University of Sussex
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Revisiting Imperial China’s trajectory in the context of the 'rise of the West'. The Eurocentric legacy in historical sociology

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posted on 2023-06-09, 00:29 authored by Nancy Turgeon
This thesis proposes a theoretical and historical reconstruction of the ‘Great Divergence’ between Europe and China. In contrast with both the dominant narrative on the ‘Rise of the West’ and its main detractor, the California School, the dissertation enquires critically into the categories of ‘China’ and ‘Europe’ and contests their temporal and spatial homogeneity. In this, the thesis proposes a unique way to overcome Eurocentrism in International Relations and to sociologically understand similarity and dissimilarity in development. The thesis reveals facets of Eurocentrism which are overlooked in all approaches engaging with the issue of divergence and informing the IR literature (neo-institutionalist economic history, neo-Weberian Sociology, World-Systems Theory, mode-of-production analyses, and the California School). These Eurocentric conceptual anachronisms are: the naturalisation of the European international system; the understanding of Europe as a homogenous entity; the postulate of a universal rationality; and the ontologising of analytical categories derived from the Western experience. The thesis’ methodology, informed by Political Marxism, overcomes such Eurocentrism through its unique reading of Marx, leading to a socialising of geopolitics and rationality, and theorising the specific nature of developmental trajectories, thereby enabling the productive transfer of its method to non-European contexts. From this anti-Eurocentric standpoint, the thesis submits an alternative narrative on the trajectory of Imperial China from the 7th to the 19th Centuries. Re-problematising the contested and changing nature of China’s authority relations and political geography as stemming from social conflicts around politically-constituted power challenges the Realist, English School’s, and California School’s assumptions of its stability, hegemony, and immutability widely held to have prevented take-off. Such a convergence between Continental Europe and China until the 19th Century, contrasting with the IR assumptions of a series of Chinese absences and European structural exceptionalisms, highlights the Anglo-Continental 17th Century divergence as a unique resolution of social conflicts, essential to Europe-China comparative strategies.


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