All posts by Hans Bakker

Basit Bilal Koshul, Max Weber and Charles Peirce: At the Crossroads of Sciences, Philosophy, and Culture (Lanham, Maryand: Lexington Books / Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)

This is an important book that would be easy to overlook. The main value of this book is that it makes an extended comparison between two very important thinkers who are rarely considered together: Max Weber and Charles Sanders Peirce. Weber is well-known for his “interpretive sociology” (verstehende Soziologie), while Peirce is well-known for his “Pragmaticism” and his triadic epistemology. Peirce is a founder of American Pragmatism, differentiating his version of William James’ Pragmatism by using the word “Pragmaticism” (he also said it was such an ugly word that no one would be tempted to steal it!).

Few thinkers have tried to connect Weber and Peirce. Even fewer have attempted to do that in such a brilliant fashion. I hope this book will provoke further discussion and debate. This is not a perfect book, but it is darned good. Unfortunately, this book is not likely to be on the radar for far too many scholars. The author is an associate professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Lahore, Pakistan. That is, he is not in a European or North American research-intensive university and he is not an academic philosopher or social scientist. But he writes well in English and makes a significant contribution (one is left wondering how many scholarly gems are ignored because of factors such as geography, affiliation or publisher!).

Koshul points out that many of the interpretations of Max Weber have not been based on thorough scholarship. Naturally his own interpretation could be challenged by Weber experts. But he is miles ahead of some authors who make a casual reference to Weber because they vaguely know a bit about the so-called “Protestant Ethic” thesis from secondary sources. In some ways Weber’s comparative historical sociology and political economy were ahead of his time. Koshul draws that out. If the book had only been about Weber that alone would have been enough to merit attention. But the value of this book is even greater.

Koshul makes it clear that American Pragmatist philosophy and Pragmatism generally are important to consider when thinking through Weber’s epistemological contributions. Koshul clarifies Weber’s insights concerning philosophy of social science questions that are still in dispute today. Weber’s work allows for a deep set of insights into institutionalized religious organizations and not just Christian ecclesia (e.g. Roman Catholicism in the 13th century) or contemporary Christian churches. Weber is also important for the world religions (including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, etc.) and the “indigenous religions” that tend to be more localized (e.g. North American Plains Indians like the Lakota and the Cheyenne). The philosophy of physical science and the philosophy of religions are drawn together.

There is no indication that Weber ever read Peirce. But Weber was well-versed in German-language philosophy and historical research. Peirce was also well-read in that same body of knowledge. Weber’s mature epistemology involves the notion of interpretation involving “understanding”. He borrows the epistemological and ontological notion from Wilhelm Dilthey. Dilthey argued that it would be possible to have what we today tend to call a Cultural Science. He translated the term “moral sciences” from John Stuart Mill as “Geisteswissenschaften”.

The term “Geist” as a philosophical concept (rather than just an everyday language word) is associated with George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The German language word “Geist” is problematic and connotes many different things. But Dilthey was merely trying to emulate Mill and the idea of a “moral science” in Mill is a science that is not just restricted to the study of physical phenomena as natural and given. Another term that is often used today is “human sciences”. Indeed, in French it is common to speak and write of the sciences humaines. In the moral sciences (sciences humaines, Geisteswissenschaften) there is a need for interpretation of human “meaning”. In the physical sciences that is not necessary. One does not interview a rock or a star, a tree or a frog. Children’s books and just so stories anthropomorphize trees and animals, but no one would mistake a children’s fairy tale for a mature work in modern natural sciences.

The key similarity between Peirce and Weber is epistemological. Another major thinker who considered the epistemological differences between physical sciences of nature and human sciences is Wilhelm Windelband. He coined the terms “idiographic” and “nomothetic”. Weber was familiar with those terms. For Weber it was reasonable to consider a third, intermediate level. He referred to that third level as a matter of working with “ideal types” limited in time (t-n) and space (s-n). Ideal types are not completely idiographic but they are also not thoroughly nomothetic. Instead, if we conceptualize a continuum between the nomothetic and the idiographic then the use of ideal types is somewhere in between the two polar opposites.

A truly nomothetic law must be true for all relevant Times (T-u) and Spaces (S-u) for a particular “universe”. (That particular universe does not have to be the whole infinite Universe; it can simply be this planet earth as a “universe” relevant to certain kinds of laws having to do with, for example, biological sciences.) A truly idiographic description must be very specific, but few idiographic descriptions are limited to only one very specific time (t-1) and one extremely local place (p-1).

Some authors use the term “thick description” to mean essentially the same thing as idiographic description. The idea of thick description is associated with Clifford Geertz’s work on Indonesia, especially Java and Bali. Geertz did excellent anthropological, ethnographic fieldwork. But very little of his work is really thick “idiographic description”. He actually often makes ideal-type generalizations. For example, his generalizations about the Balinese cockfight are relevant to many cockfights during several decades all over the island of Bali. He does not give us a detailed blow-by-blow of the cockfights, but quickly resorts to summary statements. That is well and good, but Geertz seems to not have fully realized that he was using a Weberian (or possibly Neo-Weberian) approach, albeit in anthropology rather than historical and comparative sociology.

Peirce did no empirical work in anthropology, psychology or sociology. That is, he was not a social scientist. Instead, he was a natural scientist, mathematician and philosopher. Weber, on the other hand, did no natural-science research and was not a mathematician. He borrowed ideas from academic philosophers like Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert. But he is not considered an academic philosopher. (He did, however, have epistemological insights which are very relevant to the philosophy of natural sciences and the philosophy of social sciences.)

One relatively minor deficiency in this book is that there is no detailed discussion of the Methodenstreit, or Windelband, Rickert and others therein involved. Geertz is also not mentioned. Nevertheless, I recommend this thought-provoking and intelligent book as a jumping-off point for continued study of the relationship between two giants who are not often thought of as having very much in common. Scholars in the sociology of religion and the sociology of science will enjoy aspects of this analysis. Weber scholars and Peirce scholars will no doubt find some minor (or perhaps even some major) flaws. But that would not be a bad thing. What would be bad is if this book got no recognition of any kind due to the fact the author may not be well-known in certain networks in North American or Europe.

The deficiencies could also be corrected in a new edition if the author pays some attention to G. W. F. Hegel and Karl Marx’s importance to philosophy and Marx’s relevance to Weber, It would also be worth making a deep analysis of the work of Wilhelm Dilthey on the Geisteswissenschaften generally. I myself have written quite a bit on a number of topics directly related to the questions Koshul raises and attempts to answer. For example, I have written about Dilthey and about Weber’s epistemology.

