Civilization, Information Technology and Societal Development

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* Book: Information Technology and Societal Development. Andrew Targowski. Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global), 2009


"This book investigates the role of information and communication in civilization's development."

  1. What is a civilization?
  2. What types of civilizations can be recognized at the beginning of the third millennium?
  3. What are the relationships between any particular civilization and the world civilization?
  4. What is the role of information and communication in a civilization?
  5. What types of laws rule any particular civilization and the world civilization?
  6. What are the prospects of the world civilization?


From the author:

"The purpose of this book is to evaluate the questions: Is civilization developing for the benefit of humankind? What is civilization’s future? To answer these questions, we must investigate the role of information and communication (under the form of information-communication technology [ICT]) in civilization’s development, because it is information and communication that decide how human organization, knowledge, and wisdom are applied in decisions impacting human survival. This book is written for a broad audience of academics, students, professionals, and those people who are interested in how information and communication and, later, information-communication technology (ICT) played a role in the development of civilization and what is its current state and future.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the ICT professionals are the main developers of civilization, which has been transforming from developing to developed or even overdeveloped in some regions. Therefore, it is very important, particularly for ICT professionals, to be aware how and why to develop certain ICT systems in order to avoid harm to individuals, society and civilization. Also users, managers/executives and politicians should be aware of the same issues in respect to their environments and in the broader context of civilization. A concept of information has many dimensions, which are addressed in this book; however, one can state that from the users’ points of view, they deal with information as the end product. But this end product is shaped by different kinds of information technology, for example, such ones as alphabet, books, newspapers, journals, files, databases, data warehouses and data retrieval and mining, with either by manual effort or recently with the help of computers. The latter is called in the U.S. “information technology” (IT) and in Europe “informatics” (automated information). Furthermore, with the intensive applications of computer networks, the Internet, e-mail and so forth have transformed our humanity to an e-communicating species. Hence the classic IT has been transformed into information-communication technology (ICT). The role of IT and ICT is specifically supporting our civilization in many positive aspects as well as also conquering civilization in many negative ways. This book analyzes these aspects and exposures mostly at the big-picture level, preferring rather synthesis than analysis to better grasp overall concepts, problems and solutions. An interdisciplinary, holistic method is applied to investigate civilization’s complexity with the help of graphic-cybernetic modeling (a tool of ICT). This allows for the inclusion of known macro-structures, large-scale processes, and their relationships to universalize their dynamics. The reason for this approach is to conduct huge comparisons of big structures and large processes in their totality, leading to variation-finding1 and universal rules or eventual laws. In such a way, perhaps individual ontology will be more understandable and some answers can be defined for the questions raised above. This book is based on the model of macrostructures and processes leading to their synthesis, which is shown in Figure I. Civilization is about 6,000 years old, which in comparison to the age of the Earth, 4.5 billion years, is rather a fresh endeavor. Its solutions are very spectacular but may lead to the overpopulation and depletion of strategic resources. Therefore, we call it Civilization I, since if we do not change our life style, this civilization can fall apart in the third millennium.

Perhaps future civilizations (II, III, n) may follow the patterns of the present one. Robert Denes (former Eaton executive) suggests that my arguments remind him of Plato’s Republic ruled by wise people, but this republic does not work in practice, since Denes believes in a free spirit in man, who successfully traveled from primitive ancestry to modernity and thinks he/she will continue on for a long time to come. I am not so optimistic and at least offer here a shift from current “paranoia” to future “metanoia” (defined by Leszek Koakowski2) which emphasizes human wisdom and willingness to change. This book proposes that in order to ensure the well-being of humankind on Earth, the global civilization should transform into a universal-complementary civilization, based on dialogue, universal values, and self-sustainability, acceptable by all religion-driven (autonomous) civilizations. Otherwise, in the not-too-distant future, humans may be forced to emigrate to other planets, which due to the high cost and practical impossibility of traveling faster than the speed of light, will likely remain in the realm of science fiction. On the other hand, in the very long term, humankind must look beyond even the Solar System, since the Sun will stop or change the radiating pattern within a few billion years, very probably destroying life on our planet. Although Civilization I has self-organizing capabilities3, in reality, at the beginning of the 21st century, it enters into a stage of disequilibrium interacting with the Ecosystem. Hence, the future of Civilization I is rather bleak. This book presents the contingency theory of civilization (as a product of social development) based on the information (including info-communication technology) handling and processing approach, which may turn our attention and action to how at least to survive on Earth. Information-communication technology (ICT) is strongly presented in this book under a form of graphic modeling, a tool of system analysis and design of complex systems. Without applying this kind of tool, it would be very difficult to identify the complexity of human development.

