Global Political Sociology and World-Systems

V 2-11-18 6996 words

Sakin Erin and Christopher Chase-Dunn

A chapter in the Cambridge New Handbook of Political Sociology edited by Cedric de Leon, Thomas Janoski, Isaac Martin and Joya Misra

Irows Working Paper #120 available at

Thanks to Catherine Desroches for translating this article into Latvian. Her translation is at


Abstract: The new global political sociology is a response to the growing awareness that humans have constructed an Earth-wide polity along with the global economic system. The disciplinary boundaries among the social scientists, especially between anthropology, sociology, political science, history and economics are formidable to the effort to comprehend and to explain global social change and world history. The world-systems perspective is a useful framework for global political sociology and for explaining political, economic and cultural globalization and the evolution of global governance.  We discuss the main conceptual issues and we review those studies that have utilized formal network analysis for studying the world-system.


World-systems analysis is a holistic and critical social science approach that proposes the study of social change focusing on whole systemic human interaction networks. The general theoretical approach is based on institutional materialism that is inspired by classical sociology and anthropology (Chase-Dunn and Lerro 2016).[1] The world-system perspective emerged in the 1960s and 1970s to explicate the nature of the core/periphery hierarchy over the last five centuries. Its originators were Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank and Giovanni Arrighi (Amin 1980a; Frank 1966, 1967 1969; Arrighi 1994; Wallerstein 2011[1974]). Wallerstein (2000:74) says:

We take the defining characteristic of a social system to be the existence within it of a division of labor, such that the various sectors or areas are dependent upon economic exchange with others for the smooth and continuous provisioning of the needs of the area.

According to Wallerstein’s formulation, whole historical social systems are clusters of individuals, organizations and polities that are systemically interconnected with one another.  These interaction networks have not always been global (Earth-wide). In the past, when transportation and communications technologies were less developed, world-systems were smaller (Wallerstein 2000:75-6). What makes a whole system is not the amount of space it encompasses but rather the degree of interconnectedness such that what happens in one place has large consequences for what happens in another place (see also Tilly 1984). When transportation and communication technologies limit long-distance interactions the consequences of events fall off with distance, and so whole systems are smaller. Only with the development of the capitalist world-economy did the modern world-system become global. A hierarchical division of labor emerged linking the European core states with their colonial empires in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. This global division of labor has been politically organized as a system of fighting and allying sovereign states in the core and a set of colonial empires. Waves of decolonization since the eighteenth century extended the system of theoretically sovereign states to the non-core.  In global political sociology the state is understood as an organization that claims jurisdiction over a territory. Nations are a form of collective identity or a solidarity similar in form to ethnicities, clans, and lineages. Nationalism refers to the sentiments and beliefs that constitute and reinforce a nation.

One Logic or Four?

Global political sociology recapitulates a long-standing debate between historians and social scientists regarding the advantages and dangers of emphasizing either systemic structures, on the one hand, versus particularity, uniqueness and conjunctural complexity on the other. Focusing on the global does not resolve this debate on way or the other, but a reasonable compromise can be based on the recognition that some aspects of human social change are, indeed, open-ended and conjunctural whereas other aspects are more systemic, structural and predictable.[2]

            Among the systemists there continue to be debates about the nature of systemic logics and how they may or may not have changed over time. Realist international relations theorists assume the existence of a timeless geopolitical power logic in which competing states try to conquer one another or keep from being conquered. Formalist economists see a timeless logic of competition among rational individuals to acquire valuables. Evolutionary Marxists see transformations of systemic logics based on normative integration constructed as kinship to institutionalized coercion in the tributary (state-based) modes of accumulation to capitalist accumulation based on the acquisition of profits from commodity production and financial transactions. World-system analysts have argued that underlying logic of the modern global system combines the geopolitics of the interstate system with the logic of capitalist accumulation (Chase-Dunn 1998: Chapter 7).[3] This formulation is based on the idea that the multipolar interstate system and the capitalist world-economy reproduce one another. The international migration of capital prevents world empire (global state formation) and nationalism and the system of competing states undercut political movements that challenge the rule of capital.

