Modernity in “Antique Lands”

Perspectives from the Western Mediterranean

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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The critiques of modernity advanced since at least the 1980s have seldom focused on North Africa/the Maghrib, where Europe and non-Europe impinge so closely on each other. Nor have they often allowed us to recover an historical account of the making of modernity as a global condition, beyond the largely dichotomous or bifurcating categories introduced by modern relations of power and unequal exchange themselves. As an introduction to this collection of articles, this essay sketches what I call a “tectonic” approach to modernity as an historical process, with the aim of recapturing the dynamics by which, between the late eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth, differently located people and places came to occupy divergent positions both in socioeconomic and political structures and in narratives of “modern” history.

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Journal d'Histoire Economique et Sociale de l'Orient

References

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1

M. Greene, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) on Ottoman Crete and C. Windler, La diplomatie comme expérience de l’autre (Geneva: Droz, 2002) on Husaynid Tunisia. For reflections on a different area (Southeast Asia), see R. Bertrand, L’histoire à parts égales: Récits d’une rencontre Orient-Occident, XVI-XVIIè siècles (Paris: Seuil, 2011).

5

J. Chalcraft, “Pluralizing Capital, Challenging Eurocentrism: Towards Post-Marxist Historiography.” Radical History Review 91 (Winter 2005): 13-39, for a critique of the Marxian literature and an argument for a more plural approach to the history of capital as a global phenomenon. Especially unreconstructed restatements of the conservative modernization thesis have particularly maintained their popularity through Niall Ferguson’s bestsellers on empire and money, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (London: Allen Lane, 2004) and The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (London: Allen Lane, 2008).

8

An excellent example is S. Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

12

T. Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003); A. Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

16

Z. Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 2000): 9. Bauman’s terms here recall Paul Virilio’s emphasis on control of speed as well as that of Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey on the production of space and imply perhaps the most useful distinction between modernity, or “high” modernity, as the “race to the limit,” and “late” modernity as the era marked by the advent of virtual space and instantaneous communications—the age of the Internet chatroom, the pilotless drone operated via satellite, and the car bomb detonated by mobile phone. We might also, however, recall such classic formulations as E.P. Thompson’s on time discipline and industrial labor.

26

Cf. B. Watson Andaya, “Historicizing ‘Modernity’ in Southeast Asia.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 40/4 (1997): 391-409.

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