My involvement in the topic of Civilization and Information has roots in my work on the informatization of enterprises (information architecture) and states (Infostrada4) and local, national and global information infrastructures. Along with the experience gained in these projects, I noticed that overly aggressive information-communication technology limits the role of humans in civilization. When populations expand and employment does not expand to meet it due to increased productivity, the gap between informed and rich and uninformed and poor does not fade. This type of “wild” greed-driven progress threatens the well-being of humans, and perhaps one day (yet far away) we may call for the “end of progress?” To avoid it we have to elevate our wisdom to such a level as can save the Human Project. So far, the wealthy (money), religions, and politics do not focus on this issue, which is also analyzed in this book. This book aims essentially at the development of knowledge and wisdom about civilization, which eventually can be applied by major leaders of civilization for its benefits."


"The book is organized in five parts with 18 chapters.

Section I defines the basic concepts of civilization, which are applied in further considerations.

Section II traces the roots and developmental issues of humans, who are the main creators and users of civilization.

Section III investigates the role of information-communication processes and systems functioning in civilization, which are the dominant factors in knowledge and wisdom development and which determine the fate of civilization.

Section IV applies some systemic-cybernetic techniques in modeling communication and economic processes, which are basic to civilization.

Lastly, Section V investigates the future of civilization on the Earth and beyond, providing a comprehensive architecture of the Universe, which integrates material and information communication processes.

Chapter I defines the civilization grand model based on a critique of existing approaches and the history of civilization development. This model is presented as a cybernetic model, which is dynamic and system-oriented with three major components: human entities, culture, and infrastructure. This kind of identification of components allows for the comparative investigation of civilizations’ patterns of behavior, leading to the recognition of grand laws of civilization, which govern the world and planet civilizations. These two kinds of civilizations are synthesized at the level of their major components and their relations.

Chapter II investigates why a civilization rises and falls. The majority of the chapter addresses these processes. The answer is provided under a form of the generic civilization life-cycle. As a result of this investigation, a concept of wave-driven civilization life-cycle is provided and its current and future implementations are offered.

Chapter III compares current civilizations’ development level and its consequences for the current state of the world affairs. Some strategies of how to cope with civilization conflicts in the 21st century are defined. Also, some challenges that humans must cope with in order to make sure civilization functions and develops competently are defined.

Chapter IV investigates the phenomenon of humans on the Earth. What kind of factors determined our evolution from animals into humans? The investigation is limited to the information-communication processes (symbol processing), which triggered the human brain. These processes are recognized as the main ones which led to human beings, the pioneers and developers of civilization.

Chapter V concentrates on wisdom as the highest unit of cognition, which determines the well-being of humans and their civilization. Some suggestions of how to combine philosophical approaches to wisdom are presented in order to be wisely in charge of civilization challenges. Eventually, a model of multi-layered existence in the advanced civilization is defined in order to explain the kind of challenges that lie in front of people for handling life in a world that communicates across cultures.