            Michael Mann (2016) contends that many important sociocultural developments that have shaped world history and prehistory have been conjectural accidents that are not predictable by theories of sociocultural evolution, though he admits that some developments are best understood as evolutionary (list both kinds in footnote). Mann’s work on modern social change 1986; 2004) applies his Weberian schema in which four institutional realms develop somewhat separately, with occasional important interactions with one another. The four realms are economics, politics, the military and ideology.  Mann explicitly denies that there is a single modern global system and his critiques of those he calls “hyperglobalists” are often trenchant. He prefers to describe the major institutional changes occurring in his four reams separately to produce his world historical narrative. His work is a valuable structural account of modern world history despite his refusal to see a systemic logic operating at the level of the whole world-system.

Core/Periphery Hierarchies

            The idea that there are system-wide socially structured hierarchies in whole world-systems is a central notion for world-systems analysis. The comparative and evolutionary version developed by Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) makes the issue of the existence or non-existence of a core/periphery hierarchy an empirical issue for each system based on the finding that some small-scale systems had very mild forms of core/periphery hierarchy (Chase-Dunn and Mann 199x).            The modern core is composed of a number of internally and externally strong states that are home to the headquarters of global firms and that have economies based on capital-intensive production using highly skilled labor. The contemporary core states are in Western Europe, North America and include Japan. The periphery consists of states that are internally and externally weak in which production consists of agricultural and mineral raw material exports and low-productivity agriculture. The periphery is composed of former colonies in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The semiperiphery is composed of two different kinds of states: small states with middle levels of development (e.g. South Korea, Israel; South Africa, Taiwan, etc.), and large states that include both developed and little-developed regions (e.g. China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, etc.).  There have always been hierarchical global commodity chains linking production processes into the transnational hierarchical division of labor that constitutes the core/periphery structure (Wallerstein and Hopkins 2000).

            The institutional basis and nature of core/periphery relations change over time, but they are always a mix of institutionalized political coercion and economic comparative advantages that undergird unequal exchange in which the core extracts resources from the non-core. Tributary empires extracted taxes and tribute from conquered territories and subaltern polities. Capitalist core states have obtained favorable terms of trade from formal colonialism and then from semimonopolization of products in which they have a comparative advantage and from foreign investment and financial centrality. The neo-colonial core/periphery hierarchy which has emerged following decolonization combines interstate clientelism with foreign investment and financial services to extract profits from the non-core. Technological rents and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and global banks are increasingly relied upon.

The Modern System

The modern world-system emerged in Europe and its colonies in the long 16th century between 1450 and 1640 CE (Wallerstein 2011). Though capitalism in many forms had existed since the Bronze Age, the modern system was the first whole network in which the capitalist mode of accumulation became predominant. The endless accumulation of capital, which is the primary principle around which capitalist accumulation is organized (Arrighi 1994), requires a world-economy that is based on exploitation, monopolization and unequal exchange. Military, political, and cultural forms of organization are used to successfully accumulate capital in a competitive and hierarchical system. In the fifteenth century Genoa and Portugal made an alliance based on this logic of accumulation that resulting in the emergence of the Europe-centered world-system (Arrighi 1994). The United Provinces of the Netherlands followed suit in the seventeenth century, emerging as a far reaching capitalist nation-state that joined characteristics of earlier capitalist city-states in a federal structure that facilitated the invention of joint stock companies, a stock exchange and a far reaching colonial empire based on profit-taking rather than tribute or taxation (Wallerstein 1984). A great struggle for global domination between the British and the French in the 18th century eventuated in the 19th century hegemony of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which was then followed, after another period of interimperial rivalry, by the 20th century hegemony of the United States.

