capitalism and material life braudel pdf

Capitalism and material life braudel pdf

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Colin Barker

Fernand Braudel

Capitalism and Material Life

Capitalism and material life 1400–1800

Colin Barker

This paper considers the role played by money in the construction of global hegemony. This analysis draws our attention to the particular ways in which the world-economy is organised around and through overlapping social arenas and subject to different temporal rhythms.

The principal argument of the paper is that many analyses pay inadequate attention to the peculiar fusion of economic, political, social and ideational forces that have powered the US dollar to its current role. Download in PDF or continue reading online. In order to function effectively, any economy requires a means of exchange. When economic exchange progresses beyond barter, the settlement of transactions usually occurs through the exchange of money, both in note form and as credit.

The nature, organisation and provision of such money — its value or price, its form and function, and how it is sanctioned via public or private authority — is therefore a puzzle to be investigated. In the modern period, no economy has operated effectively without some kind of stable, well-grounded currency. The international economy — or what I shall call the world-economy — is not much different.

It has tended to produce over time a dominant international or global currency that has acted as an anchor for key types of international transactions.

This makes the puzzle posed by a global currency slightly different from that of national money: the relationship between money and authority is refracted between multiple and competing sovereign jurisdictions. This is most clearly visible when considering how global currencies are provided and sanctioned. There are many reasons offered for this role: the size of the US economy relative to other major economies; the centrality of US financial and stock markets in the global financial system; the role of US multinational firms in international transactions; the global reach of the US alliance system; the paramount political position of the US in international relations; and the central role of the dollar in foreign exchange markets.

Is it a reliable store of value? Do persistent and large American budgetary and current account deficits spell out a future in which the supply of dollars will outstrip demand? In this paper I consider both how the US dollar serves as the premiere global currency, and how much longer we can expect it to continue in this role.

But rather than re-examining the above reasons to determine if the balance of the global economy has finally swung away from using the US dollar as an anchor or reserve currency, I propose to outline and advance a conceptual framework for considering this question based upon the work of the French historian Fernand Braudel. I shall divide the world-economy in two ways: between overlapping social spaces and inter-related social times. By outlining the world-economy in this way, I advance a conceptual framework that suggests a somewhat different way to apprehend the production and sanctioning of global currencies.

The paper is organised in two sections. The second section asks how such a framework might consider the puzzle of a global currency. Two historical cases are used to schematically illustrate the operation of a global currency within a world-economy: sterling during the era of the pre international gold standard; and the dollar during the contemporary period.

Considering these two cases as historical illustrations allows us to reflect on the present and future possibilities for the dollar. As Braudel maintains, history provides a window that is able to gaze into the present as well as the future; thus it is a suitable avenue of knowledge for the social sciences Braudel, , p. Why should we identify a Braudelian framework as a world-economy approach to economic history?

In this he follows a broadly historical materialist methodology, wherein history is considered as movement along a specified direction which can be ascertained in its totality. History in other words is always linked, and its parts are comprehensible in terms of the whole. All history in this sense is world history. Yet, for Braudel the world has not always been synonymous with a global whole.

Historical totalities have been identified as such on the basis of their structural comprehensiveness, which reflects cohesion across a broad range of features. The first dialectical relationship for Braudel is therefore that of part to whole, of particular history to global history. It demands that we analyse and understand all particular histories — and events — within their global context. Those who study international political economy IPE will recognise in this call to arms the starting point of their academic pursuit.

I maintain that this theoretical starting point provides us with a signal advantage: it allows us to divide up the world into concrete social spaces, the borders or hierarchies of which are not defined solely by territorial divisions. This is extremely valuable, for it allows us to place problems such as the provision of global currencies into a world context.

Once established, the coherence of a world-economy may be mapped in several ways: through the boundaries that mark it off from other world-economies; through its central axis of power, which for Braudel runs through cities; and through its hierarchical zones, extending from core to periphery Braudel, , pp.

