World Systems Analysis

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Peter Taylor:

"World-systems analysis is an approach to understanding social change based upon geohistorical systems. These provide a space-time framework for understanding social change that replaces the orthodox use of nation-state as the basic unit of change (i.e. space as “homeland territory” and time as “rise of the nation”). Geohistorical systems denote specific structures of social relations that are concretely realized through time (trends and cycles) and space (extent and order). The modern world-system is a capitalist world-economy which is the geohistorical system in which we live. The basic geohistory is that it was constructed in Europe in the “long” 16th century, it expanded to cover the whole world by c.1900 (i.e destroying all other systems), and will meet its demise in the 21st century."



Summary from Nicholas Gotts:

"World-systems analysis (Wallerstein 1974, Denemark et al. 2000, Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997a, Hall 2000) centers on the premise that the modern world cannot be understood without considering it as a whole, and over long periods of time. The stances of world-systems researchers differ considerably, but all would agree with the first point below, and most with points 2–7.

1. “... the most important unit of analysis for the study of social change is not societies or states but the entire world-system. Changes in organization are not endogenous to individual societies. Rather, they are a consequence of complex interactions among local, regional, societal, and global processes.” (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997a:1). A world-system is not necessarily planetary in scope, but does necessarily include multiple societies or polities, with long-term, highly structured interrelationships.

2. Within the current world-system, there is a geographical division of labor, with strong hierarchical features, between “core,” “semiperipheral,” and “peripheral” regions. The most sophisticated economic activities are concentrated in core states, which are also the strongest and best integrated. Peripheral regions are economically subordinate, generally supplying raw materials or lowquality goods. The semi-periphery hosts a mixture of corelike and peripheral activities.

3. Individual states may move within the hierarchy, but upward mobility is constrained by their trade relations within the world economy and their geopolitical role and power.

4. Political, economic, and military interactions between states are central to the maintenance of elites within those states. Core elites accumulate many of their resources from the periphery and semi-periphery, use some of those resources to buy support and/or pay armed forces, and often maintain subordinate elites in noncore areas.

5. States and corporations are both essential to the operation of the modern world-system. Core corporations are the major economic actors, but rely on states to protect their assets and market access. The existence of multiple states stabilizes the system by allowing corporations mobility, thus limiting how far any state can tax or regulate them.

6. There are important cyclical processes in world-system economics and interstate politics. The most widely discussed is the approximately 50-yr Kondratieff cycle of economic activity (Schumpeter 1939, Kondratieff 1979 [1926]). This is widely but by no means universally acknowledged to exist by economic historians. It shows up best in price series (Berry et al. 2001), and there is broad agreement that each cycle involves a wave of technological innovation. Within world-system analysis, Kondratieff and other cycles are generally seen as aspects of longerterm directional processes; in particular, the innovations of each Kondratieff cycle are generally retained. More specific to worldsystem analysis is the longer “hegemonic cycle” affecting the distribution of economic, political, and military power among core states.

7. The modern world-system came into being with the growth of European capitalism and overseas expansion of European states around 1500, and now includes the whole world."



"World-system analysis arose during the 1970s, primarily through the writings of Immanuel Wallerstein. Wallerstein identifies four intellectual antecedents that emerged between 1945 and 1970 as promulgating the emergence of world-system theory:

(1) the study of Latin American history, contemporary politics, and foreign relations, from which arose the conceptualizations of core/periphery and dependency theory;

(2) the Marxian idea of an "Asiatic mode of production";

(3) the historical debate about the transition from feudalism to capitalism; and

(4) the scholarship of Fernand Braudel and the Annales school of historiography."