Chapter 3 City and state beginnings: Western Asia’s great creative interlude
Millennia of Moral Syndromes, World-Systems and City/State Relations
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This is the first empirical chapter. It applies the previous conceptual toolkits to questions of the origins of cities and states. In particular, my discussions will be firmly located in Wallerstein’s (1991) concern for the limits of nineteenth-century paradigms in contemporary thinking. As discussed previously, it is surprising how influential ideas from a century or more ago still predominate in much of contemporary social science. Urban studies provides a classic case; it is necessary to look no further than The City Reader (LeGates and Stout 2000), which begins with Gordon Childe’s (1950) evocation of a Mesopotamian first ‘urban revolution’ that is suffused in Victorian progressive (as progression) thought. This otherwise splendid volume offers no alternative to Childe’s very traditional ideas on urban origins. It is the purpose of this chapter to do precisely this. Keeping with the focus on Mesopotamia, but adding earlier episodes in my narrative, I draw on Jacobs’ ideas on cities and economic development to identify a great creative geohistorical interlude that culminates in the phenomenal innovations of city-rich Mesopotamia in the fourth and third millennia bc. The chapter concentrates on just Western Asia; other equivalent creative interludes in other world regions are introduced in the next chapter.

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