Within the context of a historical materialist method, this coherence is in part a function of the application of political power and the ongoing effects of a fusion between state prerogatives and market activities. These claims allow him to consider not only that the historicity of capitalism extends as far back as recorded time, but also that capitalism needs to be distinguished from markets and the market economy.

Contrary to common usage, Braudel asks us to accept that capitalists and their preferred arena of activity — capitalism — differ substantially from all other producers, traders and consumers in their many and overlapping interactions. Most importantly, for him capitalism is the terrain in which competition is minimal, monopoly and oligopoly are the norm, transparency is rare, information is necessarily asymmetric in its generation and availability, and power is explicitly recognised and exercised in economic and commercial activities.

Even if we agreed with Braudel that the world-economy could be portrayed as a pyramid, this is a counter-intuitive inversion of the standard depiction. For most of us, the economic imagination we deploy sees the terrain of capitalism as the largest section of the pyramid — its biggest, most powerful portion — precisely because this captures the enormous sway that capitalism exerts over the economy. In fact, for most of us capitalism and the economy are inseparable; capitalism is the economy.

Contemporary arguments about global capitalism tell us that today it is busy drawing more and more extensive lands and peoples into its maw. To argue that capitalism is not this super-dominant system is to go against the grain of nearly all modern political economy analyses. Yet, this is exactly what Braudel asks us to do. For him, if the idea of capital is to be treated in a historically accurate manner and what historian refuses to be historically accurate?

Capital is moneyed wealth, built up over time rather than consumed. This is why until very recently capital has almost always been a property of families: the connection between family and capital has enabled capitalism to become an organised terrain of activity Braudel, , pp. Most importantly, of course, it has been merchant families above all who engaged in accumulation; hence their association with capitalism as he defines it.

For Braudel, the chief hallmark of capitalists, or their defining characteristic, has always been their capacity to choose where to deploy their capital, and thus to shift the means of accumulation according to the profitability of particular activities. Capitalists have rarely if ever specialised in only one line of work; they have continuously shifted from one enterprise to another according to the level of profit which they prize and the degree of competition which they avoid.

Long distance trade and money-lending, for example, have long been chosen preserves of capitalists. It was only in the 17th and 18th centuries that production became profitable enough to warrant their attention. Today it is speculative activities along many fronts — finance, property, technology — that mostly capture their attention.

Venture capitalists might be said today to occupy the terrain of capitalism in its purest form. The point Braudel brings home is that capitalists neither can nor desire to control the entire economy; rather they insert themselves into the commanding heights of economic and commercial activity where the easiest and juiciest profit margins lie.

As for the rest of the economy, the market economy , capitalists are happy to leave that to others. This market economy encompasses the middle section of our economic pyramid, changing in size as one moves through history.

Its defining feature is its fundamental transparency. That is to say, the economic and commercial activities which mark out the market economy are well-understood, easily calculable because of the wide availability of information, open to competition and capable of sustaining many participants. Over the years and centuries, the market economy has organised and entertained the kinds of routine exchange that have in turn sustained villages, cities and even nations.

These range from the provision of basic necessities to local services to the stable economies associated with trade in non-luxury items produced through comparative specialisation: olives for wine; cloth for wood; and in our time, metals and commodities for manufactured products.

For Braudel, the crucial point about the market economy is that it is entirely about the production, exchange and consumption of everyday items, in which the possibility of realising super-profits does not exist outside of rare and unusual circumstances. The economic and commercial activities that constitute the market economy are obviously profit-oriented, but these profits are not themselves directed for the most part towards accumulation.

Of course, some people will begin in the market economy and move into the arena of capitalism — that is to say, they will become capitalists — but this is not a widespread occurrence and most importantly it is not one which upsets the essential stability of the market economy. At the same time, the market economy is vulnerable to incursions from capitalism and its capitalists, such as when new technologies provide new economies of scale that recalibrate profit margins in established sectors, or when special circumstances transform stable commodities into profit opportunities as for example during a famine.