My own dissertation was about land tax policy during the so-called “cultivation system” in Java. The kultuurstelsel (1830-1870) was a policy of increasing cultivation of export commodities using indirect rule and traditional labor obligations (corvee). Marx commented on it in a letter. He saw the village system of collective responsibility as an old system, but it was in part reinforcement of the older system due to taxation policy (Other parts of the dissertation deal with my speculations concerning the applicability of Weber’s ideal type of Patrimonialism to Javanese civilization.) My Ph.D. advisor was Prof. Irving Zeitlin. (His brother Maurice Zeitlin is the more “Marxist” of the two.) Zeitlin taught us to see a clear relationship between Marx, the elder, and Weber, the junior scholar in the pair (because Weber was a boy when Marx died).

That is contrary to the thesis that Parsons tended to push about the two of them being opposed epistemologically. There is a grain of truth in Parsons’ views but the key factor (at least to my way of thinking) is that they have a great deal in common. For example, when Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past” he is saying the same thing echoed by Weber in when he writes about the switchmen who control the train tracks (cf. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism with Other Writings on the Rise of the West, 4th edition, tr. Stephen Kalberg, New York: Oxford University Press, 3-58).

C. Wright Mills (1958) echoes it again when he writes in The Sociological Imagination about private sorrows and public issues. Mills is another author worth considering in terms of the issues raised. If nothing else, I hope readers of this review will at the very least skim this excellent book and order it for their college or university libraries. Koshul’s book is indeed “at the crossroads of science, philosophy, and culture” in many important ways. Perhaps some will regard this book as overly ambitious. But others will see the merit in the suggestions made, even if some aspects of the problems raised could be further elaborated.

The Absolutes that Failed, Creativity and Human Procreation

This is a challenging book and well worth spending the time and energy required to read it. To fully grasp the arguments made here one needs at the very least to read at Kant’s first critique (1998) and Hegel’s first major book (2018). But it would also be helpful to see a lot of movies, especially those by Hitchcock! There is much to admire and this book will stimulate much discussion. Some of the ideas are commonplace notions expressed in somewhat veiled language, but some of the central arguments are newly formulated paradoxes that attempt to get at elusive aspects of human lived experience and the political economy of nation-states in the Late Capitalist era.

The central paradox (in common sense terms) is that it is only by striving to get what we do not necessarily hope to accomplish that we become aware of who we really are, and the true “nature” of a human being is not a static personality but a continually shifting confrontation with ontic realities and obdurate blockages, especially in creation and procreation.

Much important information is contained in this book, but at times it almost feels like a primer for obscure trivia that might emerge as questions on the tv program “Jeopardy”. But for many the penetrating comments on Kant and Hegel will be worth the price of the book for anyone who is not already either a Kant scholar or a Hegel scholar. It just came out in hardcover but no doubt a paperback version will appear and that will make it even more affordable and more widely read. It is not a textbook however. It would not be useful in a lecture course although it might provoke discussion in an advanced graduate seminar. Key terms are never fully defined. It is not poetry or even verse drama, since there are too many declarative sentences to compare any of this to a work by T. S. Eliot (Žižek 2020: 419).

In “Murder in the Cathedral” Eliot argues that the highest form of “treason” is to do the right thing for the wrong reason. He was writing about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in the twelfth century (1170 CE), during the reign of Henry II. Perhaps Søren Kierkegaard was a bit wiser in his arguments with himself about marriage and being a householder versus intellectual productivity. Maybe the idea that doing the right thing for the right reason is a higher form of wisdom than doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or even doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The fourth possibility would be doing the wrong thing for the right reason and that often happens when one has to choose a path that is neither good nor bad but nevertheless perhaps better, like assassinating Adolph Hitler, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was willing to be complicit with despite the Ten Commandments.

One has to either believe in Tanakh (which is called the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures by the goyim who are not Jews) or believe in the so-called New Testament (which Ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews definitely see as apocryphal) to believe in some kind of YHWH/Gott/God figure in order to follow a theological argument in the way that Eliot did.  (The notion of a “unified” Bible that can reconcile the Old and the New is something that Charles Sanders Peirce might deem a kind of “vague” popular belief that is not strictly logical but that helps people get through the day, more or less.)

Žižek, in his inimitable style, mixing close analytical arguments with popular culture examples, presents three Theorems, I, II, and III. He then recapitulates with a kind of overview of his central motif: negativity which is so “radical” that it cannot be “sublated”. His triad of argumentation attempts to persuade us that we can (I.) know the “fate of ontology in our era”, (II.) comprehend that it is “sexuality,” as a force of “negativity” disrupting every ontological “edifice”, that allows for our “contact with the Absolute”, and (III.) the convoluted “space” can be thought of in terms of three synecdoches: the Möbious strip, the cross-cap and the Klein bottle.

Like Durkheim’s argument about the need for prostitution to allow for bourgeois norms concerning monogamy, Žižek concludes with paradoxes: human reason requires madness as its ground; stable, committed monogamous relationships require notions of sexual passion that can also threaten the notion of bourgeois forms of romantic love between two individuals; and, the ethical aspects of “communal life” require military struggle. In other words, without madness, passion and war we cannot have liberal Enlightenment Reason, modern marriages or nation-states.

Much of the vocabulary is unnecessarily metaphorical and poetic. Part of his charm is his obfuscation of central points in numerous digressions. Sometimes the illustrations are as complex to decipher as the points they are supposed to illuminate. It all reminds me of the largest rough diamond discovered since 1905, the 1,758 carat basketball size Sowlo, discovered in April 2019 at the Karowe mine in Bostwana, and recently purchased by Louis Vuitton of the LVMH corporation in Paris.  Žižek’s rough diamond is not the biggest ever published. But Sewelo means “rare find” in the Setswana language and this most recent book by Žižek is indeed a rare find.

I found it at the Athenaeum book store in Amsterdam in November, 2019, when it had first come out. I was actually looking for a book by Spinoza in both 17th century and contemporary Dutch, but that book had been sold. Instead of a Dutch language version of Spinoza’s masterpiece I happened to find another deeply Metaphysical book. Žižek wants to “transpose” the “gap” between the “Absolute” and our phenomenal world. In a Kantian (or Neo-Kantian) vein, one could say he wants to focus on the distance between the phenomenal and the Ding-an-Sich. We can never fully know the Thing-in-itself, but we can know that we can never know.

Spinoza’s notion that we can somehow link up with the Absolute as that which is beyond the vicissitudes of everyday life and even politics in our comprehension of “Nature” is thus at odds with Žižek’s core Metaphysical assumption that we cannot coalesce the phenomenally ontic and the transcendentally ontological. For Žižek “man” is “united” with “Nature” precisely by an acceptance of the paradox that human beings cannot be entirely “natural’. One does not have to accept that axiom or many others, however, in order to enjoy this uncut diamond. Nor would a fully polished version of this gem necessarily be a lot better, except perhaps for classroom use with undergraduate students, graduate students, or those not philosophically inclined already.

