Geographies of Communality, Colonialism, and Capitalism: Ecology and the World-System

Eoin Flaherty

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    Drawing upon recent reworkings of world systems theory and Marx’s concept of metabolic rift, this paper attempts to ground early nineteenth-century Ireland more clearly within these metanarratives, which take the historical-ecological dynamics of the development of capitalism as their point of departure. In order to unravel the socio-spatial complexities of Irish agricultural production throughout this time, attention must be given to the prevalence of customary legal tenure, institutions of communal governance, and their interaction with the colonial apparatus, as an essential feature of Ireland’s historical geography often neglected by famine scholars. This spatially differentiated legacy of communality, embedded within a country-wide system of colonial rent, and burgeoning capitalist system of global trade, gave rise to profound regional differentiations and ecological contradictions, which became central to the distribution of distress during the Great Famine (1845-1852). Contrary to accounts which depict it as a case of discrete transition from feudalism to capitalism, Ireland’s pre-famine ecology must be understood through an analysis which emphasises these socio-spatial complexities. Consequently, this structure must be conceptualised as one in which communality, colonialism, and capitalism interact dynamically, and in varying stages of development and devolution, according to space and time.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)59-79
    Number of pages21
    JournalHistorical Geography
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • world system
    • ecology
    • colonialism
    • feudalism
    • rundale
    • famine
    • agriculture
    • settlement


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