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This Introduction to our special journal issue is organized around the concept and lived history of dispossession. Its immediate occasion is provoked as much by our current, post-2008 economic crisis as by the legacy of domestic and imperial enclosures in the British Empire of the long eighteenth century. We trace recent debates on dispossession and settler colonialism to Marx’s writings on primitive accumulation and debt, alongside his eighteenth-century sources, with particular attention to the prominent role assigned to Asian states for Enlightenment theorists of absolutism and twenty-first century theorists of capitalism alike.
To the extent that recent debates in political economy have centered on China and India as potential rival hegemons to U.S. power, we note that the specter of the “Asiatic” has shaped and continues to shape and disrupt Western chronologies of capitalist development. Moreover, the history of capitalist production—with its attendant crises and violent consolidations of power and resources—must be studied through the development of slavery and race. We argue that literary and materialist approaches to these interconnected phenomena can illuminate the ways in which capitalism’s baleful and bloodthirsty proscriptions have been discursively sedimented; so, too, have otherwise-occluded histories of resistance become aesthetically encoded. The perspicacity and the Eurocentrism of the longue durée approach toward the history of world economic change continue to confront historians and theorists alike, and it is this conversation between history and theory—across time and space—that we foreground here.