Like a good novel of the sort written by Tolstoy or Somerset Maugham this book is a “good read”. It can also be compared to The Signature of All Things, a surprisingly good novel by Elizabeth Gilbert (2013) about Alfred Russell Wallace, the theory of natural selection, and related matters like the commercial production of quinine in the Indonesian archipelago. This Post-postmodernist “novel” has many plot twists and I kept being intrigued by all of the characters on the stage. Žižek has many of the characteristics of a good story teller. Many academic philosophers and social scientists have said they do not read any of Žižek’s books and find them a waste of time. I can see why. He is in no way a standard academic writer. He is often slightly obscure about centrally important points, but that is actually part of the overall argument. Some things are hard to pin down completely. There are “antinomies”.

Surprisingly, the antinomies in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason can be compared to the antinomies of “pure sexuation”. Romantic love as a form of eros is also a form of epistemological truth and even Metaphysical Truth. There are major omissions in this book from the perspective of the social sciences. Although Žižek has profound things to say about Luther, he completely ignores Max Weber’s oeuvre and the notion that the Protestant rebellion against some Roman Catholic dogmas has an “association” (“elective affinity”) with the Geist of modern capitalism and the world capitalist system. It is as if Immanuel Wallerstein and other World Systems Theorists never existed.

He is keen on German-language philosophical work from Prussian and Weimar, etc., thinkers (that is often labeled “German Idealism” although much of it was composed before there was a Deutschland as a nation-state). But he does not elaborate on the Neo-Kantians or even the Neo-Hegelians very much (other than Marx and Lacan). The book looks at various ways of thinking about historical materialism and dialectical materialism. He interrogates many bits and pieces of Neo-Marxist thought. But some may have difficulty with the claim on the book jacket that this is an example of true rigor. In attempting to “re-invent” himself again, it is possible that Žižek may have gone a bit too far out in Left field to really catch all of the pop flies hit by a variety of Marxist batters. David Harvey does not enter the stage.

There is also not much attempt made by Žižek to discuss other views of Lacan’s central ideas. Felman (1987) provides a general view of aspects of Lacan’s notion that we human beings chase after “the truth” but nevertheless in running after it we are always bound to miss it and to some extent lie. Yet one could read Žižek as if he is saying he (and only he) has the correct interpretations of a number of different Metaphysical, ontological. Epistemological, axiological, teleological and Methodological problems. Yet anyone who has studied history, philosophy or the socio-cultural and political-economic Wissenschaften knows that there is almost always room for further dialogue.

If we focus on love of the mother and jealousy of the father in young boys, then we have one little bit of the big puzzle that psychoanalysis can sometimes get at in Freudian psychoanalysis, but then we have a host of other views, including those of the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. A thorough-going comparative symbolic anthropology and comparative historical sociology is required to even begin to solve some of the societal questions that Žižek touches on. He does indicate an awareness of Levi-Strauss’ notion that one specific narrative of a  “myth” is not enough and that we have to look at the subtle nuances of the variations in which the story is told to even begin to capture some of the implicit “structures” in those ideas, but he nevertheless often treats a short summary of a movie (well known or not) as a kind of empirical “proof” or “smoking gun”. (The pattern is a bit like: “See: what I am saying is also depicted very well in movie Y, but not in movie X, which is flawed.”)

If we go from the very, very micro (nano seconds, DNA) to the very, very macro (a Universe with billions of galaxies) then human life on planet earth is perhaps about a kind of Neo-Darwinian belief in the centrality of procreation and the survival of the species. But at the level of social life for the last 50,000 years or so there is more to sexuality and having progeny and future generations. So perhaps “creativity” should be emphasized a bit more in the foreground. Newton famously did not have any children and yet his version of physical laws was a useful way of trying to understand certain aspects of life on planet earth and the movement of physical bodies in the then known solar system.

I cannot possibly cover all of the little puzzles in this book, nor fully present much less unravel the intriguing paradoxes. It would require a book of similar length to even begin to touch on all of the ideas found in 481 pages (i.e. 458 pages of text and end notes). But let me briefly discuss two aspects of this book that made me think very carefully about some of my fundamental assumptions.

One enlightening discussion is the notion that Kant’s antinomies and Lacan’s antinomies overlap. Whether or not Lacan’s explanation makes it clear that in essence Kant was dealing with “sexuation”, it is nevertheless provocative to think through the question. The second stimulating analysis, however, grabbed me even more. That is the comments on Luther and Christian theology. I found myself trying to explain the Roman Catholic dogmatic notion of “predestination” and Jean Calvin’s emphasis on the individual human being and “double predestination” to a group of male friends. They were not interested and it is highly likely they would not even consider picking up this book if it were available to them for free. (It will soon be in many libraries.) But Corollary 4 of Theorem IV blew me away.

It is I am sure coincidence and not Jungian synchronicity but 1517, 1857, 1917 and 1957 (Shanghai Commune) are all important dates and they are all interlinked. The Protestant Reformation sparked a break up of the Medieval Roman Catholic order in Western Europe and that then had an important impact on the quest to form a unified nation-state called Deutschland in the nineteenth century. If there had been a unified empire of all German-speaking people rather than a split between Deutschland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire then many things would have turned out differently, including a series of wars that eventually culminated in the long wars of 1914-1918 and 1932-1945. The Emperor Napoleon’s military leadership laid the groundwork for the events that inspired Hegel in 1807 to publish a very veiled revolutionary tract and that led to Lenin being allowed to return to the Finland Station. No one could have predicted that dialectic in 1517 when Luther made his 95 theses public.

Žižek immediately links Aristotle and Luther to today’s “consumer slavery” (without mentioning Weber’s oeuvre). True freedom (as opposed to nominal political freedom) and true slavery (as opposed to what we normally think of as slavery) may not be as straightforward as we usually assume. The master-slave dynamic is complex, as Hegel points out eloquently. It may be an illusion to think that God has chosen the elect and that those who are not among the elect cannot do anything about that, but it can be psychologically reassuring to the rich capitalist merchant in Amsterdam who owns stock in the first limited liability company in the world, the Vereenigde Oost-Indië Compagnie (VOC) and becomes so wealthy he can have a very big and wide house built on the Heerengracht. His good fortune is God’s will.