Chapter VI investigates the issue of whether humans are wise enough to rightly control civilization operations and development. After some comparative analysis of different philosophies’ approaches (western and Asian mostly) to wisdom, the answer is that humans are not wise enough to meet the current civilization problems. The difficulty is in our partial approach to the investigation of theoretical knowledge, including philosophy itself. A solution under the form of the Wisdom Diamond is offered and its applications in other sciences are discussed. C

Chapter VII investigates the emergence of global civilization in the 21st century and concludes that it is just a solution very convenient for big business, driven by greed. This civilization is not stoppable but should be controlled by the new civilization layer, which should be common and complementary values-driven. This new solution is called the Universal-Complementary Civilization, which should be a product of agreement of all people who live and share the same planet, which, perhaps, can be called the Rainbow Planet. This new civilization, if developed rightly, should minimize conflicts and wars, since it should build tolerance in all of us from our childhood.

Chapter VIII develops the theory of critical total history of civilization. In order to wisely control civilization, its developers and users must understand the history of civilization. So far, it is mostly based on lengthy narratives and lost in many less important details. This theory emphasizes the critical issues of the civilization’s total history and differentiates them from peripheral issues secondary for the wellbeing of civilization. Eventually, grand laws of western civilization are defined to provide examples of how to investigate other civilizations.

Chapter IX investigates civilization in terms of the current information wave. First, the role of information in civilization history is analyzed. The invention and application of printing (15th century) had a very strong impact on the development of intellectual, political and commercial revolutions, which led to the rise of the information wave, exemplified by the application of millions of computers and their networks embracing the globe in the 21st century. This wave is characterized in its mission, goals, and strategy as well as in ideology, which should be taken into consideration when information systems and services are designed and operated.

Chapter X defines what is information in terms of quantitative, qualitative, cognitive, computer, decision-making, and managerial perspectives. Furthermore, information images are analyzed as resource, system, mind, communication, synchronism, superhighway, power, and art. This kind of approach is important for correct design and operation of information systems, services, and infrastructure. Therefore, a case of enterprise information infrastructure is analyzed and its generic model is presented. As a result of these considerations, the informated architecture of management and a concept of how to informate the industrial enterprise are provided. The latter is important for the practice of transforming old industrial endeavors into new informated enterprises.

Chapter XI defines generic service processes and their systems within six kinds. Four criteria, which impact e-service systems’ architecture, have been defined as: service business model, customer contact and level of involvement (service user interface), service provider’s enterprise complexity (enterprise systems and networks), and scope of goods involved in service. Based on the nature of presented service systems, a scope of service science has been defined. Also, its developmental and innovation strategy has been defined based upon six stages of service systems developments and the three laws of service systems. In conclusion, seven recommendations are offered for the further development of service science.

Chapter XII defines the information laws, which govern our cognitive development and based on it, our functioning in civilization. Four such laws are defined. These laws should be applied in all our information-driven undertakings.

Chapter XIII investigates the birth of the electronic global village and its composition under a form of a generic architecture. Based on this approach, the architectures of several kinds of informated organizations are defined. Also, major components of contemporary civilization such as global economy, global culture, electronic culture, and eventually electronic global citizenship are also defined.

Chapter XIV traces the evolution of an information society, which has several distinctive implementations, affected by the availability of information-communication tools. Some paradigms and key indicators are defined in order to better measure the impact of such societies on civilization.

Chapter XV models a process of asymmetric communications between different civilizations. A case of interaction of American and Egyptian culture is taken to show how cross-culture communication can be analyzed in terms of quantitative indicators. As a result of this case, five rules of this kind of communication are defined.

Chapter XVI models the markets from the civilization point of view. This approach perceives the economic integration of some areas of the world along the civilization lines. The question of whether China will dominate the world market is analyzed and the answer is that the western civilization will respond with its own integration under a form of transatlantic free trade zone. This trade zone will be formed by the U.S. and the E.U. and should dominate world trade. The future of capitalism is also addressed. What kind of capitalism or other economic system must be applied in order to keep the world population within the threshold of the Ecosystem is analyzed. The answer to this question will determine the future of civilization.

Chapter XVII synthesizes the issues impacting the future of civilization. Three bombs, population (P), ecological (E) and depletion of strategic resources (R), will lead in the near future (about the year 2050) to the death triangle of Civilization I and perhaps to the next generation of civilization. Different factors and strategies are offered in order to slow down or eventually prevent the decline of Civilization I.

