East and West in
Institute for Research on World-Systems
University of California-Riverside
Thomas D. Hall
To be presented at the conference on Andre Gunder Frank’s Legacy of Critical Social Science, April 11-13, 2008
Andre Gunder Frank’s legacy is deep and wide. He
was a founder of dependency theory and the world-systems perspective. He took
the idea of a whole historical system very seriously and his rereading of Adam
Smith has borne new fruit in Giovanni Arrighi’s (2007) recent comparison of
The comparative world-systems perspective uses world-systems, defined as important and consequential interaction networks, to describe and explain human socio-cultural evolution since the emergence of language. It compares earlier and smaller regional world-systems to later and larger continental and global world-systems in order to see the patterns of structural change. The claim is that, at least since the emergence of chiefdoms, much of human socio-cultural evolution cannot be explained without using world-systems (rather than single societies) as the unit of analysis. This is because semiperipheral societies have been an important source of innovation and transformation in all world-systems that have core/periphery hierarchies (Chase-Dunn & Hall 1997: Ch. 5).
Spatial Boundaries of World-Systems
Before the global world-system emerged in the 19th century CE nearly all regional systems were composed of spatially nested interaction networks. There were smaller bulk goods networks (BGNs), in which food and everyday raw materials were circulated. These were encompassed by larger networks of sovereign polities that fought and allied with one another (political-military networks – PMNs). These in turn were encompassed within even larger networks in which prestige goods and information flowed (PGNs and INs). Bulk goods and political-military networks were extremely important for the reproduction or change in local socio-cultural structures in all systems. Prestige goods networks were more important in some systems than in others, and the nature of the functioning of prestige goods was different in some systems than in others.
Using nested interaction networks to define the spatial
boundaries of systems makes it possible to map the expansions and contractions
of interaction networks over time. David Wilkinson (1987) produced a chronograph
of the expansion of what he originally called “Central Civilization” (a
political-military network) that began with 3rd millennium BCE
Figure 1: East/West Networks Expand and Merge
Figure 1 portrays the
expansion of state-based world-systems in both
This approach to bounding systems is much more empirically explicit than that adopted by Andre Gunder Frank in his work on 5000 years of world system history (Frank and Gills 1993). Frank and some of his followers (e.g. Chew 2001) seemed to think that there was already a global, or at least a Eurasia-wide world-system 5000 years ago. This was an instance in which “painting with broad strokes” missed a lot of important detail. The important volume by Arrighi, Hamashita and Selden (2003) gets the spatial bounding of East-West connections mostly right.
Another important recurrent pattern that becomes apparent once we use world-systems as the unit of analysis for analyzing socio-cultural evolution is the phenomenon of “semiperipheral development.” This means that semiperipheral groups are unusually prolific innovators of techniques that both facilitate upward mobility and transform the basic logic of social reproduction. This is not to say that all semiperipheral groups produce such transformational actions, but rather that the semiperipheral location is more fertile ground for the production of innovations than is either the core or the periphery. This is because semiperipheral societies have access to both core and peripheral cultural elements and techniques, and they have invested less in existing organizational forms than core societies have. So they are freer to recombine the organizational elements into new configurations and to invest in new technologies, and they are usually more highly motivated to take risks than are older core societies. Innovation in older core societies tends toward minor improvements. Semiperipheral societies are more likely to put their resources behind radically new concepts.
Thus knowledge of core/periphery hierarchies and semiperipheral locations is necessary for explaining how small-scale interchiefdom systems evolved into the capitalist global political economy of today. The process of rise and fall of powerful chiefdoms, called “cycling” by anthropologists (Anderson 1994; Hall 2001, 2006), was occasionally punctuated by the emergence of a polity from the semiperipheral zone that conquered and united the old core region into a larger chiefly polity or an early state. This phenomenon is termed the “semiperipheral marcher chiefdom” (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997:83-84, Kirch 1984:199-202).
better known is the analogous phenomenon of “semiperipheral marcher states” in
which a relatively new state from out on the edge of a core region conquered
adjacent states to form a new core-wide empire (Mann 1986; Collins 1981).
Almost every large conquest empire one can think of is an instance of this. A
less frequently perceived phenomenon that is a quite different type of
semiperipheral developed is the “semiperipheral capitalist city-state.” Dilmun,
early Ashur, the Phoenician cities, the Italian city-states, Melakka, and the
Hanseatic cities of the Baltic were instances. These small states in the
interstices of the tributary empires were agents of commodification long before
capitalism became predominant in the emergent core region of
The semiperipheral development idea is also an important tool for understanding the real possibilities for global social change today because semiperipheral countries are the main weak link in the global capitalist system – the zone where the most powerful antisystemic movements have emerged in the past and where vital and transformative developments are most likely to occur in the future.
