Please view explanation and answer below.ArticleGlobalization and the sociologyof Immanuel Wallerstein: Acritical appraisalInternational Sociology1–23© The Author(s) 2011Reprints and permission: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/0268580910393372iss.sagepub.comWilliam I RobinsonUniversity of California at Santa Barbara, USAAbstractBy the turn of the 21st century the concept of globalization had earned its place in the socialsciences and debate turned more squarely to the theoretical significance of globalization. Yet notall scholars were happy with the notion of globalization. Some claim that is merely a new namefor earlier theories and concepts. Among those who reject new paradigmatic thinking on thecurrent age is Immanuel Wallerstein, the world-renowned sociologist and ‘father’ of the worldsystem paradigm. This article is intended as an appraisal of Wallerstein’s œuvre in the contextof the debate on global transformations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and from thevantage point of the present author’s own critical globalization perspective. The first three partssummarize and assess Wallerstein’s theoretical system and his many contributions to macro,historical and comparative sociology, to development studies and international political economy.The fourth discusses Wallerstein’s assessment of the evolution of the world capitalist system inrecent decades, including his views on the concept of globalization, and the fifth focuses on earlierand more recent critical appraisals of his work, including the present author’s own, in light of therecent transformations in world capitalism identified with globalization.Keywordsdevelopment, globalization, history of sociology, social change, sociological theoryMost would agree that if we are to understand the 21st-century social world we mustcome to grips with the concept of globalization.! The term first became popularized in the1980s. The 1990s saw raging debates on the usefulness of the concept for the social sciences and humanities. By the new century the concept had clearly earned its place anddebate turned more squarely to the theoretical significance of globalization. Yet not allCorresponding author:William I Robinson, University of California, Santa Barbara Campus, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgInternational Sociologyscholars are happy with the notion of globalization. Some claim that it is old wine pouredinto a new bottle, merely a new name for earlier theories and concepts. Certainly theworld has experienced dramatic changes since Immanuel Wallerstein published in 1974the first volume in his seminal trilogy, The Modern World-System. But not all believe thatthese changes signal any sort of qualitative transformation in the system of world capitalism that merits new theoretical claims.Among those who reject new paradigmatic thinking on the current age is ImmanuelWallerstein, one of the most renowned sociologists and who is identified as the ‘father’ ofthe world-system paradigm. This article is intended as an appraisal of Wallerstein’s œuvrein the context of the debate on global transformations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. What is the explanatory purchase of this oeuvre to our understanding of contemporary 21st-century world affairs, specifically, to systemic level transformations cominginto focus one decade into the new century? The first three parts summarize Wallstein’stheoretical system and his many contributions to macro, historical and comparative sociology, to development studies and international political economy, and assess these contributions from what I have termed a critical globalization perspective (Robinson, 2008).The fourth discusses Wallerstein’s assessment of evolution of the world capitalist systemin recent decades, including his views on the concept of globalization, and the fifth section focuses on earlier and more recent critical appraisals of his work, including my own,in light of the recent transformations in world capitalism identified with globalization.Reinvigorating historical sociologySome see the world-systems paradigm as a ‘precursor’ to globalization theories (Waters,2001). World-system theory, however, started out not as a theory of globalization but ofdevelopment. In the late 1950s, the field of development was dominated by the modernization school, which came under attack by dependency theories and other radical ThirdWorld approaches to international inequalities. By the late 1970s, world-system theory hadbecome established as an alternative perspective from which to examine issues of development and world inequalities (see e.g. Roberts and Hite, 2000; So, 1990). Wallerstein’scolleague the late Giovanni Arrighi observed that ‘world-systems analysis as a distinctivesociological paradigm emerged at least 15 years before the use of globalization as a signifier that blazed across the headlines and exploded as a subject of academic research andpublication’ (Arrighi, 2005: 33). The paradigm did indeed come of age in the 1970s and1980s. Yet what is distinctive to world-systems theory is not that it as been around longerthan more recent globalization studies. Rather, this paradigm – and certainly Wallersteinhimself – tends to view globalization not as a recent phenomenon but as virtually synonymous with the birth and spread of world capitalism, circa 1500. Indeed, Wallerstein