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World Systems Theory Essay

3408 words - 14 pages

World Systems TheoryThe world-systems perspective is a strategy for explainingsocial change that focuses on whole intersocietal systems. The main insight is that important interaction networks (trade, alliances, conflict, etc.) weave polities and cultures together since the beginning of human social evolution, so the explaining of change needs to take intersocietal systems (world-systems) as the units that "develop."The intellectual history of world-systems theory has roots in classical sociology, Marxian revolutionary theory, geopolitical strategizing, and theories of social evolution. But in explicit form, the world-systems perspective emerged only in the 1970s when Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein began to formulate the concepts and narrate the analytic history of the modern world-system.This entry uses an intentionally inclusive definition of "world-systems/world systems theory" (with and without the hyphen). The hyphen emphasizes the idea of the whole system, the point being that all the human interaction networks small and large, from the household to global trade, constitute the world-system. It is not just a matter of "international relations" or global-scale institutions such as the World Bank. Rather at the present time it is all the people of the Earth and all their cultural, economic, and political institutions and the interactions and connections among them. This said, the hyphen has also come to connote a degree of loyalty to Wallerstein's approach. Other versions often drop the hyphen. Hyphen or not, the world(-)systems approach has long been far more internally differentiated than most of its critics have understood.The world-systems perspective looks at human institutions over long periods of time and employs the spatial scale required for comprehending whole interaction systems. Single societies have always interacted in consequential ways with neighboring societies, so intersocietal interaction must be studied to understand social change. This does not mean that all the important processes causing social change are intersocietal but, rather, that enough of them are so that it is usually disastrous to ignore intersocietal relations.The world-systems perspective is neither Eurocentric nor core-centric, at least in principle. The main idea is simple: Human interaction networks have been increasing in spatial scale for millennia as new technologies of communications and transportation have been developed. Since the emergence of oceangoing transportation in the fifteenth century, the multicentric Afroeurasian system incorporated the Western Hemisphere. Before the incorporation of the Americas into the Afroeurasian system, there were many local and regional world-systems (intersocietal networks). Most of these became inserted into the expandingEuropean-centered system largely by force, and their populations were mobilized to supply labor for a colonial economy that was repeatedly reorganized by the changing...

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