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Myths, State Expansion and the Birth of Globalization: A Comparative Perspective
  • Jon D. Carlson, University of California, Merced

Myths are important, yet overlooked. Myths, dreams, desires and false information prime the pump of imperial expansion, which explains how new regions of the world get absorbed into the expanding world system. This book explores the role that information plays in the expansion of the state system. High risk, high return behavior subsidizes later 'rational' strategies. The Northwest Passage, Prester John, West African rivers of gold, and Marco Polo's silver-roofed land of Zipangu all provide examples. Not merely an artifact of history, accurate information acquisition and dissemination continues to be relevant, as myths still drive markets and political decision-making.

'This work presents a fine addition to the international relations literature and world systems theory. Following in the footsteps of Chase Dunn and Eric Wolf, Carlson offers us a detailed analysis of four 'peripheral' systems that were gradually incorporated into the European world system, and he brings a rich historical perspective to the current discussions around globalization. Contrary to state centric perspectives that dominate neo-liberal and structural realist accounts, the author demonstrates how incorporation into the European world system entailed profound military, political, economic, and social transformations at the micro-level. Thus, to understand the macro-level outcome that led to the creation of the current state system, one needs to understand how all four spheres interacted. From his analysis one must conclude that the current pattern of globalization challenges not merely the Westphalian state system but every aspect of social and political life. As Carlson's narrative shows, all the given assumptions of day-to-day life become malleable and uncertain, and indeed the very understanding of what 'the international system' means should be subject to re-examination.' - Hendrik Spruyt, Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations, Northwestern University

'In this well-written and carefully argued work, Jon D. Carlson forces us to consider, through a comparative examination of how different regions have historically been incorporated into the world system, the representational devices of the myths of expansion. Equally fascinating, creative, and rigorously executed, Carlson's theoretically rich work engages, synthesizes, and implicates a variety of core assumptions centralized by International Relations scholars.' - Brent Steele, associate professor of Political Science, University of Kansas and author of Defacing Power: The Aesthetics of Insecurity in Global Politics

'A benchmark for addressing issues of incorporation and globalization. The book also has pedagogical value both for explicit content and as a model of how such work can be done. It will have broad appeal to scholars of world history, archaeology, geography, sociology, and international relations.' - Thomas D. Hall, Professor Emeritus, Depauw University
  • World Systems Analysis,
  • Globalization,
  • International Political Economy,
  • Global History
Publication Date
January 3, 2012
Palgrave Macmillan
Citation Information
Jon D. Carlson. Myths, State Expansion and the Birth of Globalization: A Comparative Perspective. New York(2012)
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