Sandra Halperin’s book War and Social Change in Modern Europe is a pivotal text that traces the survival and persistence of traditional class structures in Europe during the development of industrial capitalism and the way in which these conditions structured and shaped state behavior and conflict in the region.
The book has as its subtitle ‘The Great Transformation Revisited’ and consequently revisits the historical terrain of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (1944) to argue that the latter’s analysis is, in important ways, inaccurate and misleading.
In Semester 2 of 2017, through mutual discussion and exchange with Alison Fenech who is one of my PhD students, we thought it an interesting point of engagement to read the book collectively as part of a focused mini-reading group of just ourselves to share reflections on our contending theoretical perspectives. Alison draws interests from the state-as-power tradition of realism, specifically the Power Transition Theory of A.F.K. Organski. My own interests draw from historical materialism, specifically the state theory of Antonio Gramsci, Nicos Poulantzas, Henri Lefebvre and Bob Jessop.
As a mentoring exercise, it was considered fruitful to set modest targets to read the book regularly – focusing on approximately twenty pages a week – that was then the platform for a weekly discussion held within one hour. Well within the semester, then, we had completed our reading of this sizeable monograph, shared our thoughts and reflections, and got to know more about each other’s contending perspectives on power, the state, geopolitics and class relations in dialogue with the text itself.
This small forum presents our overview of Sandra Halperin’s book, starting with Alison Fenech’s commentary, followed then by the reflections from Adam Morton, and finishing with a rejoinder from the author herself.
Adam David Morton