PEWS02 Conference at UCR Asks "Is The United States in Decline?"
The United States is currently the world’s only military and economic superpower. But the September 11th terrorist attacks, unhappiness with U.S. policies among both allies and challengers, and growing discontent with U.S.-led corporate globalization may be signs that the nation’s superpower status may not last. The place of the United States in the global system of power is one of the main problems that was examined on May 3 and 4 by sociologists, political scientists, historians, anthropologists, economists and geographers who came from all over the world to the University of California, Riverside.
The conference, sponsored by UCR’s Institute for Research on World Systems (IROWS), opened with a keynote address by Yale University’s Immanuel Wallerstein entitled “The United States in Decline?”
Wallerstein is considered by many to be the most influential social scientist of his generation. “His conceptual approach to world history has informed the scholarly debate about globalization,” said Christopher Chase-Dunn, organizer of the conference and a distinguished professor of sociology at UCR. “No other sociologist in the late 20th- early 21st centuries has had such a wide and deep impact in both social sciences and the humanities.”
Wallerstein is the co-founder, with Terence Hopkins, of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University, and is now a senior research scholar at Yale. He is also past president of the International Sociological Association and has published
more than 30 books and over 200 articles and book chapters.
The Political Economy of World-Systems 2002 Conference was organized by Chase-Dunn, director of IROWS at UCR; Eugene Anderson, professor of Anthropology at UCR; and Jonathan Friedman, professor of Anthropology at the University of Lund, in Sweden.
The conference examined the rise and decline of great powers in the modern world-system, especially comparing the current era with the earlier Dutch and British periods of international ascendance and decline. Several sessions were devoted to the study of world power in the premodern world-systems, as well as discussions on global elites, indigenous people, the environment, globalization of labor, terrorism and East/West issues.
Papers given at the conference are available at
The Political Economy of World-Systems conference is an annual spring interdisciplinary event that has been held every year since 1977. This year the conference presented the research of forty-five historians, anthropologists, political scientists, geographers, economists, and sociologists from Korea, Japan, Germany, England, Mexico and Sweden as well as other U.S. regions who are studying global social change in comparative and historical perspective.
The theme of the conference was “Hegemonic Declines: Present and Past” and papers scrutinized the contemporary position and trajectory of the United States in the larger world-system in comparison with the rise and decline of earlier great powers.
The possible futures of the global system were illuminated by careful study of its past and comparisons with power processes in the Bronze and Iron ages.
The conference was well attended by UCR faculty and students, scholars from other University of California campuses, as well as Bill Foreman, a history teacher from Valley View High School in Moreno Valley who brought some of his students to hear Wallerstein speak.
While introducing Wallerstein’s keynote address Chase-Dunn described a note exchanged between Wallerstein and Terence Hopkins at the first Political Economy of World-Systems conference at American University in Washington, DC in 1977. Hopkins had written: “I just noticed: United Provinces (of the Netherlands), United Kingdom (of Great Britain), United States. Think there is a theory here?” Wallerstein wrote back: “Yes. They each used a less overtly “autocratic” style to create a single state. But I wouldn’t overdo it.”
The last session of the PEWS02 conference examined the question of resistance to corporate globalization and the future of the contemporary world-system. Students of the world-systems approach analyze the history of world capitalism as a struggle between the rich and powerful on the one hand, and progressive antisystemic movements on the other. Terry Boswell, a sociologist from Emory University, presented a paper entitled “Hegemonic decline and revolution: when the world is up for grabs.” Because he is suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) Boswell is in a wheel chair and has difficulty speaking. Boswell’s paper announced that he aspires to be the Stephen Hawking of sociology. Hawking, who also has ALS, has had a distinguished career in theoretical physics and cosmology despite his ailment. Boswell participated in the lively discussion with the audience with the help of his wife, Roberta Shulte, who helped him communicate his comments. When session presider Albert Bergesen suggested that Al Queda might be considered an antisystemic movement, Boswell was vehement in his rejection of this notion. And, in the last word of the conference Boswell asserted that the popular movement against corporate globalization mobilized 30,000 people in Seattle (in 1999) and 200,000 people in Genoa in 2000. But September 11 stopped the movement, at least for now.