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Debating ‘uneven and combined development’: beyond Ottoman patrimonialism

Abstract

Within the field of International Historical Sociology, much has been done to theorise the ‘international’ in historical–sociological terms. In particular, the theory of uneven and combined development (UCD) has taken significant steps in moving beyond the flattened space of ‘anarchy’, carving out an historical–sociological home for International Relations (IR). Yet, in this article I argue that UCD’s claim to establish a ‘social ontology of the international’ has been weakened by a tendency to underspecify the role of social agency in the constitution of social and international orders. This, in turn, undermines our ability to fully capture the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the international, i.e. how and why social and international dynamics transform over time and space. To get out of this conundrum, I suggest, the theory of UCD needs to focus more systematically on historically specific socio-spatial struggles and the concomitant processes of inter-societal learning and ‘substitution’. I operationalise these insights in the context of pre-modern Ottoman state-formation (1300‒1600). Such a historical reconstruction demonstrates that UCD, if reinforced by a stronger conception of social agency, not only leads to a more fertile ground for the development of international historical–sociological imagination, but also helps to problematise and move beyond the conventional theorisation of the ‘classical’ Ottoman Empire as a ‘patrimonial’ state.

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Correspondence to Eren Duzgun.

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Duzgun, E. Debating ‘uneven and combined development’: beyond Ottoman patrimonialism. J Int Relat Dev 25, 297–323 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-021-00232-0

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Keywords

  • IR theory
  • Nomads
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Patrimonialism
  • State-formation
  • Uneven and combined development