"Explanations of scale changes in settlement and polity sizes”*
Christopher Chase-Dunn and Hiroko Inoue
Institute for Research on World-Systems
University of California-Riverside
v. 3-13-11, 13299 words
To be presented at the session on “Modeling the Sociopolitical Evolution of Global Orders” at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Montreal, Saturday, March 19, 2011, 4pm, Hochelaga . This paper is available as IROWS Working Paper # 67 at irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows67/irows67.htm
*Thanks to Tom Hall and Kirk Lawrence, Alexis Alvarez, Richard Niemeyer and Anthony Roberts for help formulating the ideas.
[diamond’s 5 causes of collapse; say something about lenski’s new book; Ecological succession and institutional soil. Chiefdoms and states; PRISTINE VERSUS SECONDARY STATE FORMATION; Leap-frogging, synchrony of upsweeps; Religious integration; Forereachers and following on, it works better the second time it is tried. Pristine versus secondary settlement growth; Network models: network nodes, info. Human ecology. Innovations. preparing the ground.; How semip cap city states create networks that empires can expand into]
This paper is a theoretical overview for a research project that studies the growth and decline phases of settlements and polities since the Stone Age. The project uses both quantitative estimates of population sizes of the largest settlements in regions and estimates of the territorial sizes of largest polities to study the location and timing of changes in the scale of human institutions. Upward sweeps are instances in which the largest settlement or polity in a designated region significantly increases in size for the first time. We use world-systems rather than single polities as the unit of analysis. Our project would like to include all the local, regional and intercontinental networks, including both nomadic and sedentary world-systems, though in practice we are limited by the availability of quantitative estimates of largest polity and settlements sizes.
Largest Polities and Settlements
We study the territorial sizes of polities and the population sizes of settlements because these are relatively easily ascertainable quantitative indicators of system size and complexity. We need to have an interval scale metric in order to tell the difference between small and large changes. When human sociocultural systems are studied over long periods of time we usually find cyclical processes of population growth and decline, the rise and fall of large and strong polities, etc. Our research needs to be able to tell the difference between a “normal” upcycle or downcycle in which sociocultural organization is fluctuating around an equilibrium level and an event of growth or decline that is greater than the normal fluctuations. We focus on the largest settlements and polities in each region rather than on individual settlements or polities. So for us the sizes of the largest settlement or polity are the focal characteristics of the regional world-systems that we are studying. And we identify those instances in which there have been large increases or decreases in these system-wide characteristics. Our empirical inventory of upsweep and collapse “events” is contained in Alvarez et al ( 2011)
This paper organizes the causal explanations for increases and decreases in the scale and complexity of polities and settlements. The comparative world-systems perspective compares relatively small and less complex regional world-systems with larger continental and global systems. Thus we must abstract from scale in order to compare in the structural patterns of small, medium and large human interaction networks. But in this project we are focusing on medium-term change in the scale of polities and settlements (see Figure 2 below). In the long run settlements and polities have tended to get larger, but our research focuses on medium-term sequences of growth and decline in order to identify those upward sweeps in which the scale significantly changed. Identification of these events will facilitate our understanding of long-term sociocultural evolution because these are the events that account for the millennial trend toward larger and more complex human social institutions.
Upsweeps and Collapses
When we use world-systems --an interacting set of polities and settlements-- as the unit of analysis nearly all systems oscillate in what we may term a normal cycle of growth and decline. The largest city or polity in each region reaches a peak and then declines and then this or another city or polity returns to the peak again. These cycles are usually not observed by looking at a single polity or settlement in isolation, but rather by looking at the largest settlement and polity within a region of interaction. A “normal cycle of growth and decline” roughly approximates a sine wave, although few cycles that involve the behavior of groups of humans actually display the perfect regularity of amplitude and period found in the pure sine wave.
In Figure 1 the normal cycle of growth and decline is half way down the figure and is labeled “normal growth and decline.” At the top of Figure 1 is a depiction of an upward sweep in which the size of the largest entity (polity or settlement) increases significantly. Such a sweep may be relatively rapid or may be slow, and Rein Taagepera (1978a) observes that the speed of the growth phase is often related to the sustainability of the upsweep, at least in the case of empires. Taagepera notices that empires, such as the Roman, that rise more slowly tend to last longer than those that rise abruptly (such as the Mongol). When an upward movement is sustained and a higher level of scale becomes the new normal, we call this an “upward sweep” or an “upsweep.” We distinguish between an “upcycle,” which is the normal upturn in a growth/decline cycle, and an upsweep, which goes to a level that is at least 1/3 higher than the earlier peak. When an upsweep is temporary and returns to the old lower norm we call it a “surge” (see the 2nd line from the top in Figure 1). We also distinguish between three types of decline, a “normal” decline which is part of the normal growth and decline cycle, a short-term collapse in which a decline goes significantly below what had been established as the normal trough, and a sustained collapse in which the new lower scale becomes the norm for some extended period of time.
Jared Diamond (2005) propounded a multivariable model of the factors that cause collapses. Diamond’s model includes factors operating within polities as well as some consideration of interpolity relations. But Diamond does not employ quantitative indicators of collapse and he often focuses on a single polity that collapsed while ignoring neighboring polities that did not collapse so he is not really studying instances of system-wide collapse. If intersocietal interaction networks (world-systems) had been his unit of study instead of single polities most of the cases he studied would be seen to have been instances of what we are calling normal rise and fall cycles rather than instances of system-wide collapse. A genuine systemic collapse is when all the polities in a region go down and stay down for at least two average cyclical periods.
Figure 1: Types of medium-term scale change in the largest settlement or polity in an interacting region
Figure 2 is a stylized depiction of the rise and fall of large polities and occasional upward sweeps that portrays, not the history of a single world region, but rather the general evolution of what has happened over the past 12,000 years as many small polities (bands, tribes and chiefdoms) have been consolidated into a much smaller number of larger polities (states, empires and a possible future world state).
