinary Mongols, especially in

the north, so that they could fulfill their military duties. However, these allotments
were inadequate to equip them for war and within less than fifty years these
garrisons had decayed to such an extent that they were incapable of suppressing
insurgencies. Unlike Chinese dynasties that had sought to foment division among
the peoples of the steppe, the Mongols also absorbed their homeland into the
Chinese provincial system. This involved deploying over 300,000 troops to defend
the Mongol border with Turkestan and, by the early fourteenth century, one-third
of all imperial revenues was being earmarked for the defense of Mongolia (Barfield
1989: 221–22).
After the Yuan retreated back to Mongolia, the Ming emperors adopted two
successive strategies—aggressive military campaigns and government-controlled
trade—to contain the Mongols, neither of which succeeded for long. Confronted by
massive Ming forces, the nomads adopted the classic guerilla strategy of withdrawal
until the enemy over-stretched the supply lines of the imperial forces; then the
nomads ambushed them. The first Ming emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, sought to
extend the reach of his forces by establishing military colonies in Liaodong and
on the northwest frontier. By establishing colonies across some 400 square miles
in the Gansu province, the emperor even claimed to be able to support a military
force of a million men without drawing on civilian supplies. But the low yields of
frontier areas, raids from the steppes, cessation of state supplies of seeds and animals,
and the tendency of military officials to appropriate the colonies for themselves
led to the decline of these colonies by the fifteenth century (Elvin 1973: 97–104;
Johnston 1995: 184, 233; Perdue 2005: 40, 51–52, 325). Unable to solve logistical
problems through military colonies, until the end of the seventeenth century,
no Chinese army could spend more than 90 to 100 days in the steppe, and the
nomads took advantage of this logistical limit to retain their autonomy. When
the Zhengtong emperor ignored warnings about being stranded without supplies
in the steppe in 1449, he was captured by the Mongols at Tumu after which the
Ming abandoned their campaigns into the steppe. The adoption of a defensive
strategy by the Ming was not only because of their military weakness but also
because of a rise in internal unrest, and in the sixteenth century due to increased

external threats along the coasts (Johnston 1995: 185–86, 234–35, 250; Perdue
2005: 58–60, 522; Chase 2003: 55). Eventually, like other dynasties before them,
the Ming sought to control the Mongols by opening frontier markets where the
nomads could trade horses for tea, conferring ranks and titles on selected Mongol
chieftains, and regulating the tribute missions.
When the empire was strong, it established horse markets for its “most favored
barbarians” to trade horses for essential and luxury items while denying this right to
other nomads who had to rely exclusively on tribute missions (Perdue 2005: 68–72;
Barfield 1989: 235; see also Creel 1965: 668). The Southern Song was so critically
short of horses that they even established over a dozen markets in Sichuan and
Guangxi for the Dali kingdom in Yunnan to trade horses despite the Song Court’s
earlier refusal to accept tributary missions from them (Yang 2004: 297–98). Later,
the Ming sought to obtain horses by instituting “tea-horse markets” (chamasi) in
present-day Gansi and Qinghai through the government’s monopsonistic position
in the tea market and its monopolistic position in the exchanges at the “tea-horse
markets” where only tribal chieftains granted gold tablets were permitted to trade.
Although the Ming initially fixed prices at 30 to 40 jin per horse, and later raised
the price to 50 to 120 jin, private traders so subverted the system that the Yongle
emperor was forced to rely on these private traders and pay up to 80,000 jin for
70 horses. In effect, an insufficient monetization of the economy meant that the
Ming did not have the resources to meet the strategic requirement of war—not
even 4 million taels of silver were sufficient to provision its northwest garrisons
(Perdue 2005: 69–70, 74).
Military decline of the Ming and the reconstitution of the post-Yuan Mongol
alliances had led to the reemergence of the Sino-steppe frontier as Mongol
federations challenged Ming control in the southern Ordos and western Shanxi
regions. It was only the Manchus who were able to accomplish the task that had
eluded previous dynasties and eliminate the Great Wall frontier by integrating the
steppe into China (Smith 2003: 8). Rather than following previous patterns of
Chinese imperial dynasties sending large military expeditions against the Mongols,
Qing commanders sent separate armies in pincer formations to attack the nomads

from the front and close off their escape routes from the rear. The success of
this strategy was also predicated on constraining the mobility of the Mongols by
entering into treaties—of Nerchinsk and Kiakhta—with the Russian tsars to close
the steppe and each empire agreeing to return refugees who crossed their borders
(Perdue 2005: 522–23). Despite formal claims to superiority over all other rulers,
establishment of tributary relations with the Mongols and negotiations of treaties
with the Russians underline that Ming and Qing dynasts fully recognized their
imbrication within a system of interstate relations.
A very different pattern of statecraft emerged in the broad expanse of land
between the Atlantic coasts of Africa, West and Central Asia, and in the Indian
subcontinent where the intermingling of marchlands with fertile riverine valleys
had rendered pan-regional polities short-lived as they could never hold together the
several “zones of military entrepreneurship” (Gordon 1994: 182–208; Gommans
1998b: 4). The adoption of titles such as maharajadiraja and shah-an-shah or “king
of kings” rather than “king of India,” by Hindu and Muslim rulers, Christopher
Bayly (1988: 13) and Burton Stein (1991: PE-14; see also Wink 1986) have argued,
signifies that polities in the subcontinent were clusters of power and privilege
rather than centralized despotisms. Even if transferable revenue assignments in
these polities may suggest the operations of an all-powerful monarch, studies of
such transfers in seventeenth-century Punjab when Mughal power was at its zenith
indicates that reassignments were usually within the same region and that in many
cases the assignees were reappointed to their former posts after a short interval
suggesting that their local roots of power remained undisturbed (Singh 1988).
The constant threat of nomadic invasions made it imperative for monarchs to
extract surpluses more efficiently and to concentrate the appropriated surplus in a
tightly-knit ruling class. Key elements of this strategic imperative were the creation
and progressive elaboration of a more structured royal administrative apparatus
to more efficiently assess and collect revenue demands and the institution of a
system of transferable revenue assignments—to accommodate leaders of warbands
and local potentates within the apparatus of rule. Compulsions to import large
numbers of horses annually also led inexorably to the commutation of taxes in kind

to monetary payments and the attendant transformation of states into agrarian-
commercial monarchies. Requiring holders of revenue assignments to furnish horses
and foot soldiers also enabled state-builders to “transform their highly efficient but
relatively small warbands that made the conquests into the much larger imperial
armies that could sustain them” (Gommans 2002: 81). Unlike the European fief,
the revenue assignments or iqta’ was at heart “a salary collected at source . . . for
service granted for a limited time” and was embedded in a monetized economy
in West and South Asia “even when tax-farming was resorted to during liquidity
crises or in times of disturbance” whereas the fief had evolved from a subsistence
economy (Wink 1990: 12–13). Similarity of geopolitical conditions across this
quadrant led to the rise of a shared political culture that enabled the circulation
of bureaucratic and military elites across several jurisdictions exemplified by the
career of Ibn Batutta (Ho 2006: 100).
Invaders from the northwest, who established conquest states in the subcontinent,
reinvigorated Central Asian techniques of warfare by mounted archers and used it
on an unprecedented scale (Gommans 2002: 120). Elsewhere in the Islamic world,
specialized equestrian and archery skills were imparted within the framework of
mamlük slavery between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries as elite slaves could
be forced to perform with a degree of discipline that could not be easily imposed
on the general levies (Wink 1997: 90–91). Although rulers of the early Delhi
Sultanate, as well as the Deccan Sultanates in their initial phases, continued the
Turkish practice of employing military slaves,4 slavery was not a significant component
of Indian military forces because, Gommans and Dirk Kolff suggest, the slaves

were more or less drowned in the huge military market that was India.
This was an attractive free market dominated by the highest bidder of the
day, pulling in various warrior groups from Central Asia and Iran eager to

4.  Military slaves, “natally alienated and socially dead,” were preferred because their lack of
legal and social status increased their dependence on their masters and ensured their loyalties
(Kumar 1994: 23–34).

find adventure and more importantly, employment and ready cash. Every
ambitious ruler in Hindustan had to come to grips with this almost permanent
inflow of military manpower, as well as with the indigenous offers of service
(Gommans and Kolff 2001: 14–15; see also Gommans 2002: 83).

In the less-regulated interchange between rulers of north Indian kingdoms and

the peoples of the steppe, the main sources of horses for the former were Central
Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Arabia, and to a lesser extent the northeast and Burma
while rulers in the southern subcontinent obtained their horses mainly from
Arabia. Observing the constant compulsions to replenish supplies of horses, the
sixteenth-century Persian historian, Abdullah Wassaf, thought it was “a providential
ordinance of God that the western should continue in want of eastern products,
and the eastern world of western products” (quoted in Chaudhuri 1990: 278).
While the fertile agrarian tracts provided the revenue base of empires, the
stationing of large numbers of horses in these areas would have devastated crops
and undermined the imperial apparatus of power. Hence, arid zones intersecting the
riverine centers of agriculture provided the army with extensive fields for pasturage.
These zones of military settlement in India developed around the marchlands of the
Indo-Gangetic doäb, the head of the Bengal delta described by some geographers
as an “arid tropical steppe,” the Rajmahal area, the passes and meadows of the
Western Ghats, Golkonda, and the Arcot area in the southern peninsula (Gommans
2002: 25–37). Here, if unreliable harvests, long off-seasons, and extensive grazing
lands meant that the dry zones had the greatest military potential, they also posed
enormous challenges to state builders who could ill afford to leave the bulk of
their potential military recruits to competing employers or allow them to set up
their own protection-providing enterprises (Gommans 2002: 67, 88).
The introduction of artillery, heavy mortars to demolish fortified walls, should
have tilted the balance of power toward the rulers and against the smaller chiefs
since artillery pieces in the fifteenth century were almost exclusively made of brass
or bronze rather than wrought-iron and were hence very expensive. However, in
practice, hill forts remained largely invulnerable as it was difficult to transport heavy

cannons within range of the forts, especially when the route had to pass through
thick forests as we have seen. One solution was to manufacture mortars near the
site of the siege but by all accounts there is little evidence to suggest that artillery
was decisive in sieges. This was largely because the walls of major forts—the walls
of the fourteenth-century fort in Gulbarga, or of the Purana Qila in Delhi in the
sixteenth-century—were so thick that available artillery could make no impression
on them. Mining was also not a common tactic since the strong hill forts were
not vulnerable to it as illustrated by the siege of Chittor in 1567 when it caused
more harm to the besiegers than to the besieged! Sieges in the subcontinent hence
were decided by blockade rather than by artillery, and the walls were so thick that
they were invulnerable even to European forces in the eighteenth century (Parker
1988: 132; Gommans 2002: 134–35, 142–45, 156–57; Subrahmanyam 1987:
103; Khan 2004: 49–50). The best that the Mughals and their predecessors could
do was to provide leaders of warbands with access to the wealth of empire either
by assimilating them into the imperial apparatus or by channeling their martial
energies outside their realm.
To control subordinates, scattered across their domains, rulers traveled constantly
and itinerant monarchies implied both surveillance and the construction of roads
(Gommans 2002: 106). The moving royal camp was a constant reminder of
sovereignty—a warning against any provincial satrap considering sedition, a display
of power and wealth to inspire awe and allegiance, an exhibition of stately ritual
and ceremony. Stephen Blake calculated that the Mughal emperors spent almost
40 percent of their time on tours of one year or more while the Safavid rulers
of Iran were estimated to have been itinerant for about one-third of their reigns
(Gommans 2002: 101–02).
If relationships with nomads and the importance of cavalries and mounted
archers conditioned state formation across much of eastern Eurasia, infantries
had a greater—and cavalries a correspondingly lesser—prominence in southern
China. When the Ming dispatched their cavalry based in the north to roll back
the Japanese invasion of Korea, they were unsuited to the rugged terrain, which
also did not have enough grassland to pasture the horses, and the defensive cover

provided by forests enabled the Japanese to use their muskets to great effect. This
eventually compelled the Ming to bring in their southern-based infantry troops
who successfully routed the Japanese invaders with their cannons (Swope 2005:
38; 2006).
Firearms were also more effective against the elephant corps, which did not
have the speed and maneuverability of light cavalries. In 1388, for instance, the
Ming forces that had earlier been routed by the Maw Shan elephants, adopted
“volley firing”—one row of soldiers would shoot their fire-arrows (shenjijan or
huojian) and if the elephants continued to advance, the second row would fire,
and then the third—to overwhelm the Shan elephant corps and in the 1406–07
Ming invasion of Vietnam, the army was led by at least four “firearm generals”
(Sun Laichen 2003: 500; 2006: 77).
Although the changed terrain of South China lent greater strategic significance
to infantries as the imperial forces combated pirates who had come ashore as
well as launched expeditions against Southeast Asian states, the Celestial Court
preferred to divert resources to fight wars in the steppe or for other more benign
purposes rather than toward the development of firearms as the nomads were the
major threat to the Ming. Of the 308 external wars the Ming were involved in
during their 152 years of rule, 192 or 62 percent were against the Mongols alone
and it is not surprising that they devoted most of their military resources to meet
this threat except for the last few years of their rule when the conflict with the
Manchus overshadowed all other threats (Barfield 1989: 205; Johnston 1995:
183–84; Chase 2003: 35, 148).
In peninsular India, the presence of “zones of military entrepreneurship” where
pastoral nomadism enjoyed a competitive advantage implied that cavalry warfare
remained of considerable importance. However, the terrain made the use of handguns
more decisive than in the north. One of the earliest effective uses of handguns was
by the Vijayanagara forces during the siege of Raichur in 1520. In this campaign,
as Fernäo Nuniz reported, Krishnadevaraya’s troops were accompanied by twenty
Portuguese musketeers led by Cristóvão de Figueiredo who shot at the Adil Shahi
defenders when they appeared at the fort’s ramparts. Nuniz additionally recorded

that the Vijayanagara forces captured some 400 heavy cannons and several smaller
ones from the Bijapuri notable, Salabat Khan. Some 500 Portuguese renegades were
also reported to have served in the Adil Shahi forces (Nuniz 1970: 312, 325–29;
Khan 2004: 131). Soon after, firearms were to play a major role in Zahir ud-Din
Mohammad Babur’s invasion of northern India in 1526 and in the foundation
of the Mughal Empire. Prior to that, although there had been depictions of the
use of guns and muskets, “the firearm-wielding infantrymen were not assigned an
independent role in battle” (Khan 2004: 47). Nevertheless, the main strength of
the Mughal forces “initially lay in their cavalry, or rather mounted archers, and it
was in the battle in the open field and in rapid movements, that they remained
invincible” until the Marathas countered with “scattered and decentralized warfare,
and muskets at long last (in the eighteenth century) replaced the bow and arrow as
the soldier’s main weapon, to give the infantry a major advantage” (Habib 1999:
364). And a survey of the evidence indicates that artillery was rarely decisive in
sieges between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries and even in open battles,
infantrymen fought alongside mounted archers (Subrahmanyam 1987: 102–04;
Gommans 2002: 133–36; Streusand 1989: 63–69).
In these conditions, although European guns were far superior to those in Asia,
the Portuguese, and the northern European companies after them, found that they
had no real military advantage over the forces of the large agrarian empires in
Asia until the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At least until the second
half of the seventeenth century, cavalrymen found matchlocks to be impractical as
they were not only heavy and slow to load, but also rusted quickly in hot tropical
climates. Additionally, they were useless in heavy monsoon downpours even if the
powder was dry (Scammell 1980: 4; Perrin 1980: 15–16; Gordon 1998: 231; Khan
2004: 154; Chase 2003: 25).
Moreover, as the reference to Portuguese musketeers accompanying the
Vijayanagara forces at Raichur underlines, rulers of states in Asia quickly started
producing European-style weaponry. Ludovico di Varthema reports that when he
arrived in Calicut in 1506, he found that two Milanese—Ioan Maria and Pietro
Antonio—had been compelled by the king “to make a great quantity of artillery

against their will” (Temple 1923: 93; Cipolla 1965: 112–14; Parker 1988: 129).
By the mid-sixteenth century, Maria Augusta Lima Cruz estimated that more than
2,000 Portuguese regengades—chatim—served in armies from China through Pegu
and Ayutthaya to Bengal (Subrahmanyam 1987: 108). The Jesuits—“the world’s
first global arms salesmen,” Peter Perdue (2005: 539) calls them—the Portuguese,
and the rival European trading companies also gifted guns to Asian potentates
(Cipolla 1965: 107–16; Needham 1986; Parker 1988: 129–30; Subrahmanyam
1987; Khan 2004: 59–90). Yet, the Europeans were in no position to dictate
terms. Rather, what Nicola di Cosmo said of China, remains true for much of
the subcontinent as well:

[T]he presence of Western military advisors, technicians, and engineers

appears central and ancillary at the same time: central because without them
the level of firearm technology achieved in China between 1600 and 1690
would have been either unattainable or achieved only much later; ancillary
because it was the adaptation of technology to the specific needs of Chinese
warfare, based on decisions made by the Chinese officials, which made the
adoption of such technology and its further development possible (2004: 127).

Finally, although the introduction of artillery enhanced the power of royal

armies in the subcontinent, the low cost of guns also increased the effectiveness
of peasant and landlord resistance. According to the A’in-i Akbari, during Akbar’s
reign, prices of guns ranged from 0.5 to 9 rupees compared to bows which ranged
in price from 0.25 to 27 rupees (Khan 2004: 15, n. 45). By the seventeenth
century, guns were widely available as indicated by Peter Mundy’s observation that
in modern-day Kanpur district peasants had “their guns, swords and bucklers lying
by them whilst they ploughed the ground” (Temple 1967: 90). Although there
are no similar figures available for the southern peninsula, given that the handgun
was a simple device—with the wrought-iron barrels fashioned by heating and
hammering a thin sheet of metal—there is no reason to expect that the situation
was any different and the people from Karnataka were prominent in Mughal armies

from the seventeenth century (Kolff 2002: 1–31; Gommans 2002: 73–75; Khan
2004: 7–8, 103, 164–90).
In fact, the introduction of firearms fundamentally transformed conditions of
state formation in those areas of eastern Eurasia not subject to nomadic incursions—
Japan and Southeast Asia. In western and central parts of mainland Southeast Asia,
prior to the introduction of firearms, political capitals in the interior had a strategic
advantage as it was easier to sail down the major arteries—the Irrawaddy, and the
Chaophraya—to quell revolts than to sail upriver (Lieberman 2003: 159). The
arrival of European-style guns and cannons reversed this positional advantage as
port cities were better placed to acquire the new weapons and triggered processes
of political centralization—between 1340 and 1540, the number of autonomous
polities declined from twenty-three to six or seven (Lieberman 1997: 473). As
the costs of warfare escalated, control over ports became vital not only to ensure
supplies of lethal weapons but also because collection of maritime revenues was
easier than the collection of claims in kind on agricultural production (Lieberman
1993: 481; 2003: 60–61, 149). Both the rulers of the Restored Toungoo dynasty in
Burma and of Late Ayudhya Siam implemented a series of administrative reforms
to increase the efficiency of tax collections and to exercise greater control over
provinces with varying success.
Similarly, the superiority of European matchlocks was immediately apparent
to the Japanese as soon as two Portuguese castaways brought them to the island
of Tanegashima in 1543, and the first decisive use of muskets was by Takeda
Shingen’s forces in 1555. As Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha vividly illustrates, Oda
Nobunaga deployed firearms to spectacular effect in the battle of Nagashina in
1575. As Geoffrey Parker observes: “The reunification of Japan might perhaps have
been achieved without the gun but the ability to turn large numbers of men into
effective musketeers certainly accelerated the process” (1988: 140–42).
Relations with nomads, then, structured the formation and dynamics of large
agrarian empires in China and the Indian subcontinent between the twelfth and
the mid-eighteenth centuries. The mobility and maneuverability of light cavalries
enabled them to ride roughshod over most opposition across much of eastern

Eurasia, except where dense forests and a difficult terrain blunted their effectiveness.
Competition between agriculture and pasture meant that rulers of sedentary empires
were dependent on nomads for the essential means of war. Within this common
context of war- and state-making, very different geographies in China and India
led to distinct geopolitical arrangements. An ecological patchwork of fertile river
valleys interspersed with arid lands, which favored pastoral nomads, and dense
forests that blunted the effectiveness of cavalries, frustrated efforts to create pan-
regional polities in the subcontinent. Local clusters of power and privilege held on
tenaciously as imperial forces could not subdue hill forts set amidst forests easily
or for long. Similarities in geopolitical conditions between the subcontinent, Persia,
and North Africa led to polities accessing a common archive of technologies of rule
and the circulation of bureaucratic and military elites across this region, leading to
the construction of an Indo-Islamic tradition of law and administrative strategies.
Nomadic conquests, in contrast, helped consolidate a unitary state in China,
which did not have the internal frontiers that pockmarked the subcontinent. As the
nomads controlled the supply of horses but depended on sedentary populations for
the supply of many other necessities and luxuries, it created the basis for a mutually
beneficial exchange of goods under the guise of the tributary trade system—an
ideological cover for blackmail as the empire gave nomads far more valuable gifts
in return for promises of peace. Thus, far from being a realm suspended between
heaven and earth, the “Middle Kingdom” was fully imbricated in a network of
interstate relations with nomadic empires as well as neighboring states in east,
southeast, and north Asia.
The introduction of firearms did not initially destabilize these conditions of war-
and state-making because the early muskets were slow and ineffective against rapid
cavalry maneuvers and, as Alastair Iain Johnston notes, the “operational capabilities”
of the Mongols improved as they captured Ming weaponry and learned to counter
firearms and penetrate Ming fortifications as well as to coordinate cavalry operations
with infantry formations (1995: 236). The relative ineffectiveness of firearms was
also evident by the inability of European forces to stamp their dominance over
the agrarian empires despite the technological superiority of their weapons until

long after the Qing and the Marathas had devised effective strategies—pincer
movements to cut off the means of retreat of light cavalries while attacking from
the front—to finally thwart the nomads.

