Theoretical paradigms based on Atlantic experiences pose a challenge for attempts to imagine anew histories of commerce and culture in the colonial and Indian Ocean world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Foregrounding place origins of purportedly universal doctrines, this paper attempts provisionally and suggestively to explore this challenge by locating and dislocating in place some conventional frameworks for interpreting patterns of trade and mobility in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It relates two connected arguments gesturing to the disruption and suppression of alternative, and potentially subversive, imaginings of worldwide spatial connections and cultural flows in the course of the north Atlantic hoisting itself atop a hierarchy of modernity and historical progress imagined to radiate outwards from it. The first is about the generalization through theory and history of a set of commercial relationships and institutional arrangements historically peculiar to the Atlantic, as being characteristic of the "world economy." The second argument relates to the misrecognition of spaces of circulation in accounts of migration, and their compression into linear movements where the northern Atlantic world represented the ultimate destinations for the working poor belched out from the rest of the non-Western world.