But this is not a common development historically, as Braudel reminds us: there are simply too few profitable opportunities in an accumulation sense for capitalists to bother with the market economy on a grand scale.

Distinguishing between capitalism and the market economy allows Braudel to negotiate two problems that plague much contemporary analysis in IPE. The first is the tendency to assume the homogeneity of social space, wherein we are compelled to designate an entire social space such as an economy in only one manner i.

While this may offer a tempting form of analytical parsimony, Braudel is convinced that this is factually inaccurate, especially if one examines the kinds of dynamics and imperatives which move actual historical agents. Distinguishing between the structural characteristics of capitalism and the market economy is one way to do this. The second problem is the tendency to assume a monochromatic reading of causal factors involved in moving history forward.

The causal factors at work in the terrain of capitalism differ markedly from those at work in the market economy, and we need to be aware of these distinctions if we are to accurately evaluate future trends and possibilities. Furthermore, we will need to establish the broad relationship between the different social terrains if we are to link the totality of a world-economy together in a cohesive manner.

But crucially, this totality cannot be completely dominated by only one causal factor or relationship; it is far broader and more varied than this conceptualisation allows. It helps us to understand the barriers to capitalism equated today most often with the pressures of globalisation , and to begin to reflect on where and how capitalism is challenged by extra-economic forces. Above all it allows us to conceive of a world-economy that is structured and organised around a multiplicity of historical imperatives, rather like the unfolding of social life itself.

The last part of the world-economy pyramid Braudel identifies as the terrain of material life , that vast pool of activities dominated by routine, repetition and unreflective behaviour. For the eras which most occupy Braudel — the Mediterranean world during the reign of Philip II of Spain, and the European world-economy from the 15th to 18th centuries — the domain of material life constituted the single largest block of social activities, simply because most people were involved in webs of exchange that extended no further than a few miles, and which were directed primarily towards reproducing family and village life on a subsistence level.

The money economy — the hallmark of the market economy and vitally necessary for capitalism — was not widely entrenched, and many forms of economic exchange were wrapped up in non-economic or un-economic demands.

It is difficult today to conceive of such a large chunk of social life as being insulated from economic behaviour. He offers the historical choice of grain for foodstuff as a prime example: wheat in Europe; maize in the Americas; and rice throughout Asia. Each crop demanded different techniques and imposed particular consequences upon the social organisation of the economy Braudel, , pp.

At the same time, even though each foodstuff was initially confined to the domain of material life, over time it became subject to routine long-distance trade — a sign of inclusion in the market economy — and even, in unusual circumstances, capitalism itself, as when it became a plaything of capitalists during famines or unusual trading circumstances Braudel, , p. Historically, human organisation has been mostly imprisoned , as Braudel would have it, within the lived experience of material life; it is one of the hallmarks of modernity that increasing swathes of social life have become part of the market economy, which is more open to new ideas, inclusive participation and the fluidity and mobility which we so often associate with the modern era.

He presents this as a possible set of equations:. The particular conflict Braudel picks up on is the way in which the terrain of capitalism sets upon and utilises for its own purposes the various social hierarchies it comes upon. This idea is crucial, because for Braudel capitalists are able seize control of, or insert themselves into, the commanding heights of the economy precisely by taking advantage of pre-existing social hierarchies.

This is how capitalism grows and expands; not by devouring its own although this does occur periodically , but by searching out and exploiting the differences which social hierarchies present to those with capital, information, power and resources.

Once the hierarchy yields its treasure, however, the capitalist moves on. This refusal to specialise is in fact the key to their historic ability to survive: capitalists simply pick up and move on when loopholes are closed to them and the hierarchies they feed on are ameliorated.

Of course, such social hierarchies are intimately related to the other elements of the equation offered above. Social hierarchies both graft themselves onto and indeed produce political institutions which can yield economic dividends. This is why, for Braudel as for many historical materialists, capitalism is everywhere and always closely associated with the state.

The state feeds off of social hierarchies and reproduces them, but in layers; the hierarchy is itself inherently hierarchical! For example, Braudel , pp. As capitalists began to insert themselves into production, they re-oriented the state and took it along with them into new arenas of activity.