Human beings did not always sense a logical inconsistency between double predestination and free will because if an action succeeds (e.g. if the town of Leiden holds out against the enemy siege), then it seems as if that was predestined to happen. (It is partially a matter of type I and type II errors in our thinking; if we lose, we assume it was bad luck, but if we win, we assume we deserved it.) Free choice, Žižek (2020: 392) points out, is not a matter of choosing between strawberry cake or chocolate cake, but choosing to put all one’s chips on the table, to put “at stake one’s very existence”. There is no free choice in a death camp or maximum security prison other than the choice to die or to make the most of each day and still remain as honorable as is humanly possible. But in most of life’s circumstances (at least in societies where the average poor person can still obtain running water and sufficient food) there is some degree of freedom, however slight. (Solzhenitsyn wrote eloquently about that in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denosovitch.)

The biggest hole in this important book is lack of discussion of Charles Sanders Peirce’s Pragmaticism and triadic epistemology. If Peirce’s semiotic of Interpretant (i.e. Interpretive Networks) and Representant (i.e. Operationalized Representations) had been included, some of the less clear aspects of this rough diamond could have come to light. The Interpretant is never a solitary interpreter, but sometimes one feels that Žižek treats himself as the lone wolf who knows exactly how to travel the obscure trails and beat the pack. His use of “sign systems” is never quite clear since we do not know what his real intellectual allegiances come down to other than his somewhat idiosyncratic interpretations of Hegel and his allegiance to everything that Lacan wrote (or said).

I like this book, but precisely since I enjoy reading and even re-reading certain paragraphs. I sometimes wish I was reading Terry Pinkard’s biography of Hegel again (see Hegel 2018 for references), or Shoshana Felman’s (1987) take on Lacan again instead. I hope that Žižek will continue to go into the topics raised so well in this book and start to educate himself in the social sciences, especially the comparative historical sociology and political economy of Max Weber. His language skills will allow him to read Weber’s original German exposition of ideas and Weber’s letters in the MWGA volumes. The Gesamtausgabe is a valuable resource that Žižek has not tapped but that will deepen and broaden his intellectual quest. I myself have been struggling to work my way through the German edition and compare it to the English translation that has been in wide use since 1968. I look forward to reading more of Žižek’s stimulating work in the future and hope that this book will not only be widely read but also critiqued by scholars with far more knowledge of all the subjects that are touched on than any one person can muster. The Interpretive Network of Kant scholars will certainly want to comment on the way in which Žižek links Lacan to Kant and, perhaps, dialogue between psychoanalysts and Kant scholars will produce further refinement of the ideas concerning the noumenal and the phenomenal. Ditto for work on Hegel and for analysis of the impact of the Protestant Reformation.


Felman, Shoshana. 1987. Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 2018. The Phenomenology of Spirit. Tr. and ed. Terry Pinkard. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [First edition 1807.]

Israel, Jonathan I. 2019. The Enlightenment That Failed: Ideas, Revolution, and Democratic Defeat, 1748-1830. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Trs. and eds. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [First edition 1781, revised 1787.]

Solzhenitzyn, Alexandr. 1995. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York: Random House.

Weber, Max. 1968. Economy and Society. Trs. and Eds. Gunther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Weber, Max. Max Weber-Gesamtausgabe. (MWGA). Band I/25: Wirtschaft und Gesellschat. Gesamtregister (Comprehensive Index) Bearbeiteit von (eds.) Edith Hanke und Christoph Morlok.  Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. [This is the comprehensive index needed to read the six volumes written in drafts over ten years. It is regarded as a chronological improvement over Weber 1968, but only available in German.]

Mia Arp Falov & Cory Blad (eds.), Social Welfare Responses in a Neoliberal Era: Policies, Practices, and Social Problems (Leiden and Boston: Brill. Studies in Critical Social Sciences: Critical Global Studies, 2019)

I would like to recommend this book to those who have a specialized interest in social work and governmental policies. There is much to learn from this excellent volume. The editors have taken great care to pull together some very good papers. Having edited several books myself, I know how much work went into this volume. (For example, even just constructing the bibliography must have taken up a great deal of time and effort.) The critical comments here are not meant to detract from the volume, but to indicate precisely what can be found in this book., and what cannot be found. I am sure some of the chapters will be read by those academics and graduate students specifically interested in public administration and/or social work practice in the nation-states studied (e.g. Denmark, Finland, Mexico, etc.). Librarians should order this book and other books in the series since there is a great need for better, more detailed information about global issues at the national level. Those with a particular interest in Pierre Bourdieu will find the ways in which his ideas are used stimulating for further theoretical work. Fans of Michel Foucault will also find some subtle uses of his theories. I was pleased to see references to the ideas of Charles Ragin and of Luc Wacquant. (I do not personally know any of the authors who contributed to this volume, or the editors.)

This volume consists of twelve essays by a diverse group of scholars. The Notes on Contributors indicates an array of institutional affiliations in Canada, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Mexico and the U.S.:  Aalborg University, Denmark; Manhattan College; Queens University, Belfast; Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence; University of Strasbourg; McGill; and Le Moyne College. The fields and disciplines in the social sciences are also diverse: sociology, social work, public administration, political studies, development studies, social policy, and social integration. All of that diversity means the volume risks lacking a central focus, but the papers all deal with various somewhat implicit interpretations of Neoliberalism. (There is even mention of the idea of “Postneoliberalism” and generally what comes after Neoliberalism.)

Somewhat surprisingly the importance of the U.S. in the international capitalist world system is not discussed except in passing. Except for mention (especially in the final chapter) one would hardly know that the different U.S. executives have approached Neoliberalism in somewhat different ways or that there is currently a great deal of animated political discussion in the United States of America about “making America great again” but allegedly de-emphasizing globalization and retrenching to earlier international arrangements somewhat along the lines of the immediate Post-WWII era. The general dynamics of all modern capitalist systems are not explored in depth, but one could argue that there has always been a tension between profits going to the owners of the means of production, processing, distribution and exchange, on the one hand, and those who have to sell their labor in order to make what passes for a reasonable standard of living. Those who are only semi-employed for less than a minimum wage or who are clearly unemployed and largely unemployable will always suffer in a system that emphasizes the selling of “free labor” on a capitalist labor market. (Slavery within a modern capitalist system, of course, also needs to be very carefully examined, since the Capitalist Mode of Production often still carried components of outright slavery and not just indentures and “wage slavery.) Of course, no one volume can cover all relevant topics, case studies and the general theory of monopoly capitalism, especially when so much in the world seems to be changing at such a rapid pace. To some extent Polanyi’s views could be said to unify some of the essays. But technological change has been increasingly important for the core nations of the world capitalist system and the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. (The PRC, Taiwan, and the East Asian nation-states are not discussed.) That is to say, so much seemsto change in so many different ways, yet plus la change, plus la meme chose.  There is much change, part of which is considered to be the rise of Neoliberalism after Thatcher and Reagan, yet arguments can be made that much of the change is actually superficial when considered from a rigorous Neo-Marxian meta-paradigm (e.g. Harvey, Mészáros), much less political Marxist ideas.

