Document Type

Honors Project - Open Access


Scholarly and popular usage of the term “racial capitalism” has increased exponentially over the past decade, but the validity and implications of its use remain hotly contested. The late Cedric Robinson is the undisputed popularizer of this phrase and is referenced widely by both the slogan’s detractors and proponents. Despite this, little work has been done to engage with the core of his argument about racial capitalism: that capitalism is inalienably racial due to the racialism of the medieval European societies that spawned it. Debates over Robinson’s ideas have thus disregarded the substance of his deployment of the phrase and eliminated his historicist critique of the European social sciences. This paper attempts to correct this lacuna through a case study of racial extractivism in a colonial region of medieval Europe: the German Ordenstaat of Livonia. I draw on the methodologies of radical historical geographers within Black Studies to generate a synthetic analysis of regional historical literatures about premodern Catholic colonialism. I find that structural racism was central in funding and organizing the institutional antecedents of the capitalist world-system which emerged in the 16th century. Ultimately, I argue that Robinson’s historicist critique disrupts many ontological assumptions about the motivating forces, developmental trends, and leading protagonists of capitalism as a theoretical object.

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Geography Commons



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