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Interrogating civilisational analysis in a global age

Contemporary civilisational analysis has emerged in the post-Cold War period as a forming but already controversial field of scholarship. This book focuses on the scholarship produced in this field since the 1970s. It begins with anthropological axioms posited by Ibn Khaldun, Simon Bolivar and George Pachymeres. Three conceptual images of civilisations are prominent in the field. First, civilisations are conceived as socio-cultural units, entities or blocs in an 'integrationist' image. They emerge out of long-term uneven historical processes. Finally, in a 'relational' image civilisations are believed to gain definition and institute developmental patterns through inter-societal and inter-cultural encounters. The book traces the history of semantic developments of the notions of 'civilisation' and 'civilisations' coextensive with the expansion of Europe's empires and consubstantial with colonialism. Early modernities are more important in the long formation of capitalism. Outlining the conceptual framework of inter-civilisational engagement, the book analytically plots the ties instituted by human imaginaries across four dimensions of inter-civilisational engagement. It also interrogates the relationship between oceans, seas and civilisations. Oceanian civilisation exhibits patterns of deep engagement and connection. Though damaged, Pacific cultures have invoked their own counter-imaginary in closer proximity to past islander experiences. Collective memory provides resources for coping with critical issues. The book also explores Latin American and Japanese experiences that shed light on the engagement of civilisations, applying the model of inter-civilisational engagement to modern perspectives in culture and the arts, politics, theology and political economy.

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Uses and critiques of ‘civilisation’

This chapter considers the phrase 'contemporary civilisational analysis' in order to highlight the context and state the purpose claimed by its proponents. It examines the genealogy of the uses of civilisation in early-twentieth-century sources. From the outset, the neologism 'civilisation' culturally presupposed 'barbarism' as an opposite. Cornelius Castoriadis's notion of the imaginary institution of society can be located in a larger field of social imaginaries. When post-colonial sociological responses are compared with perspectives at the interstices of Marxism and civilisational analysis and then of globalisation theory and civilisational analysis, other problematics come to the fore. The chapter also presents key concepts discussed in the book. The book examines inter-civilisational engagement in oceanic and thalassic civilisations. It explores Japan's deeper connections with China and the West and how these have influenced cultural and political thought.

in Debating civilisations

The key contention is that contemporary historians and comparative sociologists have posited integrationist, processual and relational images of civilisations. The three images apply to a more diverse range of viewpoints and perspectives than prevailed in earlier studies of civilisations in anthropology, archaeology, history and sociology. This chapter aims to articulate the insights and limitations of each image by setting out how each image shapes approaches to civilisations. In the 1990s, S. N. Eisenstadt spearheaded major research enterprises by defining the agenda for contemporary civilisational analysis, where a conflation of religion and civilisation. Norbert Elias's historical sociology of the civilising process reconstructs the emergence of social constraint towards self-constraint in observable daily habits and behaviour over the course of the long European Middle Ages. Urging problematisation of conceptions that postulate the internal unity of civilisations, Arnason expounds a 'stronger emphasis on and better understanding of differences and differentiation'.

in Debating civilisations

The globalisation paradigm has developed coextensively with contemporary civilisational analysis. In this chapter, critical counterpoints from the globalisation paradigm are foregrounded. There are a number of criticisms levelled at the globalisation paradigm. The most far-reaching contributions from sociology and anthropology are sharply critical of the worst neo-liberal 'globalony' about the forces of uniformity operating on the world plane. The suggestion that Marxist histories or sociologies have a place in contemporary civilisational analysis would find few supporters in any quarter. On the civilisational side, proponents contend that Marx's economic determinism and the modernist doctrines that followed it exclude Marx's system of thought from the field. The chapter compares the forming fields of post-colonial sociology and contemporary civilisational analysis to single out incongruities and demarcate points of potential dialogue.

in Debating civilisations
Imaginaries, power, connected worlds

This chapter outlines the conceptual framework of inter-civilisational engagement. It presents four dimensions of inter-civilisational engagement: migration, deep engagement in economic relations, cultural exchange and creation, and political reconstruction of civilisational models. Labour migration included slaves forced into the flow of emigrants departing Africa, Europe and India. Like migration, economic relations are about movement. Inter-civilisational engagement constitutes economies as relational in the uneven and unequal spread of trade and money, and in commercial networks based on the practices of trust-building. The chapter argues that the transformation of patterns of long-distance trade, the growth of money, the codification of trust and the expansion of imagined connections provided complex and early spurs to the imaginary institution of capitalism. In the epoch of modern colonialism, fourth dimension of engagement almost invariably involves imperial hierarchies of relations between states and broad-ranging constructions of power.