One advantage of scholarship is that we move away from the hype found in the mass media and social media to a somewhat more detached perspective. But, of course, Neo-Marxian writers do not fully endorse any kind of “Olympian” objectivity either. So, ideas tend to be “contested” even in the academy and policy experts cannot claim to have a clear-cut solution to specific social problems that would be realistically endorsed by various different national, federal governments or even provinces (states) and large metropolitan areas. Different policies work in different ways in different settings, in part due to the degree of cultural emphasis on sub-cultural norms of honesty and goal-rational bureaucracy.

The impact of Neoliberalism on agriculture is not a major theme of this book and there is little concern with rural areas, but food is a basic need and one of the biggest social problems facing some of the countries not discussed here is food security. We have come a bit further since the kinds of things that happened in the nineteenth century in Ireland and many other places or that happened during WWII in Bengal (and many other places!) but food security should not be dismissed as an issue in a context where Neoliberalism is global and not just national, much less just regional or local.

The key idea here is that we can examine the responses to Neoliberalism in various settings and zero in on policies, practices and social problems. There is no one clearly articulated “social science paradigm” that is discussed consistently in all chapters at the philosophical level of ontology and epistemology. However, Bourdieu and Foucault are frequently cited. Most sociological theorists would tend to argue that Foucault’s social theories are often quite different from those of Bourdieu, especially in terms of the subtle nuances. Foucault was a classics scholar, an aspect of his background that becomes very clear when one tries to work through is lectures. He pays a great deal attention to the etymology of words. It has been argued that Foucault has a meta-semiotic approach to the study of “ideologies”, “discourse” and semantic-pragmatic rules of interaction. There seems to be less interest in the “episteme” in Bourdieu’s work. It would take a book-length discussion to get at similarities and differences between the two authors and then another volume to rigorously explore their ideas compared to those of the other thinkers mentioned by the editors. The devil is in the details. Bourdieu’s conceptualization of his key concept of doxahas itself shifted (Myles 2004, as cited by Blad on p. 53 footnote 8).

There is no attempt to provide a clear historical overview of where and how “globalization” has become Neoliberal rather than Fordist, or some other designation of the Capitalist World System, although there is casual mention of GATT and policies adopted in the 1945-1980 period, before Neoliberalism per se.

Interestingly, there is an attempt to use the theories of Polanyi yet his work does not appear in the references. Polanyi was not discussing Neoliberalism but a general tendency of “liberal capitalism” to exacerbate material hardships, hence making it necessary to have some reasonable system of social welfare. To the best of my knowledge neither Foucault’s “archaeological” approach to knowledge nor Bourdieu’s stress on “habitus” would be easy to reconcile with Polanyi’s more “liberal” views. Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) belonged to a different generation. His 1944 classic The Great Transformationhas had a resurgence  of interest among some sociologists, but his critique of the “market mentality” is not so much Marxist-Marxian as Post-Marxian. His existentialist views are ethical and not clearly related to democratic socialism and he expresses a strong respect for tradition, which could be considered a conservative view of European culture and even Eurocentric. He was a comparative historical sociologist (CHS) has a distinctly moral tone that separates his work from the ideas of some contemporary academics who attempt to do CHS in a more “value neutral” (Wertfrei) manner. The idea of a “double” change, or two “movements” that go together historically, is well worth examining in more depth for more societies. Like the authors of this volume he does not accept Marx’s idea that modern capitalism contains the seeds of its own demise, but instead allows for constructive modifications. In that way he is acceptable to some Keynesian Neoclassical economists. But to develop Polanyi’s ideas in depth was not the goal of the editors. He is merely mentioned. The editors also chose to ignore World Systems Theory as it applies to post-WWI (Great War) historical social, political economic change.

Moreover, the history of the world system from the earliest days of modern capitalism in the sixteenth century is ignored and the literature on East, Southeast, South and Southwest Asia is not represented. Andre Gunder Frank ended his career by emphasizing the importance of trade in East, Southeast and South Asia. But Frank’s “reorienting” thesis implies that aspectsof modern capitalism are politically and ethically progressive (an idea also found in the Communist Manifesto). There is also no deep study of conditions in Africa or all of Latin America and the Caribbean. This is not an encyclopedic work about social welfare responses in many locales. It is not a highly theoretical work about Neoliberal Era policies and practices. To a large extent “social problems” are discussed at a fairly common-sense level.

The editors set the stage with the first chapter: “Social Welfare Responses in a Neoliberal Era: Adaptive Responses, Sustained Need, and Exacerbated Hardships.” They also contribute to other chapters individually (e.g. Blad in Chapter 3 and Fallov in Chapter 8.) Then there is a concluding chapter by Fallov and Blad (Chapter 12). A reader might want to read chapters 1, 3, 8 and 12 first in order to get a clear sense of where the editors stand on the key issues. It is possible that those four chapters taken as a whole provide a bit more unity to this volume than the other eight chapters taken separately. Blad’s “theoretical lens” emphasizes Bourdieu’s concept of doxa. But Harvey is also cited and Mises is mentioned. (Elsewhere Mészáros and Poulantzas are cited as well.)

Many academics who are progressive in some sense or on the political left emphasize the notion of “exacerbated hardships” and the Marxist and Neo-Marxian literature on that topic could have been emphasized. The notion of material hardship is, however, also something that needs to be examined within a framework that shows some awareness of cultural relativity concerning wants. The actual material “needs” of North American and European populations have not grown, but the “desires” (wants) have been ratcheted up through advertising and general awareness of technological change. It is no longer enough to have a telephone (a landline); one must have a mobile cell phone, and not just an earlier model but the latest model. (That has led of course to competition from the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.) There is no mention of Marx or Wallerstein per se in the Index. The use of thinkers like Polanyi and Mises indicates the editors are willing to borrow from a diverse set of paradigms. The existence of something that can be called “Neoliberalism” is taken for granted to some extent, although there is discussion of whether it has been intensified or may be subject to significant modifications due to chauvinist nationalist ideas of unique “patriotism” symbolized by the building of immigration barriers and various kinds of “walls” (physical and administrative). But the idea that there really is some degree of unity in the ideological aspect of the global system does not necessarily mean that there is also a high degree of similarity in how that global order works in different countries. Many would assume that the question is entirely unproblematic; but, of course, many others might challenge the idea on the basis of the peculiarities of local cultural standards and institutional structures. If the Neoliberal order was all of one piece then, it could be argued, the rates of pay of labor (labour) would be the same or nearly the same in Denmark and Mexico. The essays reveal a great deal of diversity despite the hypothesized existence of Neoliberalism as a fairly coherent modern capitalist world system.

