The Ecumenical Analytic: ‘Globalization’, Reflexivity and the Revolution in Greek Historiography

European Journal of Social Theory 8 (2):99-122 (2005)
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‘Globalization’ has become in recent years one of the central themes of social scientific debates. Social theories of globalization may be regarded as specific academic and analytic manifestations of wider forms of ‘global consciousness’ to be found in the social world today. These are ways of thinking and perceiving which emphasize that the whole world should be seen as ‘one place’, its various geographically disparate parts all being interconnected in various complex ways. In this article we set out how both a general ‘ecumenical sensibility’ involving such ways of thinking, and its specifically academic variant, an ‘ecumenical analytic’, are simultaneously responses to ‘globalizing conditions’ and also products of the latter. We demonstrate how social theories of globalization, locatable in the overall set we call the ‘ecumenical analytic’, are reflexive thought-products, in that they both seek to investigate, and are made possible by, ‘globalizing conditions’. Rejecting the view that both an ecumenical sensibility and an ecumenical analytic are solely products of modernity, we show how such modes of consciousness and analysis were present in the period of Greek history between the death of Alexander the Great and the rise of the Roman Empire. We show how at that period a socio-political situation akin in certain ways to modern ‘globalizing conditions’ generated both an ecumenical sensibility and an ecumenical analytic, the latter most forcefully represented by a revolutionary new genre in historiography called Universal History. By examining the ideas of its most famous practitioner, the historian Polybius, we demonstrate that Universal History both provided a framework for understanding what we today would call ‘globalization’, and exhibited a remarkable degree of reflexive awareness about its own conditions of possibility. We seek to show that an attentiveness to ‘global’ processes and a reflexive understanding of what makes that form of thinking possible in the first place, are not solely confined to modernity but were identifiable features of intellectual production in the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece. In this way we argue that scholars today should not imagine that the contemporary ‘global turn’ in social thought is either unique or wholly historically unprecedented.



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