S. Conrad u.a. (Hrsg.): Competing Visions of World Order

Competing Visions of World Order. Global Moments and Movements, 1880s-1930s

Conrad, Sebastian; Sachsenmaier, Dominic
Palgrave MacMillan Series in Transnational History
Basingstoke 2007: Palgrave Macmillan
276 S.
$ 69.95
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Alexis Rossi, Jacobs University Bremen

This book represents a new direction in writing global history, as well as the problems encountered while doing so and the reasons why global history is necessary. Focusing on the events and time periods leading up to and directly after WWI, each author attempts to combine area expertise with a broader perspective through a particular approach to globalization theory. For the most part they are successful. By highlighting "global moments and movements," the authors write on both the local and global levels in a scholarly yet highly readable manner. The arguments are clear and most area specific terms are explained in a helpful yet not condescending way, which non-specialist readers will welcome.

The introduction makes a strong argument for why transcultural historical perspectives are important in the discourse on world orders, particularly for the period between 1880-1930’s. Building on arguments made by Osterhammel and others, the authors claim that this period was the first time that globalization as it is thought of today actually began. To define globalization, the authors rely on a large foundation of secondary sources that represent the current debate on the theory; including the recognition that globalization processes not only bring the world together but also cause polarization (p. 2). This discussion of globalization, provided in the introduction, is carried clearly throughout the forthcoming chapters and provides a general ideological construct behind each argument while incorporating both positive and negative aspects. This theoretical construct will be particularly helpful for those who are just entering the discussion on this hotly debated topic because it provides a practical example of how to broaden area expertise and write global history within the broad confines of globalization as a theory.

The book is divided into three sections and each author places his contribution in the wider context of both area studies and global history, with most also supporting their arguments with detailed archival research. The first section is titled "Conceptions of World and Global Consciousness in the Imperial Age" and is made up of four chapters, including the aforementioned introduction written by editors Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier. This first section claims to deal with "perspectives on world order before World War I largely from Western European and North American points of view" (p. 16) and show the high degree of global consciousness that existed in the imperialist world (p. 16). Yet, the chapters are not limited by this Western point of view as they try to look at particular topics on a more global scale than "West" would normally imply. The second chapter, contributed by Harald Fischer-Tine explores the ways in which the British Empire and the Salvation Army were mutually influenced by each other, as well as the importance of their imperialistic ideology as a whole. He proves that "the twin enterprises of imperial philanthropy and the rescuing of the lower classes in the metropolis were intertwined both on a discursive and practical level" (p. 42) in both "Darkest Britain” and India. By looking at the Salvation Army as a precursor to today’s NGO’s, the global scale and consciousness that colored the group’s activities, ideology and rhetoric becomes clear. At the same time, dichotomies such as "center" and "periphery" or "colonizer" and "colonized" are called into question. In chapter three, Christian Geulen describes how the concept of “race” influenced global relations and networks in the period from 1880-1940 because it was both particularistic and universal. Thus the semantics of “race” could be applied in a multi-functional manner by various world order ideologies (p. 70). Geulen explores the transnational spread of both scientific and popular ideas of race, with a focus on evolutionism and perceptions of Darwinism. In the subsequent chapter, Matthias Middell analyzes world histories that were written around the time of World War I to show that conceptions of history were influenced by academic transformations due to globalization. Therefore the ideas of the time period represent the intersections between academia and popular discourse concerning world orders and history; of which the nation as a unit of analysis was the prime example.

Part two of the book is entitled "World War I as a Global Moment: Implications for Conceptions of World Order." In order to study the impact that WWI had on world order discourse, the two chapters in this section focus on 1919 as an important moment but from a non-European perspective. Erez Manela examines the so-called "periphery’s" perception and application of the self-determination rhetoric epitomized by Woodrow Wilson and the Fourteen Points by looking at anti-colonial and national uprisings, such as that led by "Nyuyen the Patriot," commonly known as Ho Chi Minh (p. 122). The self-determination rhetoric transformed the existing world order as alternative ideologies such as Communism came to the forefront and non-Europeans became actors on the global stage. Next, Dominic Sachsenmaier focuses on Chinese responses, particularly the New Culture Movement, to WWI and places them in the wider context of contemporary global discourse and sociopolitical ideologies related to visions of a new world order.