According to Wallerstein, the modern world-system is different from earlier world-empires such as ancient Rome and China because no single state has conquered the whole world-economy and transformed into a world-empire. Instead, the core has remained organized as group of competing states in which hegemons have risen and fallen but no single state has taken over the whole system. The global capitalist class expanded their trade networks in search for much needed labor and raw materials, which led to the colonization of most of the rest of the world by Europeans. The modern world-system is structured as an hierarchical international division of labor that consists of three zones: the core, the semiperiphery, and the periphery. Andre Gunder Frank (1966) developed the idea of “the development of underdevelopment” to explain the reproduction of the core/periphery hierarchy. The periphery and the semiperiphery provide raw materials and cheap labor for the expanding production of the system, while at the same time it functions as a marketplace for the commodities produced in the core zone. The semiperiphery is a buffer zone between the core and periphery preventing the bifurcation of the system. Immanuel Wallerstein (2000) contends that the semiperiphery is essential for assuring the political stability of the system. The core/periphery hierarchy is one of the most important structures of the current world-system. In the modern world-system this structure has been reproduced over centuries despite upward and downward mobility of a few national societies. The basis of power in the current system is the concentration of innovations in new lead industries and in military and organizational technologies that affect the relative power and capacities of firms and states.

State-Centrism and Core/Periphery Hierarchy

            Core/periphery hierarchies have always been organized class structures as well as interpolity relations. Classes have been both regionally nested within national societies and transnational. Samir Amin (1980) produced a structural analysis of global classes long before the global capitalism hyperglobalists discovered the transnational capitalist and working classes.   And the core/periphery hierarchy is not just a tripartite stack of zones that contain states. There has always been a system-wide class structure in which both national and transnational class relations were important. There have been system-wide class structures in world-systems since the evolutionary emergence of class relations in complex chiefdoms. The theorists of a global stage of capitalism have disparaged the “state-centrism” of world-systems analysis along with other social theorists and observers that continue to see a world of disconnected national societies. The world-systems theorists were among the first to challenge the state-centric analysis of separate national societies as if each were on the moon. In the world-systems perspective polities (including states) are not all-encompassing and disconnected whole social systems. The state is an organization in field of social interactions that include other states and all the transnational interactions that cross state boundaries. Sovereignty is a legal theory about jurisdiction, not a true description of autonomous existence. State policies differ with respect to their efforts to attain autonomy, but all states in the system, including the core states, are heavily influenced by processes that are occurring in the larger system. The global class structure is intertwined with the interstate system, such that workers in the core states have a rather different relationship capital than do workers in the non-core. And this changes over time as the class struggle interacts with core/periphery relations. The primary sector of core workers were able to become included in the Keynesian developmental project after World War II but were “peripheralized” back into the precariat with the rise of the neoliberal globalization project.  National and transnational class relations have been and continue to be important for understanding the evolution of global capitalism (Robinson 2014). 

The evolution of global governance: political globalization

Although the world-system perspective emerged to comprehend the Europe-centered modern world-system since the sixteenth century CE, some scholars have expanded the theory to examine continuities with earlier periods (e.g. Frank and Gills 1993) or to compare the modern system with earlier regional systems (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997). These have interacted with theorists of global capitalism and international relations theory in political science to produce a new political sociology of world-systems that examines the evolution of world politics in the context of political and economic globalization.

As anthropologists and world historians have long noted, the scale and complexity of political organization has increased over the long run, albeit in waves. Figure 1 shows the territorial sizes of the largest polities in Europe and East Asia between 1500 BCE and 2010 CE.

Figure 1: Territorial Sizes of largest polities in Europe and East Asia (square megameters): 1500 BCE- 2010CE (Source Chase-Dunn et al 2015, Figure 6)

The recent decline in the sizes of the largest polities is due to the decolonization of the colonial empires, the demise traditional territorial empires, and the extension of the interstate system to the non-core. But the sizes of the modern hegemons have continued to increase (from the Dutch to the British to the U.S. hegemony, and so the long-term trend toward eventual global state formation has continued. The current decline of U.S. hegemony indicates the emergence of a new multipolar inter-regnum that will likely be followed by the rise of a new hegemon or global state formation.