It is interesting to read about the fact that despite on-going need there can be and are “adaptive responses.” It would have been nice to have had some internal classification of the papers along the lines of the three topics introduced in the first chapters. Which papers deal with the exacerbation of hardships by Neoliberal policies and the global crony capitalist world system? Which papers are mainly about the ways in which needs have not disappeared but have often been on-going and “sustained” (in the negative sense) by the global world order. What would have been valuable would have been a summary chapter in which the “adaptive responses” from the various case studies were listed and compared. How does Canada compare to Denmark? How does Ireland compare to the U.S.? In general, the authors follow a kind of “case study” approach but they do not justify that in terms of research techniques, Methodology or general Theory. Some will regard the lack of representation of conservative views as a strength, but others may regard that as a weakness. The notion of the social constructionof “social problems” and needs is also not underlined, yet we know that a social problem does not become a social problem until it is recognized as such in some way, either by academics or by practitioners employed by non-governmental or governmental organizations. There are such things as clear “basic needs” such as water, food, shelter, public health care, basic education for literary, and so forth. But beyond basic needs it is not always clear that a certain lack is really a “need” that absolutely must be corrected. In the best of all possible world systems there would be a way to provide every human being with basic needs, but unfortunately that has not yet been the case. Yet we know there are many who argue that a higher percentage of a larger population (which is still growing) have benefited from globalization in certain ways. Analysis of phenomena at the level of the local “community with propinquity” (as opposed to “community” in the more metaphorical network sense) does not always provide a clear indication of major trends.

Cory Blad is Chair of Sociology at Manhattan College. He has published in Third World Quarterlyand in an edited volume (Mele and Vujnovic 2006). Mia Arp Falov is an Associate Professor at Aalborg. The two editors are not widely known in the field of sociology and its various disciplinary sub-sets (e.g. Marxist sociology, World Systems sociology, Sociological Theory). They have attracted authors who are also not extremely well known (e.g. one other author from Manhattan College and two other authors from Aalborg). They do not seem to be part of any well-established Interpretive Network (IN) and they do not seem to have any clear-cut Operationalized Representations (ORs) of phenomena. That is, the various authors use theoretical ideas in ways that seem to be somewhat individualistic. Blad’s well-articulated use of ideas from Polanyi and Bourdieu is not systematically utilized by the majority of the authors.

The bibliographical references are not attached to individual chapters but are found at the end of the book (Pp. 261-287). The twenty-seven pages of references amount to around five hundred citations. Some references are to government publications. The authors most frequently represented are Bourdieu and Foucault. (As mentioned, Polanyi somehow did not make it to the references.) The idea of “zombie neoliberalism” is mentioned.

Bourdieu is perhaps the key thinker here. Bourdieu (1977) uses the term doxa in his analysis to point to what is often called “culture” or “worldviews”. It is that which is often taken for granted by a large fraction of people who live in a specific nation-state. Another way of discussing that is in terms of the perception of what is “common sense reality” for most people of a particular economic class or political power group. Those with higher status take different things for granted than those who have a very low status. In the Boston area (where I am writing this) one sees houses advertised for two, three and even more millions of dollars and one receives advertisements for travel that costs US$10,000 or more for one week. The doxa for the super-rich elite is quite different than the doxa for the unemployed person who worked for twenty years in a factory producing cars but has now been replaced by robots. The authors do not seem to have made a thorough analysis of regional, national or class differences in belief systems. What passes as common sense in central Alabama is not necessarily the same as what is considered a standard belief in eastern Massachusetts.

Overall, read this book. If libraries purchase it then perhaps it will someday appear in paperback and become more affordable for individual scholars and graduate students. It would not be a good textbook for undergraduate classes since it would be too difficult for most students to sort out the various arguments and be able to see the forest rather than the trees or leaves. This is a significant and provocative analysis of a very important issue. Comments made here are not meant to be dismissive but simply to engage the editors and other authors and to challenge them to continue this work in an even more rigorous and consistent manner. For example, a chapter that looks at the ways in which the various key thinkers could either be seen as making a very general contribution or perhaps sometimes contradicting one another might be useful to facilitate further progress. Further research on the topics discussed would be very worthwhile, especially if the rest of the world were also included. An analysis of Neoliberalism requires some consideration of the European Union and, when it happens, the effects on British workers of Brexit. Countries around the world which are not mentioned could be studied carefully and included in a follow-up volume that definitely includes Iran, India and Indonesia as well as the PRC and Taiwan. The importance of Israel for globalization along the lines of U.S. and U.K. interests could also be studied since public administration and social work are urgently needed to help resolve the impasse in the Israel-Palestine conflict recently exacerbated by the Trump administration’s decisions concerning Jerusalem and the West Bank. Those on the fringes of the global capitalist system might very well be discussed in terms of being very peripheral nation-states and regions hardly influenced by Neoliberalism in any direct manner, but only indirectly. International trade and geopolitics is also relevant to any comprehension analysis of the effects of Neoliberalism on the welfare of workers and marginal populations. Clearly, this excellent collection of essays has stimulated my thinking about many topics and it is a very good addition to a literature that needs to be explored by young scholars. Ironically, the rapid decrease in tenured academic positions means that many recently minted Ph.D.’s will have to rely on temporary employment, an example of the trends related to Neoliberalism in general. The prestigious research-intensive universities world-wide have become increasingly difficult to access by workers who commit themselves to analysis of the global trends.

Deciancio, Melisa, Pablo Nemina, and Diana Tussie (eds.), Handbook on the Politics of International Development (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2022)

This is a book that makes a significant contribution to the extant professional literature, particularly the academic literature in political science, although there continue to be far too few serious attempts to link their research issues directly with those of economics, i.e., neoclassical economics or contemporary political economy. Sociology is also not directly a major source of the insights presented in this book. In particular, there is no world-systems theory emphasis, although many themes do overlap with the traditional topics found in many world-systems analyses of the global capitalist system.

The three editors are all from Argentina. All are affiliated with FLASCO, Argentina.[1] The contributors come from Columbia, Australia, India, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Dubai, South Africa, México. Ecuador, Malaysia,  Kyrgyzstan, China, Greece,  Hence, they supply a perspective that is truly global. While there are also some chapters by authors in the UK, Canada, the US, and Germany, the book as a whole is quite different in some ways from the predominant North American, British and European viewpoints.[2]

The book is rich with useful information. It is difficult to review it, because there are thirty chapters. Some of the chapters are arguably better than others, but none can be said not to belong in a book on such an important topic.

The book is divided into four parts:

Part I: The Concept and Politics of Development: Paradigmatic Debates. (Five Chapters.)

Part II: Development and Contested Globalization. (Eight Chapters.)

Part III: The Politics of Development Agendas. (Nine Chapters.)

Part IV: Global Actors in the Politics of Development. (Eight Chapters.)

