Andre Gunder Frank on the History of Going Beyond Eurocentrism in World Historical Approaches

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Andre Gunder Frank:

"An important early attempt to go back further was The Rise of the West by William McNeill (1963) with which he can be said to have fathered contemporary world history as a field of study. He criticized Toynbee for treating world history in terms of twenty-one different civilizations, when McNeill suggested that there were only three major contributory "civilizational" streams to world history and to the rise of the West. So far so good. However looking back twenty-five years after the publication of his book, McNeill (1990:9) recognized that "the central methodological weakness of my book is that while it emphasizes interactions across civilizational boundaries, it pays inadequate attention to the emergence of the ecumenical world system within which we live today... [and that the] three regions and their people remained in close and uninterrupted contact throughout the classical era" since 1500 BC, and therefore a fortiori since 1500 AD! Nonetheless in this modern period, McNeill still sees the driving motor force of world history in the West and its development. Despite his important contributions to world history McNeill still testifies to the difficulties in overcoming a Eurocentric perspective and adopting a truly global world perspective of or on the world.

These same difficulties were also insuperable for Braudel and still are so for Wallerstein and their many disciples. Braudel's "Perspective of the World" since 1500 is broader than most. He divided the world into a "European world-economy" and several other and separate external "world-economies" outside the same. Braudel did, of course, also study and describe at least parts of these "other" world economies, especially in Volume III of his trilogy on Civilization & Capitalism. Indeed, so did Marx in his own Volume III of Capital! Yet both neglected to incorporate the findings of their third volumes into the model and theory of their first volumes. Moreover, their neglect was quite conscious, intentional and deliberate: Their Eurocentrism convinced both that any and all historical model and social theory, be it universal or not, must be based on the experience of Europe alone. Their only concession was that Europe and its model did have consequences for the rest of the world.

It was Immanuel Wallerstein's (1974) The Modern World-System [and if I may say so also my own simultaneously written World Accumulation and the companion Dependent Accumulation (Frank 1978a,b)] that sought to systematize these consequences of European expansion and "capitalist" development for both Europe and the rest of the world. Both of us emphasized the negative "underdeveloping" impact of European expansion in many other parts of the world and their contribution in turn to capital accumulation and development in Europe and then also in North America. However, both of us still limited our modeling and theoretical analysis to a modern "world" economy/system, which we saw and Wallerstein still sees as centered in Europe and expanding from there to incorporate more and more of the rest of the world in its own European based "world" economy. In his perspective, Europe's expansion did incorporate parts of Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas into the world-economy/ system. However as Wallerstein explicitly explains, this economy was only world-like, and not at all world encompassing. For in his view, West-, South-, and East- Asia, and indeed Russia, were only incorporated into this European world-economy/ system after 1750. So Wallerstein's "world-system" perspective, theory and analysis not only does not encompass most of the world before that. He even claims explicitly that most of the world, including all of Eurasia east of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe played no significant part in his "world-economic/system" history.

Eric Wolf (1982) is rightly critical of others' neglect of the impact of Europe [on] the People Without History. He shows that people outside Europe did have histories of their own and how the expansion of Europe impacted on them. However, he still underestimates their mutual impact on each other; and he does not ask how the one world in which all participate together impacts on each of them. Moreover he retains, indeed even resurrects, the primacy of "modes of production," from kinship, to tributary, to capitalist based ones. Thus Eric Wolf (1982) and Samir Amin (1991) refer to a so-called "tributary mode of production," which supposedly characterized the whole world before 1500 according to the former and much of it still until 1800 according to the latter.

Little is gained in my view, and much better opportunities at global reformulation are needlessly squandered, by inventing new latter day variations of these old European derived categories with fuzzy and euphemistic prefixes that characterize particular 'societies' as pre, proto, semi, quasi, commercial, petty, ersatz, or even post 'capitalist' and 'feudal' or 'socialist' for that matter. The same must be said about the recent discussions about 'merchant capitalism' in Wallerstein's Review (XX, 2, Spring 1997).