Figure 2: Rise, Decline and Upward Sweeps of Polity Size
We hypothesize that upsweeps of polity size have been mainly caused by the phenomenon of semiperipheral marcher states in which a recently founded polity out on the edge of a region of older core states conquers the other states and forms a core-wide empire (Alvarez et al 2011b). In order to test this hypothesis it is necessary to identify instances of empire upsweeps so that these can be compared with the many more frequent cases of upcycles. The empirical identification of scale changes of polities and settlements in regional systems will also allow us to recognize cases of collapse for the purpose of testing Jared Diamond’s (2005) hypothesized causes of collapse.
This propositional inventory includes explanations from biology, computational science, anthropology, geography, sociology, political science, economics history, population ecology, human ecology and complexity theory as they may be applied to changes in scale of polities and settlements. There are many theories about why systems of interacting polities experience cycles of rise and fall and upward sweeps. Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997: Chapter 1) organized their survey of the approaches to long-term sociocultural evolution in terms of the difference between continuationism (the idea that there has been a single underlying systemic logic of social change throughout human sociocultural evolution) and transformationism, which contends the logic of social change has itself gone through qualitative changes. This distinction between transformationism and continuationism is a good way to organize different explanations of social change.
The very term, "system," implies that an entity works in some specified way, that is, it has a "logic." Most theoretical approaches have either an explicit or an implicit model of the underlying causal logic that is systemic. The terms for this vary. It is called the mode of production or mode of accumulation by some. Others reveal their assumptions about system dynamics in their descriptions of central processes such as state formation, cycles of political centralization and decentralization, or modes of social integration. And others assert very general models of the causes of the emergence of complexity.
Besides the descriptive content that is given to notions of systemic logic, there are different metatheoretical positions regarding the ways in which systemic logics change or remain the same. Some argue that world-systems all have pretty much the same system logic. We call these authors the "logical continuationists," while others contend that system logics undergo fundamental transformations. These are the "qualitative transformationists." The transformationists may disagree over the definitions of different system logics and the timing of transformations but they agree that systemic logics qualitatively change. . We begin with those theorists who maintain that all world-systems have essentially the same logic.
Very General Continuationist Explanations
The most general theories are functionalist evolutionary approaches that explain the long-term emergence of complexity and hierarchy by means of adaptation and learning processes that produce institutions as responses to selection pressures of various kinds. These are related to very general approaches to the problem of the emergence of physical, biological and cultural complexity. We categorize these very general approaches as continuationism, though the assertion that a somewhat similar logic of development exists at very different times and in somewhat different kinds of evolution does not necessitate the denial of important differences as well.
Complexity in social science usually refers to increasing division of labor and specialization as well as increasing hierarchy within societies. But in physics and biology it refers to the emergence of structured order out of unstructured disorder. These ideas are related but not identical. Our immediate object is to explain upsweeps of settlement and polity size. But these are instances of more general changes in the direction of greater complexity. Complexity in human cultures emerges at different levels. Individual personalities become more complex as societies develop a more specialized division of labor because more complex “webs of group affiliations” produce more complicated and unique individuals (Simmel 1955). Human organizations become more internally differentiated as they become larger and more specialized in the performance of particular jobs. More differentiation is usually accompanied by the emergence of greater hierarchy as societies develop the capability to coordinate the activities of specialized organizations and institutions. There is an analogous development of complexity in the physical world as material diverges into distinct and differentiated elements and these come together in larger complex structures such as molecules, stars and galaxies (Christian 2004).
The emergence of life is a continuation of the emergence of physical complexity as entities become capable of actively acquiring more energy in order to grow and to reproduce. Heritability mechanisms emerge (e.g. genetic coding) that allow complex forms to be reproduced over time. Physical and biological scientists stress that the strongest natural process is entropy in which concentrated energy becomes dissipated and order degrades into disorder. Entropy is a constant and pervasive tendency of the universe, and the emergence of complexity goes against this strong tendency. McNeill and McNeill (2003) use the apt image of running up the down escalator to describe the emergence of complexity. Complexity requires the capture of energy and greater complexity requires more energy so complex entities are fragile and prone to fall apart if they are unable to capture enough energy to sustain themselves and to reproduce.
Complexity emerges first in the physical world and then biological complexity emerges and then this is followed by culture. While these are somewhat different forms of evolution, there are some general ways in which they are also similar. In all three realms evolution is multilevel in the sense that selection mechanisms work simultaneously on smaller and larger entities. Selection works on very small entities because changes in environment favor some over others. But selection also works on groups made of up of smaller entities because group cooperation can be an advantage for the survival and propagation of smaller entities. When groups of entities compete with one another selection favors some groups over others. In some instances more complex groups containing differentiated and cooperating smaller entities have advantages over simpler groups. When there are environments that favor such complexity more complex groups will sometimes predominate over simpler groups. This does not always happen, but the chance of it happening is greater in contexts in which group selection is stronger because groups are competing with one another. Such competition also favors cooperation rather than competition within groups because groups that have greater internal cooperation can often outcompete groups that have less internal cooperation.
In the biological world such factors operate to produce more complex and larger forms of life. But there are also important limits on size and complexity because of the needs of more complex forms for greater amounts of energy. Ecologists have long recognized that there is an energy pyramid that explains why large animals and plants are scarcer than smaller animals and plants. Smaller biological forms capture energy, mainly solar energy, and store it in order to reproduce. In doing this they constitute concentrated forms of energy that may be captured by more complex forms of life (larger animals and plants) but the larger animals and plants are not able to capture all of the energy stored in less complex forms. Rather there is a steep fall-off in the amount of energy that larger forms are able to capture, and so the pyramid of complex forms is steep with few large entities at the top of the food chain (Colinvaux 1978).