War, States, Capitalism, and Territorialism

This survey of the dynamics of nomad-sedentary interactions runs against the grain
of reigning conceptions of the causal relations between war and capitalism. Unlike
the nomads, who did not have to defend fixed positions and could refuse to do
battle when conditions were unfavorable, European forces could not indefinitely
decline to fight. Compelled to defend fixed positions, the development of firearms
progressed relatively rapidly, and to better withstand the infantry’s firepower,
cavalry soldiers began to adopt heavier armor and ride stronger but slower horses
(Chase 2003: 66–69). As the costs of providing protection increased substantially
during the sixteenth century due to an expansion in the scale of warfare (McNeill
1984: 79–184; Parker 1988: 24, 62), the ability of rulers to borrow money from
financiers became ever more crucial to their military success. Territorial rulers who
were dependent on financiers and big merchants involved in long-distance trade
also confronted actors who could not be entirely controlled by them since these
financiers and merchants could escape to another ruler’s domains if demands on
them became intolerable.5 Hence the geographies of capital and coercion created

5.  Borrowing from financiers outside their domains may have enabled rulers to repudiate their
debts with less adverse consequences for their local economies, but it eventually made rulers
less creditworthy and they were forced to make concessions to their creditors, including the
authority to collect taxes. When Spain’s Philip II tried to default on his loans to his Genoese
creditors in 1575, they embargoed all currency transfers from the Spanish crown to his
army fighting Dutch rebels in the Low Countries and thus forced him to resume payments.
Domestic creditors were easier to fend off as they could be paid in debased currencies, or
their assets could be seized (as England’s Henry VIII did to the monasteries), or they could
be expelled as the Jews were from thirteenth-century England by Edward I (Thompson and
Runciman 2006: 543–44), but these strategies also made the rulers less creditworthy and could
only be adopted in the most severe circumstances.

a system of states, the rulers of each jurisdiction granting increasingly favorable
terms to their merchant-financiers, to enable them to accumulate large profits more
optimally (Lane 1979; Wallerstein 1974).
Compulsions of war-making and state-making did not lead to a similar alliance
between governing and mercantile-financial elites in the large agrarian-commercial
empires of Asia. Control over large populations, extensive territories, and an
elaborate tax system meant that rulers and governing elites were not reliant on
mercantile-financial elites for revenues for their protection-providing activities. “The
Mughals,” Michael Pearson writes, “had no precedent for the sort of privileges-for-
money equation that had for so long been the basic merchant-ruler connection
in Europe” (1991: 110). Instead of relying on loans or cash advances from urban
patriciates to wage wars or to suppress local rebellions, commanders of Mughal
imperial forces, for instance, merely drew cash from provincial treasuries to pay
the troops under their command (Richards 1990: 628). When Akbar sent an
expeditionary force to subdue rebellious Afghan chiefs in Bihar and Bengal in 1572,
for instance, the salaries of artillerymen were paid directly to the commander for
the duration of the campaign from the central treasury (Khan 2004: 92). Since
agricultural production and taxes were more important, Chinese and Indian rulers
focused more on extending cultivation and improving agricultural and artisanal
production than on trade. Though the several imperial dynasties of China or India
recognized the importance of trade—especially to procure good quality horses for
warfare and to acquire gold and silver in regions plagued by chronic shortages of
bullion—they were not concerned with the profits of their merchant classes, unlike
their contemporaries in Western Europe. Bahadur Shah, a sixteenth-century sultan
of Gujarat is even reputed to have told a group of merchants seeking protection
from the Portuguese: “Wars by sea are merchants’ affairs and of no concern to the
prestige of kings” (Boxer 1977: 50).
The greater productivity of lands under wet-rice cultivation—whereas seed to
yield ratios in early modern Europe was rarely more than 1:5, Ming and Qing
records indicate the ratio ranged between 1:45 and 1:51 in good years and the
caloric value of rice was much higher than the staple crops of Europe (Elvin 2004:
208)—supported proportionately larger densities of populations and enabled a larger

proportion of the population to engage in non-food producing occupations on
a full-time basis. This resulted in an exceptionally elaborate divisioning of labor,
which led to a massive expansion of craft production in China and the Indian
subcontinent (Palat 1995). An abundance of labor dictated that this expansion
of handicrafts was accomplished by a greater intensity of labor, specializing in
ever-narrower niches of the production process. The consequent acquisition of
increasingly greater manual dexterity implied that the emphasis was on improving
the quality of labor rather than through the deployment of increasingly complex
instruments of production. Thus, as Robert Hartwell has shown, the development
of technologies associated with iron were stymied in China by the end of the
twelfth century—precisely when wet-rice cultivation had taken root and begun to
expand and as the nomads established conquest states (1967; see also Elvin 1973).
The emphasis on manual dexterity also meant that there was no curiosity about
European technological developments—as evident when European ambassadors
to Jehangir’s court presented him with mechanical clocks in the early seventeenth
century. With their “refined gearing, springs, screws, balance, and escapement,”
they were at the cutting edge of European technology, and had these principles
been adopted, the technological development of the Mughal Empire may well have
taken a different path, but they stimulated little interest because they were seen as
irrelevant to contemporary concerns and needs (Habib 1980: 31).
The manual dexterity of craftsmen was so developed that they could easily copy
European devices when required—and within a decade of Vasco da Gama’s arrival,
local shipbuilders were making vessels that the first Portuguese viceroy thought
were “equivalent to our own” (Habib 1980: 20). Indeed, even though firearms
technology was transmitted from China to Europe by the Mongols, by the time
the Chinese first encountered European firearms in the 1500s, these were much
superior to the weapons of the Celestial Empire (Chase 2003: 3, 140). Just as the
peculiarities of wet-rice cultivation did not facilitate the use of heavy machinery
and just as large populations inhibited the introduction of labor-saving devices, so
too did the difficulties of firing handguns on horseback constrain the development
of firearms. The emphasis on manual dexterity was so deeply set that there was

little interest in improving the quality of products—and when a cannon blew up,
Nicola di Cosmo notes, “the people in charge simply sent in a request for a new
one, while in Europe they sent a request for a better one, possibly made by a better
supplier” (2001: 134). This eventually led to the subordination of China and India
to the drives of the capitalist world-economy but that is a story for another time.

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Long-Term Problems for the Longue Durée
in the Social Sciences

Eric Mielants

F ive decades after Braudel’s intervention on the longue durée, one can reflect
upon the many scholars in various disciplines who have developed research
incorporating this concept as an analytical tool.1 But perhaps more important, one
can contemplate the myriad obstacles that continue to exist for social science scholars
to take the longue durée seriously as a concept, and the significant methodological,
theoretical, epistemological, and ultimately public policy implications.
We know that in the social sciences major hurdles remain to implement a
long-term approach into one’s research agenda. Most economists, for instance,
use relatively short-term data intervals and those who do research on long-term
economic cycles, such as Kondratieff Waves, are indeed a distinct minority. Part
of this research-driven approach is, of course, related to the fact that it requires
sophisticated statistical and quantitative models and thus reliable data. It is much
more difficult to collect and use data from before 1900, and more difficult to

1.  See, for example, the special issue of the Review of the Fernand Braudel Center on “The
Impact of the Annales School on the Social Sciences”1 (3/4), (1978). For a recent overview by
an insider see Burguière (2009).

collect data from the periphery than from more reliable entities (institutions,
governments, and corporations) within core zones (Wallerstein 1999: 211). As a
consequence, a lot of economic history (a distinct minority within the field of
economics) has had the tendency to be quite Eurocentric (Blaut 2000),2 and a
substantial number of scholars in the discipline have emphasized, not coincidentally,
Micro-Economic Theory at the expense of Macro-Economic Theory (Van der Wee
2007: 42). Subsequently, most economists have ended up expunging history from
their curriculum (Hodgson 2001).
It is therefore imperative to historicize capitalism. As the economic historian
John Day put it:

Classical trade theory is utterly divorced from the historical realities of slave
ships and silver argosies. The international division of labor did not result
from the operation of the law of comparative costs because the world’s
trading nations were never equal partners. On the contrary, it was centuries
of unequal exchange that created a “chain of subordination” and led to the
division of the planet into developed and underdeveloped regions (1999:
114, emphasis added).

Only when more economists historicize their research and critically revisit various
epistemological assumptions about markets, progress, and development, can one
hope that more steps will be undertaken toward the creation of a historical social
science in which the longue durée is integrated as an important analytical tool.3

2.  Wallerstein claims that “social science expresses its Eurocentrism in (1) its historiography,
(2) the parochiality of its universalism, (3) its assumptions about (Western) civilization, (4) its
Orientalism, and (5) its attempts to impose the theory of progress” (1999: 169).
3.  Regarding the concept of development, Esteva aptly states that “the economic ‘laws’ of the
classical economists were but deductive inventions which transformed the newly observed
patterns of social behavior, adopted with the emergence of economic society, into universal
axioms designed to carry on a political project” (2001: 19).

The tendency to focus on what Braudel termed l’histoire événementielle,4 that is
the “stuff of traditional political and diplomatic narrative, the realm of individual
consciousness in all its blindness” (Horden and Purcell 2000: 37) and on micro-
oriented processes or relatively small units of analysis—individuals and to a degree
also nation-states—prevents us from focusing on longer cycles and the longue durée.
This methodological individualism in neoclassical economics is also dominant in
influential schools of psychology and rational choice theory within sociology (Elster
1989: 13; Coleman 1990; Udehn 2001). Individuals and their transactions are not
usually perceived and analyzed as within households (e.g., Smith and Wallerstein
1992), in turn embedded in larger and long-lasting commodity chains affected
by cyclical market pressures. Instead, they are often considered as independent
or autonomous actors engaged in relatively short-term rational decision-making
Nation-states only came into existence in Europe in the last 200 years and
much more recently in the periphery (the second half of the twentieth century),
and when taken as a unit of analysis by political scientists and economists alike,
they impose their temporal limits on us. Therefore, “it is not surprising that
[the] history of the longue durée should unsettle our analytical categories, such
as the nation-state . . . for concepts are embedded in time” (Nederveen Pieterse
2006: 69). Thus when nation-states are the preferred unit of analysis for political
scientists or those academics who currently hold positions in various “departments
of government,” one easily succumbs to what Schiller and Wimmer (2003) have
coined methodological nationalism, whereby states are considered independent
sovereign agents with particular cultural properties.5 Not coincidentally, prominent
social scientists as varied as Parsons, Merton, Bourdieu, Habermas, or Luhmann,

4.  For a concise annotated bibliographical overview of Braudel’s concepts and intellectual
legacy cf. Horden and Purcell (2000: 541–43).
5. See also the problems with “Nation-State Centrism” in the study of globalization as
discussed by Robinson (2004).

located the production of “nation-blind theories of modernity” within the strongest
nation-states, which emerged gradually in the core zones of the capitalist world
economy (Schiller and Wimmer 2002: 304).6 It should therefore come as no
surprise that many social scientists throughout the twentieth century took their
own nation-state for granted. But even for those who undertook exceptional long-
term historical research, they often attempted to project the boundaries of the
later emerging nation-state, if not its cultural and political features, onto the same
area before that nation-state actually came into existence. The Belgian economic
historian Henri Pirenne and his Belgian Democracy, Its Early History is a case in
point.7 The gradual institutionalization and concurrent expansion of the European
Union in the last couple of decades may have a similar effect in the future with
a substantially larger unit of analysis and longer time horizon, though with a
remarkably similar intellectual agenda.8
Consequently, not all social scientific studies that look beyond the immediate
past or the nation-state as a unit of analysis are of equal value. If a Eurocentric
depiction of globalization often implies a long-term linearity (with or without stages)
in which most agency is derived from the West, and if in such a meta-narrative

6. I specifically prefer to use the concept “zone.” Debating to what degree “Brazil” is or
when it became a semi-peripheral nation-state leads certain world-system scholars to import
problematic forms of methodological nationalism into their analyses. If one keeps in mind that
zones are constantly evolving spatio-geographical entities, world-systems analysts can study the
existence of core zones within the periphery, and simultaneously the proliferation of peripheral
zones within the core, what Wallerstein has previously called “the phenomenon of the ‘Third
World within’ the core” (1995a: 161), or the “multiple layers of coreness and peripherality”
(Wallerstein and Smith 1992: 255).
7.  See Pirenne (1971). The first English translation dates from 1915.
8.  Reference to the “First World War” and the “Second World War” may become as obsolete
as the usage of “The Great War” when the “European civil war” or the “great civil war” become
more standard timelines implying a geographically bounded unit with a common past, present,
and future (cf. Preston 2000). Contemporary and future European historiography may “serve
as an ideology to legitimate current European policies” (Mitterauer 2006: 270).

one needs to study, implicitly or explicitly, almost exclusively the impact of the
West on the non-Western world, either in the past, the present, or (as a matter
of foreign policy), the future, the intellectual challenge is to produce scholarly
research that “situates globalization in the longue durée [without . . .] revers[ing]
the current of Eurocentrism by centring the East and marginalizing the West, thus
replaying East-West binaries in reverse” (Nederveen Pieterse 2006: 64). At its best,
anti-Eurocentric scholarship, in its desire to “provincialize Europe” (Chakrabarty
2002), provides a much-needed correction to parochial social science that often
disguises itself as objective, unbiased, and universalist. But at its worst, it celebrates,
as Sudipta Kaviraj puts it, an equally problematic “turn towards indigenism” (2005:
501). The narrow path between this Scylla and Charybdis in the social sciences,
which Pollock characterized as the epistemological trap between “a homogenizing
universalism and a ghettoizing particularism” (1998: 43), is a difficult, but necessary,
endeavor. One must hold the tiller firm.9
In essence, one needs to be attentive to similar processes such as economic cycles
(for which a quantitative approach can be quite useful) and specific particularities
(which can often only be analyzed in-depth by using a qualitative method). To
illustrate, one could argue that “medieval” or “early modern” Europe was in many
ways similar to, and certainly not “more advanced,” than many other regions of
the world. But it also displayed its own specific particularities which enabled
capitalism to emerge there, without being a “self-contained” area (Duchesne 2006:
79), somehow detached or isolated from other regions of the world. This does not,
however, imply that various non-European regions shared identical characteristics
that did not allow capitalism to emerge, or that despite their distinctive features
they were not “incorporated” into the capitalist world-system in structurally
similar manners.10 The longue durée is therefore particularly important in raising
the fundamental question about whether our temporal and geographical unit of

9. For Wallerstein’s position on nomothetic and idiographic methodology, see Wallerstein

10.  For an elaboration of this argument see Mielants (2007).

analysis is sufficient to understand what we are studying. Any study undertaken
must also be sensitive to epistemological concerns and therefore attentive to theory.
Yet the combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies is not practiced
by most social scientists. Some specialize in theory (in terms of teaching and
writing), others in specific subfields by using one particular method (sometimes at
the expense of theory altogether), and many have a very limited temporal horizon.11
The comparative method has been implemented even less (cf. Martin and Beittel
1998; Apter 2006: 104).12 Not only is the latter important to counter intellectual
parochialism in the West (see Abu-Lughod 2004; Kennedy and Centeno 2007:
695–709), but it is crucial to the formation of genuine historical social science.
Despite its limitations, Western academic discourse—hegemonic and continuously
reproduced in contemporary “postcolonial” university settings and political
outlets—dominates. The creation of the social sciences in the Western world and
the manner in which they, in their own fragmented ways, organized thought about
past, present, and future conditions, cannot be separated from the way in which
Western knowledge has been used to control, colonize, and dominate the non-
Western world, both in reality as well as epistemologically (e.g., Hira 2007). If one
studies their creation and use in tandem, that is relationally, one can raise critical
questions about “state building” in the non-West and the function of nation-states
in core zones (rather than taking nation-states for granted as a unit of analysis or
outright model). This is not to argue that nation-states or their governments play
a trivial role in our modern world, but that more attention ought to be given to
subnational, regional, and transnational processes. If one can traverse the micro,
meso, and macro levels as Braudel did, from the structures of daily life to the

11. Sociologist Andrew Abbott refers to the divide between sociological research and
sociological theory as a “chasm” (2001b: 37).
12. The minority of academics who undertake comparative research often face dangerous
pitfalls as Fabian points out: “It has been a basic assumption of the comparative method that
societies radically different from ours, even though they exist contemporaneously with us,
‘represent’ the past, to say the least, or that they are (the) past, to say the most” (1991: 193).

wheels of commerce and ultimately a perspective of the world, one is inevitably
forced to rethink Eurocentric epistemological assumptions about temporal linearity.
This in turn has major implications on public policy recommendations.
One major challenge of mainstream social science is to overcome its Eurocentric
limitations in an attempt to make Western models “fit” the non-West. It is no
coincidence that externally imposed paradigms often ignore the “historical, social
and cultural experiences of individual countries and societies” (Mbaku 2004: 32)
located outside the West. Many economic studies in the academic realm are good
examples of this, similar to how orthodox Marxist studies produced in the former
Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states were salient indicators of
how past, present, and future conditions across different times and areas of the
world were molded to fit particular Eurocentric paradigms.
One specific example is classical modernization theory, or developmentalism (e.g.,
Rostow 1960), which come with the theoretical assumption that if poor countries
could only implement the “correct” public policies (e.g., import-substitution
industrialization or ISI), they would be able to witness the gradual “take off ” of
their economies, ultimately achieving a standard of living similar to those in the
West that are already considered developed. Once ISI was abandoned both as an
academic paradigm as well as a public policy regime, the new buzzword of the
1980s and 1990s, globalization, was seen as the method by which less developed
countries would develop and/or modernize. According to globalization advocates
such as the IMF and the World Bank, the key ingredients for successful economic
growth were: trade liberalization; fiscal austerity regimes; a lowering of taxes, quotas
and tariffs; the privatization of state enterprises; and deregulation. Such measures
would attract the foreign direct investment necessary to enable recurring growth
(Williamson 1990). Smithian laissez-faire theory also notes the incentives of
technological changes and concurrent reduction of inefficiencies that are generated by
an openess to international competitive markets. In sum, the argument in favor of
trade liberalization has often been made in the belief that efficiency and technological
progress will ultimately result in economic “development” (e.g., Bhagwati 1978).
According to such wisdom, government intervention is detrimental to “spontaneous”

self-regulating market forces while globalization is a civilizing agent that offers
limitless prosperity (Ohmae 1990; Friedman 1999). The logical outcome of this
Eurocentric thinking is to change that group of people, or countries that have
been problematized (Tucker 1999). At most, macro-economic forces are referred
to as a contextual natural by-product of the “end of history” (Fukuyama 1993) or
simply considered as inevitable, having “no alternative” (cf. Wallerstein 2005). In
this sense, Eurocentric public policies based on Eurocentric value propositions and
methodologies, in differential discursive formations, continue to colonize the social
sciences at large. As Kiernan put it “development is the successor to what earlier
generations of Europeans called Progress, a concept inspired by the eighteenth-
century Enlightenment and meaning all-around advance in everything that makes
up civilization” (1994: 45).
Eurocentric epistemologies and public policies have of course not only been
applied to non-Western zones, but also within the West when Western intellectuals
and governments have had to deal with, classify, label, and manage large groups of
people that were somehow deemed “primitive,” “non-Western,” and so on.13 The
mono-cultural Eurocentric view in the American school system, for example, still
“presumes that the Western structure of knowledge is true, objective, universal, and
applicable to all people and circumstances” (Boateng 2003: 150), that is, regardless
of time and space. If ethnic minorities do not conform to the received educational
model, they are labeled deficient. In Migration Studies, the focus is all too often
on the immigrant as a deviant who needs to be subjected to intense scrutiny
and who is in desperate need of reform (Mielants 2009), which only reflects the
present criminalization of immigration in the core zones of the capitalist world-
economy. Essentially, “the great growth area of migration studies in Europe and
the US is about how to control, reduce, and eliminate immigration in developed
countries” (Sutcliffe 1998: 331). As a result, international migration becomes, for
most politicians and academics, a security concern rather than a humanitarian issue

13.  For the example of American sociology and the paradigms about race created by it see
Winant’s (2007) recent overview.