The new political sociology needs to comprehend the long-term trends as well as recent developments in the evolution of the global polity. The modern world-system is somewhat similar to earlier regional world-systems in that there is a cycle of the rise and fall of powerful polities. The existing system of global governance is based on a mixture of institutions that developed within formerly separate regional international systems. In the 19th century the European international system merged with the system that had long existed in East Asia (Arrighi, Hamashita and Selden 2003; Chase-Dunn and Hall 2011).  The European Westphalian interstate system surrounded and engulfed the trade-tribute system of East Asia (Arrighi 2006). In the 20th century the last great wave of decolonization extended the system of sovereign national states to the rest of the non-core (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Waves of colonization and decolonization, 1415-1995 CE (Source: Henige 1970)

Thus did the system of colonial empires that had been a major structure of global governance since the rise of the West come to an end. But the institutional means by which core countries could dominate and exploit non-core countries did not end. Colonial structures were replaced by neocolonial institutions such as financial indebtedness and foreign direct investment. This neocolonial regime was organized after World War II around international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and what became the World Trade Organization. But the rise and fall of hegemonies that had long been a characteristic of the European system (Wallerstein 1984; Arrighi 1994) continued as the major structural basis of global governance. The British hegemony declined and the U.S. hegemony rose.

The rise and fall of hegemons intermittently supplies global regulation for the world-system, but the method of choosing leadership has been by means of a contest in which the winners of global wars become the hegemons. This is a form of leadership selection that humanity can no longer afford because of the development of weapons of mass destruction.

There was also a continuation of a trend that had begun with the Concert of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars – the emergence of both general and specialized international political organizations that began the formation of a world state.  The League of Nations was followed by the more substantial United Nations (U.N.). 

The long-term trends over the past two centuries have included the extension of national sovereignty to the Global South because of the decolonization movements (Figure 2 above), the growing size of the hegemon in the transition from the British to the U.S. hegemony (Figure 3 below; Chase-Dunn, Kwon, Lawrence and Inoue 2011) and the emergence of still-weak but strengthening global-level political institutions.  This has been a long-term process of political globalization in which global governance is becoming more centralized and more capacious because of the increasing relative size of the hegemon and the emergence of global proto-state organizations. Of course, there have also been counter-movements and periods in which the long-term trends reversed. We are in such a period now because U.S. hegemony is in decline[1] (Wallerstein 2003; Chase-Dunn, Kwon, Lawrence and Inoue 2011; Friedman 2017) and support for the United Nations is also in decline because the U.S. has been its main supporter.

      The current period is similar in many important ways to the period just before the outbreak of World War I. The hegemon is in decline and powerful potential challengers are emerging. In all earlier periods of this sort a World War among the contenders has settled the issue of who should be the next hegemon (Chase-Dunn and Podobnik 1995).  We can no longer afford to use this primitive form of leadership selection because a war among core states using weapons of mass destruction would probably be suicidal for humanity.  Thus the system of global governance must evolve an effective mechanism for managing uneven development and interstate conflicts without resort to major wars.  No single state is large enough to replace the United States in the role of hegemon. The system is moving toward a multipolar structure in which the U.S. hegemony is slowly declining and challengers are rising. In the past this has been a prelude to world war.  What is needed to prevent violent interimperial rivalry is a structure of global governance that can effectively resolve future conflicts without resort to violence (Chase-Dunn and Lerro 2008; Chase-Dunn and Inoue 2010). 

            But there are also several important differences between the current period and the period of decline of the British hegemony. Britain was never as economically large relative to the size of the whole world economy as the United States has been (see Figure 3). And Britain never had such a preponderance of military power. Even at the height of British hegemony there were other core states that had significant military power. Giovanni Arrighi (2006) noted that the period of British hegemonic decline (1870-1914) moved rather quickly toward conflictive interimperial rivalry because economic competitors such as Germany and Japan could develop powerful military capabilities that were used to challenge the British. The U.S. hegemony has been different in that the United States ended up as the single superpower after the demise of the Soviet Union. Some economic challengers (Japan and Germany) cannot easily play the military card because they are stuck with the consequences of having lost the last World War. This, and the immense size of the U.S. economy, will probably slow the process of hegemonic decline down compared to the rate of the British decline.  