This suggests that we focus our attention on the wide-ranging role of such currencies, and how far they go towards sustaining a particular kind of world-economy.

Fernand Braudel

Capitalism is by far one of the most widely used and most widely defined terms in the social sciences, maybe also next to globalization, society and state. Contemporary economic and political debates would be unthinkable without it. However, especially the wide range of definitions of capitalism has lead to many misinterpretations and subsequently several academic problems, starting from different ideas behind the term up to interdisciplinary misconceptions when working with it in theory and in practice. One prominent example is the negligently equation of capitalism with the concept of free markets or a free market economy. Orthodox and heterodox economics as well as political scientists are often equating both concepts when describing and analysing the post-industrial-revolution economic system and its social dynamics, as some prominent academic works throughout the history show.

Fernand Braudel is associated with the influential Annales School La nouvelle histoire that advocated a major break from the dominant narrative paradigm of the early twentieth century embracing an approach to history integrating the social sciences with a problem-focused history. Braudel is uniformly praised as one of the most influential historians of the twentieth century, but a hard act to follow. Braudel immersed himself into masses of materials and emerged with plausible broad-brush stories to tell, teaching others how to replicate this approach is problematic. While the Annales School has made only a small dent in the economic history curriculum in the United States, it has had much more influence on social history worldwide and on economic history in France, Europe and the rest of the world. Rondo Cameron , p.

W e are here to discuss themes and problems of the Marxist conception of history a hundred years after the death of Marx. This is not a ritual of centenary celebration, but it is important to begin by reminding ourselves of the unique role of Marx in historiography. I will simply do so by three illustrations. My first is autobiographical. When I was a student in Cambridge in the s, many of the ablest young men and women joined the Communist Party. But as this was a very brilliant era in the history of a very distinguished university, many of them were profoundly influenced by the great names at whose feet we sat. Among the young Communists there we used to joke: the Communist philosophers were Wittgensteinians, the Communist economists were Keynesians, the Communist students of literature were disciples of F.

Capitalism and Material Life, (English and French Edition) [Braudel, Fernand] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Capitalism and​.

Capitalism and Material Life

By examining in detail the material life of pre-industrial peoples around the world, Fernand Braudel significantly changed the way historians view their subject. Volume I describes food and drink, dress and housing, demography and family structure, energy and technology, money and credit, and the growth of towns. A scale of reference Towns, armies and navies, A France prematurely overpopulated, Density of population and level of civilization, Other points inferred from Gordon W. The eighteenth century: watershed of biological regimes Preserving the balance, Famine, Epidemics, The plague, The cycle of diseases, I a long-lasting biological ancien regime.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4. Revision Description: Removed outdated link. Skip to main content Skip to main navigation menu Skip to site footer.

Civilization And Capitalism by Fernand Braudel, 3 vols.

At the same time, it considers the paradox that Braudel is happy to accept rupture and revolution in the context of the history of ideas.

Capitalism and material life 1400–1800

Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required. To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number. Probes the forces that limited the material wealth of the masses from the fifteenth through the eighteenth century. Read more Read less. Previous page.

His scholarship focused on three main projects: The Mediterranean —49, then —66 , Civilization and Capitalism —79 , and the unfinished Identity of France — His reputation stems in part from his writings, but even more from his success in making the Annales School the most important engine of historical research in France and much of the world after As the dominant leader of the Annales School of historiography in the s and s, he exerted enormous influence on historical writing in France and other countries. He was a student of Henri Hauser Braudel has been considered one of the greatest of the modern historians who have emphasized the role of large-scale socioeconomic factors in the making and writing of history. In his works Braudel shows a revolutionary change of focus in the craft and analysis of history from individuals or events to world systems. Braudel also studied a good deal of Latin and a little Greek.


  • Evangelino C. 25.04.2021 at 00:10

    This paper considers the role played by money in the construction of global hegemony.

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