The Idea of Evolution
It remains necessary to clarify what we mean and what we do not mean by the word “evolution.” Sanderson (1991; 2007) has explained that the scientific study of evolution must be cleansed of certain assumptions that tend to be included by most users of this word. We are not necessarily talking about “progress.” Progress is an idea that requires specifying a set of desiderata, value commitments, and assumptions about what is good and what is not. That is a fine thing to do and we shall do it toward the end of this paper. Progress can be an empirical question once one has defined what is meant. But the study of evolutionary patterns of change need not assume either progress nor its opposite, regress. It is simply a study of certain directional patterns of change.
In general societies have gotten larger and more complex and more hierarchical albeit with occasional reverses in these patterns. We further note that new social forms most often arise out of a necessity fostered by social interactions, resource shortages, climate change, diffusion of new ideas, technologies, or microorganisms, and most typically a combination of one or more of these. New social forms often appear via a satisficing mechanism: the first form that is found to work is seized. As more versions appear (say states) and come into competition a selection process favors those that can outproduce and outfight the others, that is, a maximization process. However the “selection pressure” is locally determined, both spatially and chronologically. We also note that these changes, or evolution, are rarely linear, or even smooth. Rather, they are marked by many reversals, collapses, fragmentations, etc. (Hall 2006). Development of complexity often engenders other societies to become more complex, though at times promotes break up or collapse to simpler forms. Scientific explanations of evolutionary change do not employ purposes as causes (teleology) and they do not assume inevitability.
Central and East Asian Evolution since the Stone Age
East Asian complexity and hierarchy emerged as sedentary agriculture developed in inland fertile valleys. Horticultural settlements developed into chiefdoms and farmers traded and fought with those groups that continued to rely primarily on hunting and gathering. Eventually the hunter-gatherers were pushed onto the steppes, where they shifted toward pastoralism. Thus began the long sedentary/nomadic dance that was to have such huge consequences for the evolution of East Asian world-systems. The pastoralists traded meat and live animals for grain. Some of them settled on the edges of the region of sedentary polities to form new semiperipheral chiefdoms, and later states. Often small states and nonstate societies were linked by trade networks (Smith 2005).
It was not until the first century B.C. that the
The partial isolation of Chinese civilization from the
West was great enough to prevent the diffusion of phonetic writing, an
invention that spread widely in the West displacing earlier ideographic forms
of writing. By the time contacts with the West became more common, the Chinese
already had a substantial investment in a great literature written in their
ideographic script and this became the symbolic core of Eastern civilization
that could not be lightly thrown away in favor of a less cumbersome form of
representing language. Ideographic writing also had the advantage that it could
easily transcend dialect, and even language differences. It served as a lingua
franca, not unlike Latin in
Indeed, the silk road cities, and occasional statelets were hotbeds of change, as would be expected in nodal areas. Recent works by McNeill and McNeill (2003) and Christian (2004) have stressed the importance of trade and communications networks in the processes of human socio-cultural evolution. Both of these recent works employ a network node theory of innovation and collective learning that is similar to the human ecology approach developed earlier by Amos Hawley (1950). Innovations are said to be unusually likely to occur at transportation and communications nodes where information from many different sources can be easily combined and recombined.