And the decline of Britain took place during the transition from the coal energy regime to the oil energy regime (Podobnik 2006), whereas U.S. decline is occurring as the world approaches its peak production of fossil fuels and when global climate change is threatening to disrupt the world-system. These developments parallel, to some extent, what happened a century ago, but the likelihood of another “Age of Extremes” (Hobsbawm 1994) or a Malthusian correction such what occurred in the first half of the 20th century could be exacerbated by some new twists. The number of people on Earth was only 1.65 billion when the 20th century began, whereas at the beginning of the 21st century there were 6 billion. Moreover, fossil fuels were becoming less expensive as oil was replacing coal as the major source of energy. It was this use of inexpensive, but non-renewable, fossil energy that made the geometric expansion and industrialization of humanity possible.

Now we are facing global warming as a consequence of the spread and rapid expansion of industrial production and energy-intensive consumption. Energy prices have temporarily come down because of fracking and overproduction by countries that are dependent on oil exports, but the low hanging “ancient sunlight” in coal and oil has been picked. “Peak oil” is approaching.  “Clean coal” and controllable nuclear fusion remain dreams. The cost of energy will probably go up no matter how much is invested in new kinds of energy production.[3] None of the existing alternative technologies offer low cost energy of the kind that made the huge expansion possible. Many believe that overshoot has already occurred in terms of how many humans are alive, and how much energy is being used by some of them, especially those in the core. Adjusting to rising energy costs and dealing with the environmental degradation caused by industrial society will be difficult, and the longer it takes the harder it will become. Ecological problems are not new, but this time they are on a global scale. Peak oil and rising costs of other resources are likely to cause more resource wars that exacerbate the problems of global governance. The war in Iraq was both an instance of imperial over-reach and a resource war because the U.S. neoconservatives thought that they could prolong U.S. hegemony by controlling the global oil supply.  The Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions reached in December of 2015 is good news, but compliance will be difficult, especially for non-core countries and the Trump administration is threatening to ignore global warming.

And the British government still had a colonial empire that it could tax in order to support its military position whereas the shift from colonialism to clientelism (Go 2011) means that the U.S. can only legally tax its own citizens to support its global military preponderance. This may be seen a progress, but it is also a factor that is likely to result in the decline of the currently stable structure of global military power. 

Political globalization and the rise and fall of hegemons have been driven, in part, by a series of world revolutions – periods in which social movements, rebellions and revolutions within countries – have clustered in time.  We have studied the emergence of the New Global Left and now are giving attention to the nature of the New Global Right. The world revolution of 1917 included the Russian, Mexican and Chinese revolutions and the rise of organized social movements based on the labor movement and anti-imperialism. During the 1920s and the 1930s – the “age of extremes” -- fascist movements emerged in many countries.

Figure 3: Shares of World GDP (PPP), 1820-2006 CE [Source: Chase-Dunn, Kwon, Lawrence and Inoue 2011]

The New Global Right (NGR), like the New Global Left (NGL), is a complex conglomeration of movements. Radical Islam harkens back to a mythical golden age of god-given law in reaction to the perceived decadence of capitalist modernity. Neo-conservatives advocate the use of U.S. military superiority to guarantee continued access to inexpensive oil. Populist nationalists reject the universalism of neoliberalism and the multiculturalism of the global justice movement. They hark back to religious, racial and national golden ages and seek protection from immigrants and the poor of the Global South. Politicians mobilize support from those who have not benefited from neoliberal capitalist globalization, often using nationalist or racial imagery. The New Global Right is both a response to neoliberal capitalist globalization and to the New Global Left. And the New Global Left is increasingly responding to what many perceive to be the rise of 21st century fascism. The interesting world historical question is how the NGR is similar to and different from the Global Right that emerged out of the World Revolution of 1917 in the 1920s and 1930s. Fascism (nationalism on steroids) was a reaction to the crisis of global capitalism that occurred in the first half of the 20th century. Strong fascist parties and regimes emerged in several core and non-core countries (Goldfrank 1978), and there were even efforts to organize a fascist international. Fascist movements were driven in part by the threats posed by socialists, communists and anarchists. And, in turn, the popular fronts and united fronts that emerged on the left in the 1930s were partly a response to the threats posed by fascism.  The New Global Right is mainly populist nationalism now, but if another, deeper, global economic crisis emerges (which is likely) it could morph in to true fascism.

