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world-systems analysis

  A materialist approach to the study of social change developed by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1984a). The approach builds upon three research traditions: the study of dependence; the Annales school; and Marxist theory and practice (see historical materialism). The product is a unidisciplinary study of society combining economic, political and social aspects with history in a holistic historical social science. The main application of this approach to geography has been in political geography (Flint and Shelley, 1996; Taylor and Flint, 1999).

Wallerstein argues that historically there have only been three basic ways in which societies have been organized to sustain production and reproduction, which he terms modes of production. The reciprocal-lineage mode describes a society in which production is largely differentiated by age and gender and exchange is simply reciprocal. The redistributive-tributary mode occurs when a society is class-based, with production carried or by a large majority of agriculturists who pay tribute to a small ruling class. The capitalist mode of production is also class-based but the distinguishing characteristic is ceaseless capital accumulation operating through a market logic where prices and wages are set through supply and demand mechanisms (Chase-Dunn, 1989) (see capitalism; neo-classical economics).

To discover which mode prevails in any society one must first define the real bounds of that society, as indicated by the division of labour in production. There are, therefore, just three types of society: mini-systems encompassing the reciprocal-lineage mode; world-empires defined by the redistributive-tributary mode; and world-economies which are capitalist (see form of economic integration; scale). The latter two describe societies whose divisions of labour are larger than any one local grouping and so are designated \'world-systems\'. There have been \'countless\' mini-systems in the evolution of humankind, and numerous world-empires since the Neolithic Revolution but only one successful capital-expanding world-economy, which originated in Europe after 1450 and spread to cover the whole world by about 1900. This is the modern world-system. Related work on premodern systems has attempted to be both more specific with particular concern for patterns of Eurasian development (Abu-Lughod, 1989) and more general by producing an overview of the rise and demise of all types of system (Chase-Dunn and Hall, 1997). This wider work has led to a major debate on the nature of world-systems (Frank and Gills, 1993).

World-systems analysis of the current situation treats our world as a single entity, the capitalist world-economy or modern world-system (the two terms are synonymous in world-systems analysis). The primary message of this approach is, therefore, that any meaningful study of social change cannot proceed country by country, but must incorporate the whole world-system. This is the single-society assumption which replaces the multiple-society assumption of most social science. In world-systems terms the latter commit the fundamental error of developmentalism (Taylor, 1989a). Wallerstein identifies this error as being dominant in liberal studies of development and in orthodox Marxist analyses, both of which envisage individual countries progressing through stages (see rostow model). In world-systems analysis countries do not develop autonomously but rather they have trajectories through the space-time entity, the modern world-system, which is the scale at which development unfolds.

The capitalist world-economy has three fundamental structural features. First, there is one world market, the logic of which permeates economic decisions throughout the system (cf. globalization). Second, there is a multiple-state system in which no one state is able to dominate totally; it is this political competition which gives economic decision-makers a room for manoeuvre which is not available in unitary world-empires. Finally, there is a three-tier structure of stratification throughout the system which prevents polarization by the existence of middle groupings between the extremes. One representation of this structure is to be found in the spatial organization of the world-economy where Wallerstein adds a semi-periphery category between the commonly recognized core and periphery (see core-periphery model). The semi-periphery is political in nature, as a stabilizing force between the economic-geographical extremes. It plays a key role in the dynamics of the world-economy, since it is in the semi-periphery where the most acute class struggle occurs, particularly when it becomes the focus of periodic restructuring, as represented by Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. In Wallerstein\'s scheme, core and periphery are not geographically static but are continually changing, with a few selected countries moving up and down through the semi-periphery. Furthermore this process does not occur at a constant rate. Wallerstein recognizes that the goal of ceaseless accumulation produces consecutive periods of stagnation and growth. Long waves (Kondratieff cycles and logistic curves) are interpreted as the basic rhythm of our world-system (Wallerstein, 1984b), with the stagnation providing the necessary conditions for restructuring the world-economy, heavily involving the semi-periphery .

The capitalist world-economy is defined concretely by its integrated and hierarchical division of labour. This operates through myriad interlocking commodity chains which connect every point of initial extraction of raw material to every final point of consumption (Gereffi and Korzeniewicz, 1994). Each chain is made up of numerous nodes of production where value is added to the commodity on its way up the chain. The social relations at each node will vary depending on the roles of the four basic institutions of the system at the node (Wallerstein, 1984a). These institutions are households, classes, peoples and states, which reproduce labour, capital, consent and order, respectively. The operation of these institutions varies immensely between the core, semi-periphery and periphery to reproduce uneven development.

Finally, since Wallerstein (1983) claims to be following \'the spirit of Marx if not the letter\', it is important to identify his differences with orthodox Marxism. As well as the error of developmentalism, there are three other key differences.