There are similar material limits that operate on human societies, but humans have been able to achieve huge demographic success relative to other large animals because we have been able to figure out how to capture more energy and how to harvest energy that was stored in the form of fossil fuels that are concentrated ancient sunlight. Nevertheless the same logic of constraints operates on humans in the sense that population growth is constrained by resources and available energy. Complex and hierarchical human societies consume vastly more energy than simple human societies do and the limits of economical energy supply constrain how many humans there can be. If a method of supplying cheap renewable energy should emerge this ancient constraint would be gone. The use of fossil fuels gives a glimpse of the kind of exponential growth that can happen when energy constraints are released, but (unfortunately) this source is non-renewable and finite.
Social structures emerged first among the social insects (ants, termites, wasps, etc). The principle of multilevel section with strong group selection operated to allow complex divisions of labor to emerge within insect communities. Many social scientists think that language and culture are necessary elements in complex social structures, but the social insects show that complex social structures can emerge even with rather rudimentary systems of communication. Ants communicate based on a system of four smell channels. Their individual nervous systems are robust but rather simple compared with birds or mammals. But the ant colony may be understood as a large system of parallel processors that makes decisions at the collective level to manage resources and to compete with other colonies for space and other resources (Huxley 1969; Holdobbler and Wilson 2010). We use the term “sociocultural” to distinguish between the kind of evolution of complex social structures by humans from the process that led to social complexity among insects.
In some cases simpler human sociocultural forms have advantages because they require less energy. And levels of complexity and hierarchy usually oscillate around some equilibrium. But sometimes social structures collapse back to an earlier level. And sometimes new conditions and innovations have emerged that allowed human societies to attain a degree of size and complexity that had never been attained before. These are what we have called upsweeps. As we have said, group selection favors cooperation within societies and institutions emerge that facilitate cooperation among individuals, households, settlements and organizations within polities. Because of the evolutionary history of humans living in small groups the human species is relatively individualistic and so social inventions and biological adaptations emerge that can accommodate a degree of individualism while also allowing groups of individuals to coordinate their behavior with one another (Turner and Maryanski 2008). Innovation and social change occurs most rapidly when group selection operates most strongly, as when polities compete with one another by means of frequent and intense warfare. Competition among polities can operate in different ways, but the most powerful and frequent way has been warfare. Polities that are able to defend their resources survive, and polities that are able to conquer other polities get more resources. Most conquering polities to do not kill all the members of the polities they conquer, but they do tend to replace the culture and institutions of the polities that they conquer with their own. This is ethnocide rather than genocide.
Thus sociocultural evolution selects upon culture more than it does on biology. The losers do not biologically reproduce as successfully as the winners, but they do usually survive biologically more than their original cultures survive. Polities also cooperate with other polities and they compete with other polities economically as well as by means of warfare. Economic success in the garnering of resources is a large component of military success. But economic competition also operates to produce evolution because those polities that are more successful at generating greater resources are more likely to be able to spread their cultures to other polities. Mechanisms of cooperative behavior have also emerged in interpolity interaction. Polities can often gain by trading resources that they have in abundance for resources that they need rather than by extorting resources from other polities. And interaction among polities also produces cross-polity differentiation as polities both compete and cooperate with one another.
Polities that experience a shortage of food may be driven to raid other polities, but trade can provide a substitute for raiding if interpolity institutions such as proto-money allow polities to save up tradable wealth during years of plenty for use when resources are scarce (e.g. Chase-Dunn and Mann 1998: 141-144). Such interpolity cooperation is liable to the free-rider problem, and this either leads back to interpolity coercion and exploitation or, if things take a different tack, normative and regulatory mechanisms may emerge in interpolity relations (Curtin 1984). The multilevel selection approach focuses mainly on external selection pressures and so it cannot easily explain the emergence of interpolity cooperation. But selection pressures also come from within polities and from the interactions between polities and the natural environment. These other sources of selection must be the source of pressures in favor of interpolity cooperation.
Complexity Theories: Co-evolution and Resilience
There are different versions of complexity theory. Sylvia Walby (2009:49-ff) distinguishes between the “Santa Fe school,” which focuses on the coevolution of complex adaptive systems, and the “Prigogine school” which emphasizes the importance of saltation, -- sudden critical turning points in which small changes give rise to bifurcations and new paths of development that are self-sustaining. These different emphases produce two somewhat different accounts when they are applied to issues of social change. The co-evolution of complex adaptive systems approach has found support from those who want to understand how human and natural systems have co-evolved. This has been formulated by the Coupled Human and Natural Systems (CHANS) approach to evolutionary human and natural ecology (Liu et al 2007). One should be wary of the assumptions of equilibrium and resilience that are often implicit in functionalist ecology and sociology (e.g. Gotts 2007). But we agree whole-heartedly that the systematic and historical linkages between natural and human systems need to be scientifically understood. The usual cautions against teleology and non-scientific assumptions about “progress” need to be reaffirmed. Regarding the growth of cities, there has been important co-evolution with pathogenic microbes. One of the constraints on settlement growth has been death by pathogenic diseases.
Microbes and Humans
The microbial evolutionary rate has almost certainly sped up because of the interaction with humans. There is strong evidence of an evolutionary arms-race that has occurred between microbes and hosts in which each is selected to evolve faster than the other in order to maximize fitness (Bersaglieri et al 2004; Holden et al 2004). And this arms race with microbes may be one of the main factors behind an apparent speed-up in human genetic change over the last ten thousand years (Hawks et al. 2007). And this spiral may have directly or indirectly contributed to the acceleration of human sociocultural evolution and vice versa.
Obviously killer diseases like the fourteenth century plague epidemic
Just as environmental psychology explains the architecture of human habitats by taking into account the psychological needs of individuals to be protected from too much exposure to other humans (Fletcher 1995), so can our knowledge of disease transmission be used for explaining the architecture of monuments, residential buildings and the emergence of highly structured and planned settlements. Human social hierarchies symbolize power with monuments and the production of order, but elites are also responsible for protecting non-elites from pestilence as well as other things. Elites that fail to do these things expose themselves to resistance and attack from contending elites and non-elites.