The same original Eurocentric sin is still latent if not manifest even in the most recent conscious efforts to transcend Eurocentrism from Janet Abu-Lughod's (1989) Before European Hegemony [which ends in 1350 and previews a new beginning in Europe] and Chaudhuri's (1990) Asia Before Europe [whose subtitle established Indian Ocean limits, and does not attempt an economic history even of that], to Blaut's (1993) The Colonizers Model of the World [who criticizes Eurocentrism but offers no replacement and attempts no world economic history]. Indeed, the alleged European origin of the 'modern capitalist world system' is still featured even in Arrighi's (1994) The Long Twentieth Century, Snooks' (1994) Was the Industrial Revolution Necessary? and The Dynamic Society (1996), Sanderson's (1995) Social Transformation, Modelski & Thompson's (1996) Leading Sectors and World Powers, Adams' (1996) Paths of Fire, and Chase-Dunn & Hall's (1997) Rise and Demise. As noted in footnote 6 above, the Gulbenkian Commission Report on Open the Social Sciences for the twenty-first century, written mostly by Wallerstein (1996), also stops short of challenging the sacrosanct cage of the European origin and center of capitalism and all that allegedly follows. Yet, as Marshall Hodgson (1993) already wrote before his untimely death in 1968 a Westernist image of world history, if not disciplined by a more adequate perspective, can do untold harm; in fact it is now doing untold harm.... We must force ourselves to realize what it means to say that the West is not the modern world, gradually assimilating backward areas to itself;.... At least as important was the very existence of the vast world market, constituted by the Afro-Eurasian commercial network (Hodgson 1993:290, 68, 47).

That is, most received economic and other history not only neglect and/or distort especially the Asian parts of real world [economic] history. Perhaps even more significant is that thereby Eurocentric history and social theory cannot even account for or explain the fundamentals of European and Western [economic] history itself. Therefore, it is useless to look for the "causes" of this rise only or even primarily under the Western streetlight."


The holistic global alternative

Andre Gunder Frank:

" Janet Abu-Lughod (1989) outlined a "thirteenth century world system" with some "regional" patterns, which persist in the world economy through the eighteenth century. She identified three major - and within each of these some minor - regions, in eight mutually overlapping regional ellipses that covered AfroEurasia in her account of the world economy. These included regions centered - going from west to east - on Europe, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the South China Sea, as well as Inner Asia. All of these regions continued to play more or less major, but not equal, roles in the world economic division of labor and system of "international" trade, despite the addition of an Atlantic ellipse in the sixteenth century.

This global economy and multilateral trade, also in Asia, was expanded through the infusion of American money by the Europeans. Indeed, that is what permitted Europeans to increase their participation in the global economy, which until and even through the eighteenth century remained dominated by Asian and particularly Chinese and Indian production, competitiveness, and trade. A number of works by mostly Asian historians are helping to put the Indian Ocean economy on the map, as its important place and role in history well merits. China was the focus of a Sinocentric sub-system in East Asia, whose economic weight in the world has been grossly underestimated, even when it has been recognized at all, which itself has been all too rare.

The work of Hamashita (1988,1994) and the proposed research by him and Arrighi and Selden (1996) are designed to help remedy this serious deficiency. There were also longstanding bilateral relations of China with Central Asia and the trilateral ones with Korea and Japan, and the significant roles of the coastal regions of China, of emporia and other ports on the South China Sea and in Southeast Asia and the Ryukus, and of the trading diasporas especially of "Overseas Chinese," which not incidentally continue to play their vital roles today. None of this global pattern of inter-regional division of labor and trade corresponds to the received image of a "modern capitalist world-economy" that began in Europe and only then expanded to "incorporate" one region after another elsewhere in the world until the West dominated them all.

Instead, the international division of labor and relative sectoral productivity and regional competitiveness in the world economy were reflected the pattern of trade balances and money flows on a global scale. In the structure of the world economy, four major regions maintained built-in deficits of commodity trade: The Americas, Japan, Africa and Europe. The first two balanced their deficit by producing silver money for export. Africa exported gold money and slaves. Southeast Asia and West Asia also produced some silver and gold money, which contributed to balance their trade. Unlike Europe however, they were able also to produce some other commodities for which there also was an export demand. Both Southeast and West Asia also realized "export" earnings from their respective locations at the southeastern and southwestern trade turntables of the central Asian economies. To some extent, so did Central Asia.

