My recent work, The Structure of World History (Duke University Press,
2014), is an attempt to look at the history of social formations from the
perspective of modes of exchange. In this I follow Marx, who understood
the history of social formations according to the economic base. Marx,
however, examined the economic base in terms of modes of production.
More specifically, this is to look at history in terms of ownership of the
means of production. There are a number of difficulties, though, that
attend this perspective. For example, it has difficulty dealing satisfactorily
with premodern society and is unable to clarify its relation to the super-
structure in terms of religion and nationalism, and so forth.
I felt it might be possible to deal with these difficulties by approaching
the problem in terms not of modes of production, but modes of exchange.
Of these I proposed the following typology:
mode a Reciprocity by gift and countergift
mode b Domination and protection
mode c Commodity exchange
mode d Mode that transcends A, B, and C
What we usually think of as exchange is commodity exchange, that is,
mode C. However, in face- to- face communities such as the family and
so forth, there is no exchange of this type, but rather a reciprocity consti-
tuting gift giving and return, that is to say, mode of exchange A. Mode
of exchange B, then, at first glance does not appear to have the exchange
form. This is a type of relation where, in exchange for submission to the
ruler, the ruled receive a sense of stability and security. The state is rooted
in this form of exchange, which we call mode of exchange B. Mode of
exchange C, then, while at first glance appearing to be an exchange based
From The Structure of World History to
Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy
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