Article

World-Systems Analysis

Georgi Derluguian and Kevan Harris

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online July 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0066
World-Systems Analysis

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World-systems analysis (WSA) emerged in the stormy period between worldwide waves of protest in 1968 and the onset of transformative global economic crisis in 1973. Its founders Immanuel Wallerstein and Terence Hopkins, young sociologists of contemporary Africa in New York’s elite Columbia University, studied and worked with major social theorists of the previous generation: Karl Polanyi, Margaret Mead, C. Wright Mills, Daniel Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Paul Lazarsfeld. WSA attacked modernization theory, the reigning political and intellectual orthodoxy of the era, which had predicted and prescribed the progression of all poorer countries and peoples toward the values and institutions of liberal capitalism, American style. Wallerstein and Hopkins argued that poorer countries and peoples were no less “modern” than wealthier ones. They became poor and dominated as a result of the same process of global formation, beginning with the 16th-century “discoveries,” through which selected Western countries obtained their wealth, advanced capabilities, and colonial empires. Undoing the benign assumptions of modernization as universally beneficial progress, WSA pointed to European imperialism as the main source of underdevelopment. Perceived backwardness derives not from old and stagnant local traditions, but rather from the axial division of labor between world zones unequal in wealth, status, and power: core, periphery, and semiperiphery in between. Expanding income, advanced skills, and citizenship rights in the core were historically supported by various forms of slavery and cheap labor across peripheral areas. WSA thus took neo-Marxian theories of capitalism, including arguments about its future demise, to the global plane. The hallmark of WSA is in shifting the principal unit of analysis from separately studied and case-independent “national” countries to the whole world analyzed as a single system containing various regions, markets, and states. WSA focused on globality long before globalization became fashionable. The radical “unthinking” of capitalist logic and “common sense” is the main claim of WSA. After a brief period of great popularity in the late 1970s, WSA was sidelined mainly for political reasons. The global financial upheaval of 2008, however, brought renewed interest in WSA. Its leading scholars, particularly Giovanni Arrighi and his collaborators, had anticipated this crisis by examining earlier instances of economic and geopolitical turbulence arising from world capitalist consolidations and transitional phases of systemic chaos. Other scholars also advanced WSA theories regarding ancient and medieval world-systems; environmental and economic geography; global cities; modern literature in the space of world creativity; the formation and undoing of labor markets; antisystemic movements; the specific mechanisms of capitalist operations such as commodity chains, race, and ethnic conflicts; the collapse of the Soviet empire and its outcomes; and the rise of East Asian industrialism. Moreover, the epistemology of knowledge became a special line of argument pointing to the blinders and institutional barriers that WSA seeks to overcome. In the early 21st century, world-systems analysis extends intellectual alliances in several directions, particularly with historical and political sociology, heterodox economics, and the political economy of culture.

Article.  9434 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

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