- Edging toward Iberia by Jean Dangler
In Edging toward Iberia, Jean Dangler applies Manuel Castells' network theory and Immanuel Wallerstein's World-Systems Analysis (WSA) to resolve generalizations about non-modern Iberia. She challenges fixed and reductive paradigms of space and time and replaces them with dynamic and transient micro and macro networks of activity. Her book is a welcome arrival for historians and literary critics alike, amidst calls among medievalists for more inclusive and diverse narratives of history. The book has seven chapters grouped into three sections: a presentation of the historiographical oversimplifications that the book addresses and the theories and methodologies that resolve them, an application of the aforementioned network analyses to non-modern Iberia in relationship with other Christianate and Islamicate kingdoms, and, finally, a section that takes a closer look at the implications of her application to non-modern Iberia as it relates to culture, politics, and identity. The monograph's clear and precise structure and language make it an ideal tool for "edging closer" to the real lived experience [End Page 178] of Iberia than ever before and invites the implementation of new and more accurate methodologies for research and for the classroom while eschewing intellectual dogmatism.
The first section, containing chapters 1 and 2, describes the problems created by imposing modern, Western concepts of time and space on other (and earlier) worldviews. It begins with a critique of periodization, arguing that non-modern people did not live their lives aware of momentous shifts caused by world events, and resisting the temptation to depreciate earlier cultures because they are earlier. Next, she goes on to discuss issues with geographical demarcations of Iberia, including issues of differing definitions between Christian-European versus Islamicate perceptions of its borders. Ultimately, life in non-modern Iberia was delimited relationally (which is more fluid), rather than by defined geographical borders as it is today. As an alternative to less accurate approaches to Iberian history, the second chapter proposes network theory, defined as a series of nodes and their relationships to one another as they change consistently across time. The second part of the chapter defines WSA, which describes history not in terms of politics and events but in terms of changing relationships, particularly in terms of centers and peripheries (which may not be at a disadvantage the way they are today). Though they constitute complex set of theories and methods, network theory and WSA explain non-modern Iberia with greater precision than other approaches.
The second section includes three chapters that apply networks to three specific aspects of Iberian society: trade, travel, and systems of economic class. Chapter 3, which deals with trade networks, observes that much of the activity we see during the non-modern period makes better sense in terms of economic relationships than political (re)conquest. Dangler also nuances Castells' market-driven theory in order to adapt it to the more socially driven economies of trust in the Christianate and Islamicate Mediterranean. Next, chapter 4 demonstrates that rather than sedentary and dangerous, non-modern Iberia was very open, easily and safely traversed. This ease of travel subverts notions of nation-states with strict and impenetrable boundaries. These open networks of travel resulted in cultural exchange both on the routes themselves and at hubs, such as Mecca or Santiago de Compostela, where individuals from diverse backgrounds converged. Chapter 5 deconstructs modern stereotypes and anachronisms imposed on non-modern feudalism, slavery, and poverty. Dangler upends the sense of non-modern economic classes as monolithic, [End Page 179] vertical relationships between a tribal Lord and the rest of society. Instead, power was bilateral, relationships were inclusive and changeable, and the system itself in flux.
The final section of the book identifies specific applications of her research for Iberian politics, culture, and identity. Chapter 6 demonstrates how WSA and network theory render the religious conflict of the Reconquista obsolete, and that concepts of nation only appear from the Catholic Monarchs on. Struggles between the two religious groups is better characterized as a contest against any other threat to sovereignty rather than...