(Mielants 2002).14 The migrant, not unlike a “failed nation-state,” is measured,
weighed, analyzed, and compared to his or her ideal-typical successful contemporary
Western counterpart. Often the lack of critical and relational analysis, and the
inability or unwillingness to study the migration process in the longue durée, results
in a focus on the migrant as a deviant. At its worst, academics become intellectual
mercenaries, providing the “fig leaf behind which those who decry immigration
can hide their nativist sentiments” (Krissman 2005: 36).
Similar to the theoretical assumption that if poor countries implemented the
“correct” public policies advocated by Western experts they would be able to witness
the gradual “take off ” of their economies, ultimately achieving a standard of living
comparable to those in the West who are already considered “developed,” is the
notion that immigrants can gradually assimilate/integrate into modern society if they
take the correct steps at the right moment in time.15 The implied stagism here is
of course one of linear progress central to both Marxist and Liberal variants of the
Enlightenment.16 Within both neoclassical economics and the structural-functionalist
modernization variant in sociological literature it is argued that although progress
is for the better, it is inevitable that some people (a statistical minority) will be
negatively affected during a period of transition. In its most classical formulation,
the transition from “mechanical solidarity” to the “organic solidarity” of a society
with an increasing division of labor—as formulated by Durkheim (1997) in an

14.  In addition, systematic comparisons over long periods of time are scarce since comparative
migration research is rarely funded (Wimmer and Schiller 2002: 306). At best one engages
in cross-ethnic group comparisons in one particular nation-state. But genuine comparative
research between states is still relatively exceptional. Complicating matters further, migration
historians are distrustful of sociological theory, whereas “the resolute ahistoricism of mainstream
American sociology in general, its immigration subfield included, is indeed difficult for
historians to accept” (Morawska 2005: 211).
15.  In this meta-narrative one often deploys temporal distancing, which denies coevalness
between the underdeveloped and the developed, the traditional, and the modern, etc. See
Fabian (1983).
16.  For a recent and extensive critical analysis of Modernization Theory see Gilman (2003).

earlier period of globalization and increased foreign direct investment shortly before
the outbreak of the First World War—brings about some unfortunate side effects
with which a society must cope (cf. Knöbl 2003). Specifically, concepts such as
anomie, or normlessness, can be used to classify those who suffer from the transition
to industrialization and have a hard time dealing with the stress and other related
problems of urbanization (e.g., crime) and mass migration, undermining the overall
stability within society. Often the theoretical assumption is that only a minority of
the population will be negatively affected during this transition period. The dilemma
then is to intensively scrutinize that minority in order to effectively assist them
in overcoming the specific problems with which they are themselves incapable of
dealing. It is further assumed that, although the transition period is rather painful,
this minority will inevitably benefit from modernity once the transition process has
been completed. For academics and public policymakers, the logical outcome of
this particular way of thinking is to change the minority, allowing them to adapt
as quickly as possible to the new reality that has unfolded. Interestingly, it is the
minority that is problematized and seen as needing further study, and not the large-
scale processes themselves (such as rapid industrialization, increased foreign direct
investment, massive privatizations during the transition from a closed economy to
an open economy, etc.). The scrutinized minority within the core zone, or similarly,
the so-called primitive underdeveloped societies frozen in time and the “people
without history” that stand in the way of progress, need therefore to be modernized,
developed, and civilized (e.g., Harrison 1985).17

17.  As Grofoguel points out, “understanding peripheral zones such as Africa and Latin America
as regions with a ‘problem’ related to ‘stages of development’ concealed Western responsibility
for the exploitation of these continents. The construction of ‘pathological’ regions in the
periphery as opposed to the normal development patterns of the ‘West’ justified . . . treating
the ‘Other’ as ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘backward’ ” (2003: 20). The subsequent production
and dissemination of parochial social scientific “truths” as universalist forms of knowledge
throughout the “rest of the world” is of course intrinsically interlinked with “our” western
perspective, methodology, units of analysis, concepts, abstractions, or visualizations of
“national unity and social cohesion” and (muted) self-interests, in nationalistic or personal
(academic) form (see Grosfoguel and Mielants 2006).

The Eurocentric belief in (inevitable) linear progress, in vectorial measurable
time and concurrent stages, emerging from the Enlightenment period, can be
critically examined when confronted with the temporalities of capitalism (see Sewell
2008). Examining, for instance, the impact of economic cycles on the relocation
of specific sectors from core zones to peripheral zones and on mass migration,
can be quite illustrative.
To what degree has history, Braudel’s own institutional affiliation, incorporated
his insights and methodology?18 Ironically the historical discipline, which ought
to be the most sensitive to a longue durée approach, is also not immune to the
“condition” of being a by-product of its own era. Created to sanctify the bourgeois
nation-state in the nineteenth century, the historical discipline, like other social
sciences, has taken this unit of analysis for granted for far too long.19 In addition,
history departments are (varying from state to state and country to country) often
located within the facultés des lettres et des beaux arts or the humanities, rather than
the social sciences, which reflects their preference for ideographic methodology and
subsequent “resolute refusal to theorize, to put their own culture of history at risk
by the reference of metahistorical thinking” (Dirks 1996: 31; Fulbrook 2002: 25).20
This is not to suggest that historians have not critically reflected on their own
discipline in the last five decades: the influence of post-colonialism, feminism, and
the subaltern school, among others, has had an impact on mainstream history. But

18.  Bailyn, writing on the Atlantic, considers the presence of Braudelians in this region “elusive”
and muses “who these Atlantic Braudelians might be is difficult to discover” (2009: 7).
19. This is also the case for many social science policy-centered studies which, “inevitably
reproduce the state-centered, nation-building optic in their framing and prescription of ways
to achieve” (Favell 2005: 52) specific social outcomes such as the integration of immigrants
and ethnic minorities.
20.  According to John Lewis Gaddis, “historians tend to respond to theory as small children
do to spinach: we don’t much like it, but we rarely explain why. No other academic discipline
so strongly resists the specification of assumptions and the explication of methods” (2001:
301). By way of example, in a monumental oeuvre such as the 1100-page study on the origins
of the European economy (300 CE–900 CE) by noted historian Michael McCormick (2001),
there is a remarkable lack of theory (see Mielants 2003).

despite intellectual challenges to the tradition, such as the creation of a Journal of
World History or, more recently, the Journal of Global History,21 the field remains
institutionally encapsulated within arbitrary epochs: the classical, medieval, early
modern (whatever that means), and modern periods—Eurocentric demarcations
based on a purely European history. Various twentieth-century debates about Indian
feudalism, Tokugawan feudalism, for instance, spent a lot of time assessing the
degree to which several non-European areas of the world also experienced similar
stages or the degree to which they differed from the European norm and why.22
Of course, debating how arbitrary Eurocentric temporal categories or geopolitical
labels undermine a more important holistic research agenda covering longer periods
of time inevitably raises the question: If not our arbitrary demarcations and labels,
then whose? And why would different ones be any better or useful to understand
human history in all its complexity? After all one could debate, as did Braudel or
Pirenne, the validity of using the entire Mediterranean region as a unit of analysis.
But has a single European region ever really existed? Or, should the notion, indeed
the concept of Europe as such, be treated more as an idea than as a place (cf.
Burke 2006), not entirely unlike Inden’s (1990) Imagining India? Or to paraphrase
Maurice Aymard (2004) who, at a previous conference organized by the Fernand
Braudel Center, raised the provocative question: “Does one represent reality or
does one explain it?” Perhaps historical analysis does say more about the present
state of affairs than the past as such (e.g., Boucher 1985), but this does not imply
that meaningful empirical data do not matter if one attempts to explain recurrent
dynamics and processes over relatively long periods of time. The real challenge for
historical social science is to create a theoretically informed, empirically reliable, and
self-reflective praxis that consistently interrogates the epistemological and normative
embedding of social science research.

21.  On the distinctions between World History and Global History, see the excellent overview
provided by Beaujard, Berger and Norel (2009: 7–61).
22.  As Mignolo aptly states: “The Middle Ages were an invention of the Renaissance and
of Western Modernity, and not a planetary reality” (2001: 438). On the Asiatic Mode of
Production see the now classic study by O’Leary (1989).

Despite some calls, such as those made by Wallerstein (2004), to move in
the direction of unidisciplinary social science, the entrenchment of the disciplines
continues to be profound. Historians and sociologists continue to be characterized
as engaging in a dialogue of the deaf (e.g., Burke 2005).23 In political science the
current “professional incentive structure is such that an article read and cited by
just ten political scientists is more valuable professionally than another read and
cited by 50 scholars of whom 45 are outsiders” (Freeman 2005: 114).
Even interdisciplinary research in the social sciences has not profoundly altered
the institutional status quo in the last couple of decades (e.g., Klein 1990; Bohen
and Stiles 1998; Repko 2008: 34–37). In a recent publication of the Social Science
Research Council, Diana Rhoten states: “Across the spectrum of higher education,
many initiatives deemed interdisciplinary are, in fact, merely reconfigurations of old
studies—traditional modes of work patched together under a new label—rather than
actual reconceptualizations and reorganizations of new research. It was common to
hear [researchers] describing themselves as ‘co-investigators on an interdisciplinary
project’ yet to observe them conducting their respective pieces of the research in
near isolation from one another” (2004: 6). The failure to engage beyond one’s
own discipline and consider different methodologies, concepts, and theoretical
perspectives cannot be separated from the merit-based incentives and tenure-granting
criteria that many universities have institutionalized over a long period of time. As
Arney and Brown conclude in their study on interdisciplinary collaboration: “We
promote the disciplinary expert who works individually, publishes individually, and
contributes to the disciplinary field by expanding the knowledge base within the
often rigid and accepted boundaries of the discipline” (2004: 135).24 Although it is
astonishing how many more subfields and related scholarly journals exist than did

23.  In his assessment of the impact of the Annales school, Burke concludes that “to what
extent sociologists take Braudel seriously today is difficult to say . . . it is my impression that
Braudel has not been utilized as much as he might have been and that the challenges he issued
to social scientists still await an adequate response” (2003: 63).
24.  Bernal and Villalpando go so far as to speak of an Apartheid of Knowledge in Academics
and “a current de facto segregation in higher education” (2005: 189).

five decades ago, generally speaking “interdisciplinary work suffers in terms of its
prestige in comparison with research more centrally rooted in a single discipline,
despite the encouragement of multi-disciplinary collaboration by many universities”
(Freeman 2005: 114). At best, one moves in the direction of co-authorship as a
result of collaborative efforts between different disciplines, but ironically, this often
only reinforces the existing expertise and divisions between them.25
Some might argue that the real-life examples of scholars such as Henri Pirenne
and Fernand Braudel suffice to illustrate what can be done. Yet their magnum opuses
were written when each was confined to a military prison for a prolonged period
of time, respectively during First and Second World Wars, and this might have
contributed to their concentration on such a work and on the longue durée (Hexter
1999: 55). Today’s publish or perish environment is quite different.26 What graduate
student working for years on a dissertation would want to undertake steps in the
direction of unidisciplinary research, which might translate into unemployment if

25. See also Dogan and Pahre’s discussion of “pourquoi l’interdisciplinarité est une notion
trompeuse” (1991: 155–60).
26.  According to Strain “the ‘wise’ young professor at a major research university will strive
to have six to nine senior-authored titles [published] by the end of the third year of his or
her initial appointment” (2007: 307). The increased obsession with the ranking of journals,
citation indices, and multitude of publications in a short period of time in the last couple of
decades has led many (young) scholars to flee lengthy, sole-authored and time-consuming
studies such as Braudel’s Mediterranean. Instead one can expect a proliferation of very short,
mostly quantitative and multiple-authored journal articles to bolster the academic’s resumé
and a strategy of Dithers quoting Smithers, who in return, honneur oblige, quotes Dithers
in his own work. As Kupfersmid and Wonderly comment: “The publish or perish policy of
many institutions promotes the quantity over quality phenomenon of which many researchers
are often captive employees . . . it is a practice of many scientists to write papers for journal
submission that are the ‘Least Publishable Unit’ (LPU). The practice of LPU involves
conducting one experiment, performing many statistical analyses on a variety of hypotheses,
and publishing as many articles as possible based on this one study” (1994: 34). Those who
do not play the academic game well are at risk. For a collection of personal accounts about the
state of American academia see Jacobs, Cintrón and Canton (2002).

the scholarship is innovative and, by definition, controversial and nonconventional?
A tenure track position is already hard enough to acquire as reported by the
Chronicle of Higher Education and recent issues of Academe. Let us contemplate
for a moment the intellectual consequences of the fact that “between 1975 and
2005 the percentage of American faculty either tenured or eligible for tenure was
gradually cut in half, from 56.8% to 31.9%” (Nelson 2008: 11). This implies that
the overwhelming majority of positions that opened up in the world of higher
education consisted of part-time adjuncts, visiting professors, research associates
and post-doctoral fellowships, with mostly limited institutional, technological, and
financial support behind them. The proliferation of these precarious positions does
not invite methodological, theoretical, or epistemological boldness and experiments
with or challenges to the existing structures of knowledge. Even tenured faculty
who aspire to be promoted from associate to full professor are often “disciplined”
by the disciplines to remain active within their respective boundaries. As Gary
Krahenbuhl, Senior Vice President at Arizona State University wrote in his book
Building the Academic Deanship: Strategies for Success, specifically for newly-appointed
deans or those who are about to become academic deans, that

[T]ypically the standard for full professor is demonstrated success in teach-

ing and mentoring, a national scholarly reputation and significant national
leadership in one’s discipline [. . . there is] a need to protect faculty who
are devoting significant time to centers, institutes and interdisciplinary
programs. Such individuals, because they often direct their efforts outside
the mainstream of the discipline, are systematically undervalued by those
whose work is more clearly centered in the discipline (2004: 106–07,
emphasis added).

This assessment, if not a warning, certainly invites the following question: If

scholars engaged in interdisciplinary activities are so treated, does unidisciplinarity
even stand a chance? Given these challenges, can the unidisciplinarian speak? And
if (s)he speaks, who listens?

This last question is not unimportant. The myopic specialization of social
scientists with one preferred methodology on one particular topic within their
own discipline, which leaves ordinary people as well as social movements cold and
in the dark (Street 2004: 17) and ignores fundamentally important social issues,27
cannot be separated from the nineteenth-century artificial construction of separate
disciplines institutionalized in different departments in the modern university
setting which leads political scientists to study the state, sociologists civil society,
economists the market, historians the past, and anthropologists the non-Western
world as if separate logics were at work (Wallerstein 2004: 124). This, in turn,
has resulted in separate theories and preferred methodologies for each discipline.28
It is therefore no surprise that intellectually provocative concepts such as Braudel’s
longue durée, which invite a rethinking of binary dichotomies (e.g., the past versus
the present), nation-state bias, and an exclusive commitment to either nomothetic
methodology (e.g., to discover universal laws of social behavior, applicable across
time and space) or idiographic methodology (e.g., to describe particular specificities
in detail to illustrate their uniqueness), have either been ignored or encountered
fierce opposition from the academic status quo throughout the twentieth century
(e.g., Bailyn 2005: 4–5).29

27.  “Much social science remains a type of top-down research that does not recognize social
domination, exploitation, and oppression as critical social issues” (Feagin and Vera 2001: 245).
28.  Perhaps contemporary anthropology, after having turned its gaze back toward the West,
has submitted itself to a more sustained self-critique during the last couple of decades than
any of the other previously mentioned social sciences, enabling the emergence of new studies
sensitive to Braudel’s insights on temporality and spatiality (see for example the references in
Knapp 1992; Fox 2001; Hall 2002: 92–96; Whitten 2007; Kardulias and Hall 2008; Crawford
2008; Beaujard, Berger and Norel 2009). This has been especially the case in anthropology’s
subfield of archeology.
29. Attempting to move beyond a traditional states-and-markets meta-narrative, Braudel
situated changes in terms of the varying degrees of economic reality in a complex historical
context predating the nation-state. If the Mediterranean region could not be properly

If Eurocentrism, to use Manuela Boatcã’s phrase, is “both a general framework
of knowledge and a particular conception of modernity [in turn] the result of the
establishment of Western hegemony as a global model of military, economic and
epistemic power” (2007: 370), then how can one escape or challenge it? At best,
perhaps the incommensurability of social science practices between the South and
the North can be celebrated or, depending on one’s view, deplored as Abend (2006)
pointed out. As such, social scientists can continue acting as “tourists wandering
through the city of knowledge to bypass each other completely” (Abbott 2001a:
101). The challenge to comprehend global reality in all its complexity, however,
should force social scientists to consistently be engaged in multidisciplinary research
and formulate comparative analyses while looking at long term developments such
as economic cycles and recurring crises (see Reinhart and Rogoff 2009).
To interpret non-Western social movements, institutions, or phenomena over a
long period of time (as briefly outlined above) without succumbing to what Fernand
Braudel disdainfully called histoire événementielle, perhaps best translated as episodic
history, chasing headlines from what is happening from one nation-state to the
other, requires a lot of diligence, time, effort and self-reflexive scrutiny often not
readily nurtured or welcomed in existing academic institutional structures with their
own fields of power, such as journals, outlets, conferences, etc. It therefore remains
to be seen if, as the twenty-first century progresses, a unified non-Eurocentric
historical social science will become a feasible intellectual endeavor.
Perhaps, for now, hybridity is a more plausible (or feasible) step forward, as it is
situated somewhere between the lone researcher on the one hand and the specialized
collaborators in interdisciplinary formats on the other hand (see Dogan and Pahre

understood without looking at all its porous boundaries, similarly, the boundaries between
various disciplines need to be erased to allow a more holistic analysis in all its complexity. As
Helleiner pointed out, “Braudel suggested that any social phenomenon must be analyzed from
the perspective of various observation points along four distinct axes which represent time,
space, social orders and hierarchy [which] led him to develop a set of analytical tools that were
designed to adopt a more interdisciplinary approach” (1997: 91).

1991: 161–237). Though a more unified historical social science is still in its infancy,
it is a necessary endeavor if we are to rethink how we envision, interpret, and explain
past, present, and future states of affairs, improve our knowledge, and translate it into
meaningful public policy. It is only after the construction of such a social science that
concepts as the longue durée, part of the dialectic of duration, might become more
mainstream. We need to acknowledge our lasting gratitude to Fernand Braudel, who
at least pointed us in the right direction: away from Eurocentrism, beyond one’s own
discipline, theoretically and empirically rigorous, conceptually innovative, historical
social science written in beautiful prose accessible and enjoyable to everyone. It is a
long-term legacy that will endure and inspire many generations to come.

