In the following you find a report on the session "Economic and Political World Orders" of the Second European Congress on World and Global History. The general aim and structure of the congress are described at: <hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de
Session: "Economic and Political World Orders"
The session explicitly addressed the overall topic of the conference. The aim of the session was to analyze the establishment of these global orders and the constantly occurring challenges of the existing structures.
The panel “International Orders of Labor” examined the effects of labor migration as a challenge to, or reinforcement of, prevailing international divisions of labor. The chair of the panel, GARETH AUSTIN (London), narrowed this broad subject down by focusing on two general ideas. At first he identified the early 19th century as the crucial period for the emergence of international orders of labor. A distinction, however, should be made between the early 19th century’s widely accepted, though uncodified visions of labor orders, and the era of the ILO and the International Forced Labour convention in the 1930s. Secondly, he pointed out that the slow global change of conceptions, from the anti-slavery movement to the universal norms of labor in different parts of the world, can be best described within the framework of international orders of labor.
From this point of view, Austin summarized the paper of ALESSANDRO STANZIANI (Paris) about the legal status of labor in Russia. Stanziani’s findings challenge the traditional view of Eastern European serfdom until the late 19th century in contrast to a Western European model of the early emergence of free labor. Accordingly the schematic opposition of free and unfree labor should be dismissed so that the many different legal forms of labor and movable and negotiable boundaries between these categories become visible. In addition Stanziani emphasized that also in countries like France, Britain and the United States, the transformation from serfdom to modern free labor contracts was a long-term process beginning in the 16th century, and was not brought about by one single reformatory act.
BENOIT DAVIRON (Montpellier) demonstrated the difficulties of colonial governments and administrations in 19th century Africa to mobilize labor for agricultural commodity production. Well before WW I it was understood that replacing “lazy” African workers by Asian laborers was of little effect. Thus international policy-making institutions were wrestling well before WW I with the question which kind of regulation and what form of contract would provide an incentive to native workers. According to Daviron WW I is nevertheless a turning point. The subsequent “nationalization of colonization” led to changes in governmental practices regarding the production system and to a general reorientation of the colonial policy – a moral reform was stressed as strategy in dealing with the natives. Despite this general shifts the realization shows remarkable differences between the European powers.
Examining modern communication technologies in Japan within its global context – from the postal to the telephone systems up to the computer-based ICT – JANET HUNTER (London) helped to determine the influence of technology transfer on the emergence of orders of labor. While traditionally a sharp gender division marked the Japanese postal system, the imported telephone technology challenged this separation. From the very moment of its introduction female operators were employed next to male workers – signaling the country’s modernity in a similar way, as had been the case in the U.S. and Britain. Thus the transfer of technology – altogether with its ascription of gender – has an effect far beyond the immediate technical dimension. Hunter argues, that alteration of communication technologies, particularly in the late 20th century, brought with it an opportunity to challenge and change existing division of labor along the line of gender.
All in all, the panel offered a stimulating discussion of the cross-border dynamics in the transformation of ideas as diverse as on workers’ adaptation to abstract norms, appropriate forms of labor, or international standards. It highlighted the differences between various geographical and chronological settings. And it pointed at open questions, like for example the interpretation of colonial administration’s shift towards a “better” treatment of native workers: Is it more appropriately described as specific practice of colonial suppression based on racisms, or is it but one expression of a globally emerging pattern concerning divisions of labor and capital.
The very popular and therefore crowded panel on ‘Global Economic Orders’, chaired by PATRICK O’BRIEN (London), focused in two aspects: international orders of trade on the one hand and conceptual (world-) economic orders that are embedded in (national) statistical records and data collection on the other. Lars Magnusson (Uppsala) talked about state consultants’ plans from the 16th to the 18th century in various European countries. Although these mercantilists argued for very different (domestic and international) economic policies, they share that they all sought to establish favorable global economic position for their countries’, thus bound themselves towards projects of nation-state building and the strive for geopolitical power and influence. Thus ‘Mercantilism’ as a system or school of thought, as later scholars coined it, has to be understood against the backdrop of the accompanying heated debate between protectionism and free trade.
ANTHONY HOWE (Norwich) introduced the concept and practice of ‘free trade’ as highly diverse depending in its meaning and concrete form on the respective international political constellations. The ‘modified mercantilism’ of Britain was replaced by the short-lived mid-nineteenth century European enthusiasm about the Smithian and Ricardian vision of global peace and wealth as an alternative to both, revolution and to control from above. This, in turn, soon gave way to a multilateral commercial bargaining. Howe also emphasized the influence of the free trade model of mid-nineteenth century Europe on the twentieth-century’s search for an international economic order. Most illuminating, however, was his constant comparison between the pre- and post WW II global economic order.
DANIEL SPEICH (Berlin/Zürich) traced back the origins of the orders of knowledge on the mechanisms of the global economy. The new methods of data gathering and new indicators like GDP, developed from the 1940s onwards, did not only make international income differences visible but produced at the same time norms of desirable economic structures. Speich also pointed at the historical contingency of today’s knowledge about the global economy and explained that the convincing power and subsequent stability of these new methods was a consequence of their quantitative approach to progress that fit well into the developmental era of the early postwar years.
To summarize, this panel demonstrated statistics as one important factor for the emergence of the current global economic order as it showed its influence on the theories of economic development including the measurement of performance in international comparisons. Furthermore, the well-known mercantilist and free trade concepts were convincingly presented, less as political theories, but from the point of view of visions emerging and spreading through the world. Focusing on their origins and the interests of different social groups linked with these visions, the discussion contributed to the explanation of the creation of the dominating world economic orders.
These two panels were accompanied by three more: 1) The Political Economy of the Rise and Demise of the Capitalist World System, 2) National Internationalists: Social movements and political parties in the post-war period and 3) Politische Parteien in der Weltgeschichte - Aussichten für eine globale Weltordnung.
The contributions of the whole session opened up a view into the practice of writing global history by showing how the investigation of a clearly defined topic can, by proper national and international contextualization, help to understand the emergence and change of global economic orders.
Program of the Session:
Panel: International Orders of Labour in the 19th and 20th Centuries, chair: Gareth Austin, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Global Economic Orders, chair: Patrick O’Brien, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
The Political Economy of the Rise and Demise of the Capitalist World System, chair: Hartmut Elsenhans, Universität Leipzig
National Internationalists: Social movements and political parties in the post-war period, chair: Thomas Fetzer, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Politische Parteien in der Weltgeschichte - Aussichten für eine globale Weltordnung, chair: Helmut Stubbe da Luz, Universität der Bundeswehr, Hamburg, DE