The structure of human settlements has come to include investment in and centralized planning of water systems that have been designed to provide clean water to elites, and increasingly to non-elites. And the same may be said of sewage systems that are designed to reduce pollution. There were substantial public health measures in most of the cities of the ancient world—aqueducts, sewers, organized street and canal cleaning, regulation of garbage disposal, hospitals, and planned drainage systems. It is true that public health institutions only dramatically reduced morbidity and mortality in the 19th century. Many ancient cities were considered to be demographic sinks where people go to die because of the high rates of infectious diseases for infants, children and recently arrived migrants who had not been exposed to these diseases as children in their home places. But elites built elaborate water and sewage systems for themselves and their families, and occasionally for the use of the general public in the Bronze Age. Elites also protected themselves from exposure to diseases by limiting interaction with non-elites, controlling access to certain central areas (temples and palaces) within cities and escaping to isolated rural redoubts when epidemics arrived. There were also efforts to obtain intelligence from connected ports and to quarantine ships from places known to be experiencing epidemics. The invention and diffusion of urban planning, gridded streets, square-walled cities, organized water provision and organized sewage disposal partly resulted from the pressure of pathogens on human populations.
The topologies of human interaction networks have important implications for the coevolution with pathogens. Before the emergence of cities the human population lived in widely-separated and infrequently interacting dense, but small clusters. In a small and densely clustered human population, a pathogen that is too deadly will quickly destroy the critical mass of humans it needs to sustain itself. Since these populations interact infrequently, the probability that such a pathogen could spread widely is small. As human populations expanded, a power-law (log-normal) distribution of settlement sizes emerged along with “small-world” interaction network patterns. In such a situation a disease can emerge that is more deadly because it can move among population clusters to sustain itself. Pathogens evolved toward more destructive forms once large cities emerged and city systems became organized into small world network topologies (indicated by a log-normal distribution of city and town sizes).The developmental pattern of city size distributions is for a large capital city to emerge based on the ability of an emergent state to gather taxes and tribute from a wide area, and then for middle-sized towns and cities to eventually emerge as the economy becomes more complex and integrated (Rozman 1973).
The density and structure of populations that will produce epidemic spread have a critical region between some lower and upper bound that depends on the infectiveness and deadliness of the pathogen [see, for example, the discussion in Watts (2003: Chaps 5-8)]. As human population densities increased, and settlement size distributions became more hierarchical (“primate”), and then more log-normal, the selection pressures for pathogen attributes also changed. Those pathogens that did not evolve to seize the new opportunities were destined to remain local, if endemic. Others became capable of attaining the necessary levels of infectiveness and mortality to be suited to the structure of the expanded and denser human population.
The “big-city” hypothesis claims that the mortality rate from infectious diseases should be higher in the largest cities. At some point human settlements became large enough to act as perennial reservoirs of infection, sustaining endemic populations of lethal pathogens. William H. McNeill’s (1976) path-breaking world historical study of Plagues and Peoples during the last two millennia theorized that urban residents in crowded and unsanitary districts had suffered high mortality in childhood but that the survivors acquired a degree of immunity. So the main pools of those susceptible to infection were the young and also recent immigrants from less dense rural areas or smaller settlements. McNeill also surmised that the mortality rates in the cities would be high, especially among the young, but also fairly stable since the pool of susceptibles to epidemics was limited. Rural regions and towns were thought to be too thinly populated for endemic lethal infections to persist and so they would experience lower background mortality rates. But they would also have less immunity and would be more vulnerable to epidemic episodes. McNeill’s (1976)characterization of the disease selection regime was inspired by the threshold theorems of infectious disease modelers that relate the size and spacing of epidemics to the densities of susceptible hosts (e.g. Kermack and McKendrick 1927; Black 1966).
The Coupled Human and Natural Systems paradigm (CHANS) has also highlighted the importance of systemic resilience – the ability of natural and human systems to recover (McAnany and Yoffee 2010). This has been a reaction to Jared Diamond’s (2005) widely read study of collapse. Our study of cycles and upsweeps of scale change in settlement and polity sizes enables us to see just how often real upsweeps and collapses can be found in the history of settlement and polity sizes.
Another framework that has emerged from complexity theory has been called “panarchy” by its proponents. The panarchy approach would seem to be relevant for comprehending world-systems because it proposes a general model of the evolution of subsystems that are nested within larger systems (Gundarson and Holling 2002).The obvious world-system application is to polities that have internal processes, but that are interacting within the context of a larger interpolity system. The panarchy paradigm posits an adaptive cycle formed by a set of stages that both larger systems and subsystems go through : (1) “exploitation” (r); (2) “conservation” (K); (3) “release” (W) or “creative destruction,” and (4) “reorganization”(a). It is supposed that these cycles influence one another, with system-wide transformations occurring when subsystems come into synchrony and produce conditions that make change more likely. Gotts (2007) presents a useful summary and critique of the panarchy approach and its overlaps and possible usefulness for the study of world-systems evolution.
Continuationist Systemic Logics of Sociocultural Reproduction
This discussion is somewhat complicated by the different positions taken on whether or not stateless interspolity networks ought to be analyzed as world-systems. It is obviously easier to maintain that systemic logic does not change fundamentally if one excludes the really different cases from consideration. There are five theoretical positions that contend that there are no great watersheds in sociocultural systemic logic: the geopolitics approach, the capital imperialism approach, the rational choice or "formalist" approach, cultural ecology, and the population pressure approach. In other words, among those who say that nothing changes, there are five different descriptions of that which does not change.
The geopolitics approach is taken by those who stress the universal importance of power politics. David Wilkinson (1987, 1991, 2004) focuses primarily on the rise and fall of states -- the oscillation between interstate systems and "universal states." This is the state-as-war-machine "neo-realist" approach that is a major theoretical school in international relations within Political Science. Wilkinson sees the power process as operating in fundamentally similar ways in all historical epochs, ancient and modern. As Wilkinson quips, "diamonds may be forever, but clubs are trumps."
