Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

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ellen.lindh@gmail.com # Posted on March 4, 2014 at 16:32

Seminar 3: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange
On: Hornborg, A. 2012. Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange: Fetishism in a Zero-Sum World, Routledge and seminar with Alf Hornborg 2014-03-03 in Geocentrum, Uppsala.
A) What are the gains from applying a world-systems perspective on global environmental history and is anything lost in taking this approach?
I regard Hornborgs theoretical approach to World-system analysis useful in several aspects for writing Global environmental history. The approach is useful, as Hornborg him selves also argues for, in discovering connections and accumulation of “capital” (not only money but technology and energy etc.) or the lack of it over vast geographical areas. The displacement /externalization of environmental problem to another system, can be traced down over time and space. Hornborg is asking for more global environmental history research with the world-system perspective in mind. He empathies that there is always a reason for why the environmental problem exist were it does in relation /connection to something or somewhere else in the world. For example landscape change in Europe can be connected to landscape change of another type in South America, when tracing demand and trade over the world. The gain in this approach is then the possibility to analyze patterns over time and space (lending eg. space from future generations or human time from another part of the world to save time for your selves) and discover how different situation over the world are connected to each other in some extent.
Hornborg makes an important distinction between analyzing connections and comparing case studies around the world. He criticizes the latter approach in making assumptions about societies being isolated and comparing societies on different scales, instead of see the connections between what is happening in the cases in focus.
What could then be the loss with a world-system analysis? I still will argue for that we need the smaller case studies and micro-history to understand and explain on a graspable level. For the reader to connect with the Global environmental history and se relevance for themselves and their own community in the research, the risk with a world-system perspective could be then to only focus on the macro level. But I can´t see that Hornborg is arguing for that either, he wants us as Global environmental historians to also focus and to regard and do research on those larger systems of energy flow in the world not neglect other approaches .

Ellen Lindblom