iscredited for having reinvigorated historical sociology. If one of the hallmarks (and in myview, strengths) of the world-system paradigm is its deeply historical focus, it also represents the problematic nature of the paradigm if it is seen as a theory of globalization.One of the key issues in the globalization debate, and one that cuts to one of the underlying ontological issues in globalization studies, is when does globalization begin? Whatis the time dimension of the process? How a theory answers this question will shape –even determine – what we understand when we speak of globalization, or if the term – andRobinson3the process of change in historical structures that the term is assumed to explicate – isworthwhile, or simply superfluous and misleading. We can identify three broad approachesto the temporal question of globalization – a process that dates back to the dawn of history,with a sudden recent acceleration; a process coterminous with the spread and development of capitalism over the past 500 years; and a recent phenomenon associated withsocial change of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The world-system paradigm clearlyargues the second of these. In fact, a number of world-system theorists suggested in the1990s that to talk of globalization was merely to reinvent the wheel (see later). Wallersteinhimself does not see anything new in globalization. ‘The proponents of world-systemsanalysis’, states Wallerstein, have been talking about globalization since long before theword was invented – not, however, as something new but as something that has been basicto the modern world-system ever since it began in the sixteenth century’ (Wallerstein,2004a: x). My own view, albeit briefly, is that the current period marks a qualitatively newepoch in the ongoing evolution of world capitalism, one that involves certain discontinuities and qualitatively novel dimensions that cannot be explained within the world-systemsparadigm. If globalization simply means the only geographic extension of material andcultural exchanges then it has been going on for thousands of years, and if it means thespread and development of capitalism, including that which the capitalist system implies,then it has been going on for 500+ years. In my own conception, I reserve the term globalization to refer to the novel changes associated with the past few decades. These changesinvolve, to reiterate, qualitatively new dimensions that the world-system paradigm cannotaccount for given the imminence of its core concepts, as I discuss later, albeit briefly.!World-systems theory shares with several other approaches to globalization, mostnotably the global capitalism approach with which I myself am identified (Robinson,2004a, 2007), a critique of capitalism as an expansionary system that has come to encompass the entire world over the past 500 years. These distinct theories share a commongenealogy that traces back to Marx and his critique of capitalism, and in turn grew out ofa long tradition in Marxist and radical analyses of world capitalism dating back to thewritings of Lenin, Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg and other early 20th-century theorists ofimperialism (see, inter alia, Brewer, 1991; Worsley, 1977). But accounts of world capitalism among radical academics and political actors began to diverge in the post-SecondWorld War period. In particular, more traditionally oriented approaches followed Marx’sview that capitalism would develop the forces of production worldwide as it spread,while others saw the backwardness and underdevelopment of some regions of the worldas the alter-ego of the advancement and development of others. A number of schoolsemerged that argued that it was the very nature and dynamics of world capitalism thatresulted in global inequalities among countries and regions, bringing about the development of some and the underdevelopment of others. This view was first put forward by thestructural school of Raul Prebisch and the United Nations Economic Commissionfor Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by more radical and explicitlyneo-Marxist dependency theorists – or the ‘dependentistas’ – of the 1960s and 1970s(Chilcote, 1984). At the same time, radical intellectuals and political leaders from otherparts of the Third World were reaching similar conclusions, among them, Samir Aminand Walter Rodney, inspired in part by the Latin Americans (see e.g. Amin, 1974;Rodney, 1981; Worsley, 1977).4International SociologyIt was in this milieu that Wallerstein forged his distinctive world-system theory, aspart of a broader intellectual exchange with Amin and others, including Andre GunderFrank and Terrence Hopkins. Wallerstein had himself lived in France and Africa andbegan his career as an Africanist (on Wallerstein’s intellectual biography, see Goldfrank,2000). His first major work, Africa: The Politics of Independence, became an academicbestseller. But what launched the world-system paradigm was the publication in 1974 ofthe first volume of his magnus opus, The Modern World-System. The first volume, underthe subtitle Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy inthe Sixteenth Century, lays out the basic postulates of the theory. It was followed by asecond volume in 1980, subtitled Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the EuropeanWorld Economy, 1600–1750, and then a third