I am breaking out of the series "Reading Ramblings" in the Readers and Book Lovers Group with this diary because it needs wider exposure. Whether it will get it or not is another question. Those who have followed my series know that I have focused on systems ideas in a series of diaries building on a number of people's work, especially George Lakoff and Robert Rosen. Much of what I have been doing has been airing ideas that will come out in book form co-authored by Jim Coffman. Jim just alerted me to these two links to Wallerstein and I went bonkers! Immanuel Wallerstein and World-systems theory This man has so much of what we have been talking about and more. It will be hard to give a short overview and tie it in to what I have been doing, but I will try. Here's a start:
Wallerstein rejects the notion of a "Third World", claiming there is only one world connected by a complex network of economic exchange relationships — i.e., a "world-economy" or "world-system" in which the "dichotomy of capital and labor" and the endless "accumulation of capital" by competing agents (historically including but not limited to nation-states) account for frictions. This approach is known as the World Systems Theory.Read on below for more.
Wallerstein locates the origin of the "modern world-system" in 16th-century Western Europe and the Americas. An initially only slight advance in capital accumulation in Britain, the Dutch Republic and France, due to specific political circumstances at the end of the period of feudalism, set in motion a process of gradual expansion. As a result only one global network or system of economic exchange exists. By the 19th century, virtually every area on earth was incorporated into the capitalist world-economy.
The capitalist world-system is far from homogeneous in cultural, political and economic terms — instead characterized by fundamental differences in social development, accumulation of political power and capital. Contrary to affirmative theories of modernization and capitalism, Wallerstein does not conceive of these differences as mere residues or irregularities that can and will be overcome as the system evolves.
A lasting division of the world in core, semi-periphery and periphery is an inherent feature of the world-system. Areas which have so far remained outside the reach of the world-system enter it at the stage of 'periphery'. There is a fundamental and institutionally stabilized 'division of labor' between core and periphery: while the core has a high level of technological development and manufactures complex products, the role of the periphery is to supply raw materials, agricultural products and cheap labor for the expanding agents of the core. Economic exchange between core and periphery takes place on unequal terms: the periphery is forced to sell its products at low prices but has to buy the core's products at comparatively high prices. This unequal state which once established tends to stabilize itself due to inherent, quasi-deterministic constraints. The statuses of core and periphery are not exclusive and fixed geographically; instead they are relative to each other: there is a zone called 'semi-periphery' which acts as a periphery to the core and a core to the periphery. At the end of the 20th century, this zone would comprise, Eastern Europe, China, Brazil or Mexico. Peripheral and core zones can also co-exist in the same place.
One effect of the expansion of the world-system is the commodification of things, including human labor. Natural resources, land, labor and human relationships are gradually being stripped of their "intrinsic" value and turned into commodities in a market which dictates their exchange value.
In the last two decades, Wallerstein has increasingly focused on the intellectual foundations of the modern world system, the 'structures of knowledge' defined by the disciplinary division between sociology, anthropology, political science, economics and the humanities and the pursuit of universal theories of human behavior. Wallerstein regards the structures of knowledge as Eurocentric. In analysing them, he has been highly influenced by the 'new sciences' of theorists like Ilya Prigogine.
It is hard to imagine that so much of what we have concluded has already been so well thought out by this man. His background is very interesting:
Wallerstein first became interested in world affairs as a teenager in New York City, and was particularly interested in the Indian independence movement at the time. He attended Columbia University, where he received a B.A. in 1951, an M.A. in 1954 and a PhD degree in 1959. He subsequently taught there until 1971, when he became professor of sociology at McGill University. In 1973 he was president of the African Studies Association. As of 1976, he served as distinguished professor of sociology at Binghamton University until his retirement in 1999, and as head of the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilization at Binghamton University until 2005.One of the points I have been stressing in my series is the way knowledge has been fragmented by the complete domination of the Cartesian reductionist way of thought that is actually a world view and an epistemology that has limited us severely. If you needed more evidence, the fact that this man's work is so well hidden is it.
Wallerstein held several positions as visiting professor at universities worldwide, was awarded multiple honorary titles, intermittently served as Directeur d'études associé at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and was president of the International Sociological Association between 1994 and 1998.
During the 1990s he chaired the Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences. The object of the commission was to indicate a direction for social scientific inquiry for the next 50 years.
In 2000 he joined the Yale sociology department as Senior Research Scholar. He is also a member of the Advisory Editors Council of the Social Evolution & History journal. In 2003 he received the Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association.
World-systems theory stresses that the world-system (and not nation states) should be the basic unit of social analysis. World-system refers to the international division of labor, which divides the world into core countries, semi-periphery countries and the periphery countries. Core countries focus on higher skill, capital-intensive production, and the rest of the world focuses on low-skill, labor-intensive production and extraction of raw materials.This constantly reinforces the dominance of the core countries. Nonetheless, the system is dynamic, and individual states can gain or lose the core (semi-periphery, periphery) status over time. For a time, some countries become the world hegemon; throughout last few centuries, this status has passed from the Netherlands, to the United Kingdom and most recently, the United States.I will hope that this material gets some attention. I think it is an amazing dovetail with our work and indeed a revolutionary way of seeing today's world. Please let me hear from you!
The most well-known version of the world-system approach has been developed by Immanuel Wallerstein in 1970s and 1980s. Wallerstein traces the rise of the world system from the 15th century, when European feudal economy suffered a crisis and was transformed into a capitalist one. Europe (the West) utilized its advantages and gained control over most of the world economy, presiding over the development and spread of industrialization and capitalist economy, indirectly resulting in unequal development.
Wallerstein's project is frequently misunderstood as world-systems "theory," a term that he consistently rejects. For Wallerstein, world-systems analysis is above all a mode of analysis that aims to transcend the structures of knowledge inherited from the 19th century. This includes, especially, the divisions within the social sciences, and between the social sciences and history. For Wallerstein, then, world-systems analysis is a “knowledge movement” that seeks to discern the “totality of what has been paraded under the labels of the… human sciences and indeed well beyond." “We must invent new language,” Wallerstein insists, to transcend the illusions of the “three supposedly distinctive arenas” of society/economy/politics. This trinitarian structure of knowledge is grounded in another, even grander, modernist architecture – the alienation of biophysical worlds (including those within bodies) from social ones. “One question, therefore, is whether we will be able to justify something called social science in the twenty-first century as a separate sphere of knowledge.”
Significant work by many other scholars has been done since then.