2011 | 3 | 7-34
Article title

Życie międzynarodowe rzeczy. Przedmioty luksusu i codziennego użytku w społecznej historii stosunków międzynarodowych

Title variants
The international life of objects. Luxury items and necessities in the social history of international relations
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The paper discusses the potential of objects, broadly understood luxury ‘items’ and necessities, in order to present uneven and combined development as the foundation of the social history of international relations. The author evidences that this approach to ‘objects’ allows us to achieve, at the very least, the following: (1) to observe the single social world which emerges after the division into ‘internal’ and ‘international’ is rejected; (2) to ‘touch’ the international outside the realm that the science of international relations usually associates with international politics; (3) to examine the social history of international relations, abandoning the approach that dominates in traditional historiography where production processes are privileged over consumption processes; (4) to demonstrate how human activities create internationalism. Discussing apparently different processes related to the international life of broadly understood ‘objects’, such as African giraffes, Kashmiri shawls, silk, the importance of English items for the inhabitants of Mutsamudu, or the opera Madame Butterfly the author identifies similar patterns which, although sometimes concealed, demonstrate the consequences of uneven and combined development for the social history of international relations. Prestige goods express affluence, success and power. They are usually objects manufactured from imported raw materials or materials, with limited distribution, which require a significant amount of labor or advanced technology to create. In contrast to everyday necessities, owing to their high value, prestige goods are exchanged over long distances through networks established by the elite. The analysis of manufacturing, exchange and social contexts related to prestige goods constitutes a significant source for understanding the social history of international relations. The examples in the paper present control over these goods as a source of political power. The control of raw materials, production and distribution of prestige goods is perceived as key to maintaining hierarchical social systems. Objects are inescapably related to ideas and practices. Uneven and combined development leads to meetings between people and objects, either opening or closing the space, allowing for their transfer and domestication, or rejection and destruction respectively. Concentration on the analyses of objects outside of modernization models or comparisons between civilizations and the conscious narrowing of perspective offers a tool with a heuristic potential which is interesting in the context of international relations. Comparative observation of objects (‘single’ elements of reality) via cultures undergoing uneven and combined development protects us from historiographic western exceptionalism. It also shows that the division between the ‘internal’ and ‘international’ unjustifiably splits the social world and makes it impossible to understand.
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