volume in 1988, The Second Era of GreatExpansion of the Capitalist World Economy, 1730–1840s. Wallerstein is a remarkablyprolific writer and has produced dozens of books and hundreds of articles and essays.More recent works have continued to elaborate and refine the world-system paradigm,and to apply it to an array of contemporary and historical phenomena (see esp. Wallerstein,2000c, a collection of essays spanning some 40 years; see also, inter alia, Wallerstein,1979, 1998, 2004a). Other recent works have focused on matters of method, epistemology and ontology of social science, particularly with his call for a unification of the disciplines and of history into a historical social science (Wallerstein, 2001, 2004b).If the radical literature on development was one major influence on Wallerstein’sideas, the second was the French Annales school that reached its zenith in the post-Second World War years, and in particular, the thought of its leading figures, FernandBraudel. Braudel had sought to develop ‘total’ or ‘global’ history. By this he meant anapproach to history that observes the totality of the field of social forces, so that historyis all-embracing and emphasizes the interconnectedness of what conventional approachesconsider to be distinct histories. But Braudel also means by ‘global history’ the synthesisof history and social sciences through an emphasis on the longue durée (the long term),what Braudel alternatively referred to as ‘structural time’ in human affairs. The longuedurée is a historical process in which all change is slow, involving constant repetition andrecurring cycles. It is only through the study of the long term that the totality, the deepestlayers of social life, the ‘subterranean history’, and the continuing structures of historicalreality are revealed.Wallerstein has pushed further this fusion of history and social science, calling for ahistorical social science that would reunify history with sociology, the other social sciences and the humanities, and that would operate on a global scale. Two of the hallmarksof world-system approaches are the transdisciplinary nature of much research and thedeeply historical perspective it brings to bear on research. In 1976, Wallerstein and several of his colleagues established the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies,Historical Systems, and Civilization at the State University of New York at Binghamton.According to the Center’s founding statement:[The Center] exists to engage in the analysis of large-scale social change over long periods ofhistorical time. We operate on two assumptions. One is that there is no structure that is nothistorical. In order to understand a structure one must not only know its genesis and its context;one must also assume that its form and its substance are constantly evolving. The secondRobinson5assumption is that no sequence of events in time is structureless, that is, fortuitous. Every eventoccurs within existing structures, and is affected by its constraints. Every event creates part ofthe context of future events. Of course, there are ruptures in structures which representfundamental change. But such ruptures too are explicable in terms of the state of the structures.We therefore do not separate the study of historical sequence and the study of structuralrelationships.1The modern world-systemWorld-system theory as elaborated by Wallerstein starts with the proposition that theappropriate unit of analysis for macrosocial inquiry in the modern world is neither class,nor state/society, or country, but the larger historical system, in which these categoriesare located. The defining boundaries of a historical system are those within which thesystem and the people within it are regularly reproduced by means of some kind of ongoing division of labor. Central to the idea of a historical system is the division of labor – acore concept in the social sciences. The existence of a division of labor implies specialized work roles among individuals and groups along with the coordination or synchronization of these different roles, or labor activities. Hence, the division of labor naturallyforms the outer boundaries of any social order in that it sets the boundaries for and socialrelations and interdependencies.In human history, Wallerstein argues, there have been three known forms of historicalsystems: mini-systems, and world-systems of two kinds – world-empires and worldeconomies. Mini-systems largely correspond to the pre-agricultural era. They are selfcontained systems that tend to be small in space and brief in time. They are generallysubsistence economies, governed by the logic of reciprocity in exchange. Mini-systemswere highly homogeneous in terms of cultural and governing structures and they split upwhen they became too large. World-systems do not exhibit this homogeneity. ForWallerstein, a world-system is an economic entity not circumscribed by political or cultural boundaries, and is a self-contained social system. World-empires were the dominant form of historical systems from the earliest civilizations until about 1500 ad. Thedefining characteristic is a single political center or structure encompassing an extensivedivision of labor and a wide range of cultural patterns. World-empires operated throughthe extraction of tribute, or surplus, from otherwise locally self-administered communities of producers that was passed