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Journalism, History, and Eurocentrism
Longue Durée and the Immediate
in Braudel and Wallerstein

José da Mota Lopes

T he publication of Fernand Braudel’s article on the longue durée in October

of 1958 is justly considered a foundational point of reference in world-
systems analysis. But the month of October is also the occasion for a second,
intimately related celebration: that of the first appearance of Immanuel Wallerstein’s
“Commentaries,” begun in October 1998, as a regular feature of the FBC Web site.
Since then, twice a month and with an absolutely amazing regularity, almost 250
“Commentaries” have been published, translated into more than thirty different
languages, including Esperanto, made freely available to everyone with access
to a computer or e-mail and often reproduced all over the globe by hundreds
of newspapers, weekly magazines, and other periodicals. The relation of the
“Commentaries” with Immanuel Wallerstein’s conceptualization of Braudel’s longue
durée in his academic work is obvious. It is, as well, emphasized in each one of
the commentaries. They are presented to their readers as being “reflections on the
contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate
headlines but of the long term.” They are, also, journalism more than anything

else and, as such, they regularly fulfill a unique, essential, enlightening role of
communication and information about the contemporary world.
The second thing I would like to point out are the reasons why I also read
the “Commentaries” in their form, content, and objectives, as being journalism—
and, even when we disagree with its author, very good journalism: they deal with
contemporary events and the immediate; their publication is periodical; they follow
a basic writing structure that is the one usually used in so called op-ed columns;
they contain a more or less constant number of words; and because, despite
having a specific community of readers as their major target, they are written in
a purposely non-academic or academic-light style destined for a wider readership,
that same general readership that consumes quality journalism in all its forms.
If we consider that there are different genres of journalism, like news reporting,
investigative journalism, editorials, or opinion journalism, the “Commentaries”
belong to this last genre, They are opinion journalism, columns of opinion, or
chronicles about the contemporary world-system. Formally they follow a model
started in Western European journalism in the nineteenth century that continues
today: op-ed pages of local or the world’s most influent newspapers are usually
published opinion articles from special collaborators, editorials reflecting public
positions of the publishers and, last but by no means least, the regular chronicles
of usually very well-paid columnists.
Two characteristics of the “Commentaries” deserve to be emphasized. The first
bears repeating and developing here: in a very innovative format, the “Commentaries”
bring together characteristics that are specific of journalism with what is basically
an epistemological and methodological practice of analytical research that usually
belongs to history and other social sciences. To a great extent the “Commentaries”
not only accept Fernand Braudel’s conceptualization of time and of the longue
durée, the basic objective of the 1958 article, but apply it, creatively and critically,
in periodical journalism.
Second, the “Commentaries” are forms of what is often called online or electronic
journalism with a chronological difference; their beginnings are antecedent to the
present practice of “new journalism” by some years. In 1998, when Immanuel

Wallerstein initiated the online publication of the “Commentaries,” those
technologically renewing forms of public information were not yet fully born.
It is important to emphasize this point mainly for reasons related to the present
need to overcome what is considered, almost unanimously by readers, scholars,
and professionals, the critical state of today’s journalism. As often defended, one
of the possible alternatives is precisely through the popularization of informative
blogs and other forms of electronic journalism, of which the “Commentaries” are
a very good example. What this means is that the crisis of journalism is not a
technical crisis of production or access to media channels. It is a crisis of content
and credibility, that is to say, it is first of all a political crisis.
But to discuss these important points will not be my central objective. What I
will try to do is different. After a brief reference to the ideological nature and role
of journalism in the world-system, I will examine how the characterization of events,
the raw material of the immediate, and the longue durée, the major temporality
in Braudel’s conceptualization of time, can indicate new elements about their use
both in journalism and in the social sciences. To be sure, this discussion is based
on suggestions given to me by my regular access to the “Commentaries.” It will be
based on what I see as an imperative in Braudel. For him neither events nor the
longue durée exist by themselves but only in a constant or permanent interrelationship
between them and with conjunctural time. This triple interrelation, particularly
in what concerns events and longue durée, is the centerpiece of what I consider
to be Braudel’s dialectic of time. My starting point will be the premise that it is
events, the basis of journalism, and the usual detonator in Immanuel Wallerstein’s
“Commentaries,” which call attention to our social reality as it is encoded by
journalism, historically and in political terms. But, I shall contend, events only have
meaning and reality when and if related both with their immediate contextual or
conjunctural temporalities and the historical longue durée. This has often been a
misunderstood and polemical question which, I believe, a closer reading of Braudel
does not solve completely.
As a major, related point I will suggest that one of the most important
accomplishments made obvious by the use of the longue durée both as a journalistic

approach in the “Commentaries” and as an essential method of world-systems
analysis, is that it makes possible an active, self-conscious, and practical criticism
of what I will call here, in a kind of shorthand, Eurocentrism. I am, obviously,
referring to a fundamental component of the dominant ideology of the capitalist
world-economy. It is also an integral part of the negative heritage of the European
Enlightenment which, in the realm of its Euro-American universalism and dominant
perspectives within the core of the modern world-system, often muddles, falsifies,
or distorts our possibilities of better understanding the historical and social reality
or realities of our times, that is to say, of our evolving historical system. This is
true, I believe, not only within the core but also within the periphery and semi-
periphery of the world-system. It is also true both in what concerns the social
sciences and within the regular practice of professional journalism.
Two or three major characteristics can be used to define the social and historical
origins and development of the journalistic field and, consequently, its nature.
The first is the evidence, namely pointed out by Wayne Parsons (1989: 2), that
newspapers, almost from their inception within the core, have been about “selling
markets.” They are imbedded in capitalism, he tells us, and are usually an integral
part of its structures of power. Consequently, they are intrinsically related to the
existence and major objectives of the capitalist world-economy and the public
affirmation of its social and political legitimacy. The same can be said about other
forms of public information like broadcast channels and, increasingly, about the
major news and opinion sites of the Internet. In other words, both newspapers and
journalism are and have always been important instruments for the construction,
development, and ideological expansion of the capitalist world-economy. The way
printing presses and newspapers have been historically established in the periphery
and semi-periphery is a direct result and illustrates well this linkage. In Southern
Africa, for instance, the first newspapers were official governmental gazettes set
up by the colonial governments to establish, impose, legitimize, and consolidate
its political power while at the same time organizing settlers as an integral part
of their structures of accumulation and power. The case of the first newspaper
published in Mozambique is typical of this model. Since its first issue, it usually

included news about the metropolitan markets and shipping, the ups and downs
of commodity prices, lists of settler arrivals and departures, and information about
events in metropolitan Portugal, in the colony, and in the neighboring colonies. It
carried, as well, a section where local and sometimes metropolitan colonial laws were
published. The rest of the usually eight-page paper was filled with advertisements
of local businesses, obituaries, government communiqués, and little more. Its title,
Boletim Oficial, means something like official bulletin or gazette. That says it all.
This was also the model followed about the same time in other Southern African
colonies, in many other regions of Africa, in British and French America, and in
India. Still often considered today as evidence of the expansion of Western European
progress and civilization to the rest of the world, newspapers were established,
invariably, as one of the central instruments of metropolitan power and colonialism,
to serve and somehow legitimize the imposition, establishment, and consolidation
of colonial structures of domination (Mota Lopes 1978).
This major, maybe determinant, sociohistorical characteristic of the journalistic
field can however be turned upside down and continue to be valid. Since their
beginnings, newspapers and other channels of collective communication have
equally been important instruments of anti-systemic struggle. They have been
created and continue to be used with the specific objective of publicly denouncing,
opposing, mobilizing, and confronting the negative outcomes of the domination
of the modern world-system at all levels of struggle. In other words, journalism
is today, as it has always been, an indispensable anti-systemic weapon, used by all
kinds of social movements in the pursuit of their objectives and by all those who
believe, individually, that it is possible to construct a better world. To be sure,
the same can be said about the forms of journalism used in other types of media,
now including the Internet.
What this means is that journalism is and has always been an essential instrument
to organize, inform, and educate conservative or liberal elites and opinion-makers
about the capitalist world-system and—as Lenin famously defended—an indispensable
instrument to organize, mobilize, and educate the political parties or movements
of those who want to tear it down. To be sure, we must not simplistically reduce

the immense variety of newspapers and channels of journalism to these two major
references or opposite forms of expression. In reality, they can and sometimes do
coexist in the same title. Moreover, in an imaginary typological line they exist,
rather, in a multiplicity of types and varieties that can be located between the major
characteristics defining the two ideal-typical references I used to describe them.
But they can exist as well in that line, respectively, “before” and “after” those two
types of journalism, that is to say, expressing both systemic and anti-systemic news
and opinions in what usually ends up being radicalized, fundamentalist, extremist
messages that surpass or go beyond them in both “directions.”
A second major characteristic of journalism is, if not a direct consequence, at least
implicit in the first one. By its nature and development, journalism has always been
simultaneously object and subject of the dominant culture of the world-economy: one
of its sources and products. As such, journalism was present at the creation, when
Western European culture started to consolidate itself as the ideology of an evolving
world-system. Since then, it has been essential for its consolidation and expansion.
It continues to be today, in all its media formats, one of the major instruments of
its ever-present and all-encompassing, usually unconsciously and a-critically accepted
hegemony—with all its negative and positive influences and characteristics.
Braudel’s 1958 article on the longue durée makes a brief reference to journalism.
“[T]o put things more clearly,” he writes, “let me say that instead of a history
of events we would speak . . . above all [of ] the time of the chronicle and the
journalist” (1958: 728, translation—JML). The time of journalism can, consequently,
be considered as being the time of the event, of the episodic, of the immediate.
Braudel is of course right in associating events to journalism. In its more
characteristic form, that of reporting the news, journalism is essentially concerned
with events and their description in narrative terms. To a certain extent we can
say that journalism creates or constructs events—as much as it can hide events
by simply ignoring them. But journalism can also be the explanation of events,
the search for their meanings and relative influence in the historical present and
its possible futures. This distinction is the foundation of the two basic journalistic
forms: news reporting and opinion.

To Fernand Braudel events are also, simultaneously, a lot and very little. They
are a lot because they are historical facts and, as such, they can be expressions
of change, of deeper movements, and of the reality of daily life. Events can also
be the first, and sometimes the last, opportunity in the immediate to understand
the past, the present, and their possible, alternative futures. Consequently, both
knowledge and the prospect of individual or collective action can be opened up
or closed off by specific events. But events are also very little because they often
mean nothing by themselves and as such they can easily be ignored, put aside,
even denied. Alternatively, they can assume a multiplicity of meanings; they can
be manipulated, hidden, spot-lightened, toned down, or emphasized. On the
other hand, between everything and nothing, events constitute the greatest part
of the reality of our daily lives even if and when we are not fully aware or do not
individually or collectively understand them. Actually, this lack of awareness or
immediate understanding of events is what often turns out to be the case. And this
was why Braudel, following Henri Pirenne’s use of the expression, often described
events as being dust. Given this argument, what can we do with events as the
immediate of our lives and political action, as the raw material of journalism and,
very often, as the starting point for our social science interrogations?
A possible response here must start with the repetition of the assertion made
above: for Braudel events do not exist alone, by themselves. They are rather an
integral part of a dialectics of duration with the medium term or conjuncture
and the time of structures or longue durée. The designations given by Braudel to
these three dialectical instances of historical time change often in his work but
always imply, in their characterization, a double set of defining features. The first
is that those three instances are relational, that they only exist in their dialectical
interrelationship. In other words, Braudel’s longue durée does not exist by itself,
without the conjuncture or without the short term of events. More importantly,
this interrelationship leads to changes in all three dimensions of time, including
the event. Equally, conjunctures only make sense when revealed by events and
dialectically related to structures. Without reference to conjunctures and structures,
events cannot be explained or understood; to a certain extent, they do not exist.

To be perceived events must emerge from the permanent, from the long term,
from what Braudel called “the prisons of the longue durée.”
A second fundamental characteristic of Braudel’s dialectics of duration is that
each one of its instances and, in particular conjunctures and structures, cannot be
reduced to single time lines. They are not distinct, unidimentional, linear trajectories.
As Braudel often reminds us and as he extensively applied in his published work,
they are rather composed of a multiple, plural, and complex interaction of different
social, political, economic, and cultural evolutions or trajectories in relatively similar
durations of time and space. This is for me another particularly important aspect
of Braudel’s characterization of longue durée in its application to social sciences and
journalism. Just as in history, where long temporalities existed before Braudel’s longue
durée, in journalism the past as long term has often been used. The difference is
that in both cases, usually distinguishable by the degree of detail but little else, these
extensions of time are reduced to single, linear, unidirectional, and unidimensional
lines. In journalism, and sometimes in traditional history, they are simplistically
reduced and considered as background, contextualization, or scenario. They have,
consequently, little to do with the characterization and, principally, the way Braudel
used longue durée in his work. To Braudel, longue durée is rather, plural, complex,
formed by an infinite number of different trajectories. It is, he tells us, composed
of “all the stages, all the thousands of stages, all the thousands of explosions of
historical time.” Moreover, this multiplicity of approaches and levels exists and
“can be understood from these depths, from this semi-immobility. Everything,”
Fernand Braudel concludes “gravitates around it” (2009: 181).
As I mentioned above, journalism was historically present at the creation of what
we call today the dominant culture of Western modernity. The same can be said,
of course, about social sciences and their systemic conceptual genesis. This explains
what Sandra Harding describes not only as “the triumphalism and exceptionalism”
of Eurocentrism but also the fact that Western dominant culture in today’s world-
system continues “to be haunted by the specters of the feminine and the primitive”
dealing with them with insurmountable difficulties if not impossibility (Harding
2008: 5). Both journalism and the social sciences have been and continue to be

simultaneously products and consequences of that dominant culture—with all its
negative and positive characteristics.
Among those characteristics I believe that Eurocentrism is intellectually one of
the most pervasive and negative of them all for two interrelated and very obvious
reasons. In the first place, as a body of convictions it not only considers as self-evident
but assumes as an individual and collective practice the erroneous assumption that
the so-called Western world is culturally and intellectually superior to all the other
cultures of the world-system. It also assumes that democracy, progress, tolerance,
and human rights are exclusive attributes of that superiority, a superiority based
on self-regulating markets that make possible a ceaseless accumulation of capital.
Consequently, the global leadership of Western cultural and ideological structures
is easily assumed as a natural, inevitable, and a desirable outcome for the rest
of the world. Second, because of the often unconscious assumption of these a
priori, unjustified assumptions, Eurocentrism in all its forms and expressions
distorts, manipulates, and hides social reality and our ability to study, analyze, and
consequently to understand it. In other words, again those of Sandra Harding,
“western ways of understanding the world” and the type of narratives they produce
must be considered, as a basic rule of scholarship, as not always right or the best
ways. They must be epistemologically transformed, opened up. Western social
sciences, within the core or out of it, must develop what Harding describes as
“new notions of expertise, authority and desirable speech which do not depend
upon such narratives” (Harding 2008: 5).
This fundamental question has been the object of preoccupation in contemporary
social science but, so far at least, without serious conclusions. Two major suggestions
can be pointed out as having resulted from this preoccupation. The first indicates
that the effective termination of the general influence of Eurocentrism will only
be possible through the personal participation and engagement in the anti-systemic
struggles of our time. It emphasizes, in other words, political practice and its
objectives as a way out. Collectively, the involvement in social and political
movements that, implicit or explicitly, want to overcome that dominant ideological
influence as part of their objectives is an important direction to follow. But, as

recent history so clearly shows us, that is not enough. It is here that a second
suggestion takes form: collective political practice must be complemented with
individual, personal practices. In other words, we have to locate inside ourselves the
dominant influences of the ideology of the capitalist world-system in its pervasive
presence and profound influence in ourselves and in our work. This is what Frantz
Fanon, perhaps for the first time, told us in some of his most distressing pages: we
have to be involved in a kind of permanent interior guerrilla action against what
in reality is an ideological self-submission; we have to raise what he called our
“antennas” to locate it inside ourselves and destroy it there as well as the different
ways through which it affects and distorts our reality, how we try to know it, and
how we think about it (Fanon 1952: 331, 191; Mota Lopes 2007: 56). There
seems to be no other ways to effectively confront it—besides using and turning
against it many of the same weapons it uses to subordinate us.
This point is also emphasized in the influential Open the Social Scieces: Report
of the Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences. According
to it we have to follow, in this confrontation, two different, parallel, and related
procedures. The first one is to learn to distinguish, in that confrontation, the
epistemological challenge from the political challenge. In what concerns the
epistemological challenge we need to submit “our theoretical premises to inspection
for hidden, unjustified a priori assumptions. . . . [T]his is and constitutes in many
ways a priority for the social sciences today. These new modes of analysis call for
the use of scholarship, analysis, and reasoning to engage in reflection concerning
the place and weight in our theorizing of difference—race, gender, sexuality, class”
(Gulbenkian Commission 1996: 56). In the practice of all forms of journalism,
this is also a permanent necessity, one of the major priorities.
Since the first half of the last century, Critical Theory has been one of the most
interesting and influential social science approaches to this question, in particular
through the work of its founders Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. As we
know, they not only defined the negative characteristics of Western culture as central
features of modernity, but based on their own experience, they took them to their
logical limits. In so doing, they pushed the social sciences (and also journalism) to

one of their dead-ends: how can we understand social reality and report about it
if we are all submitted to a dominant ideology which, partly through what they
call the culture industry, makes impossible a true knowledge of it? How can we
comprehend what surrounds us, our past, our immediate present, and our possible
alternative futures, if we all are, in their colleague Herbert Marcuse’s concept,
integrated by, and part of, that dominant ideology and its pervasive, negative features?
I do not think Adorno would have fully accepted my response, but I believe
that the critical theorists did find a narrow but possible way out and, I must add,
that way is in part the one Adorno himself followed. It is also part of the road
his disciple Jurgen Habermas has more recently defined, popularized in Europe,
and is following: for him, Adorno’s aporia can be solved by the clarification of
reality through philosophy, by the permanent relationship of critical work and
knowledge, and with a closer but highly selective relation with the social sciences.
At least in its present form of elaboration, Habermas’s proposal still seems to me
incomplete. As is, it only prepares us for our confrontations with the ideological
domination of Eurocentrism. This is very important, but in reality it does little
more than re-elaborate suggestions like the ones I have mentioned. Both in social
sciences and in journalism, more is needed if we want to go further.
For the reasons I started to discuss above, I believe that Fernand Braudel’s
dialectics of time or duration, with its emphasis on the longue durée, is perhaps
the most efficient and useful instrument we can use with such an objective. This
is also, to a great extent, what I think Immanuel Wallerstein’s “Commentaries”
have been regularly testing and steadily confirming in his systematic observation
and analysis of our present reality. As he states, they are ways to look at the
immediate through a perspective of the longue durée. In doing so he has been
offering, both to journalists and social scientists, the evidence of the importance
that the use of longue durée in its interrelation with conjunctural time and the
immediate can fully assume.
My argument is the following: there are not, at least presently, many ways to
directly confront and avoid the influence of Eurocentrism in ourselves and on
our work. This is true in what concerns the social sciences but it is also true, in

an equally pressing way, in what concerns journalism. What is often described as
the critical situation presently affecting both the social sciences and journalism
is perhaps one of its consequences. The reality is that not only does journalism
today seem less able to give us meaningful and less parochial descriptions of our
world, but also that the social sciences, in general, rarely seem able to question
and coherently analyze it and its circumstances.
A basic explanation can be that “the uncritical influence of non-examined
assumptions,” as Open the Social Sciences puts it, appears to have dramatically
increased in the world-system. As such it is limiting exponentially the real possibilities
of observing and analyzing its social reality in a critical and systematic way. In
other words, our possibility of knowledge of an evolving modern world-system
seems to be declining. On the other hand, this is as true within the core as it is
in the periphery and semi-periphery of the capitalist world-economy where, often
unchanged despite modifications, adaptations, or complex avatars, the influence of
a dominant Western universalism has been growing uncritically. This means that
Eurocentrism continues to deeply affect not only the way of life of dominant elites,
but also the different cultures of its peoples, including the intellectual production
of social scientists and journalists.
Contrary to what is sometimes stated about it (Depelchin 2005; Emeagwali
2002), I find in Fernand Braudel’s dialectics of duration an important epistemological
and methodological instrument for our attempts and possibilities to overcome the
blind influence of those “hidden, unjustified a priori assumptions” permanently
overshadowing and deeply affecting our theoretical premises. In other words,
as a theory of history, Braudel’s dialectics of duration make the understanding
and knowledge of social reality in time and space a multifaceted, many-sided,
multidimensional, in depth, and horizontal, multidisciplinary enterprise. As Braudel
wrote in his presentation of the three volumes of Civilization and Capitalism
15th–18th Century, the researcher has to engage in several directions at the same
time: “the possible and the impossible, the ground floor and the first storey, the
image of daily life . . . there are, simply, too many things to say.” (1981, 1: 29).

The first complete public presentation of what I have been calling Braudel’s
dialectics of duration and the longue durée is dated from 1949 and the first edition
of The Mediterranean. But its conceptualization into a fully fleshed-out methodology
happened much before that. According to a gentle correction made by Braudel
himself to a conclusion by Traian Stoinovich in the preface of his book about what
the latter calls the Annales paradigm, its development occurred between 1929 and
1940 (Stoinovich 1976: 10). This period was followed in the life of Braudel by a
tragic experience as he was made a prisoner or war by the Germans and interned
in a concentration camp from 1940 to 1945. As we know, it was there that The
Mediterranean was mostly written, edited and rewritten. Less well-known is that
it was also there that Braudel’s conceptualization of time was tested and discussed
in courses of history, lectures, and conferences given by him when requested by
his inmates. It is, however, what happened before, precisely during the period
between 1929 and 1940, that is of interest here. In particular, during that period
Braudel had two important extra-European experiences: the first as a teacher in the
1920s in Algeria, the second as a participant of the French cultural mission that
contributed to the creation of the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil from 1934 to
1937. According to him, these were defining experiences in his life. Although no
reference has been made to this, I also believe that this personal contact with the
colonial situation as it was lived in Algeria under colonialism and in politically
independent Brazil was crucial for Braudel’s conceptualization of the longue durée
as the centerpiece of historical time. Because his structural characterization of the
longue durée implies not only, and as often repeated, the importance of space and
geography, but also, implicit or explicitly, the evidence that, without any kind of
easy relativism, European universalism or culture was one among other universalisms
and cultures. In other words, the conception of longue durée as defined by Braudel
does not allow the marginalization or ignorance of the “others” as actors and agents
of a collective and common historical process.
This commitment to the methodological research and use of multiple historical
and social perspectives constitutes what is perhaps the most important and rewarding

result of ongoing attempts to renew, to “open,” the social sciences. It is found, notably,
in what is often designated, in a reductive way, feminist and post-colonial studies.
Particularly with Immanuel Wallerstein (2006) it has also become a major reference
in world-systems analysis. It constitutes, primordially, an intrinsic component of
our possibility of denouncing, neutralizing, and overcoming the pervasive effects of
the cultural universalism of the core, of Eurocentrism, in our work. Moreover, and
as Sandra Harding so eloquently tells us, this is essential for us “to enter into the
democratic, pluricentric global dialogues from which global futures will emerge”
(2008: 5). As an objective, this has been once again and recently emphasized,
also in a feminist and post-colonial approach, by Brooke Ackerly. She claims that
“a commitment to methodological innovation [has to seek] insights in which we
make use of the multiple perspectives we can know, seek out others, and be aware
that there are many more we cannot know” (Ackerly 2008: 33).
But the question is not only or simply about the use of multiple known, less
well-known, or “unknown” perspectives. For some time now we have been aware
that, as Alain Badiou would put it, the one is many and the single is always a
multiple. The question is how to bring to light, how to “reveal” and frame those
perspectives into a coherent account, capable of assuming, as well and at the same
time, absent and unknown perspectives, several directions, the possible and the
impossible, and the different levels of daily life. Using Braudel’s conceptualization
of time as a basic tool of world-systems analysis, Immanuel Wallerstein has been
showing us in “Commentaries” how to do it with intellectual and scientific rigor
and in a way that is both highly creative and sociologically imaginative. This is
what makes of his commentaries neither a collection of disparate articles nor
a simple practice of reflection about the contemporary. They constitute, one is
tempted to say, the most complete and in-depth reflection about the socio-history
of our times published so far. The “Commentaries” are not a “draft of history,”
as journalism sometimes is said to be, but much more than that. In Immanuel
Wallerstein’s oeuvre they can, to a great extent, be read as the last volume of his
monumental The Modern World-System: its fifth or sixth volume. As we absorb the
recently published fourth volume, we realize that Wallerstein has been giving us,

on the first and 15th day of each month, his approach to the period that starts in
the 1940s, in general, and about the vertigo of the present B-phase of the world-
system, in particular. Because, as he has been telling us so convincingly, this triple
B-phase (conjunctural, structural, and of hegemony) is also the visible beginning of
the end, of the collapse of the capitalist world-economy, this is obviously an urgent
project, and this is perhaps why he has assumed it so thoroughly. He has also been
showing us that longue durée is formed by and results from, to use once again
Ackerly’s reference, a multiplicity of known, less well-known ,and unknown longue
durées. In their interrelation with the historical formation of the world-economy, the
structural and conjunctural history of the “other,” their perspectives of the world
and their political, economic, and cultural structures exist and consequently must
be considered at the same levels of systemic importance and influence.
Wallerstein’s creative development of Fernand Braudel’s dialectics of duration implies
the interrelation of different histories, different realities, and different perspectives of
different peoples in their correspondent time and space as an imperative of research.
Through it, and perhaps for the first time in the intellectual history of the modern
world-system, he has shown us that we must and can directly engage and try to
overcome Eurocentrism. In the longue durée of the capitalist world-economy it ceases
to exist as a superior instance of knowledge, culture, or ideology. It assumes, quietly,
their relational place among all the others systems of knowledge and perspectives.
To be sure this is, in methodological terms, only a modest start. But, through it,
the beginnings of a more open social science, finally liberated from the weight of
a pervasive and blinding Eurocentrism, has finally become an epistemological and
methodological possibility. This is an important conquest.