In a short book review I cannot do justice to all of the thirty chapters. So, I have selected the Introduction and will emphasize two chapters from each of the four Parts. The choice of those eight chapters is arbitrary and subjective. But it does provide a kind of sample of the book as a whole.

Let me start with the “Introduction” by the three editors. It is not listed as a separate chapter, but is in a sense a 31st chapter. (Also, there is no “Conclusion” by the editors.) The Introduction is comprehensive. There is mention of the “broader intellectual landscape of the political economy” (p. 2) and IPE (International Political Economy), which is discussed on Pp. 46, 173-176, and 218-228. There is no sustained discussion of Classical Political Economy. The brief mention of Karl Marx (1867) on Pp. 244-245 is a very basic mention of the difference between slavery and “free labor.”[3]  (Axel Marx is also mentioned.) Thomas Piketty’s Capital is cited on p. 465 to indicate that capital has grown but has not been widely distributed. Then the discussion goes to philantropy and a sudden rise in the contribution of “private wealth” to “social causes.” Hence, some slight mention of Political Economy, but no real exploration of the “broader landscape.” The emphasis is more closely associated with the “field” of political science and with stimulating and detailed discussions of all kinds of organizations. Acronyms of UN agencies abound, not just UNESCO and UNICEF. The authors are clearly well versed on the day-to-day activities of all kinds of agencies and know a great deal about many international agreements. The World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are also discussed in several keen ways.

The book has many strengths. But it has taken me a long time to finish this book review in part because I wanted to not let my immediate impression dominate what I write. As a Handbook with a specific slant, it is valuable and would make a useful contribution to any university library. Also, now that is can be dowloaded online, there may be individuals who wish to purchase it as well. But I found myself comparing it to Brian Frederking and Paul F. Diel’s (2015) fifth edition of The Politics of Global Governance: International Organizations in an Interdependent World. A useful dialogue would happen if that book were critiqued by the editors and authors of the Handbook being reviewed here. Important issues such as poverty, disease, regional conflict and climate change are dealt with quite differently in the Frederking and Diel book.

Similarly, I tried to compare the Handbook to Sylvia Walby (2009) Globalization & Inequalities. That book tends to look at “modernity” as a more complex issue and has a somewhat more critical approach, although not Critical Theory of Marxist/Marxian theory per se. The issues dealt with when we consider international development, modernization, rural integrated development, the role of international and national organizations such as NGOs, and so forth, are so complex that no one Handbook can cover all the necessary ground. Moreover, the intellectual problems hinted at in this Handbook could have involved more dialogue and debate. On the other hand, that would have made it a different book. It is always unfair for any reviewer to start to question a book project. The reader will gain a great deal from the separate chapters and from the overall organizational structure. The framework, however, should not necessarily be taken as the final word.



[1] The Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) was founded in 1957 by UNESCO. FLACSO is an international, intergovernmental, regional and autonomous organization with representations in different Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico.

[2] Bruce Currie-Adler is identified as “Program Leader,” IDRC, the  International Development Research Centre, Ottawa-Gatineau, Canada. [I myself have benefited from IDRC grants and an IDRC sponsored seminar for selected students in Indonesia.]. Daniel Kefeli is a Doctoral Researcher, Institute of Political Science, University of Münster, Germany. Karen M. Siegel is Research Group Leader: “Transformation and Sustainability Governance in South American Bioeconomies,” Instutute of Political Science, University of Münster, Germany.

Amrita Narlikar is President, German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), Germany as well as a Non-resident Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, India, and Honorary Fellow, Darwin College, University of Cambridge, UK. Thomas H. Stubbs is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Research Associate in Political Economy at the Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge, UK.

José Antonio Ocampo is Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs, University of Columbia, USA.

[3] I was surprised to read there are “only” 2.6 million people in North America, Europe and Oceania who are malnourished. The statement is from Lima and Baca in Chapter 16: The Polltics of Food. They are the only authors who cite Karl Marx’s 1867 work on the Critique of Classical Political Economy. (They cite a Spanish edition I do not have at hand.) It is true the percentage of severely malnourished people is higher in other parts of the world, but the authors do not seem to be familiar with the extensive literature on food insecurity in the US.

Steinar Imsen (ed.), The Norwegian Dominion and the Norse World c. 1100-c1400 & Taxes, Tributes and Tributary Lands in the Making of the Scandinavian Kingdoms in the Middle Ages (Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press, 2010 & 2011)

These two edited books constitute a set; they complement one another. Together they provide an excellent scholarly overview of much of the literature on the Vikings and Scandinavia. These will no doubt be standard sources for anyone interested in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic history. Fins will also benefit from this book, as will those in the United Kingdom interested in the early history of “the Danes” in Northumbria, Wessex, Essex and other Anglo-Saxon and Celtic lands. Irish, Welsh and Scottish historians will certainly want to be aware of this excellent body of work by pre-eminent scholars. A great body of literature is summarized and it would require someone extremely well versed in Scandinavian history to be able to discern if the proper emphasis is placed on contributions by leading academics of the past. I would definitely recommend that academic librarians order these books as key historical reference texts. Some of the twenty-six chapters involve some degree of cross-referencing, but by and large each chapter is relatively independent. Yet the books do “hang together.”

At the same time, the two books to some extent lack a coherent theoretical outlook. There is not much Comparative Historical Sociology (CHS) as opposed to idiographic history and “thick description.” Like many highly specialized works the editor and the authors assume quite a bit of previous knowledge so this is not likely to be a good set of books for an introductory course, except of course in Scandinavia itself (where students are more likely to have the background knowledge). The use of older letters for older words is appropriate but also presents a small obstacle to those who may not immediately want to have a detailed understanding. Nevertheless, separate chapters could be assigned in undergraduate and graduate history courses. For example, in a course in United Kingdom history the sections on Wales, Scotland and Ireland could benefit from several of the chapters in Steinar (2011).

If a CHS framework had been applied more rigorously then the distinction between “tribute” in ‘tributary lands” and “taxes” in taxation lands would have to be discussed in more detail. The definitions assumed by various authors are neither consistent nor entirely rigorous. For example Barbara Crawford writes about the skatts in the Orkneys and Caithness. In some parts of Norse Britain like the Hebrides and the Orkneys  (bordlands) a tribute was paid by the “earls” to the “kings” of Norway. But it is not entirely clear that the skatt system can be considered a “tax system” per se. Fifteenth century tribute systems were not necessarily tax systems in the narrow sense What Crawford discusses as “rentals” could equally be considered a kind of appanage system. In terms of sociological theory it might have been better to stick with the notion of a “tribute system” (Latin tributa). Of course there was a kind of evolution from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, but the subtle shifts are not investigated as systematically as some might wish. Nevertheless, Crawford does deal with some of the changes that took place over several hundred years. It may be that the geographically compact nature of the Orkneys and Caithness made it possible to introduce a tribute system which was somewhat more “advanced” toward a taxation system. There were 3,670 “pennylands” in Orkney and 18 pennylands were one “ounceland” (urislands). The idea of a monetary assessment based on ploughlands comes closer to a true taxation system, but it is not clear that was something which took place on a regular basis, or only for the construction of a cathedral (Saint Magnus).