Although the periods before and after WWI, especially the Versailles peace process, play a prominent role in this section’s discussion of world orders in a global context, WWI itself fades into the background. It is often referred to as "a watershed moment" by various authors, but none of the chapters discuss the actual war. The editors do not justify this conspicuous absence but they do mention that the book is limited to the years between high imperialism and the end of the interwar period because WWII "caused such profound shifts in the previously existing visions of world order… that it is excluded" (p. 9). Yet this does not explain why World War I is excluded and may cause some readers to struggle to place the arguments into a coherent and chronological progression, particularly if they do not have detailed knowledge of WWI, the larger time period or a specific geographical area.

Part three is the final section of the book and focuses on "Movements Toward Alternative World Order." In chapter seven, Sebastian Conrad and Klaus Muehlhahn show how increased migration and mobility, as a result of the globalization process, greatly impacted global discourses on nationalism. Through the use of Chinese ‘coolies’ as an example, the authors show that not only was discourse changed but also nationalism itself became manifested in new ways such as the strengthening of borders, xenophobia and global awareness. Cemil Aydin, in chapter eight, focuses on the impact that the Russo-Japanese War had on discourse, politics and perceptions of issues such as race and civilization. Alternative visions of world order such as Pan-Asianism and Pan-Islamism, appeared as anti-Western critiques yet borrowed heavily from European discourses. The inherent contradiction within the movements was that even as they attempted to define themselves as separate from the West, they were generally characterized by their "emulation of the Western model of modernization" (p. 214). In the last chapter of the book, Andreas Eckert traces the intellectual and social webs of ideas and actions that were incorporated into Pan-Africanism as a movement. Using Paul Gilroy’s "Black Atlantic" concept as a foundation, Eckert aims to prove that the rise and spread of Pan-Africanism can be seen as important for global and transnational processes in the early twentieth century.

For the most part, the chapters stand on their own; but structural flaws limit the cohesiveness of the book in its entirety. If there had been a short introduction at the beginning of each section, that explained the main ideas behind that particular part, then the book would have been more cohesive. Since this is lacking and thus the reader does not know why the book is divided in the first place, the volume does not flow very well from section to section. Returning to the introduction for the short explanations provided there also hampers the reading process. Especially in an edited collection like this, where each chapter represents a combination of area and global studies, a conclusion should have been included that tied the entire book together under the main theoretical constructs and would have left the reader with more of a sense of completion.

A close reading of the contributions and the book as a whole proves that the conceptualization and practice of writing global history is not without its problems, even in an overall successful book such as this one. Writing global history, it seems, is a difficult process because one must find a balance between the exceptionalism of a particular area while still integrating this area into a theory or global processes. One drawback is that global history, as demonstrated by this volume as well, tends to focus on the history of elites instead of being representative of the general population. Ideas are discussed as being part of the popular discourse but the dissemination of concepts such as nationalism and race to the masses is not analyzed. A few of the chapters do try to discuss the experiences of those ‘on the ground’ so to speak, but the book still tends to be one of elite global history. Yet as we know, this is a problem that many historians, even those in Subaltern Studies, struggle with because of the availability of sources.

Beyond this, the practical demands of writing global history are high. Language skills, access to archives, funding and other items, place constraints on who can write global history. Also, although global history and globalization as theoretical concepts are becoming the catchwords of the day, there is still a lot of skepticism within academia regarding the credibility and feasibility of the theories. Therefore, those who write global history have to justify why this approach is useful to begin with. This collection makes the statement that the current situation of the world where globalization stands for both integration and polarization, causing other world order ideologies to come to the forefront in response to Western dominated conceptualizations of world order, "makes transcultural and historical perspectives critical" (p. 3) The book will convince readers that this time period is important for the study of global history, even if one is skeptical of their globalization periodization.

Regarding the questions of area expertise versus global history, the contributors represent an important step in finding a solution because of the manner in which the book was written. Although this is not elaborated on in the book itself, except for brief references, the Global History Collective brought area experts together to discuss and share ideas with each other. This brings an element of distinctiveness to the book because the authors are grappling with the problems of writing global history through group dialogue where one can benefit from the expertise of others, while at the same time the contributors are actually engaged in writing global history. Therefore not only are they aware of the possible shortcomings of what they are doing while they are doing it, but they are actively engaged in finding a solution for ‘global historians’ in general, thus impacting the larger field.

Hence, this book represents the first step in a new direction of global history by bringing scholars from different parts of the world and area expertise together to discuss concepts such as ‘world order.’ The contributions are solid and scholarly yet written in a manner that others without the authors’ expertise can still understand. Although some structural flaws exist and take away from the book, the message the book sends about the global approach is still strong. The volume also incorporates a variety of interests and fields under a multi-layered yet consistent theoretical framework. Therefore, the book will certainly appeal to a wide range of people who will be inspired to venture deeper into the ‘pre-history of today’s globalized world.’

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