Works Cited
Ackerly, Brooke A. 2008. Universal Human Rights in a World of Difference. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Braudel, Fernand. 1958. “Histoire et Sciences sociales: La longue durée.” Annales: Economies,
Sociétés, Civilisations 13 (4): 725–53.

———. 1981. “Preface.” Pp. 27–29 in Civilization and Capitalism 15th–18th Century, 1:
The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible. New York: Harper and Row.
———. 2009. “History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée,” trans. by Immanuel
Wallerstein. Review 32 (2): 171–203.
Depelchin, Jacques. 2005. Silences in African History: Between the Syndrome of Discovery and
Abolition. Dar-Es-Salaam: Mkuki Publishers.
Emeagwali, Gloria. 2002. “Braudel, Colonialism and the Rise of the West.” Book review
in Comparative Civilizations Review 47: 120–26.
Fanon, Frantz. 1952. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press.
Gulbenkian Commission. 1996. Open the Social Sciences: Report of the Gulbenkian Com-
mission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Harding, Sandra. 2008. Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities and Modernities.
Durham: Duke University Press.
Mota Lopes, José da. 1978. “Journalism and Colonialism in Southern Africa,” paper pre-
sented in the Seminar SADCC and the Media, Gaborone, Botswana.
———. 2007. “Re-Reading Frantz Fanon: Language, Violence, and Eurocentrism in the
Characterization of Our Time.” Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge, Special
Issue 5: 45–58.
Parsons, Wayne. 1989. The Power of the Financial Press: Journalism and Economic Opinion
in Britain and America. New York: Rutgers University.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2006. European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power. New York:
New Press.


History and the Social Sciences

The Longue Durée

Fernand Braudel

A new translation by Immanuel Wallerstein of “Histoire et Sciences

sociales: La longue durée,” Annales E.S.C. (1958), 13 (4): 725–53,
which originally appeared in Review (2009), 32 (2): 171–203*

T here is a general crisis in the human sciences. They are all overwhelmed
by their successes, if only because of the accumulation of new knowledge.
But it is also because they now need to work collectively, and how to organize
intelligently such collective work has yet to be determined. Whether they wish
it or not, they are all affected, directly or indirectly, by the progress of the most
quick-witted among them. But they remain nonetheless in the grip of a humanism

*Readers will note that in agreement with the translator we have preserved the use of blank
lines and footnotes (here consecutively numbered) as they appeared in the original publication.

that is retrograde and insidious, one that can no longer serve as a framework for
scholarship. All of them, with varying degrees of lucidity, are concerned about their
place in the monstrous array of old and new modes of research, whose necessary
convergence seems to be in process.
Faced with these difficulties, will the human sciences try to resolve them by an
additional effort to define themselves or by becoming still more cranky? Perhaps
they have the illusion that such an additional effort can succeed. For they are
more than ever preoccupied with defining their particular goals, methods, and
merits—running the risk of churning up old formulas and false problems. They
are engaged in bickering endlessly about the borders that separate them, fully or
partially, from neighboring disciplines. For each of them seems in fact to dream
of remaining where it is or to return to where it was. A few isolated scholars try
to suggest linkages. Claude Lévi-Strauss1 pushes “structural” anthropology in the
direction of the techniques of linguistics, the horizons of “unconscious” history, and
the juvenile imperialism of “qualitative” mathematics. He is trying to establish a
science that would bring together anthropology, political economy, and linguistics
under the label of the science of communications. But is there anyone ready to
cross these borders and enter these new groupings? For the mere toss of a coin,
even geography would be prepared to divorce history!
But let us not be unfair. There is good reason for these quarrels and these
refusals. The wish to distinguish oneself from others is bound to result in widening
one’s curiosity. To deny the other is already to know the other. Even more, without
intending it explicitly, the social sciences impose themselves on each other. Each
one tries to grasp the social in its “totality.” Each one encroaches on the other,
believing that it is remaining in its corner. Economics discovers the sociology that
surrounds it. History, perhaps the least structured of the human sciences, accepts
lessons from all its multiple neighbors and tries to absorb them. So, despite the
reticence, the oppositions, the quiet ignorance, the outline of a “common market”
is beginning to come into existence. It would be worth pursuing this path in the

1.  Athropologie structurale (Paris: Plon, 1958), passim, esp. 329.

coming years even if, eventually, each discipline might find it again useful, for a
while, to resume a more strictly particular path.
But the first thing we urgently need to do is to come nearer to each other. In
the United States, this has taken the form of collective research on cultural zones
in the contemporary world. This is called “area studies” and consists of the study
by a team of social scientists of the political monsters of the contemporary world:
China, India, Russia, Latin America, the United States. To understand them is
a question of survival! Furthermore, in this coming together of techniques and
different kinds of knowledge, the participants cannot remain tethered to their
particular research problem, deaf and blind, as they used to be, to what the others
are saying, writing, and thinking! In addition, the bringing together of the social
sciences must be all-inclusive. One should not neglect older disciplines in favor
of newer ones that seem to be so much more promising, when this in fact may
not turn out to be the case. For example, the place given to geography in these
American efforts is virtually non-existent, and that offered to history very slender.
And indeed one has to ask, what sort of history is included?
The other social sciences are rather ill-informed about the crisis through
which history has been going for the last twenty or thirty years. They tend to
misunderstand it and not to be acquainted with the work of historians. They
do not know the part of social reality of which history is the faithful servant,
if not always a skilled advocate. These are the social continuities, the multiple
and contradictory temporalities of human lives, which constitute not only the
substance of the past but the stuff of present-day social life. This is one more
reason to underline vigorously, amidst the debate that is going on among all the
human sciences, how important, how useful history is. Or rather how important
and useful it is to understand the dialectic of continuities, which emerge from
the work of the historian’s repeated observations. Nothing is more important, in
our opinion, than this living, intimate, infinitely repeated opposition between the
instantaneous and the time that flows slowly. Whether we are dealing with the
past or the present, an awareness of the plurality of temporalities is indispensable
to a common methodology of the human sciences.

I shall dwell on history, on the temporalities of history. I do this less for
the readers of Annales, who know these works, than for those in neighboring
disciplines—economists, ethnographers, ethnologists (or anthropologists), sociologists,
psychologists, linguists, demographers, geographers, even social mathematicians
or statisticians. They are all neighbors whose experiments and research we have
followed for many years because it seemed to us (still seems to us) that, in their
wake or by contact with them, history is furnished a new vision. Perhaps we
have something to offer them in return. The recent researches of historians have
offered us—consciously or not, willingly or not—an ever more precise idea of the
multiplicity of temporalities and of the exceptional importance of the long term.
This last concept, more than history itself—history with a hundred faces—is sure
to be of interest to our neighbors, the social sciences.

I. History and Continuities

All historical writing periodizes the past, and makes choices among chronological
realities, based on positive or negative preferences that are more or less conscious.
Traditional history, which is oriented to brief time spans, to the individual, to
the event, has long accustomed us to an account that is precipitate, dramatic,
and breathless.
The new economic and social history has made cyclical shifts central to its
analysis and argues primarily about their duration. It has been fascinated by the
mirage and by the realities of the cyclical rise and fall of prices. It has placed
beside the narrative (or traditional “recitative”) a recitative of the cyclical phase that
divides the past into large slices of 10, 20, or 50 years. Well beyond this second
recitative lies a history of even more sustained breadth, this time of secular length:
the history of long, even very long, duration (longue durée). This formula, for
good or ill, has become a standard term for me, to designate the opposite of what
François Simiand, one of the earliest to follow the usage of Paul Lacombe, called
episodic history (histoire événementielle). No matter the designations, we shall center
our discussion on these two poles of time, the instantaneous and the long-term.

Not that these terms have a definitive meaning. Take the word “event.” I
would like to limit it, to imprison it in the short term. An event is an explosion,
something that has “the sound of newness” (nouvelle sonnante) as they said in the
sixteenth century. Amid its deceptive smoke, it fills the conscious domain of today’s
people, but it doesn’t last long, disappearing almost as soon as one sees its flame.
The philosophers probably would say that I am emptying the word “event”
of a good part of its content. An event, at the very least, may include a series of
meanings and relationships. Sometimes it may provide the evidence of very major
changes. And by the perhaps contrived game of “causes” and “effects” dear to
historians in the past, it can include a period far longer than its own occurrence.
Infinitely stretchable, the event becomes linked, by design or by chance, to a whole
chain of events, of underlying realities that then become impossible, it seems, to
disentangle, one from the other. By such an arithmetical game, Benedetto Croce is
able to claim that within every event all of history, all of humankind is contained,
and thus can be rediscovered at will. On condition, to be sure, that we add to
this fragment what is not in it at first sight and therefore to discern what is or is
not admissible to include in it. It is this clever and dangerous game that we find
in the recent articles of Jean-Paul Sartre.2
So let us try to use clearer language, replacing “event” with “short term”—which
is on the scale of the individual, of daily life, of our illusions, of our momentary
awarenesses. It is the preferred time of the chronicler and the journalist. Now, let
us then observe that a chronicle or a newspaper offers us, in addition to great,
so-called historical events, the trivial happenings of ordinary life—a fire, a train
accident, the price of wheat, a crime, a theatrical performance, a flood. Everyone
thus realizes that there exists a short term in every sphere of life—the economic,
social, literary, institutional, religious, even the geographic (a gust of wind, a
tempest)—as well as in the political.
At first glance, the past is this mass of detailed facts, some spectacular, others
obscure and constantly repeated, the kind of facts which these days are the regular
quarry of the microsociologist or sociometrists (and of the microhistorian as well).

2.  Jean-Paul Sartre, “Questions de méthode,” Les Temps Modernes (1957) nos. 139, 140.

But this massive array does not constitute the whole thick reality of history that
we may subject to careful scientific reflection. Social science feels almost repelled
by the event. And not without cause. The short term is the most capricious, the
most deceptive of time periods.
This is the explanation why some of us historians have come to be very wary of
traditional, so-called episodic history, a label that overlaps, perhaps unjustly, with
that of political history. For political history is neither necessarily nor inevitably
episodic. But nonetheless it is a fact that, except for the artificial summary statements
with which it fills its pages (statements that usually lack any temporal breadth)3
and except for the occasional long-term explanations that are included, almost all
of political history of the last hundred years has been focused on “great events”
and has confined itself to writing about the short term.
This was perhaps the price it paid for its great accomplishments during this
time—acquiring scientific tools of work and rigorous methods. The massive
discovery of documents led historians to believe that the whole of truth was located
in authentic documents. Only recently was Louis Halphen still writing4 that “it
suffices to allow oneself in some sense to be carried along by the documents, read
in sequence, such as we find them, to see the chain of events reveal themselves
to us almost automatically.” This ideal, “history in the making,” culminated at
the end of the nineteenth century in producing chronicles of a new style, ones
whose ambition for precision led to recording episodic history step by step as seen
through reading the correspondence of ambassadors or the parliamentary debates.
It was quite different for historians in the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries who had been attentive to the perspectives of the longue durée, on the
basis of which the great historians—Michelet, Ranke, Jacob Burckhardt, Fustel—
could piece together the larger picture. If one believes that such going beyond the
short term was the most precious, albeit the rarest, achievement of the last hundred
years, one will appreciate the outstanding role of the historiography of institutions,

3.  “Europe in 1500,” “The world in 1880,” “Germany on the eve of the Reformation.”
4.  Introduction à l’Histoire (Paris: P.U.F., 1946), 50.

of religions, of civilizations, and thanks to archaeology (which necessarily deals
with vast time periods), of the avant-garde role of the historiography of classical
Antiquity. These historians were the salvation of our craft.
The recent break with traditional forms of nineteenth-century historiography
has not been a total break with the short term. There has been a movement, as we
know, toward economic and social history at the expense of political history. This
upheaval has brought about a veritable renewal, inevitably involving methodological
changes, displacement of the centers of interest, along with an increase of quantitative
history, all of which has certainly not exhausted its impact.
But, most of all, there has been a shift of traditional historiographical temporality.
A day, a year might seem appropriate time lengths for a political historian. Time
was the sum of days. But if one wanted to measure a price curve, a demographic
progression, wage trends, variations in interest rates, the study of production (more
hoped for than achieved), a close analysis of trade, it required much longer time
A new mode of historical narrative is emerging. Let us call it the “recitative”
of the cyclical phase (conjoncture), the cycle, even the “intercycle,” which offered
us time lengths of a dozen years, a quarter of a century, and the longest, the half-
century of the classical Kondratieff cycle. For example, leaving aside brief ups and
downs, prices rose in Europe from 1791 to 1817, and went down from 1817 to
1852. This slow twofold rise and fall was a complete intercycle throughout Europe
and just about the entire world.
No doubt these chronological periods have no absolute value. Using different
kinds of measures—growth of the economy and of national income and national
product—François Perroux5 would come up with different time markers, which
are perhaps more useful. But we should not allow ourselves to get bogged down
in such discussions! It is surely the case that the historian now has at his disposal
a new temporality, which has become a mode of explanation by means of which

5.  Cf. his Théorie générale du progrès économique, Cahiers de l’Institut de Science Économique
Ap­pli­qué (1957).

history can be periodized in as yet unknown ways, using these curves and their
So it is that Ernest Labrousse and his students have set to work on a vast
research project in social history, using quantitative methods, about which they
told us in their manifesto at the recent Historical Congress in Rome (1955). I
am not being unjust to their project in saying that this research must necessarily
culminate in determining the boundaries of social cyclical phases (perhaps even of
social structures). We cannot know in advance whether such social temporalities
will be as fast or as slow as economic temporalities.
Furthermore, these two enormous personas, social cycles and economic cycles,
ought not to make us lose sight of other actors, whose movements will be
difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine, in the absence of any precise measures.
Science, technology, political institutions, mental constructs, civilizations (to use
this convenient word), all similarly have their life and growth rhythms. The new
cyclical history will only reach maturity when it has assembled the entire orchestra.
Logically, this recitative, by the simple process of going beyond its temporal
limits, should have led us to the longue durée. But, for many reasons, this logical
next step was not taken, and a return to the short term is going on before our
very eyes. Perhaps it has been thought more necessary (or more urgent) to reconcile
“cyclical” history with traditional short-term history than to proceed forward
into the unknown. Using military language, we might speak of consolidating our
advances. Ernest Labrousse’s first great work in 1933 was a study of the general
movement of prices in France in the eighteenth century, a secular movement.6 In
his book published in 1943, the greatest work of history published in France in
the last twenty-five years, the same Ernest Labrousse gave in to a need to return
to a less burdensome temporality in order to locate in the very depths of the
1774–1791 depression one of the major causes of the French Revolution, indeed
its launching-pad. Even so, he was still utilizing a demi-intercycle. And then he

6.  Esquisse du mouvement des prix et des revenus en France au XVIIIe siècle, 2 vol. (Paris: Dalloz,

went further. In his paper at the international congress in Paris in 1948, “Comment
naissent les révolutions?” he sought this time to link a short-term economic drama
(new style) to short-term political pathos (very old style), that of the revolutionary
days. Here we are back into the short term, and up to our necks in it. To be
sure, the attempt was permissible and useful. But how symptomatic it was! The
historian enjoys being the stage director. How could he ever give up the drama
of the short term, the best tricks of a very old trade?
Longer than cycles and intercycles, there is what economists call, without
always studying them, secular trends. But very few economists are interested in
them. Their views on structural crises, which have not been subject to the test of
historical verification, take the form of rough sketches or hypotheses, based on at
most the recent past, say to 1929, at most to 1870.7 Nonetheless, they provide a
useful introduction to the story of the longue durée. They are a first key.
The second key, far more useful, is the term “structure.” For good or ill, it
pervades the discussion of the longue durée. By “structure,” social observers imply
an organization, a degree of coherence, rather fixed relations between realities
and social masses. For us historians, a structure is certainly an assemblage, an
architecture, but even more it is a reality that time can only slowly erode, one
that goes on for a long time. Certain structures, in their long life, become
the stable elements of an infinity of generations. They encumber history and
restrict it, and hence control its flow. Other structures crumble more quickly.
But all structures are simultaneously pillars and obstacles. As obstacles, they
provide limitations (what mathematicians call envelopes) from which man and
his experiences cannot liberate themselves. Think of how difficult it is to break
through certain geographical frameworks, certain biological realities, certain limits
to productivity, even one or another spiritual constraint. Mental frameworks are
also prisons of the longue durée.

7.  Explained in detail by René Clémens, Prolégomènes d’une théorie de la struc­ture économique
(Paris: Domat-Montchrestien, 1952); see also Jo­hann Akerman, “Cycle et structure,” Revue
économique (1952) no. 1.

