Amélia Polónia (1) and J. B. Owens (2)

(1) University of Porto, Portugal

(2) Idaho State University, USA


Analyses of European “empires” in the “early modern” period are usually focused on central government strategies and global rivalries. It is, on the contrary, our perception that several individuals or groups contributed extensively to these dynamics, at times to an even greater extent than the top levels of the segmented political hierarchies of the era. The governments that emerged in the first global age, 1400-1800, depended heavily on collaboration with other segments of the political hierarchy, such as ecclesiastic and judicial institutions and municipal governments. The emergence of overseas domains intensified the dependence of monarchs and republican leaders on such collaboration. In the case of the Portuguese Monarchy, the emergence and maintenance of this composite “empire” also depended on the widespread participation of maritime communities. We argue that the overall Portuguese projection overseas and the building of a colonial regime was largely due to individual initiative in shipbuilding, trade, finance, and even military affairs, which was manifested in cooperation-based self-organizing social networks. Within the complex, dynamic, nonlinear system of the first global age, such self-organizing networks were principally responsible for the creativity and innovation that accounts for the emergence of new patterns of global communication, including new forms for the exercise of political authority and for the exercise of commercial activities.

This perspective, as well as the  concept of cooperation-based self-organizing networks and their impact on the emergence of new forms of cooperation, is a central focus of a multinational, multidisciplinary, collaborative research project, “Dynamic complexity of cooperation-based self-organizing commercial networks in the first global age” (acronym, DynCoopNet). This project is part of the European Science Foundation’s EUROCORES (European Collaborative Research) Initiative program “The Evolution of Cooperation and Trading” (TECT).