Chapter XVIII defines the informated architecture of the Universe. So far, the physicists investigate the Universe with their classic matter-oriented techniques, which were available in the 20th century. However, the information wave of the 21st century brings in the importance of information-communication processes which “activate” matter and its relations with the environment. This approach is offered in this chapter; however, the complexity of a new model of the Universe is still too big for our tools to solve its puzzle."



20th Century Attempts To Define a Grand Model of Human Developmental History

Andrew Targowski:

"In Western historiography, six attempts were undertaken in the last century to define a grand model of human developmental history. These undertakings generated more criticism than applause, and the Polish study is not widely known to the historical community.


The German philosopher Oswald Spengler published a study The Decline of the West (1932), in which he reflects the pessimistic atmosphere of Germany after World War I. Spengler maintained that history has a natural development in which every culture is a distinct organic form that grows, matures, and decays. He insisted that civilizations are independent from external influences. He predicted a phase of “Caesarism” in the future development of the Western Culture, which he believed was in its last stage.


The English historian Arnold Toynbee published his greatest work in the twelve-volume A Study of History (1957). He compared the history of 26 different civilizations, every one of which presumably follows a similar pattern of evolution through a cyclical pattern of growth, maturity, and decay. He believed that societies thrive best in response to challenges and that a society’s most important task is to create a religion. He was less anxious than Spengler with characterizing civilizations, and more concerned with the criteria by which they are to be determined. He stressed religious and philosophical factors as guiding civilizations. Withal, he never defined “civilization” clearly. Though he saw the Western civilization to be in its decay phase, he saw hope for the future formation of one spiritually-oriented world community.


The Polish historian Feliks Koneczny wrote three books on the theory of civilizations: On the Plurality of Civilizations (1962), For an Order in History (1977), and History Laws (1982). His works on civilizations were never published in communistic (then Stalinist) Poland. Koneczny, who published 173 works, was an empirical theoretician who discerned (in contrast to Spengler’s a priori model) that there is no one linear history of mankind. He perceived seven major civilizations and examined their common laws. A civilization for him is a regime of collective life. His main inquiry was to find factors differentiating civilizations. These are named Quincunx: truth, goodness, beauty, health, and prosperity. Also the Triple Law (family law, inheritance law, and property law) differentiates civilizations. Human attitudes toward the Quincunx and laws are the key to understanding the civilization process. He was against the idea of cycles of civilizations and formulated two laws of civilizations. According to the first law, each civilization has a cause and purpose. The second law states that to endure, each civilization must harmonize interrelations among categories of existence and laws. Otherwise, a civilization may vanish.

Mergers between civilizations lead to chaos, disintegration, and decay, since civilizations may have opposing attitudes toward categories of existence and the Triple Law. Toynbee, in a preface to the English edition of On the Plurality of Civilizations, judged highly Koneczny’s contributions and called him “indomitable,” because the Polish historian wrote his last works during the German occupation of Poland, when he found himself in very poor conditions.


Russian-born Pitirim Sorokin, professor at Harvard, in his Social and Culture Dynamics (1937), quantified all conceivable components of a culture from Greco-Roman to Western. He collected data spanning a period of 2,500 years and discovered a pattern of recurrent fluctuation between “sensate” and “ideational” value systems:

• During a sensate period, life is controlled by a materialistic worldview, and economic and scientific activities blossom, particularly during the “active” phase. During the “passive” phase, hedonistic behavior prevails, and in the final “cynical” phase the sensate mentality negates everything, including itself. • During an ideational period, life is controlled by spirituality and moves from the “ascetic” phase to the “active” (expansionistic) phase, and finally degenerates into the “fideism” phase (a desperate effort to sustain the faith by means of official persecutions).