That is in economic terms, all of these deficitary regions nonetheless also produced some "commodities" for which there was a demand elsewhere in the world economy. The fourth deficitary region, Europe, was hardly able to produce anything of its own for export with which to balance its perpetual trade deficit. Europe managed to do so primarily by "managing" the exports of the three other deficitary regions, from Africa to the Americas, from the Americas to Asia, and from Asia to Africa and the Americas. The Europeans also participated to some extent in trade within Asia, especially between Japan and elsewhere. This intraAsian "country" trade was marginal for Asia but nonetheless vital for Europe, which earned more from it than from its own trade with Asia. However, none of this European participation in world trade and the global division of labor would have been possible without European colonial access to American silver, of which more below.

The two major regions that generated and export surplus and were most "central" to the world economy were India and China. That centrality rested primarily on their outstanding absolute and relative productivity in manufactures. In India, these were primarily its cotton textiles that dominated the world market, and to a lesser extent it’s silk textiles, especially in India's most productive Bengali region. Of course, this competitiveness in manufacturing also rested on productivity on the land and in transport and commerce. They supplied the inputs necessary to supply raw materials to industry, food to workers, and transport and trade for both, as well as for export and import. The other, and even more "central" economy was China. Its even greater centrality was based on its even greater absolute and relative productivity in industry, agriculture, [water] transport, and trade. China's even greater, indeed the world economy's greatest, productivity, competitiveness and centrality were reflected in its most favorable balance of trade. That was based primarily on its world economic export leadership in silks and ceramics and its exports also of gold and copper coin and later of tea. These exports in turn made China the "ultimate sink" of the world's silver, which flowed there to balance China's almost perpetual export surplus. Of course, China was only able to satisfy its insatiable "demand" for silver; because it also had an inexhaustible supply of exports, which were in perpetual demand elsewhere in the world economy.

Thus another "regionalization" of the world economy could be visualized in the form of concentric circles. Among these, China [and within that the Yangtze Valley and/or South China] would form the innermost circle. The "East Asian Tribute Trade System" studied by Hamashita (1988,1994) would form the next circle, which beyond China included at the very least parts of Central Asia, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Related other work on the South China Sea is that of Wang (1958), Blusse (1986), Klein (1989), Ikeda (1996) and Lourido (1996) and also on overland trade with continental Southeast Asia by Sun (1994). However, the boundaries of this circle were porous and uncertain, and Hamashita himself recognizes its extension to South Asia. That in turn of course had millenarian old close relations with West Asia and East Africa, as well as with Central Asia, which in turn became increasingly enmeshed with Russia and that with China. These regions could be said to form a next outer band, which we can then perhaps identify as an Asian, or Afro-Asian, regional circle. Europe and across the Atlantic the Americas would then occupy their rightful places in the outer band of the concentric circles, since Asia also had economic relations with Europe and through its mediation with the Americas. Apart from focusing on China, East Asia, and Asia respectively as major world economic regions, such a concentric circle mapping of the global economy also puts Europe and even the Atlantic economy in their marginal place. This Asian economic predominance also means that European the supposed technological 'advance' and especially its 'seventeenth century scientific revolution' and the latter's alleged contribution to technological innovation are pure Eurocentric myths (Adams 1996, Shapin 1996, Frank 1998).

At least four different but related kinds of evidence and argument must lead us to reject the received wisdom's mythology about the alleged technological and institutional superiority of Europe over Asia before 1800. They are the evidence of technological advance and institutional sophistication in various parts of Asia and their comparison with European ones, the fact that in response to world economic relations and competition these technologies and institutions were widely diffused in all directions whenever it was profitable to do so, and the myth of the alleged contribution of the 'seventeenth century scientific revolution' in Europe to the development of technology itself. Another still more important reason that casts even more than doubt on the thesis of European technological superiority is derivative from the above observations: There was no European technology! The development of technology, like all economic development, was a world economic process, which took place in and because of the structure of the world economy/system itself."