Read Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective by Karen Barkey Online


This book is a comparative study of imperial organization and longevity that assesses Ottoman successes as well as failures against those of other empires with similar characteristics. Barkey examines the Ottoman Empire's social organization and mechanisms of rule at key moments of its history, emergence, imperial institutionalization, remodeling, and transition to nation-This book is a comparative study of imperial organization and longevity that assesses Ottoman successes as well as failures against those of other empires with similar characteristics. Barkey examines the Ottoman Empire's social organization and mechanisms of rule at key moments of its history, emergence, imperial institutionalization, remodeling, and transition to nation-state, revealing how the empire managed these moments, adapted, and averted crises and what changes made it transform dramatically. The flexible techniques by which the Ottomans maintained their legitimacy, the cooperation of their diverse elites both at the center and in the provinces, as well as their control over economic and human resources were responsible for the longevity of this particular "negotiated empire." Her analysis illuminates topics that include imperial governance, imperial institutions, imperial diversity and multiculturalism, the manner in which dissent is handled and/or internalized, and the nature of state society negotiations....

Title : Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective
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ISBN : 9780521715331
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 342 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective Reviews

  • Paul
    2019-06-12 10:46

    In Empire of Difference, Karen Barkey criticizes the chronological “rise and decline” model that has been utilized traditionally to write about the Ottoman Empire, arguing that narratives stemming from this conceptualization are problematic because they tell history from the perspective of someone who already knows how the events end. Furthermore, the decline narrative is inevitably constructed as a measurement against the west and the level of the state’s territorial expansion. She postulates that, instead, historians should focus on structural issues and ask why empires are able to survive long-term, rather than why they collapse, the latter of which leads one to view the system through a negative lens. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, the question is complicated by its need to negotiate its internal diversity. The author argues, however, that the very way in which the Ottoman Empire managed, incorporated, and adapted to this diversity was the key to its survival and longevity. Using network analysis and the “hub and spokes model”, she demonstrates that a key tactic in this effort was “brokerage”, wherein the state took advantage of intermediaries to mediate its control over peripheral elites, and “bricolage”, which entailed the integration of different institutions and cultural elements into the Ottoman system, all of which was directed towards the end of strengthening the center. Although focusing primarily on the Ottoman Empire, she occasionally raises others in a comparative perspective in order to conclude that it is the way in which the empires negotiated “difference” that determined how well they would thrive.Barkey outlines this overarching argument in her introductory chapter, but also notes that although one must be wary of the decline thesis, they should keep in mind that actors within the state felt that there was a decline, so the impact of these beliefs cannot be ignored completely. With that said, she begins her work with a chapter that focuses on how the Ottoman Empire was founded through these methods of brokerage across networks. In order to emerge as a state, the Ottomans built relationships with disparate groups and then leveraged their position as brokers between them to transform their horizontal ties into vertical ones and place themselves in an advantageous position. The author notes the importance of the Ottomans’ geographical position, which facilitated this process, as well as imperial ambitions that gave them an edge over neighboring societies that remained attached to traditional networks and methods of dealing with other groups. By remaining inclusive and flexible, the Ottomans were able to build an empire through exigencies that allowed them to fill in structural gaps between cultures and take advantage of the power that came through brokering networks.Chapter three begins after the conquest of Constantinople, which confirmed the Ottomans’ status as an empire rather than mere conquerors and required a shift in thinking. Their first step was to secure their new territories by eliminating potential rivals to power, buying the support of groups that had few other options, and establishing provincial rule by building relationships and paying attention to local conditions to adapt their style of rule to each province. They then examined ways in which they could adapt to pre-existing local institutions and judged carefully their timing for integration and assimilation, relying as much as possible on indirect rule. Overall, these methods amounted to a continuation of their previous policies of network management, inclusivity, and flexibility, but added structure and organization that introduced a more formal element to their relationships, allowing for a smoother functioning of the state. The fourth chapter, meanwhile, focuses on the idea of religious tolerance, which in Barkey’s conceptualization was the way in which diversity was qualified and maintained, and delineates the way in which this was engendered. The most important process was the creation of public boundaries that were negotiable and fluid, allowing the Ottomans to maintain distinctions while taking advantage of exigencies to improve their position. Next, the author examines dissent, which was dealt with through persecution only when it was incapable of being integrated. Noting that dissent was more dangerous when it was fluid and unbounded, she argues that persecution in the Ottoman Empire was more frequent and severe against Muslims rather than non-Muslims, since the latter were easier to integrate into systems of distinction and the former did not fit easily into the empire’s organizational pattern.Barkey’s second part, which consists of her final three chapters, examines how this system began to come apart during the 18th century. Her overarching idea is that peripheral actors began to form relationships amongst themselves, thus circumventing Ottoman brokerage and weakening the “hub and spokes” model. In particular, tax farming and international trade, both necessary for the state’s survival, provided opportunities for peripheral actors to build power bases and networks of their own, and she demonstrates the emergence of peripheral power through three events: the 1703 Edirne Event, the 1730 Patrona Halil revolt, and the 1808 Sened-i Ittifak. The 1703 conflict was one between the palace and households, although all actors remained committed to working within the Ottoman framework. The 1730 rebellion, however, involved the masses and went further in deposing both the grand vizier and the sultan, thus presenting a greater challenge to the extant system. In 1808, provincial notables were able to extract the Sened-I Ittifak, or “Charter of Alliance”, from the state that gave them a measure of power that was independent of the state and allowed them to secure their own networks. The penultimate chapter, meanwhile, goes into somewhat more depth regarding how this process of peripheral network building unfolded and was incentivized. In lieu of a conclusion, the author ends with by chronicling the disintegration of the empire as the state’s centralizing and modernizing efforts clashed with the growth of these new networks and led to the breaking away of new nation states, which transformed boundaries from “markers of difference” into “rigid separations” and prevented the empire from utilizing its previously successful tactics in networking and integration. The empire itself soon began to model boundaries in this fashion, as Abdulhamid II’s focus on Islam, the Ottoman drive for citizenship, and the Turkish emphasis on race all conceptualized boundaries as fixed and exclusive.Barkey’s individual chapters, and her work as a whole, are well-signposted, contain clear delineations of her themes and objectives, and recapitulate almost to the point of excess. While I would not go as far to say that this work is accessible to a non-specialist or a casual reader, since it is fairly dense, Ottomanists and imperial scholars alike will likely appreciate the book’s fresh perspective even if it is somewhat state-centered and tends to ignore the role of the masses, if implicitly acknowledging their importance. It also utilizes the “comparative perspective” only sporadically, which would not have been as significant an issue had this not been the subtitle of the work and a major methodological focus in the introduction. Nonetheless, Empire of Difference is a worthwhile read and, if nothing else, provides a new theoretical base upon which further narratives and studies of the Ottoman Empire could be constructed.

  • Tom
    2019-06-10 11:20

    A must-read for students of Ottoman imperial formation and structure of imperial society.