• Occasionally, a harmonious combination of the best elements of both types may occur. Sorokin calls these happy periods “idealistic,” and they are characterized by a balance of faith, reason, and empiricism (Greece during the age of Socrates and Europe during the Renaissance are examples of this type.) Other mixed types of periods do not demonstrate this agreeable integration.

• These fluctuations of value systems are, according to Sorokin, controlled by two principles:

1. The principle of “immanent self-determination,” which means that a socio-cultural system unfolds according to its inherited potentialities. Although external factors can impact the development of the system, they cannot change its fundamental nature.

2. The principle of “limits,” which states that growth cannot last forever, since sooner or later it exhausts its creativity and begins to wane. According to Richard (1996), several scholars attempted to replicate Sorokin’s findings. Results were mixed, but no one recommended abandonment of his general theory.

Sorokin wrote his theory about 50 years ago when he argued that we in the West had entered a sensate period, in which cynicism is the dominant theme. We had also entered a period of “transition and crisis,” marked by the international conflicts, social pathology and so forth. Sorokin’s approach is very useful in analyzing world events; however, it is not applied by him to define or classify civilizations. He criticizes Toynbee’s classification of civilizations, which he says were “dumps of cultural phenomena mistaken for vast socio-cultural systems……..vast pseudo-systems of civilizations, taken out of an enormous mass of other cultural complexes without any uniform fundamentum divisionis, on the basis of different and somehow indefinite criteria” — a procedure both illogical and unscientific (Wilkinson, 1996).

Later, Toynbee revised his list of civilizations (1961) and Sorokin agreed with the new classification. Sorokin perceived a civilization as “a cultural field where a multitude of vast and small cultural systems and congeries — partly mutually harmonious, partly neutral, partly contradictory — coexists” (Sorokin, 1950, p. 213).

Sorokin was not a civilizationist and his units of study are not civilizations, but he was the founding president of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations, and he has been given considerable attention by members of the ISCSC.


Alfred Louis Kroeber, the doyen of American anthropology, was interested in (among other topics) historical synthesis at the world level, particularly in the history of civilized societies, both ancient and modern.

The basis of Kroeber’s point of view is the natural history of culture, with strong emphasis on:

a) humanistic factors, particularly silent ones,

b) classification of cultures, and

c) culture as a phenomenon.

His book The Nature of Culture (1952) is the main presentation of his ideas on these topics. In his famous work Configurations of Culture Growth (1944), he analyzes cultures as anthropologically complex entities but not significantly different.

From the civilizationist’s point of view the most interesting book is Culture, a Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952), co-authored by him and Clyde Kluckhohn. In this book, the authors provide a very broad review of different definitions of culture and civilizations used in different countries. They define culture as “a product; is historical; includes ideas, patterns, and values; is selective; is learned, is based upon symbols, and is an abstraction from behavior and the product of behavior.” In respect to civilization, the authors identify civilization with the objective technological and informational activities of society, but culture with subjective religion, philosophy, and art. T


The French historian Fernand Braudel was a “structuralist” who perceived human development to occur in three historical structures (“measures of time”): the quasi-immobile structure (la longue duree), the intermediate scale of “conjectures” (rarely longer than a few generations), and the rapid time-scale of individual events. Each was applied in one of the three parts of La Mediterranee (1949). In his book A History of Civilizations (1987), he contrasts his own approach to history to the “over-simple theories” of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee.

He assumes that the history of human development is the history of civilization. A student should learn history as a whole, as only this whole is a civilization. Civilization for him is a process rather than a temporarily stabilized construct. It is a structure of transformational streams in a realm of daily activities of human life. He perceives one civilization as a human continuum or, depending upon the context, he may delimit hundreds of civilizations (e.g., “Roman civilization” or “industrial civilization”). He also, like Koneczny, developed his triple structure idea during World War II while he was a prisoner in Germany.


Rushton Coulborn, in his book The Origin of Civilized Societies (1959), debates a very difficult question concerning origins of civilized societies and addresses two questions:

1) Is there a distinction between civilized and primitive societies?

2) Were civilized societies of single or multiple origin?