This is one, but only one, of the reasons Andre Gunder
Frank (1992) argued for the Centrality of
Central Asia. Central Asian states seldom made the semiperipheral marcher
state transition – with the glaring exception of the Mongols (Hall 2005) – they
were conduits of change in many directions. Indeed, Central Asian nomads were
the vectors of many social changes, in all directions (for instance see
Barfield 1989; Kradin 2002; Kradin et al. 2003). For most of its four millennia history
Figure 2: Largest Empires in the East Asian Region
Figure 2 shows the
territorial sizes in square megameters of the largest states and empires in
East Asia from 1900 BCE to 206 BCE with the sequential upsweep carried out by
The history of core/periphery interaction in
3: Territorial sizes of largest states and empires in
Figure 3 shows the sizes
of the largest states and empires in
All these upward sweeps in the territorial sizes of empires involved
semiperipheral or peripheral marcher states. The Hsiung-nu were classic horse
pastoralist nomads who came out of
In his classic study, Inner Asian Frontiers of China, Owen Lattimore graphically described the cycles of Chinese dynasties thus(1940: 531):
Although the social outlook of the Chinese is notable for the small honor it pays to war, and although their social system does not give the soldier a high position, every Chinese dynasty has risen out of a period war, and usually a long period. Peasant rebellions have been as recurrent as barbarian invasions. Frequently the two kinds of war have been simultaneous; both have usually been accompanied by famine and devastation, and peace has never been restored without savage repression. The brief chronicle of a Chinese dynasty is very simple: a Chinese general or a barbarian conqueror establishes a peace which is usually a peace of exhaustion. There follows a period of gradually increasing prosperity as land is brought back under cultivation, and this passes into a period of apparently unchanging stability. Gradually, however, weak administration and corrupt government choke the flow of trade and taxes. Discontent and poverty spread. The last emperor of the dynasty is often vicious and always weak--as weak as the founder of the dynasty was ruthless. The great fight each other for power, and the poor turn against all government. The dynasty ends, and after an interval another begins, exactly as the last began, and runs the same course.
Lattimore qualifies this characterization for different
periods. But it remains an
insightful description of a process that repeated itself over the centuries
Reorient and Largest Cities: The Timing of the Rise of the West
Andre Gunder Frank’s (1998) provocative study of the
global economy from 1400 to 1800 CE contended that
Frank’s model of development is basically a combination of state expansion and financial accumulation, although in Reorient he focused almost exclusively on financial centrality as the major important element. His study of global flows of specie, especially silver, is an important contribution to our understanding of what happened between 1400 and 1800 CE. Frank also uses demographic weight, and especially population growth and growth of the size of cities, as an indicator of relative importance and developmental success.
Figure 4: Regional Urban Population as a % of the World’s Largest Cities
In Figure 4 we see the
emergence of the world’s first cities in Mesopotamia and
relative size-importance of European cities (indicated by the solid line) shows
a long oscillation around a low level, indicating
the largest cities on Earth, including those in the
depiction of a sudden and radical decline of
examination of the problem of the relative importance of regions relies
exclusively on the population sizes of cities, a less than ideal indicator of
power and relative centrality.
Nevertheless, these results suggest some possible problems with Andre Gunder
Frank’s (1998) characterization of the relationship between Europe and
to Frank’s contention, however, the rise of European hegemony was not a sudden
conjunctural event that was due solely to a developmental crisis in
This process of regional core formation and its associated emphasis on capitalist commodity production further spread and institutionalized the logic of capitalist accumulation by defeating the efforts of territorial empires (Hapsburgs, Napoleonic France) to return the expanding European core to a more tributary mode of accumulation.
Acknowledging some of the unique qualities of the emerging European hegemony does not require us to ignore the important continuities that also existed as well as the consequential ways in which European developments were linked with processes going on in the rest of the Afroeurasian world-system. The more recent emergence of East Asian cities as again the very largest cities on Earth occurred in a context that was structurally and developmentally distinct from the multi-core system that still existed in 1800 CE. Now there is only one core because all core states are directly interacting with one another. While the multi-core system prior to the eighteenth century was undoubtedly systemically integrated to an important extent, it was not as interdependent as the global world-system has now become.
new East Asian hegemony is by no means a certainty, as both the
Modes of Accumulation and the East/West Comparison
In 1989 Gunder Frank wrote the first version of his
contention that “the modes of production” distinction made by Marxists is just so
much ideological nonsense (Frank 1989).
He had discovered that something very like capitalism existed in the ancient
and classical worlds, and he had become quite skeptical about the idea of the
transition from feudalism to capitalism in
conceptual move on Frank’s part was arguably an over-reaction to some very important
but not well-understood insights – that markets, money, merchant capitalism,
finance capitalism, capitalist manufacturing and wage labor had played a much
more important role in the ancient and classical worlds than many others had
recognized, and that much of the Marxist version of the transformation of modes
of production was very Eurocentric. Furthermore, as did many others by 1989, Frank
came to see the
Our own position is that there, indeed, have been major transformations in the modes of accumulation. One reason both Frank, and to lesser extent Arrighi, miss this is that they start their histories well after states have been invented. We however (1997) start about 12 millennia ago, and recognize, along with many anthropologists, that the invention of the state is itself a major shift, marking the invention of the tributary modes of accumulation. That this transition has occurred independently several times in human history indicates that it is part of a regular process of socio-cultural evolution (Sanderson 1999; Chase-Dunn and Lerro forthcoming; Hall and Chase-Dunn 2006).
