Decolonizing the Empire of Cotton
Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton
offers a magisterial history of cotton’s place in the development of modern capitalism. In this review essay, Joshua Humphreys lauds the global scale of Beckert’s analysis but questions his narrowed conception of historical agency, which places cotton planters and entrepreneurs at the center of a story that involved a much wider cast of actors and institutions across global civil society. Only with a fuller conceptualization of social agency can one begin to understand not only the historical processes leading to cotton’s global reach but also more recent efforts to bring about its decolonization.
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