“The emergence of predominant capitalism: the long 16th century”
Modern World-System I: Capitalist
Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth
Century, by Immanuel Wallerstein,
v. 7-19-11 1568 words
Christopher Chase-Dunn, Sociology, University of California-Riverside
The new edition of Immanuel Wallerstein’s Volume 1 of The Modern World-System, originally published in 1974, is more beautiful than the original both because of its cover, and because 37 years of subsequent scholarship and world historical events have demonstrated the scientific and practical utility of the theoretical approach developed in this seminal work. If you care about human social change you need to read this book. If you have already read it, you should read it again, as I just have.
The world-systems perspective is a strategy for explaining institutional change that focuses on whole interpolity systems rather than single polities. The tendency in sociological theory has been to think of single national societies as whole systems. This has led to many errors, because the idea of a system usually implies closure and that the most important processes are endogenous. National societies (both their states and their nations) have emerged over the last few centuries to become the strongest socially constructed identities and organizations in the modern world, but they have never been whole systems. They have always existed in a larger context of important interaction networks (trade, warfare, long-distance communication) that have greatly shaped events and social change. Well before the emergence of globalization in the popular consciousness the world-systems perspective developed by Wallerstein, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank and Giovanni Arrighi, focused on the world economy and the system of interacting polities, rather than on single national societies. This has now become taken-for-granted, but when Volume 1 was written this was not so. This book helped to change the intellectual landscape and to make all the subsequent world-systems research possible.
Prologue responds to several of the major criticisms that have been made of
Volume 1. Critics said that the book was too economistic, ignoring politics and
culture. Marxists said that Wallerstein ignored class relations. Wallerstein’s
approach to world history is evolutionary, though he does not use that word. He
compares regions and national societies with each other within the same time
periods, but he also compares them with earlier and later instances in order to
comprehend the long-term trajectories of social change and to explain the
qualitative transformation in systemic logic that began to emerge in
Why was it
analysis of East-West similarities and differences that account for the rise of
predominant capitalism in Europe and the continued predominance of the
tributary logic in
We now know much
critics who say that Wallerstein ignores class struggle must not have read the
book. Not only does he carefully analyze both rural and urban class relations,
but he provides a fascinating analysis of the global class structure in the
long 16th century (pp. 86-87), thereby deflating those in the
“global capitalism” school who say that his “state-centric” analysis ignores
system-wide class relations. His analysis of “coerced cash-crop labor” (the use
of slave and serf labor to produce commodities for the world market) is
fundamental to the most important element of the world-systems perspective –
that modern capitalism has required an intersocietal hierarchy, an unequal
division of labor between a system-wide core and periphery (p. 91). Wallerstein
added depth to the analysis of core/periphery relations when he realized that
formal colonialism was not the only way in which an unequal international
division of labor had been structured. This had already been theorized by the
dependency theorists using the idea of neo-colonialism, but Wallerstein
discovered a similar case in the way that an unequal division of labor between
Arrighi, Giovanni 1994 The Long Twentieth Century
______________ 2007 Adam Smith in
______________ Takeshi Hamashita and Mark Selden (eds.) 2003 The Resurgence of East
Chase-Dunn, Christopher 1998 Global Formation: Structures of the World-Economy. Rowman and
Chase-Dunn, Christopher and Thomas D. Hall 1997 Rise and Demise: Comparing World-Systems.
Goldfrank, Walter L. 2000 “Paradigm regained?: the rules of Wallerstein’s world-system
method.” In Giovanni Arrighi and Walter L. Goldfrank (eds.) 2000 Festschrift for
Immanuel Wallerstein. Journal of World-Systems Research, Vols. 6, #2: 150-195.
Moore, Jason 2003 “The Modern World-System as environmental history? Ecology and the
rise of capitalism” Theory and Society 32,3: 307-77.
 The best critical appraisal of Wallerstein’s method is Goldfrank (2000).
As Wallerstein notes in Chapter 1, the first wave was the European effort to
 Jason Moore (2003) characterizes Wallerstein’s analytic narrative as an environmental history of the emergence of capitalism.
 But on p. 49 and 52 Wallerstein discusses the relationship between the Portuguese state and Genoese finance capital that is the basis of Arrighi’s first “systemic cycle of accumulation.”