The lack of Indices makes is somewhat difficult to cross-reference ideas. One would not necessarily expect one index for the two books, of course, but each book individually could benefit from a detailed Index. So many technical terms are used that a word list would have been helpful for those readers who do not fluently read Norwegian, Danish, Swedish or Icelandic!

The editor, Steinar Imsen, has certainly done an excellent job in compiling first class, relevant essays by top ranking scholars. It is not easy to get this degree of focus on detailed subject matter. Overall there is much agreement, although there are not any papers devoted to a discussion of theoretical or methodological problems per se. (Methodological comments are incidental and mostly contained in footnotes.) The 2010 volume is the result of a workshop on the Norse world held in Røros, Norway, in 2008. The 2011 volume is the product of a workshop held in Visby, Sweden. Colleagues were enthusiastic in discussing a common Scandinavian-Norse-Swedish-Danish-Scottish-Irish-Welsh-British world that spanned several hundreds of years (approximately 8th – 16th centuries). Anyone who is not already deeply immersed in pre-Medieval and Medieval Northern European history is bound to learn a great deal. For example, while I had some general knowledge of Sweden as a nation the short chapter by Thomas Lindkvist (Imsen 2010, pp. 251-262) made me much more aware of the differences between Svealand and Götaland. The Svear and the Göta of Västergötland and Östergötland were not always united. Indeed, the Götland provinces were “Christianized” earlier and were seemingly more connected to events in continental Europe, including the emergence of full blown “patrimonial” feudalism (Weber 1968). The link between the Roman Catholic Church and the Europeanized kingdoms of Sweden and Norway is not fully understood. But the existence of a traditional bureaucracy (Bakker 2010) in the form of bishoprics and nunneries, etc., seems to have been a key to the emergence of the type of “feudalism” usually discussed in textbooks. It is interesting to note that the Geatas discussed in Beowulf may or may not have been the Götar and Beowulf may not be a reliable historical source for the sixth century.

Some parts of these books are also directly relevant to German, Estonian and Russian historians. For example, the 12-13th century Danish “empire” in the Baltic is discussed in Chapter 12 by Jens Osesen. Apparently the Battle of Bjornhöved in Holstein in 1227 was a crucial watershed. The Danish expanded into Mecklenberg and Pomerania in what we now think of as Deutschland. (The Roman term Germania would have also included what we now consider the nation-state of Denmark.) Danish expansion also included a set of conquests to the East. The city of Reval was important to the sea route to Novgorod and was sold by King Valdemar IV Atterdag to the Teutonic order in 1346.

In a longer review I would want to go into detail concerning each chapter. Chapter 2 by Randi B. Woerdahl (in Imsen 2010: pp. 35-57) provides an excellent, detailed discussion of the historiography of the Norse world and the discussion about “Medieval history and the legitimization of nations and nation states” goes some distance toward starting to address sociological questions. He also briefly discusses alternative perspectives. There is a certain degree of conflict involved in studying nations retrospectively and once can easily fall victim to a kind of Whig History Fallacy, where what exists today is presumed to have been what would most likely evolve. Norman Davies (2014) has done a good job studying those “invisible” political realms in mainland Europe and Britain that we have now forgotten (e.g. the seventeen varieties of Burgundy/Burgundia). To some extent the Davies’ thesis about invisible kingdoms holds for many of the state systems discussed in these two volumes. They are “invisible” to the orindary educated person, who is usually better acquainted with the histories of “countries” that exist today as nation-states (e.g. Deutschland, Italia) but may not know much about pre-Medieval sub-regions (e.g. Angle-land, Saxonia, Batavia). The national history approach has little to offer for those interested in an objective reading of the evolution of societies from pre-modern capitalist to modern capitalist relations, much less from truly traditional to postmodern conditions.

Overall, I recommend these two volumes as solid intellectual contributions, with the minor caveats that: (1.) some more overview material would have been beneficial for class room use (including more and better quality maps) and (2.) a Comparative Historical Sociological (CHS) based on Weberian and Neo-Weberian sociological theories would have been useful. (Imsen 2010: Chapter 4 by Ian Beuermann has excellent maps, but in some chapters the quality is not 100% clear.) Perhaps there will be additional volumes and perhaps such new work might integrate the historical material a bit more directly with social science theories of the state, including political sociology, political studies, political science, comparative international relations studies, agrarian history, rural sociology and political economy (including Marxian political economy). These are not books that will be read by very many non-academic readers and yet some of the chapters would usefully be summarized in popular publications in various languages, not just English.

Perhaps Steinar Imsen sand some colleagues will write an introductory book which utilizes the abundant historical resources on which the twenty four other authors base their arguments. The volumes taught me a great deal but it took a certain amount of effort to get past the sometimes overly technical discussions of Scandinavian terms. (There is no glossary in either book.) The whole idea of Skattlands is not well known to those who are not specialized in “North Sea” and “Baltic” history, yet the concept of military tribute and corvee labour is directly relevant to many theories of pre-modern state systems. The main focus historically is the 12-15th centuries and it would most certainly be valuable to have another volume in the series that covers the earliest archaeological discovered (before the 9th century) and a fourth volume on the period that starts with the 16th century. I remember as a young boy wondering how it was possible for three tiny countries (the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark) to continue to exist. In the Cold War Era it seemed that only superpowers mattered. But now I more fully grasp the fact that the current nation-states which are small relative to other significant players on the world stage were at one time themselves small scale world super powers. The Netherlands had its Golden Age in the early seventeenth century. To some extent these volumes celebrate a kind of Scandinavian Golden Age  in the 12-15th centuries. Most of this history, unfortunately, is not widely taught. Perhaps the television series on the Vikings will help to promote more interest. We are inundated with books on the histories of England, Scotland, Ireland, and English-speaking parts of the world. But the importance of Norway, Denmark and Sweden is under-appreciated outside of Scandinavia.


Bakker, J. I. (Hans). 2010. “Deference and Democracy: Traditional and Modern Bureaucracy.” In Bryant (eds.) Festschrift for Irving Zeitlin. Lanham, Maryland (MD): Lexington Books (Roman and Littlefield).

Davies, Norman. 2014. Invisible Kingdoms. New York: Peguin?

Weber, Max. 1968 [1920]. Economy and Society. Tr. and ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley, California (CA): University of California Press.