upward to the center and redistributed to a network ofofficials. In turn, a world-economy involves vast, uneven chains of integrated productionstructures brought together through a complex division of labor and extensive commercial exchange. This may be true of a world-empire as well.For Wallerstein, the boundaries of a world-system are formed by the extent and reachof a given social division of labor. For instance, the Roman Empire was a world-system,in that all of the lands and peoples encompassed within its realms participated in a singleempire-wide division of labor, and were connected by specialized regional roles and economic contributions, and trading networks among them. In Wallerstein’s own words, aworld-system is a ‘spatial/temporal zone which cuts across many political and culturalunits, one that represents an integrated zone of activity and institutions which obey certain systemic rules’ (Wallerstein, 2004a: 17). In turn, Wallerstein distinguished between6International Sociologytwo types of world-systems. One is world-empires, in which there is a single political boundary.Hence the Roman world-system was a world-empire. In distinction, a world-economy is aworld-system that has multiple political centers rather than a single political center or boundary. The peculiar strength of the modern or capitalist world-system is that it has nottransformed into a world-empire, which would imply a single political system or center.The capitalist world-economy that emerged from circa 1500 and on expanded to coverthe entire globe, absorbing in the process all existing mini-systems and world-empires,establishing market and production networks that eventually brought all peoples aroundthe world into its logic and into a single worldwide structure.! Hence, by the late 19th century there was but one historical system that had come to encompass the entire globe, thecapitalist world-system. It is in this sense that world-system theory can be seen as a theoryof globalization even if its principal adherents reject the term globalization (see later).!As Wallerstein lays out in Volume I of The Modern World-System, the modern worldsystem as a capitalist world-system came into being during the ‘long sixteenth century’of 1450–1640 out of the general crisis of European feudalism that began in the 14th century. ‘Structures are those coral reefs of human relations which have a stable existenceover relatively long periods of time’, states Wallerstein. ‘But structures too are born,develop, and die . . . the study of social change . . . should be restricted to the study ofchanges in those phenomena which are most durable’ (1974: 3). He then goes on to proclaim two ‘great watersheds in the history of man . . . the so-called Neolithic or agricultural revolution. The other great watershed is the creation of the modern world’ (1974: 3).Prior to the creation of this European-centered world-system there were a number ofworld-economies and world-empires around the planet, including the Mediterraneanworld-economy, the Indian Ocean–Red Sea complex, the Chinese region, the CentralAsian land mass from Mongolia to Russia and the Baltic area, among others (Wallerstein,1974: 17). But the European world-economy did away with these other world-economiesand world-empires through its own expansion. Emerging capitalist elites (merchants,financiers, political elites) from Portugal, later Spain, Holland, England, France and elsewhere, expanded outward in pursuit of new economic opportunities. This expansion wasmade possible by the development of strong states in the ‘core’ of the emerging capitalistworld-economy. In Western Europe, centralized monarchies replaced feudal fiefs, whichwere then replaced by modern nation-states. These states defended the interests of theirelite classes and played a key role in constructing the structures of the modern worldsystem. They first colonized the Americas and economically incorporated EasternEurope into a larger single Atlantic world-economy. With each expansion new regionswere brought into the system. The system continued to expand, eventually incorporatingthe entire planet and becoming, between 1815 and 1917, a truly ‘global enterprise’. Thiscapitalist world-system is characterized by economic dominance of the planet, not byany single political or cultural system (but see later comments on Wallerstein’s notion ofgeoculture and my commentary).Structures and processes of the modern world-systemA key structure of the capitalist world-system becomes the division of the world intothree great regions, or hierarchically organized tiers. The first is the core, or the powerfulRobinson7and developed centers of the system, original comprised of Western Europe and laterexpanded to include the United States and Japan. The second is the periphery – thoseregions that have been forcibly subordinated to the core through colonialism or othermeans, and in the formative years of the capitalist world-system would include LatinAmerica, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Third is the semi-periphery, comprised ofthose states and regions that were previously in the core and are moving down in thishierarchy, such as the Iberian countries following their 16th-century heyday, or those thatwere previously in the periphery and are moving up, such as Italy in earlier centuries,Russia following the Soviet revolution, or more