Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A world-system perspective on the social sciences by Immanuel Wallerstein (1976)

After wasting the reader's time with several pages of babble backed by no data (apparently he does have data in his books, just not here), Wallerstein comes to his point. All previous theories of development assumed that each society functioned separately as its own unit. He wants to consider as a unit any system that is tied together either economically ("world-economy") or politically ("world-empire"). He calls these two "world-systems" - obnoxiously hyphenating his term that he coined. He claims that today, the entire planet is one economic unit to be analyzed together (p. 173).

Then he gets down to business:
"There are three separate intellectual questions that may be asked about this modern world-system. The first is the explanation of its genesis: how is it that the sixteenth-century European world-economy survived, unlike previous such systems. The second question is how such a system, once consolidated, operates. The third is what are the basic secular trends of a capitalist system, and therefore what will account for its eventual decline as a social system." (pp. 173-174)
He takes mercy on the reader by offering relatively short answers, given the immensity of the questions. Blah, blah, blah, development of capitalism. Then he comes to the point:
"The operation of the system, once established, revolved around two basic dichotomies. One was the dichotomy of class, bourgeois versus proletarian...
The other basic dichotomy was the spatial hierarchy of economic specialization, core versus periphery, in which there was an appropriation of surplus from the producers of low-wage (but high supervision), low-profit, low-capital intensive goods by the producers of high-wage (but low supervision), high- profit, high-capital intensive, so-called ‘unequal exchange’." (pp. 174-175)
Obviously, he got some of his ideas from Karl Marx. Next paragraph:
"The genius, if you will, of the capitalist system, is the interweaving of these two channels of exploitation which overlap but are not identical and create the cultural and political complexities (and obscurities) of the system. Among other things, it has made it possible to respond to the politico-economic pres- sures of cyclical economic crises by rearranging spatial hierarchies without significantly impairing class hierarchies.

The mechanism by which the capitalist system ultimately resolves its recurrent cyclical down-turns is expansion: outward spatially, and internally in terms of the ‘freeing’ of the market – remember the basic ambivalence about the free market, good for the buyer and bad for the seller – via the steady proletarianization of semi-proletarian labour and the steady commercialization of semi-market-oriented land." (p. 175)
... And it's all trending toward crisis and then the proletariat will rise up and we all get a socialist world-government, which we must hyphenate because Wallerstein said so.

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