Immanuel Wallerstein  

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"Immanuel Wallerstein characterised the world system as a set of mechanisms, which redistributes surplus value from the periphery to the core. In his terminology, the core is the developed, industrialized part of the world, and the periphery is the "underdeveloped", typically raw materials-exporting, poor part of the world; the market being the means by which the core exploits the periphery." --Sholem Stein

"I do not believe there exists any social science that is not committed." --The Modern World-System vol. 1

"Can the West do without a demon? I doubt it at the moment. The West is facing a massive crisis ... This same confusion and self-doubt pervades the Islamic world."--The Decline of American Power (2003) by Immanuel Wallerstein

"Immanuel Wallerstein says for example that capitalism as an historical system "which started in 1450 will perhaps be no more by 2050" (Wallerstein 1993, p. 1; compare also Wallerstein 1992, pp. 25-26)." --The Social Philosophy of Ernest Gellner (1996) - page 574, John A. Hall, ‎Ian Charles Jarvie

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Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein (September 28, 1930 – August 31, 2019) was an American sociologist, economic historian and world-systems analyst, arguably best known for his development of the general approach in sociology which led to the emergence of his world-systems approach elaborated in The Modern World-System (4 vol.).


Wallerstein began as an expert of post-colonial African affairs, which he selected as the focus of his studies after attending international youth conferences in 1951 and 1952. His publications were almost exclusively devoted to this until the early 1970s, when he began to distinguish himself as a historian and theorist of the global capitalist economy on a macroscopic level. His early criticism of global capitalism and championship of "anti-systemic movements" have recently made him an éminence grise with the anti-globalization movement within and outside of the academic community, along with Noam Chomsky and Pierre Bourdieu.

His most important work, The Modern World-System, has appeared in four volumes since 1974. In it, Wallerstein draws on several intellectual influences:

  • Karl Marx, whom he follows in emphasizing underlying economic factors and their dominance over ideological factors in global politics, and whose economic thinking he has adopted with such ideas as the dichotomy between capital and labor. He also criticizes the traditional Marxian view of world economic development through stages such as feudalism and capitalism, and its belief in the accumulation of capital, dialectics, and more;
  • Dependency theory, most obviously its concepts of "core" and "periphery".

However, Wallerstein categorizes Frantz Fanon, Fernand Braudel, and Ilya Prigogine as the three individuals that have had the greatest impact "in modifying my line of argument (as opposed to deepening a parallel line of argument)." In The Essential Wallerstein, he chronologically lists the three individuals and describes their influence on his views:

  • Frantz Fanon: "Fanon represented for me the expression of the insistence by those disenfranchised by the modern world‑system that they have a voice, a vision, and a claim not merely to justice but to intellectual valuation."
  • Fernand Braudel: who had described the development and political implications of extensive networks of economic exchange in the European world between 1400 and 1800, "more than anyone else made me conscious of the central importance of the social construction of time and space and its impact on our analyses."
  • Ilya Prigogine: "Prigogine forced me to face the implications of a world in which certainties did not exist - but knowledge still did."

Wallerstein has also stated that another major influence on his work was the "world revolution" of 1968. He was on the faculty of Columbia University at the time of the student uprising there, and participated in a faculty committee that attempted to resolve the dispute. He has argued in several works that this revolution marked the end of "liberalism" as a viable ideology in the modern world system. He also argued that the end of the Cold War, rather than marking a triumph for liberalism, indicates that the current system has entered its 'end' phase; a period of crisis that will end only when it is replaced by another system. Wallerstein anticipated the growing importance of the North–South divide at a time when the main world conflict was the Cold War.

He has argued since 1980 that the United States is a "hegemon in decline". He was often mocked for making this claim during the 1990s, but since the Iraq War this argument has become more widespread. Overall, Wallerstein sees the development of the capitalist world economy as detrimental to a large proportion of the world's population. Similar to Marx, Wallerstein predicts that capitalism will be replaced by a socialist economy.

Wallerstein has both participated in and written about the World Social Forum.

See also

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