The most accessible example is still that of geographical constraint. Man is a
prisoner for long centuries of climates, of vegetations, of animal populations, of
types of crop, of slowly constructed equilibria, which he cannot transform without
the risk of endangering everything. Take the role of transhumance in mountain life,
or the persistence of certain sectors of maritime life, rooted in privileged shoreline
locales. Look at the endurance of roads and trade routes, and the surprising
unchangeability of the geographical boundaries of civilizations.
We find the same degree of endurance and survival in the immense domain of
culture. The magnificent book of Ernst Robert Curtius,8 at last translated into French,
is the study of the cultural system that sustained the Latin civilization of the Late
Empire right up to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the birth of national
literatures, albeit selectively deforming the system as it came to be overwhelmed
by its heavy heritage. The culture of the intellectual elites is the same story. It
lived by the same themes, comparisons, maxims, and hackneyed tales. Similarly,
the study by Lucien Febvre, Rabelais et le problème de l’incroyance au XVIe siècle,9
sought to delineate the mental tools of French thought at the time of Rabelais, the
collection of concepts that, long before and long after him, determined the arts of
living, thinking, and believing, and which strongly constrained from the outset the
intellectual adventures of even the freest spirits. The subject treated by Alphonse
Dupront10 is another example of the recent research of the French historical school.
In it, the idea of the crusade in the West is analyzed far beyond the fourteenth
century, that is, far beyond the “true” crusades, as a continuous attitude of longue
durée, which, in endless repetition, traversed the most diverse societies, worlds,
and psychologies, and found its last expression among the men of the nineteenth
century. In a neighboring field, the book of Pierre Francastel, Peinture et Société,11

8.  Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter (Berne, 1948); French translation: La
littérature européenne et le Moyen Age latin (Paris: P.U.F., 1956).
9.  (Paris: Albin Michel, 1943, 3rd ed., 1969).
10.  Le mythe de Croisade. Essai de sociologie religieuse, thèse dactylographiée, Sorbonne.

points to the persistence, beginning with the Florentine renaissance, of a “geometric”
cultural space that was unchanged up to cubism and the intellectual painting of
the beginning of our century. The history of the sciences is also composed of
constructed universes that constitute somewhat imperfect explanatory models, but
which have been regularly agreed upon for centuries. They have been rejected only
after long service. The Aristotelian universe persisted virtually without dissent up
to Galileo, Descartes, and Newton. It gave way then to a profoundly geometrical
universe which gave way in turn, centuries later, to the Einsteinian revolutions.12
The problem, in what is only seemingly a paradox, is to uncover the longue durée
in the domain in which historical research has been undeniably most successful, that
of the economy. Cycles, intercycles, structural crises may mask the regularities and
continuities of systems (some would call them cultures)13—that is, of old habits of
thought and action, of frameworks that strenuously resist dying, however illogical.
Let us illustrate this with one easily analyzed example. Right here in Europe,
there was an economic system with rather clear rules, which can be characterized
in a few lines. It was operative more or less from the fourteenth to the eighteenth
century, or to be safe, up to 1750. For long centuries, economic activity depended
on demographically fragile populations, as may be seen in the great decline of
1350–1450 and no doubt also that of 1650–1730.14 For long centuries, circulation
required primarily water and ships, since every land barrier constituted an obstacle

11.  Peinture et Société. Naissance et destruction d’une espace plastique, de la Renaissance au

cubisme (Lyon: Audin, 1951).
12.  Additionally, I refer the reader to the following articles that make similar arguments: Otto
Brunner on the social his­tory of Europe, Historische Zeitschrift CLXXVII, 3; R. Bultmann
on humanism, Historische Zeitschrift CLXXVI, 1; Georges Lefebvre, Annales histo­riques de
la Révolution française (1949) no. 114; F. Hartung on enlightened despotism, Historische
Zeitschrift CLXXX, 1.
13.  René Courtin, La Civilisation économique du Brésil (Paris: Librairie de Médicis, 1941).
14.  This is true for France. In Spain, demographic decline began at the end of the sixteenth

and therefore was less desirable for transport. European economic expansions
were located in coastal zones, with a few exceptions that confirm the rule (the
Champagne fairs which were already declining at the beginning of this period, the
Leipzig fairs in the eighteenth century). A further characteristic of this system was
the predominant role of merchants and the prominent role of the precious metals
(gold, silver, even copper). The conflicts among the metals were only brought
to a partial end with the decisive development of credit towards the end of the
sixteenth century. In addition, there was the repeated damage wrought by seasonal
agricultural crises, the fragility of the very base of economic life. And finally, there
was the apparently disproportionate role of one or two principal external trade
circuits: Levantine trade from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries and colonial trade
in the eighteenth.
I have thus defined, or rather invoked, a widespread view of the traits of merchant
capitalism in western Europe, a longue durée stage. Despite all the obvious changes
over this period, these four or five centuries show a certain coherence that lasted
until the upheavals of the eighteenth century and of the industrial revolution in
which we still find ourselves. Some characteristics were constant and remained
unchanged while all around them, amidst other continuities, a thousand ruptures
and upheavals were transforming the face of the world.
Among the different historical temporalities, the longue durée stands out as a
troublesome, complicated, often surprising figure. To admit it into the very heart
of our work will not be an easy task, a mere enlargement of fields of study and
exotic interests. Nor will it be a simple decision in its favor alone. For the historian,
to include it would be to accept a change of style and attitude, an upending of
ways of thinking, a new concept of the social. It requires getting to know slower
temporalities, almost immobile ones. Only when that happens, and not before—I
shall return to this—will it be legitimate to free oneself from the inexorable march
of historical time, to leave it behind, and then to return to it with new eyes, with
new uncertainties, with new questions. In any case, on the basis of these layers
of slow history, one can rethink the totality of history, as though it were located
atop an infrastructure. All the stages, all the thousands of stages, all the thousands

of explosions of historical time can be understood from these depths, from this
semi-immobility. Everything gravitates around it.
I do not claim, in what I have said, to have defined the profession of the
historian, but rather one conception of this profession. Happy, and rather naive,
is he who would think, after the storms of recent years, that we have discovered
the true principles, the clear boundaries, the right School. What is true is that all
the various social sciences have endlessly been transforming themselves, both as a
result of their individual internal developments and by virtue of the movement
of the whole. History is no exception. Calm is not in sight and the hour of
the disciples has not struck. The moment between the time of Charles-Victor
Langlois and Charles Seignobos and that of Marc Bloch was long. But ever since
Marc Bloch, the wheel has not ceased turning. For me, history is the sum of all
possible histories—a set of multiple skills and points of view, those of yesterday,
today, and tomorrow.
The only mistake, in my view, would be to choose one of these histories to
the exclusion of all the others. This would be to repeat the historicist error. It will
not be easy, as we know, to persuade all historians of this, and even less all social
scientists, given the many relentless efforts to return us to history as it used to be
written. It will take much time and effort to get them to accept all these changes
and novelties as integral to the old label of history. And yet a new historical
“science” has been born, one that continues to reflect upon and transform itself.
In France, it goes back to 1900 with the Revue de synthèse historique and since
1929 to Annales. The new historians have tried to pay attention to all the human
sciences. That is what is giving our profession such strange frontiers and such
exotic qualities. Let us then no longer think that the differences of yesterday still
form the barrier they did between the historian and the social science observer.
All the social sciences, including history, have mutually contaminated each other.
They are speaking, or can speak, the same language.
Whether one is writing about 1558 or the year of Our Lord 1958, if one wants
to understand the world, one has to determine the hierarchy of forces, currents, and
individual movements, and then put them together to form an overall constellation.

Throughout, one must distinguish between long-term movements and momentary
pressures, finding the immediate sources of the latter and the long-term thrust of
the former. The world of 1558, so bleak in France, was not produced just out of
the events of that charmless year. The same is true for this difficult year of 1958
in France. Each “current reality” is the conjoining of movements with different
origins and rhythms. The time of today is composed simultaneously of the time
of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, and of bygone days.

II. The Quarrel about the Short-Term

To be sure, these verities are platitudes. Nonetheless, the social sciences have
seldom been tempted to write about lost time (temps perdu). Not that one can
formally accuse them, and say they are guilty of not accepting history or duration
as necessary dimensions of their work. They do in fact seem to welcome us.
“Diachronic” analysis, which restores the historical element, is never omitted from
their theoretical preoccupations.
But putting these curtsies aside, one has to say that the social sciences—by taste,
by deep instinct, or possibly by training—tend always to shy away from historical
explanations. They avoid them, in two virtually opposite ways. They may deal
excessively with “events,” or if you will, they “presentize” social research, thanks
to an empirical sociology that disdains any kind of history and limits itself to
short-term data, to on-the-spot surveys. Or they dispense with time altogether by
inventing, via a “science of communications,” a mathematical formula for virtually
timeless structures. This latter method, the latest one, is obviously the only one
that might be of great interest to us. But the one centering on events has enough
partisans that we ought to examine each option successively.
We have indicated our skepticism about a purely episodic historiography. To
be fair, if such a vice exists, although history is the favorite target of the critics,
it is not the only guilty party. All the social sciences participate in this error.

Economists, demographers, and geographers are split (although perhaps unevenly
split) between those working on the past and those working on the present. If
they were wise, they would balance their attention. This is easy and necessary for
the demographer. It is almost automatic with geographers (especially for those in
France who are brought up in the tradition of Vidal de la Blache). It only rarely
happens, on the other hand, with economists, who are imprisoned in a very short
present. They seldom go further back than 1945, and they go forward in terms of
plans and forecasts into an immediate future of several months, several years at the
very most. I suggest that all economic thought is trapped in this time bind. They
tell the historians that it is their task to study periods earlier than 1945, in search
of ancient economies. But in this way they deprive themselves of a marvelous field
for observation, abandoning it of their own volition, while not denying its value.
The economist has fallen into the groove of running after analysis of the present
on behalf of governments.
The outlook of ethnographers and ethnologists is neither as clear cut nor as
worrisome. Some of them, it is true, have insisted upon the impossibility and
futility of history within the kind of work they do (although it should be said that
an intellectual is called upon to do the impossible). This authoritarian rejection of
history has ill served Malinowski and his disciples. In truth, how can anthropology
be disinterested in history? It is the same adventure of the mind, as Claude Lévi-
Strauss likes to say.15 There is no society, however unsophisticated, which cannot
be seen to have felt the “claws of the event,” nor is there any society whose history
has been entirely lost. It would be wrong to complain about this matter, or to
discuss it further.
On the other hand, on the question of the short term, we have strong differences
with the sociology that engages in surveys, surveys that deal with a thousand
different topics in the domains of sociology, psychology, and economics. They are

15. Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale, 31.

springing up in France, as elsewhere. They represent a sort of constant gamble on
the irreplaceable value of the present, its “volcanic” heat, its immense richness. What
point is there in turning to historical time—impoverished, simplified, devastated by
its silences, reconstructed? The word to be underlined here is reconstructed. But is
the past really so dead, as reconstructed as one claims? To be sure, the historian is
too ready to discern what is essential in time gone by. As Henri Pirenne said, he
easily decides which are the “important events,” meaning “those which have had
consequences.” This is an obvious and dangerous simplification. But what would
the voyager in the present not give to be able to have some distance from the
present, to see it from a future point in time? He might then unmask or simplify
present-day happenings that are confused, unreadable because too encumbered by
gestures and minor features. Claude Lévi-Strauss claims that an hour’s conversation
with one of Plato’s contemporaries would tell him more than all our lectures on the
classics about the coherence, or incoherence, of the culture of Greek Antiquity.16 I
entirely agree. But that is because he has been listening for many, many years to
all those Greek voices saved from oblivion. The historian prepared his trip. One
hour in the Greece of today would teach him nothing, or next to nothing, about
present-day coherences or incoherences.
What is more, the researcher working on the present will only be able to get
to the “precise” framework of the existing structures if he too reconstructs, suggests
explanatory hypotheses, refuses to accept at face value the reality he perceives
but rather truncates it, transcends it, in order to get a handle on it—all ways
of reconstructing it. I don’t believe that a sociological photograph of the present
is “truer” than a historical portrayal of the past, especially to the degree that it
distances itself from reconstruction.
Philippe Ariès17 has stressed the importance of unfamiliarity, of the unexpected
in historical explanation. In studying the sixteenth century, one comes up against
something strange, strange to you, a man of the twentieth century. The question

16.  “Diogène couché,” Les Temps Modernes no. 195: 17.

before you is how to explain this difference. But I would suggest that surprise,
unfamiliarity, remoteness—these great ways of knowing—are no less necessary
to understand that which surrounds you, that which is so close that you cannot
perceive it clearly. Live in London for a year and you will not know much about
England. But, by making the comparisons, you will suddenly come to understand
some of the deepest, most specific characteristics of France, those which you never
knew precisely because you knew them. So, too, the past is the unfamiliar by
means of which one can understand the present.
So historians and social scientists can eternally pass the ball back and forth
between the dead document and the too living testimony, between the distant past
and the too close present. I do not think this is the fundamental question. The
present and the past can be better seen in their reciprocal lights. And if one observes
them only in the immediate present, one’s attention will be drawn to that which
moves quickly, which glitters whether valuable or not, or which has just changed
or made noise or is easily discovered. A whole episodic explanation, as tedious as
any offered by historians, can ensnare the observer in a hurry—the ethnographer
who spends three months with a small Polynesian people, the industrial sociologist
who offers us the clichés of his latest survey, or who thinks that, with a clever
questionnaire and cross-tabulations using perforated cards, he can capture perfectly
a social mechanism. The social is more cunning prey than that.
To be truthful, why should we human scientists be interested in the results
of a vast and well-done survey on the region of Paris,18 which detailed the route
of a young girl from her home in the 16th arrondissement to her music teacher
and to Sciences-Po? We get a pretty map out of it. But had she been a student of
agronomy or an adept of water-skiing these triangular trips would have been quite
different. I am delighted to see a map showing the distribution of the homes of the

17.  Les Temps de l’histoire (Paris: Plon, 1954), esp. 298 ff.
18.  P. Chombart de Lauwe, Paris et l’agglomération parisienne (Paris: P.U.F., 1952), I: 106.

employees of a large firm. But if I don’t have a map of their previous distribution,
and if the time between the two surveys is not sufficiently great to allow one to
see this as part of a large change, what is the question we are asking, without
which the survey is a waste of time? Surveys for the sake of surveys serve at most
to accumulate some data. We don’t even know that ipso facto these data will be
useful for future research. Let us beware of art for art’s sake.
Similarly, I doubt that a study of a city, no matter which one, can be the object
of a sociological enquiry, as was done for Auxerre19 or Vienne in Dauphiné,20 without
inserting it in the historical long-term. Any city—a society with conflicts, with its
crises, its ruptures, its breakdowns, its inevitable scheming—has to be placed within
the context of the countryside that surrounds it, and also within those archipelagos
of neighboring cities, which the historian Richard Häpke was one of the first to
describe. It may thus be inscribed in the underlying movements, often over more
or less long periods of time, which gave life to this complex. Does it make no
difference, is it not rather essential, to discern whether a particular urban-rural
exchange, a particular industrial or commercial competition is something very
new in the fullness of its bloom or something beginning to wither, whether it
is a resurgence of the distant past or a monotonous return to the usual pattern?
Let us conclude with a maxim that Lucien Febvre, during the last ten years of
his life, repeated all the time: “History, science of the past, science of the present.”
Is not history, the dialectic of temporalities, an explanation in its way of the social
in all its reality? And therefore of the present? Its lesson in this domain is to warn
us about the event: Do not think only in the short term. Do not believe that only
those actors who make noise are the most authentic. There are others who matter
but who are silent. But did we not all know this already?

19. Suzenne Frère and Charles Bettelheim, Une ville française moyenne. Auxerre en 1950,
Cahiers des Sciences Politiques, no. 17 (Paris: Armand Colin, 1951).
20. Pierre Clément & Natalie Xydias, Vienne-sur-l-Rhône. Sociologie d’une ville française,
Cahiers des Sciences Politiques, No. 71 (Paris: Armand Colin, 1955).

III. Communication and Social Mathematics

It was perhaps an error to spend so much time on the agitated frontier of the
short term. To tell the truth, the debate going on there does not have much
importance, or at least proceeds without any useful novel idea. The critical debate
lies elsewhere—among our neighbors who are swept away by the newest experiments
of the social sciences, under the double label of “communication” and mathematics.
It’s not going to be easy to plead the case that no social analysis can avoid
historical time when we’re dealing with efforts that, apparently at least, situate
themselves completely outside of time.
In any case, if the reader wishes to follow our argument in this discussion
(whether in agreement or not), he would be well advised to be ready to weigh
for himself each of the terms of a vocabulary that, although certainly not entirely
new, has been reworked in the discussions taking place at this moment. We
have nothing we need to repeat, of course, about “events” or the “longue durée,”
nor much to say about “structures,” although the word and the concept is not
untouched by uncertainties and current discussions.21 Nor would it be useful to
linger too long over the words “synchrony” and “diachrony.” Their meaning is
clear, although their role in any concrete social analysis is less easy to establish
than it might seem. In effect, in the language of history (as I understand it), there
may never be perfect synchrony. An instantaneous moment of time, in which all
temporalities are suspended, is a virtual absurdity or, which is almost the same,
extremely contrived. And which is almost the same thing, there can be no simple
descent down the slopes of time. The only conceivable thing is to make a series
of descents, following the multiple and innumerable rivers of time.
These few reminders and warnings will suffice for the moment. But we need
to be more explicit about the concepts of “unconscious history,” “models,” and

21.  See the Colloque sur les Structures, VIe Section de l’École pratique des Hautes Études,
typewritten résumé (1958).

“social mathematics.” These necessary remarks are linked, or rather will be linked,
in a problematic common to all the social sciences.
“Unconscious history” is, of course, the history of the unconscious parts of
social reality. “Men make their history, but they do not make it as they wish.”22
This formula of Marx clarifies, but does not explain, the problem. In fact, under a
new name, it is once again the problem of the short term, of “microtime,” of the
episodic that is being posed here. Men have always had the impression, in living
their lives, that they understand what is happening day by day. Is this conscious and
clear account badly mistaken, as so many historians have for a long time asserted?
Linguistics once thought it could derive everything from words. History thought
it could derive it all from events. More than one contemporary commentator has
been ready to believe that all is explained by the Yalta or Potsdam agreements, by
the accidents of Dien-Bien-Phu or Sakiet-Sidi-Youssef, or by the launching of the
sputnik, another kind of event, equally important in its way. Let us thus admit that
there exists at a certain distance a social unconscious. Let us furthermore concede
for the time being that this unconscious be considered scientifically richer than the
shimmering surface to which our eyes are used. Scientifically richer means simpler,
with wider implications, if harder to uncover. But the distinction between clear surface
and obscure depths, between noise and silence, is difficult to draw and uncertain.
Let us add that “unconscious” history—which half the time concerns cyclical phases
but is par excellence about structural time—is clearly perceived more frequently than
one is ready to admit. Each of us has the sense that, beyond his own life, there lies
a massive historical past whose power and thrusts he recognizes better, it must be
said, than its laws and direction. And this history did not start just yesterday (in
economic history for example), even if what is happening today is more vivid to
us. The revolution, for it is a revolution of the mind, has consisted in confronting
this half-darkness, of giving it an ever larger role beside, even in place of, the event.
History is not the only discipline pursuing these new ways. On the contrary,
it has been merely following in the path of the social sciences, adapting for its

22.  Cited by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structu­rale (Paris: Plon, 1958), 30–31.

use the new instruments of knowledge and research that have been constructed.
Illustrating this point are the “models,” sometimes more or less perfected, sometimes
still artisanal. Models are nothing but hypotheses, explanatory systems firmly linked
in the form of an equation or a function: x = y, or x causes y. A never occurs
without B accompanying it, and strict, constant relations exist between the two.
Once we have a carefully established model, one can apply it across time and
space to other social spheres similar to the one that has been studied and on the
basis of which the model was created. This gives the model a recurring validity.
These explanatory systems vary infinitely, reflecting the temperament, the
calculations, or the objectives of the researcher—qualitative or quantitative, simple
or complex, mechanical or statistical. This last distinction I owe to Lévi-Strauss.
He calls mechanical a model drawn from directly observed reality, small-scale
reality dealing with small human groups (such as those created by ethnologists
about primitive societies). For vast societies, with large populations, we are obliged
to find averages, and therefore we use statistical methods. But these sometimes
dubious definitions matter little!
The crucial point for me, before we may establish a common program for
the social sciences, is to spell out the role and the limits of models, which some
users tend to inflate excessively. We must therefore once again invoke the idea of
multiple temporalities, in relation this time to models; for the significance and
the explanatory value of models depends rather closely on the duration to which
they refer.
To illustrate this more clearly, let us look at some particular historical models,23—
that is, models invented by historians, crude and rudimentary models, seldom
developed rigorously by true scientific methods and never expected to achieve a
revolutionary mathematical language—still and all, models of a sort.
We mentioned above commercial capitalism between the fourteenth and
eighteenth centuries. This is one of the models that one finds in Marx’s writings.

23.  I am tempted to look at some “models” that economists have been using and that we have
been imitating.

It’s really only completely valid for a given family of societies, over a particular
time period, even if it opens the door to all sorts of extrapolations.
A somewhat different model is sketched in my book,24 about a cycle of economic
development in Italian cities between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, which
were successively centers of commerce, of “industries,” and then specialized in
banking. This last activity was the slowest to come into full bloom and the slowest
to disappear. This model was more limited in scope than the one dealing with all
of commercial capitalism, but it was therefore perhaps easier to extend it to other
moments of time and space. It notes a phenomenon (some might call it a dynamic
structure, but all historical structures are to some degree dynamic) that can recur
in many different situations, and is easy to recognize. Perhaps this is also true of
the model suggested by Frank Spooner and me25 concerning the history (before,
during, and after the sixteenth century) of the precious metals—gold, silver, and
copper—and credit, that flexible substitute for the metals. They are all players in
the market, the “strategy” of one affecting the “strategy” of each of the others. It
would not be difficult to apply this model beyond the privileged and exceptionally
turbulent sixteenth century that we analyzed. Have not some economists already
tried after a fashion to verify the old quantitative theory of money for contemporary
underdeveloped countries?26
But the possibilities of extension in time of all these models are small indeed
compared to the one conceived by the young American historical sociologist,
Sigmund Diamond.27 He was struck by the double language of the dominant class
of great American financiers in the epoch of Pierpont Morgan. There was one

24.  La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (Paris: Armand Colin,

1949), 264 ff.
25.  Les Métaux monétaires et l’économie du XVIe siècle. Rapports au Congrès international de
Rome (1955) IV: 233–64.
26.  Alexandre Chabert, Structure économique et théorie monétaire (Paris: Armand Colin, Publ.
du Centre d’Études économiques, 1956).

language used within the class and another outside it. This latter was in fact an
apologia vis-à-vis public opinion, justifying the success of the financier as the typical
triumph of the self-made man, the necessary condition of the country’s prosperity.
He saw in this double language the habitual reaction of any dominant class that
sees assaults on its prestige and threats to its privileges. To defend themselves,
they seek to identify their fate with that of the society or the nation, their private
interest with the public interest. Diamond would similarly explain the evolution
of the idea of dynasty or empire, of the British dynasty or the Roman Empire.
This kind of model is clearly applicable across the centuries. It presumes certain
specific social conditions, but history is full of them. It is true over a much longer
time-period than the other models I have discussed, but at the same time it deals
with more precise, more specific realities.
At the limit, as the mathematicians would put it, this kind of model is close to
that of those popular models, the almost timeless ones of the social mathematicians.
To say they are almost timeless means in fact that they move along the dark and
unexplored pathways of the very longue durée.
The various accounts we have given are a quite inadequate introduction to the
science and theory of models. In this field, historians are not at all in the avant-
garde. Their models are at best bundles of explanations. Our colleagues are much
more ambitious and advanced in their research, trying to make use of the language
of information, communication, and qualitative mathematics. Their merit—which
is considerable—is to welcome into their field the subtle language of mathematics,
a language however that, given even a moment’s inattention, can escape our control
and run away with itself, God knows where! Information, communication, and
qualitative mathematics all can be placed under the rather wide umbrella of the
term, “social mathematics.” So it is there that we must shine our lantern, to the
degree that we can.