Geopolitics and Weberian state legitimacy are also stressed by sociologist Randall Collins (1981, 1999). He argues with respect to state territorial expansion that there is a "no intervening heartland rule." That is, states do not expand successfully when that expansion entails leaping over, or passing through, the heartland of some competing state. Inevitably expansion becomes too expensive, strains financial resources, and often leads to delegitimization of the current regime. In tributary systems this can lead to a palace coup or create an opening for a semiperipheral state to conquer an overextended core state. Collins also uses these ideas to understand processes of alliance-formation in kin-based world-systems (1992).
A somewhat different variant of the state-centric approach is taken by Michael Mann (1986). We mention above that we agree with Mann the idea of “society” is too messy to use as a unit of analysis because the different kinds of relationships usually included in the notion of society are frequently not neatly bounded in space. So we use the idea of “polity,” a spatially-bounded realm of sovereign authority, instead of society to bound subunits within world-systems. The term polity is meant as a general signifier that includes band, tribes, chiefdoms, states and empires. Mann emphasizes the importance of "techniques of power," by which he means all sorts of institutional inventions that allow states to exercise control over great expanses of territory. While this includes political, organizational, and religious innovations, Mann's primary fascination is with military technology and organization. While Mann sees important changes as contingent upon the development of new techniques of power, power itself remains the crucial factor within all systems.
Rational choice universalists are those who argue that market models and individual rationality are useful for understanding all types of human social systems. This approach is also called "formalism." Philip Curtin (1984) defends the formalist position in connection with his study of crosscultural trade in world history. To be sure, he adds careful consideration of the roles of various social institutions in the pursuit of profit in his analyses of widely dispersed ethnic groups who specialize in trade (which he calls "trade diasporas") and more-or-less self-contained trade networks with wide consensus on the rules of trade (which he calls "trade ecumenes"). Curtin shows that long distance trade has often been conducted by and through trade diasporas, and that the formation of a cross-culturally shared set of assumptions about the basic rules of exchange, a trade ecumene, lessens the need for specialized trading ethnicities.
of the formalists have not utilized world-system concepts explicitly, although
much of their work is useful for world-systems analysis. Marvin Harris (1977)
also emphasizes economic rationality and efficiency in his analyses of the
material bases of culture (called "cultural materialism"). Blanton,
Kowalewski, Feinman and Finsten (1993) employed a formalist approach to explain
several patterns of evidence from ancient
The formalist approach has been applied to hunter-gatherers in "optimal foraging" models which have implications for intergroup interactions in very small world-systems. Such models, based on formal economics and studies of animal foraging patterns, explain intensification and diversification of foraging patterns in terms of individual and family "rational choices" in minimizing procurement costs. According to this approach a mix of foraging activities, all exploited at the same procurement costs, should remain stable except when upset by changes in population density, technology, or the environment (Johnson and Earle 1987:12).
scholars contend that the geopolitics of capitalism has been the predominant logic
of social reproduction in both ancient and modern world-systems. Ekholm and
Friedman (1980,1982) and Frank and Gills (1993) claim that capitalist
accumulation has been an important process since the emergence of the first
Ekholm and Friedman are not strict "continuationists" because they do accept that there was a transformation of systemic logic when prestige goods economies evolved into urbanized states in which "abstract wealth" (capital) became an important element of social reproduction. But once states appear they stress the continuity of systemic logic across all state-based systems, ancient and modern. Thus their position, especially in Friedman's 1992 essay, straddles our continuationist-transformationist division. They are transformationists in that they acknowledge a major shift with the invention of states; they are continuationists in that they argue that the logic of capital imperialism dominates all systems once states were invented.
These authors deny that there have been systemic transformations such as that from feudalism to capitalism. Rather the logic of capital imperialism continued in the context of a shift of hegemony from East to West. Frank (1991) contended that the notion of a transition from capitalism to socialism is also a theoretical error that will only confuse our understanding of world-system processes.
The ecological evolutionism of Gerhard Lenski (Lenski and Lenski 1987) combined the cultural ecology developed by Julian Steward (1955) -- which emphasizes the interaction between society and environment -- with a focus on changes in productive technology as the main engine of social evolution. Cultural ecologists see social change as social adjustments or inventions that are intended to maintain a balance between social institutions and local ecology. Cultural ecology traditionally has been applied locally and has tended to ignore intersocietal interactions, in part as a reaction to the macro-diffusionism.
Esther Boserup (1965) developed a "demographic" theory that focuses more tightly than cultural ecology on population growth and population pressure as the master variables behind social change. Technological change was explained as an adaptation to population density nearing or exceeding the carrying capacity of the environment under a given technological regime. Cultural ecology and population pressure have important implications for world-system development when they are combined with the idea of social and ecological circumscription proposed by Robert Carneiro (1978).
Carneiro explained the social organizational ruptures that produced the first states in terms of population pressure in a geographic situation in which outmigration was impossible or very costly. Under these conditions people stay and fight. Sometimes fighting may be controlled by the invention of larger scale political organization that regulates resource use. The notion of social circumscription requires analysis of relations among peoples in adjacent regions. Thus it is quite congruent with world-systems studies.
The elements of population pressure, technological change, conflict, and circumscription are combined in different ways by different theorists, but these are the main ingredients that comprise most of the explanations of long run cultural evolution by archaeologists and many anthropologists (e.g., Johnson and Earle 1987). Usually the scholars who construct these theories stress continuity through time, and hence see uniformity across all system logics. Thus we have included these with the continuationist approaches. Demographic approaches to state-formation and collapse that focus on agrarian systems are discussed below.
We now turn to those theorists who argue that world-system evolution has been marked by significant changes in system logic.
With regard to the issues of scale change of settlements and polities that are the main focus of our research, we can observe that changes in scale do not necessarily involve transformations in the logic of development, but they may. The general functionalist approach is that larger polities and settlements can only be created once certain problems of organization, supply, political order, and public health have been solved. These innovations may or may not involve new logics of development. And even if there are rather different processes of development that emerge, these may share some characteristics with earlier logics of development. Another somewhat related question that we want to pose is whether or not there are differences regarding causation between cycles, upsweeps and collapses. Are the forces and conditions that cause upsweeps simply larger than those that cause upcycles, or are they also different? Or do they combine in different ways? And are the causes of upsweeps the same as the causes of collapses but in reverse?
