Research Handbooks on Globalisation and the Law series
Edited by Ugo Mattei and John D. Haskell
Chapter 16: From the ‘semi-civilized state’ to the ‘emerging market’: remarks on the international legal history of the semi-periphery
Over the past several decades, the historiography of international law has undergone a series of significant changes, arguably the most far-reaching of which is that specifically Euro-American experiences are no longer accorded the kind of weight they once were. Much of the new scholarship following from these changes has distanced itself from Eurocentrism by prioritizing questions relating to the colonized ‘periphery’. The ‘encounter’ between ‘civilized’ Europeans and ‘uncivilized’ non-Europeans, and the implications of this ‘encounter’ for the development of doctrines of sovereignty and recognition, is a particularly widespread theme in the literature, underpinning wide-ranging claims that the history of international law cannot be written in strictly Western terms. The shift in analytical perspective enacted by this new literature is both necessary and promising, and much has been made of its ambition to ‘provincialize Europe’. Interestingly, though, it has often had the effect of obstructing appreciation of peoples and polities historically deemed unassimilable to either of the two extremes of ‘civilization’ and ‘savagery’. Free from formal colonialism but subject nonetheless to a significant measure of informal imperialism, states like China, Japan, Korea, Morocco, Persia, Siam and the Ottoman Empire typically negotiated prevailing frameworks of international law with a relatively high degree of agency, not least on account of their social or geographical proximity to influential hubs of economic and intellectual activity.
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