27.  The Regulation of the American Businessman (Cambridge, MA: 1955).

Social mathematics28 is at least three different languages which may be combined,
and there may be others. Mathematicians have not yet exhausted their imagination.
In any case, there does not exist a single mathematics, or at least this is the claim.
“One cannot speak of algebra or geometry, but an algebra, a geometry” (Th.
Guilbaud), which does not simplify our task, or theirs. Three languages then: that
of necessary facts (something is given, something else follows from it), which is the
domain of traditional mathematics; that of random facts (since Pascal), which is the
domain of probabilities; and finally that of conditional facts, neither determined
nor random, but subject to certain constraints, to rules of the game, such as the
game “strategy” of Von Neumann and Morgenstern,29 this winning strategy which
has developed beyond the bold initial principles of its founders. Game strategy, by
utilizing sets, groups, calculations of probabilities, opens the way to “qualitative”
mathematics. It becomes possible to proceed from observations to mathematical
formulas without having to go via the difficult path of measurements and long
statistical calculations. One can proceed directly from social analysis to mathematical
formulas, shall we say to a calculating machine.
Of course, we have to prepare the task of our machine which cannot accept or
manipulate everything that may be fed into it. It is indeed because of real machines,
of the rules by which they function to permit communications in the most material
sense of the word, that a science of information was invented and developed. The
author of this article is by no means a specialist in this difficult domain. The search
going on to construct a translation machine, which he has followed with interest, if
distantly, throws him, as it does others, into the depths of reflection. Nonetheless,
two facts seem clear: (1) such machines, such mathematical possibilities, do exist; and

28.  See especially Claude Lévi-Strauss, Bulletin Interna­tional des Sciences Sociales, UNESCO,
VI, 4, and more generally the entire highly interesting issue, titled: “Mathematics and the
Social Sciences.”
29.  The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (Princeton: 1944); see the brilliant review by
Jean Fourastié, Critique (Oct. 1951) no. 51.

(2) we have to prepare the social part of social mathematics, which are no longer
only our older traditional mathematics—curves of prices, wages, and birthrates.
So, if the new mathematical operations are often too difficult for us, the
preparation of social reality for this use—how parts are linked together, how they
are separated—is something that requires our close attention. The prior treatment
heretofore has almost always been the same: choose a restricted unit of observation,
such as a “primitive” tribe or a single demographic case, so that we can examine
almost everything at first hand. Then we proceed to find the correlations between
the elements we have singled out, all their possible interactions. Such rigorously
determined relations offer us the very equations from which the mathematicians
then draw their conclusions and possible extension into a model that summarizes
everything, or rather takes account of everything.
A thousand different research questions are thus opened up. One example will
be more useful than a long exposition. Claude Lévi-Strauss offers himself as an
excellent guide, whom we should follow. Let us look at one sector of his research,
that of the science of communication.30
“In every society, communications operate at three different levels”—women,
goods and services, and messages.31 Let us grant that there exist at these different
levels different languages, but languages all the same. So should we not have the
right to treat them as languages, or even as the language, and hence to utilize in
their analysis the amazing progress of linguistics, or more precisely, of phonemics,
which “cannot fail to play the same renovating role vis-à-vis the social sciences that
nuclear physics, for example, has played in the field of the exact sciences?”32 That is
a big statement, but sometimes such statements are justified. Like history that was
trapped by the event, linguistics was trapped by words (the relation of words to

30.  This entire discussion is drawn from his recent book, Anthropologie structurale (Paris: Plon,
31. Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale, 326.
32. Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale, 39.

the object, the historical evolution of words) but could escape via the phonological
revolution. Beneath the word, linguistics attached itself to the sound element we
call the phoneme, which was indifferent to meaning but attentive to location, to
the sounds surrounding it, to the grouping of words, to infra-phonemic structures,
to the entire reality of language that was underneath, that was unconscious. On
the basis of the several dozens of phonemes that we then find in all the world’s
languages, the new mathematical task took form. At that point, linguistics, or at
least a part of linguistics, escaped over the past twenty years the world of the social
sciences to cross over the “mountain pass into the exact sciences.”
To extend the concept of language to the elementary structures of kinship, of
myths, of ceremonies, of economic exchanges, that is, to locate this difficult but
salutary mountain pass, is the minor miracle achieved by Claude Lévi-Strauss. He
did this first of all for matrimonial exchange, that primal language essential for
human communications, to the point that there exists no society, primitive or not,
in which incest, marriage within the narrow family unit, is not forbidden. Ergo,
a language. In this language, he sought to find a basic element corresponding to
the phoneme, this “atomic” element of kinship, which our guide uncovered in his
doctoral dissertation in 1949.33 This unit in its simplest form is the man, the wife,
the child, and the maternal uncle of the child. On the basis of this quadrangular
unit, and looking at all the known systems of marriage among primitive peoples
(and they are numerous), the mathematicians can calculate the possible combinations
and results. With the assistance of the mathematician André Weill, Lévi-Strauss
succeeded in translating into mathematical terms the anthropologist’s observations.
The derived model has to test the validity, the stability of the system, and indicate
the solutions that the latter implies.
It is clear what the objective was in this research—to go beyond surface observation
to reach the realm of unconscious or barely conscious elements, to reduce such
reality into small units, small identical brush strokes, whose exact relations one

33.  Les structures élémentaires de la parenté (Paris: P.U.F., 1949); see Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie
structurale, 47–62.

could analyze with precision. “It is at this [I would call it myself a certain kind
of ] microsociological level that one may hope to perceive the most general laws of
structure, as the linguist discovers his at the infraphonemic level and the physicist
at the inframolecular level, that is at the level of the atom.”34 This game can be
played, of course, in many different directions. So, what is more didactic than
to see Lévi-Strauss pursue it, this time, with myths and, amusingly, with cuisine
(another language). Indeed, he reduces myths to a series of elementary cells, the
mythemes, and reduces the language of cookbooks (light-heartedly) into gustemes.
In each case, he is in search of deep, unconscious levels. I am not aware, when
I am speaking, of the phonemes I am using. Neither am I normally conscious,
when I am at the dinner table, of “gustemes,” if such things exist. But each time,
this game of subtle, exact relations keeps me company. Would the last word of
sociological research then be to locate these simple mysterious relations in every
language, to translate them into a Morse code, that is, the universal mathematical
language? That seems to be the ambition of the new social mathematics. But may
I say, without smiling, that this is an entirely different story/history?
Let us now reintroduce duration. I have said that models have a varying life-
span: they are valid for the time of the reality they are talking about. And, for
the social observer, this time is primordial, for even more important than the deep
structures of life are its moments of rupture, its brusque or slow deterioration
under the impact of contradictory pressures.
I have compared models to ships. Once the ship is built, what interests me
is to launch it, to see if it floats, then to make it sail, as I wish, up and down
the waters of time. A shipwreck always constitutes the most significant moment.
For example, the explanation that Frank Spooner and I gave about the relations
between the various precious metals does not seem to work before the fifteenth
century. Before that time, the competition between the metals seems to have been
so violent that what happened in later periods did not seem to occur then. Well,
in that case, we needed to find out why. Similarly, it is necessary to understand

34. Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale, 42–43.

why, this time going forward in time to the eighteenth century, navigation with
our too simple ship becomes first difficult, then impossible, given the abnormal
expansion of credit. I believe that research must ceaselessly move from social reality
to the model, then back again, and so on, by a series of alterations, of patiently
renewed voyages. The model is thus successively a way to explain the structure, and
an instrument to test, compare, and verify the solidity and durability of a given
structure. If I were to create a model based on the present day, I would check it
immediately against this reality, then push it backwards in time, if possible to its
moment of birth. Once this is done, I could estimate its probable life-span up to
the next rupture, in terms of the concomitant movement of other social realities.
Unless, using it as a way of making comparisons, I circulated it across time and
space, looking for other realities that I could illuminate thanks to using the model.
Am I wrong to think that the models of qualitative mathematics, such as we
have seen up to now,35 would not lend themselves to such voyages in time, because
they travel along a single one of the innumerable temporalities, that of the very
longue durée, which knows no chance occurrences, no cyclical phases, no ruptures?
I turn once again to Lévi-Strauss, because his usages in this domain seem to me
the most intelligent, the clearest, the most deeply rooted in social experience,
from which all analysis must start and then return. Let us note that he repeatedly
discusses phenomena that move extremely slowly, if at all. All kinship systems
persist because human life is not possible over a certain level of consanguinity, and
thus it requires small groups to open themselves to the outside world in order to
survive. Hence, the incest taboo is a constant of the longue durée. Myths, which
develop slowly, also correspond to structures that have an extreme longevity. In
collecting the Oedipus myths, one doesn’t have to decide which is the oldest,
since the problem is to look at the range of variation and therewith to illuminate
the underlying deep articulations that govern them. But let us suppose that our
colleague would be interested not in a myth but in the images and successive

35.  I am speaking specifically of qualitative mathematics, such as used in game strategy. I

would have to discuss diffe­rently the kind of classical models that economists elaborate.

interpretations of “Machiavellianism,” that he was interested in the basic elements
of a rather simple doctrine, which was widespread following its initial expression in
the sixteenth century. In this case, he would be faced with ruptures and upheavals
in the very structure of Machiavellianism, since this system does not have the
quasi-eternal theatrical solidity of a myth. It reacted to the events and the twists,
the multiple vicissitudes of history. In a word, it did not find itself on the tranquil
and monotonous roads of the longue durée. The procedure that Lévi-Strauss suggests
of looking for mathematized structures is not located only at the microsociological
level, but also at the meeting-point of the infinitely small and the very longue durée.
In point of fact, is revolutionary qualitative mathematics condemned to follow
only the paths of the very longue durée? If so, we shall find that this restricted
game limits us to truths that are a bit those of eternal man. Elementary truths,
aphorisms of popular wisdom, malcontents might call them. We might reply that
they are essential truths, truths that illuminate once again the very bases of social
life. But that is not the whole matter under discussion.
I do not in fact believe that such attempts, or analogous ones, cannot be conducted
outside the very longue durée. The data for qualitative social mathematics are not
numbers but relationships, relations that have to be rather rigorously defined to be
able to assign them a mathematical sign, so that one can study all the mathematical
possibilities of these signs, forgetting about the social realities they represent. The
value of the conclusions depends on the value of the initial observation, the choices
that isolate the essential elements of the observed phenomenon and determine their
relations within this phenomenon. It becomes understandable why social mathematics
prefers the kind of models Lévi-Strauss calls mechanical, that is, derived from small
groups in which each individual is, so to speak, directly observable and in which
a very homogeneous social life allows one to define with certainty the human
relations, which are simple and concrete, and do not vary much.
So-called statistical models, on the other hand, deal with large, complex
societies in which observations can be made only by means of averages, that is,
using traditional mathematics. But once one establishes these averages, nothing
then prevents the observer from establishing, at the level of groups rather than

of individuals, the basic relations to which we referred and which are necessary
for the elaboration of qualitative mathematics. To my knowledge, there have been
no attempts of this kind. But we are at the early stages of this kind of work. For
the moment, whether in psychology, economics, or anthropology, everyone has
been working in the ways I defined with reference to Lévi-Strauss. But qualitative
social mathematics will not have shown its mettle until it has been used to analyze
a modern society, with its tangled problems and multiple rhythms of life. Let’s
suppose that this adventure will tempt one of our mathematical sociologists. Let us
suppose further that it brings about a necessary revision of the methods hitherto
used by the new mathematics, that they no longer limit themselves to what I shall
call this time the too longue durée. They would have to rediscover the diversity
of life, all its movements, all its temporalities, all its ruptures, all its variations.

IV. The Historian’s Time, the Sociologist’s Time

After a foray into the land of timeless social mathematics, I return to time, to
duration. And as an incorrigible historian, I remain astonished that sociologists
have been able to escape it. But it is because their time is not my time: it is
much less imperious, also less concrete, and never at the heart of their problems
and their reflections.
The historian in fact never departs from historical time. Time sticks to his
thought like soil to the gardener’s spade. Of course he may dream of escaping it.
Amidst the anguish of 1940, Gaston Roupnel36 wrote some words which make
every historian wince. A similar thought is to be found earlier in the writings of
Paul Lacombe, a first-rate historian: “Time is nothing in itself; objectively, it is
merely an idea of ours.”37 But are these really escapes? I myself, during my rather
gloomy captivity, struggled mightily to escape the chronicle of those difficult years
(1940–1945). Refusing events and the time of those events was a way of moving

36. Histoire et destin (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1943), pas­sim, esp. 169.
37. Revue de synthèse historique (1900), 32.

to the margins, to shelter, to look at things from further away, judge them better,
and not believe too much in them. One could move from the short term to the
somewhat less short term and finally to very long time (if this exists, it must be the
time of the sages). Then when you get there, you can stop and look at everything
once again and reconstruct, seeing everything turning around yourself. Such an
operation has what it takes to tempt a historian.
But these successive shifts in perspective do not truly move one outside the
time of the world, the time of history, imperious because irreversible and because
it flows at the very rhythm of the rotation of the earth. In fact, the temporalities
that we differentiate are bound together. It is not so much duration that is the
creation of our mind, but the splitting up of this duration. And yet these fragments
come together again at the end of our work. The longue durée, cyclical phases
(conjoncture), and events fit together easily, for they all are measurements on the
same scale. Hence, to enter mentally into one of these temporalities is to be part
of all of them. The philosopher, who pays attention to the subjective element
internal to the concept of time, never feels the weight of historical time, a concrete,
universal time such as the time of the cyclical phases that Ernest Labrousse lays
out in the beginning of his book.38 He is like a voyager, always true to himself,
who travels the whole world and insists on the same constraints, whatever be the
country in which he has landed, or the political régime and social order to which
he is submitted.
For the historian, everything begins and ends in time, a mathematical time, a
demiurge, easy to mock, time that is external to men, “exogenous” as the economists
would say, a time that pushes us forward, constrains us, sweeps away our individual
times of many varieties—yes, the world’s imperious time.
The sociologists, of course, do not accept this too simple concept. They are
much closer to the “dialectic of duration” as expounded by Gaston Bachelard.39

38. “Introduction,” in La crise de l’économie française à la veille de la Révo­lution française (Paris:

P.U.F., 1944).
39.  Dialectique de la durée (Paris: P.U.F., 2nd ed., 1950).

Social time is simply one dimension of the social reality one is studying. It is
internal to this reality as it might be to an individual, one sign among others
that it utilizes, one more property that marks it out as a particular reality. The
sociologist is not the least limited by this manipulable time, which he can divide
up, freeze, allow to flow again, as he wishes. Historical time lends itself much less
well, as I previously said, to a flexible double game of synchrony and diachrony. It
does not really allow one to think of life as a mechanism one can freeze in order
to present, as one wishes, an immobile picture.
This disagreement is more fundamental than it may seem. The sociologist’s
time is simply not ours. The deep structure of our profession is averse to it. Our
time is a measure, like the economist’s time. When a sociologist tells us that a
structure continually destroys itself only to be reconstructed, we readily accept
the explanation which historical observation in fact confirms. But we want to
know, in line with our customary demands, the exact duration of these positive
and negative movements. Economic cycles, the ebb and flow of material life, are
measurable. A social structural crisis must also be placed in time, through time,
and situate itself both absolutely and within the context of concomitant structural
movements. What is of most interest to the historian is the crisscrossing of these
movements, their interaction, and the moments when they break down. These are
all things that can only be established within the uniform time of the historians,
the general measure of all these phenomena, and not in multitudinous social times
particular to each of these phenomena.
A historian must formulate such contrarian remarks, rightly or wrongly, even
when he reads the work of a sympathetic, almost fraternal sociologist such as
Georges Gurvitch. Did not a philosopher40 recently define him as someone who
“forced history upon sociology?” Yet, even in his work, an historian recognizes
neither his durations nor his temporalities. The vast social edifice (shall we call it

40.  Gilles Granger, Événement et structure dans les scien­ces de l’homme, Cahiers de l’Institut de
Science Économique Ap­pli­qué, Série M, no. 1: 41–42.

the model) is organized by Gurvitch on five essential architectural pillars: social
strata, small groups (sociabilités), social groups, global societies, times.41 This last
scaffolding, that of temporalities, is the newest, and the last to be constructed,
almost like an afterthought.
The temporalities of Georges Gurvitch are multiple. He describes a whole series
of them: the time of slow-moving longue durée, illusory time or the time of surprise,
the time of irregular beat, time that is cyclical or running in place, the time that
is behind itself, time that alternates between falling behind and getting ahead of
itself, the time that is ahead of itself, explosive time.42 How can this be convincing
to the historian? With such a wide range of colors, it becomes impossible to
reconstitute unitary white light, which is indispensable to him. He realizes quickly
as well that such chameleon-like time is one more way, one supplementary sign,
to refer, without adding anything, to the categories previously outlined. In the
construct of our friend, time, the last category, simply locates itself among all the
others. It adapts itself to each of these homes, to the requirements of the social
strata, the small groups, the social groups, the global societies. It’s a different way
of writing, without any real changes, the same equations. Each social reality creates
its times and its levels of time, like common mollusks. But what do we historians
gain thereby? The whole architecture of this ideal city is static. History is absent
from it. The world’s time, historical time, is located in it like an Aeolian wind,
imprisoned in a goatskin. It is not to history that the sociologists, consciously or
not, are opposed, but to the times of history, this reality that remains violent,
even when one wants to tame it, to diversify it. This constraint from which the
historian never escapes is one from which the sociologists almost always escape.
They evade it, either in the always present instantaneous moment, as though it

41.  See my no doubt too polemical article, “Georges Gurvitch et la discontinuité du social,”
Annales E.S.C. (1953) 3: 347–61.
42. See Georges Gurvitch, Déterminismes sociaux et liberté humaine (Paris: P.U.F., 1955),
38–40 and passim.

were suspended in time, or in the repetitive phenomena which are not located in
any particular time. Thus they go one of two opposite ways, to the strictest form
of episodic time, or to the longest longue durée. Is such an evasion legitimate?
That is the real debate between historians and sociologists, even for historians of
different outlooks.
I don’t know if this article that is too outspoken, too supported by examples
as is the custom of historians, will meet with the approval of sociologists and
our other neighbors. I suspect not. It would not be very useful in any case to
repeat, as a sort of conclusion, its leitmotiv, which we have argued throughout. If
history is called by nature to give a prime consideration to temporalities, to all the
movements into which it can be distinguished, the longue durée seems to us the
one among them that is most useful for common observation and reflection by all
the social sciences. Is it asking too much of our neighbors that, when they think
about how to proceed, they relate their assessments and their findings to this axis?
For historians, not all of whom agree with me, there would follow from this a
complete change in orientation as well. Their instinctive preference is to engage in
short-term history. This has the complicit accord of the sacrosanct curricula of the
university. In recent articles, Jean-Paul Sartre43 reinforces this point of view when,
in his protest against what is both too simple and too ponderous in Marxism,
he makes an argument in favor of biographical detail and the rich reality of the
episodic. One hasn’t said everything once one has “situated” Flaubert as a bourgeois,
or Tintoretto as a petty bourgeois. I completely agree. But each time, the study of
the concrete case—Flaubert, Valéry, or the foreign policy of the Gironde—leads
Sartre back to the deep structural context. His analysis moves from the surface to
the depths of history and corresponds to my own preoccupations. It would do so
even more if the hourglass were overturned in two senses—from the event to the
structure, then from structures and models to the event.
Marxism is a whole population of models. Sartre protests against the rigidity, the
schematic arguments, the inadequacy of the model in the name of the particular

43. “Fragment d’un livre à paraître sur Tintoret,” Les Temps Modernes (Nov. 1957), and
Gurvitch, Déterminismes sociaux et liberté humaine (Paris: P.U.F., 1955).

and the individual. I would join his protest (with a few nuances)—not however
against the model, but against the use one has made of it, the use one believes one
has been authorized to make of it. The genius of Marx, the secret of his lasting
power, is that he was the first to invent real social models, based on the historical
longue durée. These models have been frozen in their simple form, by treating them
as immutable laws, as a priori automatic explanations, universally applicable to all
situations and all societies. Whereas if one allowed them to enter the changing rivers
of time, their framework would be seen to be obvious, for it is a solid, well-knit
model. It would be constantly applicable, but in nuanced forms, successively blurred
or rekindled by the presence of other structures, also subject to rules, different ones,
and hence to other models. How one has shackled the creative power of the most
powerful social analysis of the last century. It will only find its force and its youth
once again by turning to the longue durée. Might I add that present-day Marxism
seems to me to be the very portrait of the dangers in any social science that is too
enamored of the pure model, of the model for the sake of the model.
In conclusion, what I would like to underline as well is that the longue durée
is only one of the possibilities of common language with the social sciences.
I have pointed out the pluses and minuses of the attempts of the new social
mathematics. There are still others. The new mathematics are very seductive, but
the old kind, whose success is so obvious in economics—the most advanced of
the human sciences—does not deserve the cynical remarks sometimes made. Huge
measurements may still be expected in this classical domain, but there are teams
of calculators and calculating machines constantly being perfected. I believe in the
utility of long statistical sequences, and in the need to push these measurements
and the research ever further back in time. Many teams are already doing it for the
eighteenth century, but they are also beginning to do it now for the seventeenth
and even more the sixteenth centuries. Statistical measurements of unexpected
historical length are now opening for us the depths of the Chinese past.44 No

44.  Otto Berkelbach, Van der Sprenkel, “Population Statis­tics of Ming China,” B.S.O.A.S.
(1951); Marianne Zinger, “Zür Fi­nanz- und Agrargeschichte der Ming Dynastie, 1368–1643,”
Sinica (1932).

doubt statistics simplify things in order to understand them better. But all science
proceeds from the complex to the simple.
However, let us not forget one last language, one last family of models, so to
speak—the necessary reduction of all social reality to the space it occupies. We
are speaking of geography and ecology, without tarrying on these differences in
vocabulary. Geography too often thinks of itself as a world apart, and that is a
pity. It should listen to Vidal de la Blache, who did his analyses not in terms
of time and space, but rather in terms of space and social reality. That makes
geography relevant to all of the social sciences. As for ecology, it seems to be a
word that permits the sociologist to talk of geography without admitting it, and
thus to indicate the issues that space poses for, or even more reveals by, attentive
observation. Spatial models are maps wherein social reality is projected and partially
explained, models valid for all the temporalities (but especially that of the longue
durée) and for all social categories. But social science ignores them to an astonishing
degree. I have often thought that one of the superiorities of French social sciences
was the geographical school of Vidal de la Blache, whose spirit and lessons we
deeply regret are today betrayed. All the social sciences should open themselves
to that “ever greater geographical concept of humankind” that Vidal de la Blache
called for already in 1903.45
In practice—for this article has a practical objective—I would hope that the
social sciences would for the time being stop arguing so much about their reciprocal
borders—what is or is not social science, what is or is not a structure. Let us rather
try to find the common lines of our research, if such there be, which might orient
a collective research program around themes that might permit us to reach an
initial convergence. I personally think these common lines are mathematization,
spatial specification, and longue durée. But I would be curious to hear what other
specialists might propose. For this article has been placed in Annales E.S.C., quite
deliberately, under the category of “Debates and Combats.” It seeks to lay on the
table, not resolve, some problems in which each of us unhappily, in terms of his
special field, is exposed to obvious risks. These pages are a call for discussion.

