This particular approach to political analysis comes in three forms. First, the commonly called modern world system analysis is a theory of the international political economy rooted in a perspective which argues that since the rise of capitalism and the nation state in the sixteenth century global market forces, not domestic ones, have determined national economic development or underdevelopment. The structural form of this process, which has persisted over time, is one in which core manufacturing states dominate, exploit, and make dependent, peripheral (and sometimes semi‐peripheral) states which operate primarily as raw material producers for the core. In short, peripheral countries exist, and have always existed, to service the economies of core countries. World politics must be understood in terms of this unequal division of labour. Hence capitalism, rather than contributing to the development of the global periphery, ensures the ‘development of underdevelopment’. The theory does allow for dominant centres within the core. Examples would be Britain in the nineteenth century and the United States in the twentieth century.
Second, the theory of internal colonialism is in many ways an offshoot of the first. Here the stress is on the unequal division of labour, exploitation, and dependency within singleton core or peripheral countries. Internal colonialism is concerned with patterns of domestic territorial inequality and with the various ways (not just economic) a core, or centre region, controls and exploits a peripheral region or regions.
Thirdly, the centre–periphery framework has been employed by some analysts as an approach to central–local relations, alternative to the intergovernmentalist bias of the traditional literature. Here the emphasis is on the variety of mechanisms by which the political centre seeks to control, or manage, or avoid dealing with, the rest of the national territory (the periphery or peripheries). This certainly opens up the study of central–local relations and inserts a much‐needed concern with the centre. On the other hand, it suffers from a degree of uncertainty about the precise principal actor focus in the periphery.