Oceans as the Paradigm of History

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The temporality of historical flows can be understood through the paradigm of oceanic circulations of water. Historical processes are not linear and tunneled but circulatory and global, like oceanic currents. The argument of distributed agency deriving from the ‘ontological turn’ dovetails with the oceanic paradigm of circulatory histories. The latter allows us to grasp modes of both natural and historical inter-temporal communication through the medium of the natural and built environment. Yet the inclination in these new studies to deny any particular privilege to human will or design risks neglecting the changing role of human agency. Analytically I distinguish historiographical time from historical time. Historiographical time may be seen as the purposive capture of historical processes for various goals whereas historical time is more continuous with natural flows. More than origins and causes, the paradigm emphasizes the ramifying con-sequences of purposive actions. The gap in our understanding of the two temporalities has had a devastating impact on the planet.





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Duara, P (2021). Oceans as the Paradigm of History. Theory, Culture and Society, 38(7-8). pp. 143–166. 10.1177/0263276420984538 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/26050.

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Prasenjit Duara

Oscar L. Tang Family Distinguished Professor of East Asian Studies

Prasenjit Duara is the Oscar Tang Chair of East Asian Studies at Duke University. He was born and educated in India and received his PhD in Chinese history from Harvard University. He was previously Professor and Chair of the Dept of History and Chair of the Committee on Chinese Studies at the University of Chicago (1991-2008). Subsequently, he became Raffles Professor of Humanities and Director, Asia Research Institute at National University of Singapore (2008-2015).

In 1988, he published Culture, Power and the State: Rural North China, 1900-1942 (Stanford Univ Press) which won the Fairbank Prize of the AHA and the Levenson Prize of the AAS, USA. Among his other books are Rescuing History from the Nation (U Chicago 1995), Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern (Rowman 2003) and most recently, The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future  (Cambridge 2014). He has edited Decolonization: Now and Then (Routledge, 2004) and co-edited A Companion to Global Historical Thought with Viren Murthy and  Andrew Sartori (John Wiley, 2014). His work has been widely translated into Chinese, Japanese, Korean and the European languages.

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