Formal Network Studies

The hierarchical structure of the world-system and its systemic boundaries can be empirically studied using formal (quantitative) social network methods. The method of formal network analysis is appropriate because world-system theory is based on interrelations among sets of actors in which both direct and indirect connections are important.  Perceiving the world-system as a global network of local and transnational interactions among individuals, organizations, states and international organizations (Wilkinson 1987, 1991) warrants the application of network methods to describe the system and to test hypotheses. In the following section we review research that has used formal network analyses to study the modern world-system.

 The world-system functions as a network of entities that are involved in a variety of different kinds of interactions. Social network science is a relatively young approach (Granovetter 1973, Wellman 1983). The application to world-system research dates back to David Snyder and Ed Kick’s (1979) study of world-system position and the economic growth of nation-states. The relational understanding of economic growth among nations has been central in the theories of the founding fathers of political economy (See Smith 1776 [1977]). Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage was premised on a concept of dyadic relations among pairs of nations. As such, it postulated that a nation will draw maximum benefit if it exchanges goods and services produced at a lower cost by another nation. In this dyadic exchange, the greatest goods will be optimized for the greatest number of people. The classical economists such as Smith and Ricardo did not contextualize exchanges between dyads of nations when developing this formulation. Dyadic exchanges occur within a complex structure of indirect connections. These complex structures of direct and indirect connections are the reality behind hierarchical core/periphery relations position in this global hierarchy has consequences for national development and is an important determinant of economic, political, and social welfare outcomes that tend to disadvantage the non-core. These structural consequences can be better captured by treating international and transnational relations as networks of direct and indirect ties.

A social network refers to connections among a set of entities, which can be individuals, nation-states, firms or other types of actors (Wasserman and Faust 1994). World-systems theory emphasizes the hierarchical positionality of global relations without offering ways to operationalize these concepts (Snyder and Kick 1979). Social network analysis (SNA) offers a way of empirically testing hypotheses about the consequences of positionality by means of its mathematical algorithms for deriving characteristics of whole networks and of network nodes from information about all the direct and indirect connections among nodes.  SNA provides a mechanism to explain how entities in social systems are connected to each other directly as well as how the disparate parts of the network can affect each other through indirect linkages (Borgatti et al 2013). Because of these advantages SNA has been used by a growing number of researchers for studying the world-system (Lloyd et al. 2009). 

The world-system studies applying SNA methods use network algorithms to assign countries and cities to their proper positions such in the core, the periphery and the semiperiphery. These methods portray the boundaries between these structural positions with a great accuracy and indicate whether or not these conceptual categories are empirically separate from one another (Arrighi and Drangel 1986) or are just labels for different positions on a continuous hierarchy (Chase-Dunn 1998: Chapter 10). The core/periphery structure in the SNA approach has its own unique concept. According to Borgatti and Everett (1999), the network core/periphery model is based on the notion the core nodes are connected to other core nodes in a maximal sense and they are only loosely connected to the periphery nodes by a cohesive. An SNA core/periphery structure reveals patterns of interaction among entities constituting the core and periphery and the extent to which advantages are accrued to the core by these connections.

The SNA studies of the world-system test the notion of structural hierarchy, but they also assess the unequal exchange relations between the zones and the extent to which there is mobility between zones. The most common method used is to identify roles and positions of each entity in a network of relations (Wasserman and Faust 1994, Borgatti et al. 2013). This approach proceeds from a relation or set of relations to predict the degree of similarity among nodes based on “equivalence criteria” assigning entities to equivalent groups or blocks (Lloyd et al. 2009). World-system studies using SNA employ two different approaches for identifying the role and position of a nation-state: structural equivalence, which uses the CONCOR network algorithm, and regular equivalence (structural isomorphism), which is associated with the REGE algorithm. These algorithms assume that a node’s position in set of relations should be defined by its connections with other nodes (Borgatti and Martin 1992). Structural equivalence is a very strict criterion, as it requires structurally equivalent nodes to have identical relationships with other nodes. In terms of countries, two nations would be structurally equivalent with one another if they have exactly the same trading partners. This approach is not useful for assessing the structure of the global system because the requirement of exact structural equivalence is almost never met (Smith and White 1992). Because of this SNA studies of the world-system usually use regular equivalence. In this case the U.S. and Belgium occupy the same position in the world economy even though they do not necessarily trade with the exactly the same nations.