He reserved the term “civilized” for the large societies and the term “civilization” for their high culture considered abstractly (he was a student of A.L. Kroeber). He found five of the first seven primary civilized societies in river valleys (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian, Andean, Chinese societies), one on a small island (Cretan society) and another in a tropical forest (Middle American society). Among factors creating these societies, he perceived the following: warmer climate, settlement, creation of religion by the settlers, which led to the creation and integration of these societies, change of leadership during migrations from more to less dangerous locations, adaptation to water supplies, and establishment of a new religion based upon some parts of old religion or brought by newcomers with charismatic leaders (e.g., the Spaniards colonizing America). The most intriguing part of the author’s method is that he applies comparisons among these civilized societies, which show some analogies and some differences.

For example, he defined one distinction between civilized and primitive societies which is “perfectly clear and is not only quantitative: civilized societies are all subject to a cyclical movement of rise and fall in the course of their development, but no similar movements occur in the development of primitive societies.” From this author’s 21st-century perspective, cyclical development is controlled by growing cognition of a given society, which learns how to survive and develop itself.


Carroll Quigley, in his The Evolution of Civilizations (1961), analyzes mechanisms of civilization rise and fall, claiming that a process of change is neither rigid nor single in any society, but rather that each civilization is a confused congeries of such processes in all types of human activities. Furthermore, he insists that to recognize one decisive factor in this process is not a description of reality. He also criticizes approaches to periodizations of history, offering seven stages of human development in just the millennium 950-1950 (mixture, gestation, expansion, age of conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion), and divides each stage into seven levels (intellectual, religious outlook, social group, economic control, economic organization, political, military) — two more than Toynbee’s.

Matthew Melko, in his book The Nature of Civilizations (1969), defines some elements of a basic model of civilizations, such as their components (outlook, aesthetics, society, economics, government, international) and their developmental stages (crystallization, transition, complete disintegration, ossification [a freezing at a crystal stage]) as well as developmental macro-phases of feudal system, state system, and imperial system, which he analyzes separately from stages. He thinks that civilizations are large and complex cultures which can control their environments. Civilizations may have different levels of cultural integration, but each of them has a basic pattern (of government, economy, war) that allows them to be distinguished from each other. Melko did not characterize any particular civilization. He recognized the civilizations’ ability to have transformations and conflicts. His strong contribution is in providing an interesting model of civilization development through three macro-phases.

Later, Melko (2008) provides a very interesting question: “Are civilizations real or simply reifications?” And answers as follows: “They are reifications (visible-invisible entities) based upon cultural and transactional observations, somewhat in the sense that Europe or Indian Ocean are reifications. All have geographical reality but depend for their identity on consensus.”

David Wilkinson (1987) proposes for current times to analyze only one central civilization, not several. For him, civilizations are not cultural groups but rather socio-political groups or poly-cultures. His civilizations are social units, larger than states, integrated by political interest. Wilkinson insists that 13 major civilizations evolved in the last 3,500 years into a Central Civilization, which today has transformed into a single global civilization. This process began in 1500 B.C., when Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations merged.

Later, the central civilization was swallowing other civilizations at different phases, such as

  1. Near Eastern (1500-500 B.C.),
  2. Greco-Roman (500 B.C.-500 A.D.),

$Medieval (500-1500 A.D.), $Western (1500-2000 A.D.), and

  1. Global (2000-present).

Of course, penetration of ideas, people, goods, and so forth among civilizations takes place and influences internal dynamics of each one. However, particularly after September 11, 2001, the boundaries of different autonomous civilizations are well seen, and the civilization super-layer of the global civilization is well perceived in all paths of mainstream human development."


The International Society for Comparative Study of Civilizations

Andrew Targowski:

"The ISCSC tried several times in the 1970s and 1980s to generate discussions on civilizations’ classification, their origin and spatial and temporal boundaries. About 56 researchers offered their views on these topics in a post-conference book The Boundaries of Civilizations in Space and Time, edited by Melko and Scott (1987). As a result, we read “comments to comments,” with a lack of clear agreement on most issues, except for a definition of civilization as a large and complex culture (super-culture) with a history. This definition supports the Anglo-French-American view of civilization as a monolithic model.

