Historical Legacies in Rising Powers

Toward a (Eur)Asian Approach

Author: Nora Fisher Onar


This articles emanates from the observation that realms like theory and broad comparison have typically focused on Western concerns and geography while actors such as China and Turkey have been relegated to the undervalued field of areas studies. Noting that this inhibits our ability to uncover important cross-regional comparisons, the author suggests that "former empires/rising powers" (FERPs) across (Eur)Asia are a promising unit of analysis. To make the case for the FERPs, the author embeds four cases – Turkey, Iran, Russia, and China – in a common problematique, showing that their encounter with Western hegemony/modernity engendered three waves of confrontation vis-à-vis the legacies of empire. These confrontations entailed Eurocentric denial as well as Occidentalist reification of native pasts, both of which are being superseded by what the author calls "authenticist" histories empowered by the crystallization of multiple modernities. The author then develops a theoretical framework to capture how reinvented pasts serve as sources of identity, normativity, and action. This approach enables an in-depth account of the Turkish case to show that both official and market actors claim continuity with an Ottoman-Islamic heritage from which a homegrown humanism is said to emanate. These narratives – and the tools through which they are promoted from the cultural industries to public diplomacy – may be helping Turkey and other erstwhile (Eur)Asian empires recalibrate national identity and international purpose at a time of global transformation.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: China | Turkey

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September 2013
© Jeff Kingston