The strict structural equivalence criterion was first used in Snyder and Kick’s (1979) classical block-model study, which analyzed the world-system structure using both economic and non-economic ties–trade flows, diplomatic relations, military interventions and conjoint treaty membership– among nations spanning 1960-1967 period to examine the structural positions of the whole system. Using CONCOR, they found that the structural core/periphery relationship was more evident in trade relations. Snyder and Kick discovered a more refined world-system structure in which there were three partitions within the semiperiphery and six within the periphery. They used their SNA-derived position measures in a cross-national regression to examine differences in rates of economic growth. Their OLS regression analysis showed that the differential economic growth among nations was attributable to their position in the world-system such that the core tended to be more grow more than the lower tiers. This contradicted the notion that linkages to the developed nations bring modernization and development. A more recent study using structural equivalence criterion (Kick and Davis 2001) confirms that the core primarily consists of Western industrial nations. 

Studies employing regular equivalence (Nemeth and Smith 1985 and Smith and White 1992) also analyze the core/semiperiphery/periphery structure and the extent to which there is mobility across these categories. Smith and White (1992) examined the trade data for industrially sophisticated commodities at three different time points, 1965, 1970, 1980. Their block model of regular equivalence yielded five different world zones: core, strong semiperiphery, weak semiperiphery, strong periphery and a weak periphery. Their results indicated that higher zones of the world-system produce capital intensive manufactured goods while lower zones produce labor intensive commodities. Their analysis of trade data for 1965 and 1980 revealed more upward mobility than downward mobility in the world division of labor (Smith and White 1992). Their findings implied that the categories of the world-system are more continuous than categorical. 

The most recent studies have a mix of results sometimes confirming the results of the earlier studies and at other times contradicting them. For example, Mahutga (2006) constructs five sets of block models that contain several zones: core, strong periphery, strong semiperiphery, weak semiperiphery, strong periphery and periphery. Analyzing economic data spanning 1965 to 2000, he concludes that the international division of labor based on the unequal exchange between the core and periphery remains intact, with upward mobility being evident in only a few countries. A study by Kick and Davis (2000) found that the classical three-tiered structure had been replaced by a core, a semi-core, a semiperiphery and a periphery. Kim and Shin (2002) explain this trend as due to a dynamic process of globalization. Looking at commodity trade networks from 1959 to 1996, they argue that the world became increasingly globalized. The growth in the number of trading partners  allowed poorer peripheral countries to become more integrated into a world economy that was becoming less hierarchical (Kim and Shin 2002).

Other studies (Kick, et al 2011) have found that there are multiple cores but that the core/semiperiphery/periphery structure as formulated by Wallerstein (1974) remains intact. Contrary to this finding, Clark and Beckfield’s (2009) trichotomous partition model based on the international trade network during the 1980 to 1990 decade found an expanded core and a set of upwardly mobile states from the semiperiphery and the periphery.  They also found an expanding core, a semiperiphery and stagnating periphery but they also show that the network still exhibits a core/periphery hierarchy.

Global political sociology can benefit from the use of formal network analysis to better understand the trajectories of political and economic globalization. Knowledge of both the attributes of entities and their direct and indirect connections are needed. The formal network studies have tended to confirm the utility of the world-systems concepts for describing and explaining recent global social change.


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[1] The authors work at the Institute for Research on World-Systems at the University of California-Riverside ( Thanks to Catherine DesRoches for translating this article into Latvian. Her translation is at


[2] Immanuel Wallerstein’s use of the idea of “historical systems” is intended to demonstrate and awareness of this compromise between idiographic historicism and nomothetic generalization.

[3] Ekholm and Friedman (1992) call this capital-imperialism and they contend that this became the predominant mode of accumulation in the Bronze Age. Frank and Gills (1993) agree and the emphasize the continuity of this logic and deny that there was a transformation in systemic logic that accompanied the rise of European hegemony.