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Interconnected Process of Exchange

Philip L. Kohl

By Shereen Ratnagar
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 408, price not stated.


In his magisterial study to historicize the discipline of anthropology and provide narratives of change to peoples who seemingly lacked historical documentation, Eric Wolf (1982: 3, 9-11) traced large-scale “interconnected processes” that profoundly affected local trajectories of development. He argued for a “holistic perspective” and criticized social scientists’ “ideologically loaded scheme(s) geared to a narrow definition of subject matter” that provided “self-fulfilling answers” to their narrowly conceived inquiries. In her fundamental overview to inter-regional “trading encounters”, Shereen Ratnagar carefully and exhaustively reviews the archaeological and early historical records that document interconnected processes of exchange that defined a Bronze Age world in which local polities emerged, flourished, and collapsed from c. 2600-1800 BCE.   Ratnagar’s perspective, like Wolf’s, is fundamentally historical and meant to contextualize individual or regional sequences of development within broader patterns of interaction. She concludes her work [p. 338] by insisting that “the history of world trade in the bronze age was a history of ruptures” or, in other words, that the relatively sudden rise and fall of individual polities was integrally tied to this broader system of exchange, “for a linkage between trade, on the one hand, and social differentiation and urbanization, on the other” (p. 335). She is not interested in characterizing the Harappa polity(ies) in neo-evolutionary terms; for her, there is a rupture between the Early Indus and Mature Harappan periods that is characterized by a radically altered form of social organization and that this change occurred principally due to their incorporation within interconnected systems of production and exchange that stretched “from the Euphrates to the Indus.” A similar rupture characterizes the end of the Mature Harappan period, and Harappa is a dead civilization, not integral to the continuity of later Indian civilization. Patterns of development within Mesopotamia likewise cannot be adequately explained by reference to the features and events that took place within the alluvial plain formed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers but must be viewed from this broader perspective of interaction. Mesopotamia is the most populous and prosperous participant in this interconnected Bronze Age world, but its civilization significantly does not collapse in the early 2nd millennium BCE but rather shifts its focus westwards to the lands bordering the eastern Mediterranean, the principal locus of developments in the later Bronze Age.   Trading Encounters is an expanded and substantially revised version of her earlier Encounters: The Westerly Trade of the Harappan Civilization that appeared ...

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