recently, India, China, Brazil, SouthAfrica and such ‘Asian Tigers’ as South Korea and Taiwan. ‘The ability of a particularstate to remain in the core sector is not beyond challenge’, asserts Wallerstein. ‘Thehounds are ever to the hares for the position of top dog. Indeed, it may well be that in thiskind of system it is not structurally possible to avoid, over a long period of historical time,a circulation of the elites in the sense that the particular country that is dominant at a giventime tends to be replaced in this role sooner or later by another country’ (1974: 350).!With this trimodal structure involving three distinct regions: center (or core),periphery and semi-periphery, Wallerstein is borrowing from, and expanding on, earlier theories of global political economy. The concept of core and periphery was firstdeveloped in the 1950s by Raul Prebisch, the director of the Economic Commission forLatin America (ELCA). Dependency theory posited a bimodal model of core, or metropolitan states that had historically conquered and colonized regions that becamesatellites, or peripheral areas of world capitalism. But with the addition of the semiperiphery in Wallerstein’s construct this bimodal structure becomes trimodal. Thesemi-periphery is seen as occupying an intermediate place between the core and theperiphery. Within the division of labor, the core and the periphery are involved in anunequal exchange of high-wage products (e.g. manufactures) and low-wage products(e.g. raw materials). For its part, the semi-periphery stands in between in terms of itswage levels and the products it trades, and seeks to trade in both directions. But forWallerstein the semi-periphery’s role goes beyond a distinct middle position in theinternational division of labor. It also plays a political role in the system, divertingpressures from the periphery in the same way that a middle class may defuse tensionsbetween workers and capitalists:The semiperiphery . . . is not an artifice of statistical cutting points, nor is it a residual category.The semiperiphery is a necessary structural element in a world-economy. These areas play arole parallel to that played, mutatis mutandi, by middle-trading groups in an empire. They arecollection points of vital skills that are often politically unpopular. These middle areas (likemiddle groups in an empire) partially deflect the political pressures which groups primarilylocated in peripheral areas might otherwise direct against core states and the groups whichoperate within and through their state machineries. (1974: 349–50)The world-system thus has an international division of labor distinguished by core,periphery and semi-periphery, each playing a functionally specific role within the system.! But more specifically, Wallerstein terms this an axial division of labor. What hemeans by this is that core-like (e.g. high-wage, capital-intensity and skill level) andperipheral production processes (e.g. raw material production, low capital-intensity or8International Sociologyskill level) are bound together in the world-system and that peripheral productionprocesses are concentrated in a geographic periphery and core production processes areconcentrated in a geographic core. The theory’s insistence that this axial division of labormust take a geographical/territorial expression has been critiqued by others coming froma globalization perspective (see later). What is crucial with regard to globalization theoryis that in Wallerstein’s construct the division of labor is necessarily geographical andinternational, so that different geographical regions and different countries occupy different positions within the world division of labor. In a world-system ‘there is extensivedivision of labor. This division is not merely functional – that is, occupational – but geographical. That is to say, the range of economic tasks is not evenly distributed throughoutthe world-system’ (1974: 349).A core component of Wallerstein’s theory is the generation and appropriation of surpluses throughout this system. Surpluses tend to move from peripheral and semiperipheral to core regions, so that the natural functioning of the system – that is, worldaccumulation – results in the enrichment and development of the core and the impoverishment and underdevelopment of the periphery.! Here we see how important the conceptof the division of labor is to world-system theory. The peripheral regions are consignedto producing raw materials (agricultural goods and mined products) for the world economy while the core industrializes and produces manufactured goods. Thus an international division of labor and a world trade system is created that favors the core. Here wehave a theory that provides an explanation for global inequalities and, as many havepointed out, a potent antidote to the modernization theories that proliferated in the 1950sand 1960s.Another structure immanent to the world-system, according to Wallerstein, is different methods of labor control in different zones of this world-economy. Wage labor developed in the Northwest European ‘core’ of the system, while coerced forms of labordeveloped in ‘peripheral’ zones. In particular, slave labor and what Wallerstein calls‘coerced cash-crop labor’ (a form of serfdom in which peasants are forced to produce forthe world market) developed in the Americas and in Eastern Europe. Mixed forms oflabor control developed in the ‘semi-periphery’, among them share-cropping and tenantfarming. Because the notion of distinct modes of labor control, in particular wage laborin the core and coerced labor in the periphery, is so central to Wallerstein’s thesis (seeesp. 