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The Structure of World HistoryThe Structure of World History

From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange

Kojin Karatani

Narrated by Bob Dunsworth

Available from Audible

Book published by Duke University Press

In this major, paradigm-shifting work, Kojin Karatani systematically re-reads Marx's version of world history, shifting the focus of critique from modes of production to modes of exchange. Karatani seeks to understand both Capital-Nation-State, the interlocking system that is the dominant form of modern global society, and the possibilities for superseding it. In The Structure of World History, he traces different modes of exchange, including the pooling of resources that characterizes nomadic tribes, the gift exchange systems developed after the adoption of fixed-settlement agriculture, the exchange of obedience for protection that arises with the emergence of the state, the commodity exchanges that characterize capitalism, and, finally, a future mode of exchange based on the return of gift exchange, albeit modified for the contemporary moment. He argues that this final stage—marking the overcoming of capital, nation, and state—is best understood in light of Kant's writings on eternal peace. The Structure of World History is in many ways the capstone of Karatani's brilliant career, yet it also signals new directions in his thought.

Kojin Karatani is an internationally renowned theorist and philosopher. Previously, he was a professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, Kinki University in Osaka, and Columbia University. Among the dozens of books that he has written in Japanese, four have been translated into English: History and Repetition; Transcritique: Kant and Marx; Architecture as Metaphor: Language, Number, Money; and Origins of Modern Japanese Literature.


“In place of a singular conception of development, Karatani envisions a truly world-historical perspective. Moreover, his unique approach to world history demonstrates the value of establishing a more constructive dialogue between philosophy, anthropology, sociology, economics and historical studies.”

Journal of World Systems Theory

The Structure of World History is a must-read for anybody who is interested in a universal master narrative being in search not only for power of resistance against this system but also for possible ways to transcend the capitalist social formation from within.”

H-Net Reviews

“Kojin Karatani's monumental and provocative synthesis testifies to a dramatic rebirth of universal history in recent times; but it does so by reuniting traditions—economics, politics, the social imaginary—which have proved increasingly sterile developed separately. His proposal involves a Borromean knot in which the three distinct areas of Capital, the Nation, and the State are both distinguished from each other and structurally recombined in their historical moments. His rereading of the Marxian modes of production (Marx's theory of universal history) in terms of modes of exchange is heretical and revisionist, but also profoundly critical of both the anarchism and the social democracy it would seem to express. His discussion of nation and world empire replaces any number of globalization debates within a transformative or revolutionary framework. His luminous study of Marx's own work and politics then casts a whole new light on Hegel and Kant; and indeed the history of philosophy is as much at stake here as the histories of nationalism or anticapitalist movements. Finally, Karatani's own practical and theoretical experience of the cooperative moment opens up political perspectives which will be politically suggestive and energizing at a moment when left politics seems universally out of breath.”

—Fredric Jameson, author of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

“Kojin Karatani's last great work, Transcritique: On Kant and Marx, set off a chain of theoretical explosions, Slavoj Žižek’s The Parallax View not least among them. This latest book returns to the Borromean knot of Capital-Nation-State from a rotated perspective; privileging modes of exchange over modes of production, it is a revolutionary rethinking of the historical emergence of that triadic structure and its various transformations. The 'Karatani-turn' will no doubt re-start serious debate about the form and future of capitalism.”

—Joan Copjec, author of Imagine There's No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation

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University Press Audiobooks