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Journal of Japanese Philosophy

Volume 4, 2016

Special Issue on Karatani Kōjin

Joel Wainwright
Pages 33-59

The Spatial Structure of World History

This article examines Karatani’s 2014 book, The Structure of World History, aiming to clarify its sweeping philosophical argument in one respect. Among the many ways that we can appreciate Structure is to read it as the elaboration of a profoundly spatial interpretation of our world’s history. In making this claim I am not suggesting that Karatani simply emphasizes space over time, which is not so. Rather, I contend that many of the book’s achievements are best grasped by reading the book as a work of geography. To be sure, geography, as typically understood by academic geographers, is largely absent from Structure: there are no maps and the word “geography” is only used once. Moreover, Karatani never claims to have found the spatial structure of history. Rather, my claim is that the analysis of world history in Structure is acutely spatially sensitive—particularly with regard to the repetition of sociospatial forms through modes of exchange (which effectively comprise the “structure” of the book’s title)—and that this sensitivity grounds Karatani’s radical reinterpretation of Marxism. Structure thereby provides a spatially informed theory of the historical processes that have made this world as such, one that refuses the telos of capital-nation-state. The result is a revolutionary, geographical philosophy of world history.

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