The Prigogine school version of complexity theory also has interesting implications for the understanding of settlement and polity growth. The notion of qualitative transformations of systemic logic that is suggested by the bifurcation idea is important. Immanuel Wallerstein’s (2003) approach to “historical systems” has used the bifurcation idea to discuss a qualitative transformation to capitalist world-system in the long sixteenth century (held to be qualitatively different from earlier tributary world empires) as well as the current period of chaos and potential transformation to another systemic logic.
Other qualitative transformationists include Polanyian substantivists, neo-Marxist modes of production theorists, and Marxist structuralists in anthropology.
Polanyi (1944, 1977;
The emergence of more hierarchical societies was characterized by Polanyi as the rise of "redistributive" forms of exchange in which a central authority gathered necessary resources and redistributed them. Exchange in such systems was characterized as "state-administered." Those persons directly involved in executing these exchanges were described as agents of the state rather than as merchants operating on their own account. In more complex and larger scale systems Polanyi focused on the importance of price-setting markets as the key integrative mechanism. Polanyi saw the emergence of market relations as a long-term development in which monetized exchange penetrated more and more deeply into society, and price-setting market mechanisms replaced customary or politically set rates of exchange. He emphasized the socially constructed historicity of markets and also their failure to, by themselves, provide for many of the necessities of social order in complex societies. While Polanyi and his followers did not explicitly analyze world-systems, both their theoretical concepts and many of their empirical studies are relevant for comparative world-systems analysis (e.g., Polanyi, Arensberg, and Pearson 1957).
schema has been modified in some respects by those neo-Marxists who share a
transformational approach with Polanyi (see below), but it has also been
vigorously attacked by the "formalists" who emphasize the rational
economic basis for decision-making in all human societies. Much of the attack
on Polanyi has been based on research that has found that some of his empirical
claims were untrue. There is convincing evidence that market-like mechanisms
existed within certain early state-based systems that Polanyi claimed were
marketless. For example, Polanyi (1957) pointed to the Kultepe tablets as
evidence supporting his case that trade between Bronze Age Assur and
Modes of Production
Some neo-Marxists have combined Polanyi's analysis of modes of integration with Marx's analysis of modes of production (Wolf 1982; Sahlins 1972; Amin 1980, 1991; Wallerstein 1974). Mode of production analysis concentrates on the nature of the institutional mechanisms of accumulation. In so-called kin-based polities accumulation and the mobilization of social labor was accomplished through the mechanism of the moral order -- socially agreed upon rights and obligations, usually embedded in kinship relations. This type of integration closely resembles Polanyi's "reciprocity." All polities accumulate resources and these are called "capital" by some scholars (e.g. Tilly 1990). But capitalist accumulation in Marx's sense is a qualitatively different process from that which is used by nomadic pastoralists to increase their herds or by sedentary foragers to store food. Thus, we distinguish between general accumulation, that is, the amassing of wealth in any form, and capitalist accumulation, that is, amassing of wealth in the form of stored labor-value in a system in which labor itself has become a commodity.
As polities became more hierarchical, a class of non-producers used institutions based on coercive control of key resources (means of production) to extract surplus product from direct producers. Though this was organized as hierarchical kinship relations in complex chiefdoms, some class-organized polities eventually developed states in which the institutional bases of power and property were separated from kinship ties. States used politically structured coercion as the main basis for the extraction of surplus product from direct producers. Amin and Wolf term the predominant underlying logic behind appropriation in such polities the "tributary modes of production." This type of integration differs from Polanyi's "redistribution" primarily in its emphasis on the element of institutionalized coercion that stands behind state-based accumulation.
Commodification is a process in which the exchange of social goods comes to take place in price-setting markets. The emergence of commodified land, wealth, goods, and labor eventually created the basis for a capitalist logic of accumulation based on the production and sale of commodities using commodified labor. There is an important distinction between merchant capitalism and production capitalism. Merchant capitalism makes profits by buying commodities where they are cheap and selling them where the are expensive. Production capitalism adds value to raw materials to produce a product for sale. But understanding the historical emergence of these different types of capitalism is aided by Polanyi’s historization of commodification understood as a long-term process in which market-like relations penetrate more and more areas of life.
Polanyian/Marxist approach to transformation argues that different logics may
be present in the same system, but that in most systems a single logic is
predominant and it reshapes other institutions into forms that are more-or-less
congruent with it. Most of the scholars who take this approach argue that
world-systems were predominantly kin-based until the emergence of the first
states. Tributary modes predominated in world-systems composed of states and
empires, though commodification developed slowly and partially throughout the
history of the tributary world-systems. The strong development of capitalist
and Rowlands (1977) see a major transformation in systemic logic occurring with
the rise of states, but stress the continuities of "capital
imperialism" from then on. Their
theory of the transformation from kin-based to state-based society is an
explicitly world-system and structuralist Marxist interpretation of the
politics of kinship. Their work develops the intergroup interaction aspects of
the debate in the kinship literature between Leach (1954) and Levi-Strauss
(1969). Leach's work analyzed the oscillation between hierarchical and
egalitarian kinship systems. Friedman and Rowlands theorize the ways in which
strategies of wife-giving and wife-taking among chiefly rivals interact with
changes in gender relations and prestige goods economies to produce new levels
of centralization and hierarchy. Friedman (1982) has employed this theory to explain
the rise and fall of chiefdoms and variations in social structure across
The dynamics of agrarian states
Some theorists have important explanations of systemic development and scale change of particular kinds of systems (e.g. chiefdoms, agrarian states, the modern world-system). We shall also review these explanations insofar as they may be relevant for understanding scale changes of settlements and polities.