in Debating civilisations
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Seas, oceans and civilisations

This chapter aims to interrogate the relationship between oceans, seas and civilisations. It contends that maritime civilisations reach out to saltwater horizons and are animated by oceanic imaginaries. Europe's empires of the seas created global visions by signifying claims over oceanic space in order to extend their imperium. Oceanic civilisations and the states and empires that they instituted had a large-scale reach. Portal civilisations were more modest and had a thalassic imaginary. Though their 'headquarters' was a port city, portal civilisations were more than states with working harbours and open sea-fronts. Islands were the distribution points of many portal civilisations. While islands were crucial in the creation of oceanic and portal civilisations, it is also worth thinking about them as separate entities. When the imperial expansion of European states was at its height and the conflicts it engendered were the greatest, islands were incredibly important strategically, economically and culturally.

in Debating civilisations
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Ontologies of connection, reconstruction of memory

The Pacific's past is polycentric and its forms of memory embrace connected centres, a continuous mythology (both temporally and spatially), particular historicities and an unusual mode of inter-cultural engagement. The Pacific has had migratory routes favoured by intertidal systems that created a rim of sorts. Migration has entailed interaction with seas and the ocean that became a model for interaction between peoples. It is indicative of a first Pacific imaginary. Pacific societies are characterised by a paradigm of organisation of material and moral life that empowered trade and exchange across greater distances and involving encounters of more clearly differentiated cultures. The confrontation of European and Pacific imaginaries that came with colonialism has brought contrasting civilisations into contact, conflict and dissonance of understanding. Traditions formed in colonial and then federated Australia has entailed the subjugation of indigenous memory.

in Debating civilisations
Perspectives on civilisation in Latin America

This chapter explores Latin American experiences that shed light on the engagement of civilisations. Cultural and political engagement began in earnest for independent Latin American societies in the 1880s. Latin America's modernism mostly pre-dated the Second World War. After the Second World War, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes joined Jorge Borges in renewing modernist themes in Latin American literature, essays and poetry. The thread of Romanticism runs through Latin American modernism as a whole. Writers and philosophers strived for a place in Universal History for Latin America on grounds that are typically Romantic. Liberation theology found a collective voice in Latin America, even though liberation theologians were never more than a minority at the episcopal level. Apart from providing cultural and political expression of the suffering of the lived present, liberationists have borne witness to class and civilisational memories.

in Debating civilisations

When it comes to the specific field of contemporary civilisational analysis, Johann P. Arnason, Robert Bellah and S. N. Eisenstadt have produced in-depth monographs and numerous essays on Japanese civilisation. For Eisenstadt, Japan was an unusual de-axialising civilisation (1996). In its digestion and relativisation of the world religions, Japan had a foundational moment in which a pattern of ontological dualism was established. Worldwide cultural exploration of many other countries, along with an outgrowth of trade, stimulated an overhaul of the conceptual apparatus of Japan's political culture. The commitment to international knowledge by the Meiji elite had oriented the Japanese to an outside universality and situated their society in an international order that included a normative standard of civilisation. New perspectives emerged after linguistic consolidation of a discourse of civilisations and after the heightening of consciousness around the standard of civilisation.

in Debating civilisations
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This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts covered in the preceding chapters of this book. The book describes civilisational analysis as a two-sided, multidimensional field of the humanities and social sciences. On one side, contemporary civilisational analysis has a delimited set of major problematics and analytics. On the other side, it formed as a wide-ranging field of debate and has remained one. The book focuses on the differentiation of empire and civilisation in historical processes of communication and transformation of civilisational models. It pays closer attention to Latin America and begins to touch on Oceania as an islander civilisation. With a focus on inter-civilisational engagement, it becomes easier to see how the societies of the Americas and Oceania are underestimated. The book also argues that portal civilisations create institutions and practices of power capable of extensive contacts and relationships without conquest of vast territories.

in Debating civilisations