In our 1997 book, Rise
and Demise, we characterized
Taxation, tribute-gathering and rents from landed
property were the mainstays of the state and the ruling class. Paper money was used in Sung China in the 10th
century CE. But the state and the ruling class of mandarins, or the
marcher-state usurpers who sometimes came to power, were mainly dependent on
the use of state coercion to extract surplus product from the direct producers.
This is rather different from a capitalist system in which profit-making and
the appropriation of surplus value through employment of wage labor has become
the mainstay of the state and the ruling class.
In Volume 1 of The
Modern World-System Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) noted a key difference
This explanation was rejected as so much Eurocentric
claptrap by Frank, because Max Weber and Karl Marx had said as much, and they
needed to be thrown into the dustbin of Eurocentrism with all the other dead
white guys. In Adam Smith Giovanni
Arrighi, reviews and recasts the recent work on Chinese economic history that
has been partly inspired by Gunder Frank’s analysis (e.g. Bin Wong 1997; Kenneth
Pomeranz 2000; Kaoru Sugihara 2003) These
authors show extensive markets, commodity production, buyer-driven commodity
chains, etc. in China and confirm that Chinese economic institutions in 1900
were not inferior to those of the West.
Arrighi (2007) ends up with the conclusion that the key question is “who
controls the state?” In
One may ask what happened to capitalist efforts to gain
state power in
Giovanni Arrighi’s Adam
Smith in Beijing is dedicated to Andre Gunder Frank and Frank’s influence
is obvious throughout. Arrighi does not accept Frank’s blanket rejection of the
distinction between the tributary mode of accumulation and the capitalism mode
of accumulation. In The Long Twentieth
Century Arrighi describes
Both Frank and Arrighi share the conviction that
Arrighi contends that the kind of market society that is
said to be emerging in
Arrighi further contends that
The notion that China concentrated only on domestic problems after the Ming abandonment of the treasure fleets is contradicted by Peter Perdue’s (2005) careful study of Qing expansion in Central Asia, and the notion that China is an exemplar of contemporary egalitarianism in relations with the periphery is contradicted by the situation in Tibet and by many observers of Chinese projects in Africa. While we do not condone China-bashing, and we agree with Arrighi that China is a somewhat more progressive force in world society than many other powerful actors, (including the current U.S. regime) the idea that adoption of the Chinese model of political economy, so-called market society, can be the main basis of a more egalitarian, just, and sustainable form of global governance is a bit of a stretch. On the other hand there are important elements of the idea of market society that probably are quite relevant for a formulation of what should be the goals of contemporary progressives, and that are possibly achievable during the twenty-first century. (more below).
As far as we know the idea of world revolutions was first developed by Terry Hopkins, Immanuel Wallerstein and Giovanni Arrighi in their 1989 book Antisystemic Movements (Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1989). The idea is that the structure of global governance in the modern world-system evolves because of competition among core states for hegemony and because subordinated groups of people resist oppression and domination. These latter forms of resistance coalesce when local and national social movements, uprisings, rebellions and revolutions cluster in time, and as these subordinate groups increasing become connected to one another across space. Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989) analyzed the world revolutions of 1848, 1917, 1968 and 1989. They contend that the demands put forth in a world revolution do not usually become institutionalized until a consolidating revolt has occurred, or until the next world revolution. So the revolutionaries appear to have lost in the failure of their most radical demands, but enlightened conservatives who are trying to manage hegemony end up incorporating the reforms that were earlier radical demands into the current world order.
Up until the nineteenth centuries movements of
resistance in the East and the West were mainly disconnected with one another.
Rerise of the Global Left
We agree with Arrighi that the current rise of
The world revolution of “20xx” (twenty dos equis) is
going on now (Chase-Dunn 2008). There are many continuities with earlier
revolutions, and we substantially agree with Arrighi’s specification of how the
The family of antisystemic movements in the global justice movement of movements has achieved some recent successes, and has endured some failures. There has not been much in the way of domestic violence or divorce, but some new relatives have appeared and some of these either want to move into the house or refuse to do so. Nevertheless, a multicentric and strongly linked network of movements has emerged in the context of the World Social Forum process (Chase-Dunn et al 2007). The labor movement is no longer hegemonic on the Left, even in its own eyes. Most of the labor activists in the global justice movement now see a big tent in which labor plays an important role, but is only one of several other important players (Santos 2006).