The primary resources in agrarian economies are land and people. Geopolitical models, such as those developed by Randall Collins and Robert Hanneman (Collins 1995, Hanneman et al. 1995), postulate that state power is directly related to the amount of territory and population that the state controls. This functional dependence leads to positive-feedback dynamics: a state that expands territory increases its power, which in turn enables it to expand more, and so on (a classical example is the Roman expansion under the late republic). However, eventually the ability of the state to extend its territorial control becomes limited by the difficulty and expense of projecting power across space. This connection between the state size and “logistical loads” is sometimes referred to as the imperial overstretch principle (Kennedy 1987).
Spatial location is important for explaining the geopolitical trajectories of states. Historians noticed long ago that new, aggressive states that have an excellent chance to grow into a large empire tend to arise on the marches (edges) of old empires (McNeill 1963). Within the comparative world-systems perspective, this phenomenon is termed semiperipheral marcher conquest, in which a recently founded state from out on the edge of the circle of old states conquers all (or most) of the states in the old core region to form a “universal empire” (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997). The geopolitical theory explains this empirical pattern by invoking the marchland position principle: states with enemies on fewer fronts expand at the expense of states surrounded by enemies (Collins 1995). However, a comprehensive empirical test on the European material during the first two millennia CE indicates that there is no statistical association between the protected position of a region and the size of polity emerging from it (Turchin 2003). An alternative explanation is suggested by the observation that not all imperial marchlands or semiperipheries give birth to aggressively growing polities. It appears that incipient empires arise only in locations where pre-existing imperial boundaries coincide with intense cultural, or ethnic, frontiers. During the last two millennia the most common symbolic markers demarcating such metaethnic frontiers (the prefix meta indicates the intensity of ethnic difference across the frontier) have been based on world religions (thus, the most common variety in the European context are the Christian-Muslim frontiers). Metaethnic frontiers are zones where groups come under enormous pressure, and where ethnocide or even genocide, but also ethnogenesis, commonly occur (Hall 2000). Intense intergroup competition eventually results in one group with high internal cohesion absorbing other ethnically similar groups, and in the process constructing the core of a rising empire (Turchin 2003).
Note that Chase-Dunn and Hall’s (1997) version of the idea of semiperipheral development is more general. Chase-Dunn and Hall contend that the phenomenon of semiperipheral development occurs in all world-systems in which there is core/periphery differentiation. This is complicated because semiperipherality is a relational concept that depends on the nature of the system in which occurs. Nevertheless Chase-Dunn and Hall contend that the semiperipheral location in a core/periphery system is an unusually fertile region for the implementation of new technologies of power in Mann’s (1986) sense. Semiperipheral societies are freer to do things in a different way, to experiment with different institutions and combinations of institutions and technologies. Thus in Chase-Dunn and Hall’s approach there were semiperipheral marcher chiefdoms (Kirch 1984), semiperipheral marcher states, semiperipheral capitalist city-states specializing in trade, and Europe was semiperipheral vis-à-vis the older core region of West Asia/Mediterranean before it rose to global hegemony. Also semiperipheral societies are the ones that have become hegemonic core states in the modern system, and semiperipheral societies are now playing an important transformative role in the current world revolution. So this is a more general version of the idea of semiperipheral development.
An implicit assumption of the geopolitical model discussed above is that geopolitical resources, land and people, come as a package. In reality, however, the population of a state can grow (or decline) without corresponding addition or loss of territory. Growing population density initially increases geopolitical power of the state, because there are more taxpayers and recruits for the army. However, population growth in excess of the productivity gains of the land has deleterious effects on social institutions (Goldstone 1991). It leads to persistent price inflation, falling real wages, rural misery, and urban migration; an increased number of aspirants for elite positions and intense intra-elite competition; and spiraling state expenses due to inflation and expanding real costs, since armies and bureaucracies grow together with population. As all these trends intensify, the state goes into bankruptcy and loses military control. Elite movements of regional and national rebellion and a combination of elite-mobilized and popular uprisings lead to the complete breakdown of central authority (Goldstone 1991). In turn, state collapse and ensuing sociopolitical instability cause higher death and emigration rates, lower birth rates, and negative effects on the productive infrastructure such as irrigation canals and flood-control dams. Models incorporating both the effect of population growth on state stability, and the feedback from state instability to population decline suggest that we should observe long-term demographic-political cycles, with periods of roughly two-three centuries (Turchin 2003; Turchin and Nefadov 2008).
Theories of Rise and Fall
Complex interchiefdom systems experienced a cycle in which a single paramount chiefdom became hegemonic within a system of competing polities by conquering adjacent chiefdoms (D.G. Anderson 1994; Kirch 1984). Once states emerged within a region they went through an analogous cycle of rise and fall in which a single state became hegemonic and then declined. Eventually most of these systems of states (interstate systems), experienced the phenomenon of semiperipheral marcher conquest in which a new state from out on the edge of the circle of old states conquered all (or most) of the states in the old core region to form a “universal empire”.
These patterns repeated themselves in several world regions for thousands of
years, with occasional leaps in which a semiperipheral marcher state conquered
larger regions than had ever before been subjected to a single power (e.g.
Assyrian Empire, Achaemenid Persia, Alexandrian Empires, the Chin and Han
Dynasties, Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphates, the Aztec and Inca Empires,
the Manchu Dynasty in China). During the Bronze and Iron Age expansions of the
tributary empires a new niche emerged for states that specialized in the
carrying trade among the empires and adjacent regions. These semiperipheral
capitalist city states were usually “thalassocratic” entities that used
naval power to protect sea-going trade (e.g. the Phoenician city-states,
With the eventual rise of
The Westphalian interstate system, in which the sovereignty of separate and competing states is institutionalized by the right of states to make war to protect their independence, has become a taken for granted institution in the modern world-system. Historians of international relations (e.g. Kennedy 1987) and theorists of international relations (e.g. Waltz 1979) have come to define this situation as a natural state of being. Authors with greater temporal depth (e.g. Wilkinson 1988, 1999) have argued that the peculiar resistance of the modern interstate system to the emergence of a universal state by means of conquest has been the result of an evolutionary learning process unique to modern Europe in which states realized that in order to protect their own sovereignty they should band together and engage in “general war” whenever a “rogue state” threatens to conquer another state.
