The ‘Otter-Man’ Empires: The Pacific Fur Trade, Incorporation and the Zone of Ignorance

  • Jon D. Carlson Monmouth University


This article examines the concept of the external arena, the relationship it holds to the expansion of the modern world-system, and the process of systemic incorporation. In order to address the notion of systemic expansion, I examine how boundaries of the system are de?ned by networks of exchange and interaction and I echo criticisms that information and luxury goods networks exert important systemic impacts. Signi?cant change occurs well prior to the point at which traditional world-systems literature considers an arena incorporated. The case of the sea-otter fur trade and the relationship with the natives of the Northwest coast of America is used as an example of these processes of change in action. This case isselected because there is no question that the area is pristine; initially it is outside the realm of European contact. This region characterizes a zone of ignorance beyond the traditional world-system that must undergo a signi?cant grooming process before incorporation is more fully expanded, and this process is partially operationalized by the use of historically contemporary maps. Finally, the case o?ers a good example of the impact that external regions can exert on internal systemic behavior, as European powers were pushed to the brink of war in their e?orts to exploit the resources and peoples of the Nootka Sound region. I conclude by o?ering a more developed conceptualization of the process of incorporation and related concepts.
How to Cite
Carlson, J. D. (2002). The ‘Otter-Man’ Empires: The Pacific Fur Trade, Incorporation and the Zone of Ignorance. Journal of World-Systems Research, 8(3), 390-442.
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