[OPE] David Harvey's obituary for Giovanni Arrighi

From: Gerald Levy <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Date: Mon Oct 12 2009 - 15:38:09 EDT

David Harvey
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 October 2009 19.03 BST

Giovanni Arrighi
The Italian scholar of political economy and sociology Giovanni Arrighi, who
has died of cancer aged 71, was an outstanding teacher and mentor. He will
be best remembered for his trilogy of works analysing global capitalism, The
Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times (1994);
Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System (with his wife, Beverly
Silver, 1999); and Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First
Century (2007).
In these works, he identified four systemic cycles of accumulation in the
history of global capitalism. The systemic crises that produced such
reorganisations, he argued, were preceded by phases of financial expansion.
Appealing to Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony, he provided a compelling
account of power shifts within the inter-state system from the 16th-century
Italian city states to 17th-century Netherlands, to 19th-century Britain and
then to the US after 1945. He opened up a fertile debate on a possible
future hegemonic shift towards China and east Asia and on understanding
Chinese governance and its long history of internal dissent.
Giovanni was born in Milan into what he described as a "bourgeois" family.
Both his father and grandfather ran businesses and when the former died in
1956, Giovanni tried unsuccessfully to keep the business afloat before going
to work on the shopfloor in one of his grandfather's firms. Meanwhile, he
studied economics at Bocconi University, Milan. His thesis on shopfloor
efficiency convinced him that the economic theory he had been taught was
irrelevant to production and distribution. This conclusion was reinforced
when he took up a position teaching economics in the University College of
Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1963. His studies on development and labour in
southern Africa led him into the fields of political economy and comparative
historical sociology. The anti-racist commitments formed there lasted for
the rest of his life.
Expelled from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1966, he spent three exciting years
in Dar es Salaam, in what is now Tanzania, where he met an extraordinary
group of scholars and activists such as Samir Amin, Walter Rodney,
Andre-Gunder Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein and John Saul, all of whom, along
with Giovanni, were to make major contributions to understanding global
Returning to a position in Italy in 1969, Giovanni became enmeshed in
politics. A founding member of the "Gruppo-Gramsci" that sought to link
shopfloor workers with intellectuals, he also furthered his studies of
labour and economic development, particularly in Calabria, southern Italy.
The Geometry of Imperialism, a seminal article on crisis theory, written for
workers, and another on labour supplies in historical perspective were
products of this period.
His move to the State University of New York at Binghamton in the late 1970s
proved decisive. He joined the world systems theory group at the Braudel
Centre founded by Wallerstein, and wrote The Long Twentieth Century.
In 1998 he moved to Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, where
he chaired the department of sociology. While researching Adam Smith in
Beijing, he brought together prominent east Asian scholars and graduate
students with the aim of challenging stereotypical images of China and
placing its long history into a more coherent global perspective.
Giovanni had the uncanny ability to extract clear patterns from the swirling
complexities of the historical record. He also possessed the scholarly
integrity and patience to marshal compelling evidence for his arguments,
thereby establishing his reputation as one of the greatest comparative
historical sociologists. His unbounded courtesy and generosity towards his
colleagues (particularly those with whom he disagreed) and, above all, to
his many students, will be missed.
History, he was fond of remarking, is never a done deal, any more than the
frameworks we devise to understand it. He had, he once told me, only two
regrets: that he had not learned to play the piano or to converse in
Mandarin. Yet he taught us to think about China in a radically different way
and his ability to play exquisitely on the infinite variations in the
history of capitalist accumulation will long echo in our ears.
Giovanni is survived by Beverly and Andrea, a son by a former marriage.
• Giovanni Arrighi, political economist and sociologist, born 7 July 1937;
died 18 June 2009Printable version
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