A rather different explanation of the modern transition from the pattern of semiperipheral marcher state conquest to the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers points to the emergent predominance of capitalist accumulation in the European-centered interstate system. Once capitalism had become the predominant strategy for the accumulation of wealth and power it partially supplanted the geopolitical logic of institutionalized political coercion as a means to accumulation. Powerful capitalist core states emerged that could effectively prevent semiperipheral marcher states from conquering whole core regions to erect a “universal state.” The first capitalist-nation state to successfully do this was the Dutch republic of the seventeenth century.
There are several important ways in which explanations of modern rise and fall are different from one another. One important distinction is between the functionalists (who see emergent global hierarchies as serving a “need for global order,”) and conflict theorists (who dwell more intently on the ways in which hierarchies serve the privileged, the powerful and the wealthy). The term “hegemony” usually corresponds with the conflict approach, while the functionalists tend to employ the idea of “leadership.” Some analysts occasionally use both of these terms (e.g. Arrighi and Silver 1999). Another difference is between those who stress the importance of political/military power vs. what we shall call “economic power.” This issue is confused by disciplinary traditions (e.g. differences between economics, political science and sociology). Most economists entirely reject the notion of economic power, assuming that market exchanges occur among equals. Most political scientists and sociologists would agree that economic power has become more important than it formerly was. Some of the literature on recent globalization goes so far as to argue that states and military organizations have been largely subsumed by the power of transnational corporations and global market dynamics (e.g. Ross and Trachte 1990).
The three most important approaches to theorizing modern hegemony are those of Wallerstein (1984, 2002), Modelski and Thompson (1994); and Arrighi (1994). Wallerstein defines hegemony as comparative advantages in profitable types of production. This economic advantage is what serves as the basis of the hegemon’s political and cultural influence and military power. Hegemonic production is the most profitable kind of core production, and hegemony is just the top end of the global hierarchy that constitutes the modern core/periphery division of labor. Hegemonies are unstable and tend to devolve into hegemonic rivalry.
Wallerstein sees a Dutch seventeenth century hegemony, a British hegemony in
the nineteenth century and
George Modelski and William R. Thompson (1994) contend that the world
needs order, and world powers rise to fill this need. Such powers rise on
the basis of economic comparative advantage in newly leading industries, which
allow them to acquire the resources needed to win wars among the great powers
and to mobilize coalitions that keep the peace. World wars are the arbiters
that function as selection mechanisms for global leadership. But the
comparative advantages of the leaders diffuse to competitors and new
challengers emerge. Successful challengers are those that ally with the
declining world leader against another challenger (e.g. the
Giovanni Arrighi’s (1994) The Long Twentieth Century employs a
Braudelian approach to the analysis of what he terms “systemic cycles of
accumulation.” Arrighi sees hegemonies as successful collaborations between finance
capitalists and wielders of state power. His tour of the hegemonies begins with
Genoese financiers who allied with Spanish and Portuguese statesmen to perform
the role of hegemon in the fifteenth century. In Arrighi’s approach the role of
the hegemon itself evolves, becoming more deeply entwined with the
organizational and economic institutional spheres that allow for successful
capitalist accumulation. He sees a Dutch hegemony of the seventeenth century,
then a period of contention between
A distinctive element of Arrighi’s approach is his contention that profit making from trade and production becomes less profitable toward the end of a ‘systemic cycle of accumulation” and so big capital increasingly focuses on financial manipulations. Arrighi’s approach is compatible with the idea that new lead industries are important for the rise of a hegemon, but he sees the economic activities of big capital during the declining years in terms of speculative financial activities. These latter often correspond with a period of “growth” in which incomes are rising during a latter-day belle époque of the systemic cycle of accumulation. But this period of accumulation is based on the economic power of haute finance and the centering of world markets in the global cities of the hegemons rather than on their ability to produce real products that people will buy, and so these belle époques are unsustainable bubbles that are followed by decline.
This overview is prelude to our formulation of a synthetic explanation of upsweeps of settlement and polity sizes. We will build on the iteration model proposed in Chase-Dunn and Hall (1996) but with more attention to the role of trade networks, epidemic diseases, climate change and the relationships between processes that are internal to polities and processes that operate in relations among polities and at the level of whole systems of interacting polities. Chase-Dunn and Hall used interpolity interactions to spatially bound world-systems, but they neglected to specify the causal roles that these play in the evolution of sociocultural complexity. They also were rather vague in specifying the nature of differences that arise as new modes of accumulation become predominant. This issues need to be explicitly specified in a new synthetic theory. The implications of comparisons with physical and biological evolution of complexity also need to be made explicit.
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 The project is the Polities and
Settlements Research Working Group at the
 World-systems are defined as being composed of those human settlements and polities within a region that are importantly interacting with one another (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997).
 We use the term “polity” to generally denote a spatially-bounded realm of sovereign authority such as a band, tribe, chiefdom, state or empire. The term “settlement” includes camps, hamlets, villages, towns and cities. Settlements are spatially bounded for comparative purposes as the contiguous built-up area.
 See Chase-Dunn and Lerro (forthcoming: Chapter 1) for a discussion of the differences as well as the similarities between biological and sociocultural evolution.
. Carrying capacity is the population any natural environment can support within a specified region with a given production technology.
. Circumscription is a situation where emigration to relieve population pressure is blocked by physical or social barriers, or a combination of the two.
. Price-setting markets are those in which the competitive buying and selling of goods by actors operating to maximize their own returns largely determines the rates of exchange (prices) among traded goods. Many forms of exchange that look like markets, are not price-setting markets. In no societies are all social objects commodified, but market societies are those in which the provision of substantial elements of the daily life of the average member are commodities whose exchange is mediated by market forces.
 World-system Marxists differ from Marx and many others in that they do define capitalism as necessarily requiring wage labor. Peripheral capitalism has used slavery, indentured servitude and serfdom as forms of labor control for the production of commodities.