Persistently Pre-Modern: Dynamics of change in the world of late Pre-Modernity

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch


In World History, the 17th and 18th centuries represent an ambivalent period, conceptually caught between the realms of tradition and modernity. Conventionally, European scholarship has interpreted major developments of this period through a framework of modernization, with the conceptualization of the period as an ‘early modernity’ gaining ground. In recent decades the notion of an early modernity has been extended to serve as a framework for global history as well. This thesis challenges these frameworks of modernization and early modernity on the grounds of their inherent teleological problems. Instead, it argues that the major developments of the 17th and 18th centuries can be largely accounted for in terms of the continuous workings of pre-modern dynamics of change and stability. The argument of the thesis is structured around a comparative analysis of processes of economic development, state formation, and the formation of social elites in China, France, and the Austrian Habsburg Empire, c. 1650-1800. By departing from the usual pattern of East-West comparison and using China as the model case for the analysis, the thesis provides a new perspective on the major developments in the period, stressing their deep continuities with pre-modernity. In the economic sphere, it is argued that developments in China, France, and the Habsburg Empire were mainly driven by a shared agrarian dynamic, in which population growth resulted in agricultural intensification, the growth of manufacture, and an increasing commercialization of society, including social elites. Similar dynamics of state formation resulted in a convergence of state forms across the three cases on the model of the ‘bureaucratic-imperial state’. This also resulted in a similar convergence of state-elite relations. Conversely, the period saw a divergence in state capacities for military mobilization and resource extraction, with China im-posing far less on local society than both France and the Habsburg Empire. It is, however, argued that this divergence can ultimately be contained within a pre-modern framework of historical change. Finally, these conclusions are drawn together to argue for a reconceptualization of the period as ‘late pre-modernity’, a period characterized by the continuation and extension of the pre-modern, agrarian social formations.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherKøbenhavns Universitet, Det Humanistiske Fakultet
Number of pages240
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

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