Structure and Dynamics of Islamic Social Formations (Seventh–Fourteenth Century)

A Case of Uneven and Combined Development

In: Historical Materialism
Jean Batou Professor of Contemporary International History, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lausanne Switzerland

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From the seventh to the fourteenth century, the Muslim world’s key actors were free peasants working limited and scattered cultivated areas, whose communities paid heavy taxes. A distinct nomadic mode of production dominated the arid lands and their warlike pastoral tribes. Wealthy merchants and artisans controlled urban ideological production, living next to actual ruling classes, who drew exceptional material privileges from their proximity to the state. Since the latter’s status contradicted the contractual community’s values, political power was socially alienated and needed support from paid soldiers and often co-opted religious notables. The author describes Islamic social formations as real flesh-and-blood beings who developed original features on the same tributary mode of production’s skeleton. He shows that comparable dialectical oppositions enlivened them, stemming from uneven and combined development processes. Thus, their states and villages, barren lands and city markets, contractual ideology and monarchical powers were permanently in conflictual interaction.

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