Lee D. Snyder (1999), in his major book Macro History - A Theoretical Approach To Comparative World History, which appeared by the end of the 20th century, had a chance to synthesize contributions of many 20th-century historians and scientists who made sense of world history.

The author argues that the largest historic framework is a “culture-system,” called a culture or civilization by many. However, his basic unit of study is the Historic Cycle of 300 to 400 years, when macro- and micro-history can be analyzed within a framework of five dimensions: economic, sociopolitical, intellectual (insight, spiritual aspect, subjective side, ideas, “culture”), geographic, and expressive (art, literature, and music). Since his book is rather on world macro-history than on civilization, the author is mostly preoccupied with the timing of the historic cycle and how it is influenced by these five dimensions of culture system. He is innovative in defining the role of an individual in a culture-system.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (2001) defines “a civilization” as an area or period distinguished, in the mind of the person using the term, by striking continuities in ways of life and thought and feelings. At a further level, the word “civilization” denotes a process of collective self-differentiation from a world characterized implicitly or explicitly as “barbaric” or “savage” or “primitive.” Societies which have achieved such self-differentiation can be called “civilized.” In recognizing a civilization, the quoted author puts strong emphasis on the criterion of geography, since civilizing, according to him, means transforming the environment for their own ends. Hence, he is fascinated with such civilizations as Small-Islands civilizations, Atlantic civilization, and Pacific civilization."


The World-Systems_Theory Approach

Andrew Targowski:

"A discussion on the role of civilization in human development at the end of the 20th century looked to be saturated with jeu le mot which led nowhere. Immanuel Wallerstein understood this very well and offered the world-system concept as a new approach in analyzing human development. In The Modern World-System (1974), he offered a tool to recognize what is the most useful interpretation of what happened historically. In his interpretation, the “units of analysis” are “world-systems,” which means something other than the modern nation-state, something larger than the nation-state, and something that was defined by the boundaries of an effective, ongoing division of labor. He was concerned about the special dimension of a world-system; hence, he later offered Einstein’s Time-Space concept to keep “historical systems’” issues. When he was working on this new approach, it was a time of Cold War and the rise of computer, management and political systems applications (e.g., PERT technique, analyzing only main events (“world-systems”) of a given project to find a critical path to determine the success or failure of the whole project. One such “world-system” was, in the mentioned period, NATO or “capitalism,” which was winning against “communism.” Today we can add to them the European Union, NAFTA, the Internet, the World Trade Organization, “geopolitics” (Moczulski, 2000), and so forth. A world-system implies the hierarchical existence of a world core, semi-periphery, and periphery, which reflects the old issue of North versus South (Poverty War) or West versus East (Cold War). Of course, while this approach is a useful tool, it cannot substitute the issues of civilization dynamics, governing human development at the small-scale, grass-roots level.

Wallerstein considers the accepted concepts of civilization only useful for a long-term, large-scale analysis of social change. For a short-term study, ‘world-systems” are more useful units of analysis.

The world-systems analysis and synthesis became a popular approach, which is expanded by Christopher Chase-Dunn and Thomas D. Hall in their book Rise and Demise, Comparing World-Systems (1997).

The authors’ goal is to trace the transformation of “modes of accumulation”

  1. from “kin-based” (based on “normative” social cohesion)
  2. to “tributary” (where “organized coercion of labor” predominates)
  3. to “capitalist” and “socialist” world-systems.

David Wilkinson (1995) offers again a very interesting idea that “civilizations” are “world-systems,” particularly his unique central civilization. To a degree he is right, but not all civilizations are “world-systems.” Nowadays, we could classify only global civilization and Western civilization as world-systems, which rule the world through their critical paths. Lauren Benton (1996) rejects the world-system concept as the “master narrative,” because it is more important to understand social experience."


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