45.  Revue de synthèse historique (1903), 239.


Accumulation, 69, 163, 166, 167; of Boletim Oficial (Mozambique), 229

accumulation, 162; of capital, 129, 165 Bows and arrows, 175
Agency, 61, 165 Braudel, Fernand, 1, 10, 18, 61, 97, 128,
Agrarian empires, 190; Asia, agrarian- 214, 237; environmentalism of, 140;
commercial empires of, 193 geography in, 140; longue durée, 144,
Agricultural revolution, 58 168, 201, 231, 244, 249, 251, 252,
Agriculture, 146, 175, 193; 271, 274, 275, 276; cyclical phases
commercialized, 113 and events and, 271; longest longue
Agro-ecological crisis, Polish cereal zones, durée, 274; serial history, the longue
86 durée, and conjunctural history and, 17;
Analogies/homologies, 169 structure(s) and, 249, 254; structural
Annales, 2, 244, 253; Annales: Économies, history and, 140; systems and, 251. See
Sociétés, Civilisations “Debates and also extreme longue durée; time; very
Combats”, 276; “fourth” Annales, 25; long term; and very longue durée
“second” Annales, 5, 17, 18, 25 Bunker, Stephen, 152, 154
Annales school, 213n23
Antisystemic resistance, 126 Calculating machine, 264
Archer(s), 172, 175; mounted, 184; volley Cane fields, Bahía, 88
firing, 187 Cannon, 195
Area studies, 243 Capitalism, 61, 67, 71, 81, 97, 99,
Arrighi, Giovanni, 51 110, 157, 202; as world ecology, 65;
Artillery, 171, 185, 188, 189; European, commercial, 261, 262; ecohistorical
175; men, salaries of, 193 innovation of, 88; narrative of, 150;
Axial division of labor, 163 production relations in, 146; tendency
Aymard, Maurice, 4 to geographical expansion in, 140
Capitalist: agriculture, 110; state, 163
Baby market, international, 111 Capitalist world-economy, 195; ideological
Baltic, 65, 66; cereal exports, 82 expansion of, 228
Base and superstructure, 162 Capitalist world-system, 205
Beyond history, 54 Capitalists, 127
Biophysical cycles, 153 Carbon credits as fictitious commodity,
Biotechnology, 146 157
Black Death, 144 Carbon cycle, 152, 154, 156

Caregivers, 125 Commodity revolutions, serial character
Caregiving, international transfer of, 112 of, 90
Castells, Manuel, 38–39 Communication(s), 56, 57, 259, 264
Casualized labor, 107 Comparative method, 169, 206
Cavalry(ies)(man)(men), 172, 175, 188, Conjuncture, 14, 18; a structural time of
191; light, 190, 192; mounted archers, intermediate duration, 15
186, 188 Conquest state, 174
Celestial mechanics, 167 Conservatism, 165
Central flow theory, 45, 54 Crafts: household, 110; production, China
Central place theory, 36, 45, 54 and the Indian subcontinent, 194
Cereal(s), 84; English, 87; exports, Danzig, Craftsmen, 194
87; yields, Poland, 84; prices, 84 La crise de l’économie française à la fin de
Chance and necessity, 168 l’Ancien Régime (Labrousse), 20–25
Children, 108, 118; indenture, 124 Crisis in the human sciences, 241
China, 178, 180, 191; south, 187 Crisis of rationalization, 168
Chinese army, 181 Cultural arena, 161
City(ies), 36, 55–61; and countryside, Cultural parameters of possible action, 165
258; networks of, 6, 44–48; city/state Culture, 250
relations, 37; city-ness, 47; theory of, Cycle(s), 6, 247; economic, 272; social
44; generic, 45; world, 36 and economic, 248; cyclical time, 48;
Class struggle, 166 event, more properly the (very) short
Climate change, 137, 138, 141; secular term, 15
trend of, 142
CO2, 144, 154 Deforestation, 80, 83, 84; Estonia and
Collective political practice, 234 Baltic Russia, 87
Comité international pour l’histoire des prix, Degradation of natural resources, 149
23, 24 Deproletarianization, 126
“Commentaries” (Wallerstein ), 6, 225, Development, 202n3, 210n17
226, 236; electronic, 226 Developmentalism, 207
Commercial practice, Leeds woolen Diachronic analysis, 254
industry, 48–51 Dialectic(s): between nomads and kings,
Commercial syndrome. See work 173; of continuities, 243; of duration,
Commodification of everything, 90 218, 231, 232 235, 236, 239, 271; of
Commodity chain(s), 103, 104, 110, 116, nomad-sedentary relations, 175; of war-
146 and state-making, 178
Commodity frontier(s), 5, 69, 81, 88; Domestic violence, 123
[various] 88–89; within Europe, 67 Duncan, Colin, 137–138

Duration, 267 Extreme longue durée, 6. See Braudel,
Dutch: capital, 71, 72; capitalism, 66–70; Fernand
hegemony, 65, 80; Republic, 65; timber
imports from Norway, 74–75 Female(s): illiteracy, 122; recruitment into
labor force, 125
Ecological: calculus, 152, 155; constraints, Fernand Braudel Center, 1, 9; website,
149; crisis(es), 70 89; cycles, 155, 158; 6; Research Working Group on
degradation, 167; practice, 148, 156; Households, Labor Force Formation and
relations, 148, 158; value(s), 138, 151, the World-Economy, 100
152 Feudal realms, 163
Ecology, 138, 145, 276 Fictitious commodities, 149
Economy, first modern, 68 Financiers and merchants, 192
Elephant corps, 187 Firearms, 171, 174, 187, 188, 190, 191,
Emission accumulation, political ecology 192, 194
of, 157 First World War, 210
Enclosure(s), 151 Fluitschip, 73
End of history, 168 Food: cheap, 81; global system, 157;
End of science, 168 imports, 112
Endless: accumulation of capital, 90; Foot soldiers. See infantrymen
conquest of nature, 90 Forest exhaustion, 74
Enlightenment, 209 Formal rationality, 165
Environment, 10 French Revolution, 15, 18, 165
Environmental history, 5, 65 Frontiers, 42
Episodic history, 3 Fur trade, Russia, 75
Esquisse du movement des prix et des
revenues en France au XVIIIe siècle Gaia Hypothesis, 153n14
(Labrousse), 20–25 Game strategy, 264, 268n35
Eurocentricism, 6, 202, 205, 207, 208, Generic(s), 35, 47, 48
211, 217, 218, 233, 235, 238, 239; Geography, 10, 37, 53–54, 58, 61, 276
epistemological assumptions, 207–208; Geometric cultural space, 251
temporal categories, 212 Geophysical social space, 13
European Emissions Trading System, 151 Girls, 118; infanticide and selective neglect
Event(s), 5, 14, 16, 17, 231, 245, 246, of, 122
254, 270 Global: agrofuels project, 151; warming, 5,
Everyday life, 98 142, 149
Expropriation, 157; of peasant holdings, 86 Globalization, 35, 38, 48, 58, 61, 207,
Externalized costs, 103 208

Globalization and World Cities research “History and the Social Sciences:
network (GaWC), 44, 45 The Longue Durée” (Braudel/trans.
Grain: trade, Baltic, 73; exports, 81, 84 Wallerstein), 7. See also “Histoire et
Greenhouse gas (GHG), 137 Sciences sociales: La longue durée”
Ground and figure movement (Hopkins), (Braudel)
29–31; longue durée and, 30 Home market, 68
Ground rent, 150 Home-based contract work, 107
Guardian practice, governing Genoa in the Hong Kong, 53
Middle Ages, 51 Hopkins, Terence, 29, 30
Gunpowder and firearms, 171, 174 Horse(s), 171, 175, 176, 177, 180, 182,
Guns, 189; European, 188; handguns, 183, 184, 185, 191
187, 189 Horseman(men), 173, 174
Households, 6, 98, 107, 120, 127, 203;
Handicraft production, 112 expenditures and consumption in, 121;
Harvey, David, 152 exploitation of, 108; externalization
Hauser, Henri, 23–25 of costs to, 108; inequities in, 128;
Hegemony, 164, 167 networking systems among, 123; power
Hidden subsidies, 103 struggles in, 122–123, 128; restructuring
“Histoire et Sciences sociales: La longue of, 111, 123; semiproletarian, 98–103,
durée” (Braudel), 3, 11, 16, 17, 35–36, 104 105, 106; survival mechanisms,
230. See also “History and the Social 114–128
Sciences: The Longue Durée (Braudel/ Housewifization, 101–102; and wage labor,
trans. Wallerstein) 128
Histoire événementielle, 3, 17, 203, 217 Housework, 105
Histoire totale, 14 Human sciences, 168, 242
Historical capitalism, 5 Humanism, 241
Historical social science, 4, 10, 11, 13, Humanities, 166, 168
(world) 29, 168, 212, 218 Hundred Years’ War, 162
Historical (social) system, 38, 39, 162 Husbands, 119
Historical time, 271, 272; plural and Hybridity, 217
structured, 15
History, 12, 61, 165, 211, 244, 246, 253, Incorporation, 111, 167
254, 260; cyclical, 248; economic and India/Indian subcontinent, 178, 179, 180,
social, 244, 247; episodic (short term), 187
246; human, 13; narrative of, 247; of Individual(s), 203; world historical, 27, 29
events, 3; of the sciences, 251; political, Industrial Revolution, 48 70; English, 89
246, 247; unconsciousness, 259, 260 Infantry(ies), 172, 187, 191, 192

Infantrymen, 183, 188 Little Ice Age, 144
Informal sector, 116 Logistics, 166
Interstate system, 163; modern, 42; Long-distance trade, 192
Westphalia and, 43 Longue durée, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11,
Irreversibility and creativity in natural 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 29, 48, 98, 109,
systems, 168 138–139, 167, 246, 248; as structure,
Italian microhistoria 5, 10; and 1; extreme, 35, 36, 37; long term,
microhistorians, 25, 28; and Annales, the longue durée of structures, 3; of
25, 26; microanalysis, 28; reduction in historical capitalism, 162. See also
scale in, 26–27 Braudel, Fernand

Jacobs, Jane, 39–40, 49 Macro-economic forces, 208

The Jacobs Thesis, 57–61 Male: income earning, 122; wage earners, 120
Jevons Paradox, 154 Manchus, 187
Journalism, 225, 226, 227, 228, 232; as Market, 112, 138; calculus, 150, 152;
anti-systemic weapon, 229; crisis of, efficiency, 151
227; temporalities and, 227 McCormack, Michael, 55–57
Marx, Karl and Marxism, 274–275;
Kondratieff cycle/wave(s), 164, 201, 247 critique of capitalism, 147
Kyoto Protocol, 151 Matchlocks, 171, 188, 190
Mathematics, 259; new, 275; social, 263
Labor: gendered, 154; power, 67, 148; Mathematization, 276
semiproletarian, 110; unpaid, 103; Matrilineal clans/family systems, 127, 128
unpaid household, 115; un(non)waged, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen
101, 102, 107; wage(d), 100, 102, 127; à l’époque de Philippe I [The
costs, 109–111 Mediterranean] (Braudel), 2, 9, 10, 17,
Labrousse, Ernest, 4, 10 19–25, 248; 18, 139, 237
average(s) in, 21, 24; event in, 23; Medical tourism, 119
French Revolution, account of, 23; Medium term of conjunctures, 3
longue durée and cyclical movements Men and women, peripheral, 113
in, 22; price movements in, 20, 22; Mental frameworks (Braudel), 162, 249
temporality in, 21 Merchants, long-distance, 43, 46
Lacombe, Paul, 3 Mercuriales 19, 20, 24. See also Labrousse,
Land reforms, 126 Ernest
Landed property, 148 Metabolic rift, 5, 145–150, 155, 157
Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 3, 242, 265–267, Methane, 143
269 Methodenstreit, 165

Methodological: individualism, 203; Natural sciences, 166
nationalism, 203; revolution, 169 Nature, 67
Methodology, nomothetic and idiographic, New liberal consensus, 167
216 Newspapers, 228
Micro-Economic Theory, 202 Newtonian synthesis, 167
Microhistory. See Italian microhistoria Nissen, Hans J., 59–60
Migration, 124, 125 Nomads, 174, 175, 182, 186, 190, 191,
Migration process, 209 192; conquests, 179; invasions, 183
Migration studies, 208 Nomad-sedentary interactions, 192
Military: recruits, potential, 185; slaves, Nomothetic approach of serial history, 15
184 Non-proletarianized labor, 105
Ming, 182, 183, 186, 187, 191; emperors, Nonwaged income, 101; labor, 101
Commercial and guardian work flows, Objectivity, 165
mixed, 57 One commodity economy, 50
Model(s), 259, 261, 262, 266, 267, Open the Social Sciences:Report of the
267–269, 274–275 Gulbenkian Commission on the
Modern sciences, 138 Restructuring of the Social Sciences
Modern world-system, 10, 37, 48, 99, (Gulbenkian Commission), 234, 236
110, 113, 126, 162–163; incorporation
into, 127; inequities of, 114 Parcellized sovereignty, 163
The Modern World-System (Wallerstein), Pastoralism, 174
140, 238 Patriarchal principles, 120
Modernity, 35, 36, 42, 48 Patrilineal families, 127
Modernization theory, 207, 209 Peripheral social movements, 126
Mongol(s), 179, 180, 181, 182, 183, 187, The Perspective of the World (Braudel), 37
191 Philippine subsistence fishing households,
Moore, Jason, 140, 146, 153, 154 108
Mughal(s), 186; armies, 189; Empire, 194; Piece-rate labor, 107
power, 183; Empire’s army, 179 Pirenne, Henri, 54, 204, 214, 231
Muskets, 171, 172, 188, 190, 191 The Pirenne Thesis, 55–57
Musketeer(s), 173; Portuguese, 188 Pistols, 172
Myths, 267 Plural temporalities, 15
Plural time, 10, 18
Nation-state(s), 68, 203, 204 Plurality of social time(s), 3, 17
Natural resources, 67, 110 Podestà/podesteria, 51

Poland, 80–88; as monocultural zone, 80; Sartre, Jean-Paul, 274
agrarianization of, 82; capitalist advance Science(s), 168, 276
in, 87; demographic expansion, 85 Scientific knowledge, 145
Political ecology, 81; of underdevelopment, Scientization, 165
89; over the longue durée, 88 Scott, James, 42–44
Political economy, 145; of capital Second serfdom, 85
accumulation, 157 Secular: crisis, 167; trend, 249
Port cities, 190 Secularization, 165
Possible futures, 169 Sedentary empires, 191
Precapitalist peoples, 127 Semiproletarian(s)(iat), 126, 127;
Precious metals, 267 households, 128; self-exploitation, 129
Price movements, 20 Separation of commercial and guardian
Production of meaning, 164 processes, 53
Progress, 166, 208 Serial history, 18, 19
Proletarianization, 100, 102, 111; and Sex: international industry, 114; tourism,
housewifization, 6, 99, 120 111, 118
Property, 150 Shipbuilders, 194; Dutch, 72
Putting out systems, 107 Shipbuilding and timber commodity
frontier, 72
Qing, 183 Short term. See event.
Qualitative mathematics, 268n35, 269, Sieges, 186, 188
270 Silver mines of Potosi, 88
Simiand, François, 3
Radicalism, 165 Social: change, 38; division of labor, 157;
Rank size rule, 36 labor, 153; mathematics, 260; time(s),
Rationalization, 165 272
Raw materials, 68 Social science(s), 16, 165, 166, 243, 244,
Relational systems, 169 253, 254, 275, 276; Western, 233
Relations between nomadic and sedentary Social movements, 127; for biodiversity,
peoples, 179 155
Renewable ecological relations, 157 Song, southern, 182
Renfrew, Colin, 589 Soya, Edward, W., 58
Reproduction, means of, 157 Space(s), 12, 276; social, 38; of flows, 38,
Revue de synthèse historique, 253 42, 43, 44, 46, 60; of places, 42, 43,
Ruddiman, William, 142; hypothesis, 46, 60
142–144 Spatial specification, 276

Spears and swords, 176 Town-ness, 48
State(s), 40–44, 61; formation, Asia, 190; Trade, 193
structure, Asia 173; theory of (Scott), Traditional disciplines, 4, 6
42 Transfer payments, 167
Structural crises, 249 Transnational families, 111
Structural time, 16, 260 Tributary missions, 178
Structuralism(s), 12, 167 Two Cultures, 165
Structures of knowledge, 164
Subjectivity, 165 Unidisciplinary: social science, 213; work,
Subsistence production, 117 214
Substantive rationality, 165 Units of analysis, 203
Superstructure(s), 6, 161, 168 Universalism, 166; cultural, 238; Western,
Surplus(es), 102, 103, 104; extraction of, 236
128 University disciplines, 216
Survey(s), 255, 257, 258 Underpaid contributions to capitalist
Synchrony and diachrony, 259 commodities, 106
System of states, 193 Unpaid reproductive labor, 105
Systemic transition, 169 Urbanization, 60
Use-values, 109
Tax: collections, 190; system, 193
Tea-horse markets, 182 Value, 147–149, 148, 152, 153, 155, 157;
Temporalities, 14, 15; in Gurvitch, relations, 152
272–274 Value-neutral knowledge, 166
Theory of value, 149 Values, 165, 166, 169
Temporalities: plurality of, 243; three, 139 Very long term (la très longue durée), 3
Timber and forest products, 71–80; Baltic, Very longue durée, 263, 268–269
75; Danzig, 76; Finnish, 75; masts and Via Campesina, 156
shipbuilding, 73; Norwegian, 75–76;
Norwegian and Baltic, 73; Riga, 77–78; Wages, 107
tar, pitch and potash production, Wallerstein, Immanuel, 1, 10, 36, 227
78–80; timber frontier, 75 War and capitalism, causal relations
Time, 12, 14; episodic, 274; as durée, between, 192
duration, 3; of history, 271; of the Waste, 69
sages, 10, 271; of the world, 271 Wet-rice cultivation, 193, 194
Tomich, Dale, 148 Women, 101–102, 109, 112, 113, 118,
Too longue durée, 270 119, 127; activism and, 126; hardships

for, 113; income earning, 121; survival World: ecological revolution of the long
networks, 127 seventeenth century, 88; economy, 56;
Women and girls, 120 wars, 163
Work, 39, 61; commercial (Jacobs), World historical: whole, 31; processes,
39, 41, 44, 61; local and non-local, 31
46; guardian (Jacobs), 39, 41, 43, World’s workers, 100
44, 61; men’s, 125, 126; second- World-ecology as a theory of capital
and third-world, 46; women’s, 106; accumulation, 154
semiproletarian, 116 World-systems analysis/perspective, 1, 4, 5,
Workers, 101, 110 7, 29, 35, 36–37, 164, 169, 225