1974: 127) and is contrasted to contrary propositions in other globalization theories,it is worth quoting Wallerstein at some length on the matter:. . . these occupational categories were not randomly distributed either geographically orethnically within the burgeoning world-economy. After some false starts, the picture rapidlyevolved of a slave class of African origins located in the Western Hemisphere, a ‘serf’ classdivided into two segments: a major one in Eastern Europe and a smaller one of AmericanIndians in the Western Hemisphere. The peasants of western and southern Europe were for themost part ‘tenants.’ The wage-workers were almost all west Europeans. . . . each mode of laborcontrol is best suited for particular types of production. . . . The world-economy was basedprecisely on the assumption that there were in fact these three zones and that they did in facthave different modes of labor control. Were this not so, it would not have been possible toassure the kind of flow of the surplus which enabled the capitalist system to come into existence.(1974: 87)Robinson9As mentioned, a world-economy does not have a single political center as does aworld-empire; hence the inter-state system becomes another immanent feature of thecapitalist world-system. ‘Political empires are a primitive means of economic domination’, claims Wallerstein. ‘It is the social achievement of the modern world, if you will,to have invented the technology that makes it possible to increase the flow of the surplusfrom the lower strata to the upper strata, from the periphery to the center, from the majority to the minority, by eliminating the “waste: of too cumbersome a political superstructure’ (1974: 15–16).! If the world becomes divided into a three-tiered hierarchy ofcore–semi-periphery–periphery, in turn, the core states are themselves hierarchicallyorganized around a ‘hegemon’. This hegemon is a leading core state that exercises itspolitical domination and control over the system and imposes rules and norms that bringit disproportionate benefits. There have been a succession of hegemons in the history ofthe modern world-system, from Spain to the United Provinces of the Netherlands, laterGreat Britain, and then the United States in the 20th century (although Wallerstein doesnot consider Spain to have been a full-blown hegemon).A constant theme in Wallerstein’s more recent writings, and in literature from theworld-system paradigm more generally, is the decline of US hegemony and a renewedworld struggle for hegemonic succession (see e.g. Arrighi and Silver, 1999). Much conflict in modern world history is seen as wars among core powers over hegemonic status,or wars of conquest by the core over the periphery. Thus world-system theory offers anexplanation for international conflict and for such themes as power and balance offorces in the international system. In a capitalist world-economy, states Wallerstein,‘core states . . . [are] intertwined in a state of constant economic and military tension,competing for the privilege to exploit (and weakening the state machineries of) peripheral areas, and permitting certain entities to play a specialized, intermediary role as semiperipheral powers’ (1974: 197). In this, Wallerstein is elaborating on the classical theoryof imperialism, which saw the inter-state rivalries and conflicts among rich countries as astruggle for control over world markets and colonial sources of labor and raw materials,and in concurrence with a number of related strands in international relations theory.Two other structural characteristics of the world-system are cyclical rhythms and seculartrends in the world-economy as a whole. There are at least two types of cyclical rhythms.One is known as Kondratieff cycles, named after Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff,who in the 1920s first wrote about these cycles, involving first expansion and then acontraction in the world-economy, lasting some 45–50 years. Beyond world-system theory, most political economists who study world capitalism have observed and studiedthese Kondratieff cycles, and most concur with Wallerstein’s observation that the lastA-phase (the period of expansion) began circa 1945 and ended circa 1972/3, and that theworld entered a B-phase (period of contraction) in 1972/3 (see e.g. Mandel, 1978 ).There is, however, considerable debate over how to interpret the period of stagnation thatbegan in the early 1970s. We cannot visit this debate here other than to note that it isrelated to globalization insofar as a number of theorists see the economic turmoil of thelate 20th century as related to the processes associated with globalization. Wallersteinhas taken a particular position in this regard that I discuss later. The second set of cyclicalrhythms is what world-systems theorists call ‘logistics’ cycles, which last approximately250 years, first identified by Francois Simiand in the 1930s. Wallerstein has argued that10International Sociologya logistics cycle that ran from 1450 to 1750 involved the birth and consolidation of thecapitalist world-economy (1980, esp. Ch. 1). Meanwhile…
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