First, in terms of mode of production, Wallerstein uses a broader definition, resulting in his identification of capitalism not being reliant on the existence of \'free labour\'. Hence, both \'feudal-like\' social relations which have existed in parts of the \'Third World\' and \'socialist-like\' social relations which have existed in the \'Second World\' are both deemed to have been part of a single division of labour which is the capitalist world-system (Wallerstein, 1979; Chase-Dunn, 1982).

Second, Wallerstein proposes an alternative \'meta-history\' which is also related to his identification of fewer modes of production. Orthodox Marxists share with liberals a progressive theory of history, so that, for instance, the transition from feudalism to capitalism is interpreted by both as a victory of \'advanced\' bourgeois forces over \'backward\' feudal forces. In stark contrast, Wallerstein identifies this transition as a regression, in that capitalism was the European, feudal ruling classes\' solution to the crisis of their world-system — feudal Europe. The ruling class remained largely intact as the mode of production changed to provide new means of exploitation (Wallerstein, 1983).

Third, Wallerstein (1991a) interprets the cultural dimension (notably the faith in progress), not as a superstructure, but as the \'underside\' of the system. This geoculture is the more opaque part of the modern world-system and is therefore more difficult to analyse. World hegemony has been the main tool used to unravel geoculture (Taylor, 1996a, 1996b).

Wallerstein (1991b) has been especially concerned with the contemporary \'crisis of the sciences\', in particular in terms of the future of social science (Wallerstein et al., 1996). This is integral to his interpretation of future transition derived from his meta-history: Wallerstein is at one with Marxist analysis in not view capitalism as eternal. In world-systems analysis, the \'rhythm\' of the system is accompanied by secular trends which are asymptotic and, as these run their course, so the world-economy enters its generalized crisis phase. According to Wallerstein (1983) we are just entering this phase. The next transition will be towards either a more egalitarian system which we may term \'socialism\' or a new mode of production will again be invented to perpetuate inequalities (Taylor, 1996a, ch. 6). World-systems analysis was created as a contribution towards making the former more likely but the future remains to be won. (PJT)

References Abu-Lughod, J. 1989: Before European hegemony: the world system  AD 1250-1350. New York: Oxford University Press. Chase-Dunn, C., ed., 1982: Socialist states in the world-system. Beverly Hills: Sage. Chase-Dunn, C. 1989: Global formation. Oxford: Blackwell. Chase-Dunn, C. and Hall, T.D. 1997: Rise and demise: comparing world-systems. Boulder: Westview. Flint, C. and Shelley, F.M. 1996: Structure, agency and context: the contributions of geography to world-systems analysis. Sociological Inquiry 66: 494-5 08. Frank, A.G. and Gills, B.K. eds, 1993: The world system: five hundred years or five thousand? London: Routledge. Gereffi, G. and Korzeniewicz, M. eds, 1994: Commodity chains and global capitalism. Westport: Praeger. Polanyi, K. 1944: The great transformation. Boston : Beacon Press. Taylor, P.J. 1989a: The error of developmentalism in human geography. In R. Walford and D. Gregory, eds, New horizons in human geography. London: Macmillan. Taylor, P.J. 1996a The way the modern world works: world hegemony to world impasse. Chichester: Wiley. Taylor, P.J. 1996b: What\'s modern about the modern world-system? Introducing ordinary modernity through world hegemony. Review of International Political Economy 3: 260-86; Taylor, P.J. and Flint, C. 1999: Political geography: world-economy, nation-state and locality, 4th edn. London: Longman. Wallerstein, I. 1974: The modern world system. Capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world-economy in the sixteenth century. New York: Academic Press. Wallerstein, I. 1979: The capitalist world-economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wallerstein, I. 1980: The modern world system II. Mercantilism and the consolidation of the European world-economy, 1600-1750. New York: Academic Press. Wallerstein, I. 1983: Historical capitalism. London: Verso. Wallerstein, I. 1984a: The politics of the world-economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wallerstein, I. 1984b: Long waves as capitalist process. Review VII: 4: 559-76. Wallerstein, I. 1991a: Geopolitics and geoculture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wallerstein, I. 1991b: Unthinking social science. The limits of nineteenth century paradigms. Cambridge: Polity Press. Wallerstein, I. et al. 1996: Open the social sciences. Stanford: Stan ford University Press.

Suggested Reading Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997). Hall, T.D. ed. 1996: Special section. The wor ld-system perspective: a small sample from a large universe. Sociological Inquiry 66: 440-508. Taylor, P.J. 1989b: The world-systems project. In R.J. Johnston and P.J. Taylor, eds, A world in crisis? Geographical perspectives. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Taylor (1996a). Wallerstein (1983).



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