Tributary World-Ecologies, Part I
The Origins and the North Sea World
This essay, in two parts, argues for the centrality of the world-ecology perspective for theorizing the relations, dynamics, and crises of the High Medieval Worlds. Commercialization Theorists view the High Middle Ages as a period of early capitalism, while classical Marxist theorists conceive it as a continuation of feudalism. In contrast to both conceptions, I argue that this era can instead be evaluated on its own terms from the world-ecology perspective. In Part I, I develop two interrelated historical-geographical and theoretical arguments. By employing a comparative world-historical methodology, I first argue that two distinct world-ecologies emerged in the North Sea and the Mediterranean during the High Middle Ages. Second, I define world-ecologies not only in terms of commercial relations, but also of production relations, that is, the mode of appropriation of nature and labor. Next, I focus on the common characteristics of tributary world-ecologies. These two world-ecologies were distinguished by agrarian tributary relations, two-tiered commercial networks, and a multiple state-system. I argue that they expanded due to the unique bundling of climatological upturn, novel production relations, and technological and organizational innovations. I conclude Part I by analyzing the North Sea world-ecology, which has typically served as a model for both Commercialization and Classical Marxist perspectives. While there is no question that both perspectives have their merits, it seems more fruitful to explain the relations and dynamics of the North Sea world by the mutual-conditioning of nature, tributary production, and two-tiered commerce. Second, it is more useful to theorize the North Sea world in relation to the larger tributary worlds, characteristic of the High Middle Ages.
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