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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchRadicalising Global IR: Modernity, Capitalism, and the Question of Eurocentrism

Radicalising Global IR: Modernity, Capitalism, and the Question of Eurocentrism

Author: Eren Duzgun

Affiliation: Nottingham University, International Relations, China Campus

Organization/Publisher: The Chinese Journal of International Politics

Date/Place: Autumn 2022/UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 20



Keywords: Non-Eurocentrism, International Relations Theory, Radical Modernity




The author of this article poses the question of how to approach modernity without a Eurocentric perspective. To address this question, the author introduces the reader to the subfield of International Political Sociology (IPS). IPS scholars, along with postcolonial scholars, are dissatisfied with the Eurocentric foundations of International Relations Theory and have attempted to globalize the field by challenging its current conceptual and methodological frameworks. These efforts became necessary when simple pluralism failed to overcome the field’s Eurocentric bias. Simply adding new voices or studying historically marginalized groups without critically examining the assumptions underlying current theory can further entrench Eurocentric conceptual categories rather than challenging them.

Another strategy pursued by anti-Eurocentric scholars is exemplified by the California school of global history, where scholars working in global economic and social history try to demonstrate that Europe was not technically more advanced than non-western countries until after the 1800s. They do this by focusing on the economic and political infrastructure of non-western societies and presenting a large amount of historical evidence to challenge the idea of European exceptionalism that is often found in standard accounts of the “rise of the West.” According to the author, this approach represents a presentist anti-Eurocentrism, as it assumes essential features of capitalism and projects them back onto non-western societies. Sanjay Seth, a prominent IPS scholar, argues that this strategy fails to overcome conceptual Eurocentrism because, in an attempt to show the co-authorship of modernity, the main understanding of modernity remains unchanged. Both the strategies of co-authorship and pluralism fail to challenge Eurocentrism at its core.

IPS scholars, as exemplified by the journal International Political Sociology, focus on the spatial and temporal aspects of power relations and thereby challenge the disciplinary boundaries, categorical dichotomies, and conventional concepts of International Relations. The author argues that IPS represents the most sophisticated critical approach to IR that seeks to address Eurocentrism. One of their primary strategies has been to question the methodological presentism inherent in IR theory, which uncritically applies current categories from the social sciences to explain historical phenomena, thereby negating non-western ways of knowing and being.

Fundamental understandings of categories such as “the political,” “the economic,” and “the cultural” all come together to explain the arrival of “modernity.” The concept of modernity, or the stages of development that led the West to break free from the rest of the world, was developed to explain why it was absent in the rest of the world. Europe and the United States, characterized as economically industrialized, politically liberal, and culturally secular, were taken as an ideal type. Their story of emergence or historical evolution was abstracted as a singular process by which the rest of the world was measured. This led to a certain kind of unilinear conception of progressive time that privileged the West. IPS scholars instead advocate for a non-presentist methodology for a non-Eurocentric social science. Eurocentric concepts, which are often deployed “objectively” in modern social science and humanities, are actually products of colonial and racist practices that silence and mask non-Western experiences. These concepts do little to explain the world outside of Europe or the time before Europe.

The author challenges readers to consider whether it is possible to rethink modernity without a Eurocentric perspective. So far, both the new pluralists and the California school have failed to go beyond Eurocentrism. The main paradox lies in the role of non-western agency in shaping modernity. If we try to find an internalist explanation for Europe’s rise, we risk elevating Europe as an ideal type and denying agency to other parts of the world. If we try to create a non-internalist explanation, by suggesting that the whole world had universal proto-capitalist features, we risk obscuring the unique violence inflicted by Europe on the rest of the world.

At this point, the author suggests that we consider the contributions of political Marxism (PM). Despite being subject to insightful critiques in recent decades, the author believes that PM still offers valuable analytical tools for International Political Sociology. PM provides a contingent explanation for the rise of capitalism that avoids presentist fallacies. According to PM, modernity was not simply the expansion of qualitative factors such as trade or communication, but rather a qualitative change in the context in which trade took place. This transition to capitalism in Britain was the result of specific, contingent factors, including strategic political intervention and institutional changes that systematically eliminated non-market survival strategies, allowing the market to become the primary (though not the only) institution responsible for social reproduction. In this sense, transitions to capitalism required a qualitative shift in the organization of societal relations, such that the customary conditions for social reproduction were systematically undermined in favor of the market as the ultimate basis for accessing and expanding the means of survival.

PM scholars offer an explanation for the transition to capitalism that avoids the pitfalls of previous schools. PM allows for access to a pre-capitalist past based on radical egalitarianism. The author argues that humanity has a shared legacy of radical egalitarianism, evident in early hunter bands that had to share and cooperate in order to survive. This desire for a close, just, and egalitarian society pre-dates any more presentist, capitalist formation of hierarchy. Based on this shared heritage, the author suggests that we can rethink modernity along what has been called “radical enlightenment,” which called for a universal, equal society. Radical modernity co-existed alongside capitalist modernity and, in the author’s view, was the basis of our shared humanistic past. For much of human history, people have valued an egalitarian society more for their survival as a species than one based on power dynamics that privilege a few at the cost of many. Capitalism worked to suppress calls for a more equal society, both within and outside of Europe. The reproduction of capitalist logic also led to the betrayal of the anti-colonial movement, as third-world elites often resorted to Eurocentric forms of domination within their own countries. The author concludes that “radical modernity,” unlike capitalist modernity, provides a common denominator for the overwhelming majority of the world population, registering the generative nature of their interactions in a non-hierarchical way. In other words, the concept of radical modernity creates a common ontological ground on which the West and the “Rest” can meet on equal footing, enabling a new foundation for the cumulatively and interactively developing common heritage of humanity as a whole.

By: Üveys Han, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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