Incorporation of the Ottoman Empire into the Capitalist World-Economy, 1750-1839

Barbara Reeves-Ellington

In 1977, Immanuel Wallerstein proposed a research agenda to answer the question: When and by what process did the Ottoman Empire become incorporated into the capitalist world-economy? He also asked whether incorporation was a single event or a series of events for the different regions of the Empire--Rumelia, Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt. He suggested the answer be sought in Ottoman production processes and trade patterns between 1550 and 1850.

By 1980, Wallerstein had answered his own question. When the European base of the capitalist world-economy began to develop its boundaries in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire remained outside the system. Between 1750 and 1839, the process of incorporation into the capitalist world-economy was complete and the Ottoman Empire had been peripheralized. Wallerstein did not comment whether incorporation was a single event or a series of events.

In this paper, I argue that current scholarship fails to support Wallerstein's version of incorporation of the Ottoman Empire into the capitalist world-economy. I examine Wallerstein's arguments and critique his discussion based on my own interpretation of recent work by Ottoman and Balkan historians pertaining to Rumelia (Southeastern Europe).

According to Wallerstein, a world-economy is a single social economy containing multiple state or political structures that operates on the basis of a capitalist mode of production and in which ceaseless accumulation of capital guides the system. Wallerstein recently added the word "ceaseless" (his italics) to his definition in order to distinguish his paradigm of the capitalist world-economy with its origins in the sixteenth century from other paradigms that trace the origins to earlier points in history.

The capitalist world-economy comprises a core, a periphery, and a semiperiphery. Nation-states reach the core by successfully exploiting other geographic areas in the periphery. The semiperiphery forms a buffer zone, where geographic areas can move up into the core or down into the periphery. Geographic areas outside the world-economy are relegated to the external arena. They are eventually and inevitably incorporated into the system, however. During incorporation, a geographic zone is "hooked" so it can no longer escape. Peripheralization follows, whereby the zone is swallowed up in the capitalist mode of production, governed by pressures for capital accumulation at the core. The zone is exploited chiefly for raw materials and forced to import finished products from the core. The notion of exploitation is key to an understanding of Wallerstein's view of the capitalist world-economy and his interpretation of incorporation into it.

Economic Factors
Political Factors
Questions on Wallerstein's Analysis

Last Updated: 11/19/14