What Exactly is Wrong with Capitalism?
The ideological hegemony of neoliberalism has been a useful foil for encouraging social movements and NGOs to scale up their activities -- to become more transnational and to form global networks of opposition. If a problem is obviously not resolvable at the local or national level, people will make larger coalitions and create global networks, as many (but not all) have done (Reitan 2007).
But the neoliberal boogeyman has also created some
problems for the orientation of the movements.
Because neoliberals use “market magic” as a justification for attacking
and dismantling all institutions that operate to protect the interests of
workers or the poor, this encourages movement leaders and writers to go back to
railing about commodification and commercialism, as the Marxist left has done
in the past. Karl Polanyi’s works on the negative properties of disembedded markets
have had an understandable resurgence of popularity. Some of this is good
because it gives people a way to resist the arguments of the neoliberal
ideologues. And some of it is good because the notion fair trade is a valuable part
of local and North/South altruistic solidarity. But it would be unwise to carry
the anti-market sentiment as far as was done in the
This raises the issue of what is really wrong with capitalism. Most Leftist agree that capitalism destroys the environment, exacerbates social inequalities and leaves vast numbers of people in extreme poverty and bad health. But what is it about the institutional features of capitalism that cause these negative outcomes?
For his analyses of the evolution of hegemony Giovanni
Arrighi has adopted a Braudelian understanding of capitalism that contrasts the
local market economy (which is not capitalism) with haute finance, which is capitalism. We agree with the part about
the relative worthiness of small commodity production. But we think that a contemporary political
analysis needs to once again also consider the issue of the institutional
nature of property. Private property in
the major means of production (meaning large private firms) is an important
institutional form of modern capitalism. No one now advocates the expansion of
state-owned firms as the solution to the problems created by capitalism because
As we have said above, Giovanni Arrighi suggests in Adam Smith that a more benign form of
market economy is emerging in
The Chinese use the term “market socialism” to describe there own model. At present this seems to mean a state managed by the Communist Party and a market society in which private ownership of the major means of production is allowed.
Whether or not
This said, we think that simply extended social democracy to the global level as advocated by the LSE scholars and others, does not address the more fundamental issues of economic democracy that must be addressed in moving toward a more just and sustainable world society. Boswell and Chase-Dunn (2000) outlined a modified version of John Roemer’s model of market socialism in which capital itself is socialized (see also Loy Forthcoming).
Left cosmopolitans are advocating globalization from
below, while indigenous peoples and some neo-anarchists and autonomists simply
want self-reliance and the right to do what they want to do without
interference. These are huge issues and they reverberate in East-West
relations. There has been very little participation by people from the People’s
Multilateral Global Governance
Arrighi does not specifically address the issue of hegemonic evolution, it is a
topic that his analysis of the past of and of
extend Arrighi’s analysis of the evolution of hegemony in the following way.
The next hegemon will not be a single state and neither will it be the European
Union, which is about the same size economically as the
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 The PMN is an interacting system of sovereign polities. This is what international relations scholars study as the international system of national states, except that all world-systems have this even if the polities are bands, tribes or chiefdoms instead of states.
 In the classical prestige goods
system a local elite monopolizes the importation of goods that are deemed to be
necessary for important social institutions such as marriage. If you must have a holy pot to get married
and Uncle Joe controls access to these pots then Joe has a lot of control over
when and who you marry. In other systems prestige goods function as a medium of
exchange that symbolizes alliances or as a stored form of wealth that allows a
group to trade for food during a time of scarcity instead of resorting to
raiding. This latter was the way that prestige goods were important in
 The advantages of this approach to spatial bounding of systems is argued more recently by Chase-Dunn and Jorgenson (2003).
 For more discussion of this and
more evidence about the rise of
 This eventually became Chapter 6 of Frank and Gills (1993). In an earlier battle with Marxists Frank had convincingly argued that the characterization of a systemic mode should include more than production, and so he shifted to the term “mode of accumulation” which we also adopted.
 Arrighi’s model of the evolution of Western hegemonies contains a version of the oscillation back and forth between network and corporate forms of organization (Arrighi 2006).
 We can note that the strongest
challenges to capitalism in the twentieth century came from semiperipheral
 Immanuel Wallerstein had his own
consideration of the issue of state scale in his analysis of hegemonies.