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The Ottoman origins of capitalism: uneven and combined development and Eurocentrism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 June 2013


The history of capitalism's origins is unmistakably Eurocentric, placing sixteenth-century developments in politics, economy, culture, and ideology squarely within the unique context of Europe. And while the disciplinary remit of International Relations (IR) should offer a way out of such European provincialism, it too has been built on largely Eurocentric assumptions. In Eurocentric approaches, the Ottoman Empire has been absent, passive, or merely a comparative foil against which the specificity and superiority of Europe has been defined. And yet, the Ottoman Empire was arguably the most powerful actor in the Early Modern period. In this article, I argue that any history of capitalism's origins must therefore account for the historical importance of the Ottomans. In doing so, this article seeks to address the non-European blind-spot, both in theorisations of capitalism's origins and in IR theory, by reincorporating the material significance of the Ottoman Empire in historical processes, which led to the transition to capitalism. I do so by utilising the theory of Uneven and Combined Development, and in the process seek to defend its credentials as a non-Eurocentric social theory on the one hand and as a sociologically and historically sensitive theory of international relations on the other.

Copyright © British International Studies Association 2013 

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