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Immanuel Wallerstein

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Immanuel Wallerstein

Immanuel Wallerstein
Immanuel Wallerstein giving a talk at a seminar at the European University at St. Petersburg (May 24, 2008)
Born (1930-09-28) September 28, 1930
New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Sociology
Institutions Binghamton University
Yale University
Alma mater Columbia University
Known for World-System Theory
Influences Karl Marx
Fernand Braudel
Karl Polanyi
Frantz Fanon
Ilya Prigogine
Joseph Schumpeter
Nikolai Kondratiev

Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein (;[1] born September 28, 1930) is an American sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst, arguably best known for his development of the general approach in sociology which led to the emergence of his World-System Theory.[2] He publishes bimonthly syndicated commentaries on world affairs.[3]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Academic career 2
  • Theory 3
    • The Modern World-System 3.1
    • Criticism 3.2
  • Terms and definitions 4
  • Works 5
  • Honors and fellowships 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Early life and education

Having grown up in a politically conscious family, Wallerstein first became interested in world affairs as a teenager while living in New York City.[4] He received all three of his degrees from Columbia University: a B.A. in 1951, a M.A. in 1954, and a PhD in 1959. However, throughout his life, Wallerstein has also studied at other universities around the world, including Oxford University from 1955–56,[5] Université libre de Bruxelles, Universite Paris 7 Denis Diderot, and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

From 1951 to 1953, Wallerstein also served in the U.S. Army.[4] It was after his return from his service that he wrote his master's thesis on McCarthyism as a phenomenon of American political culture, which was widely cited and Wallerstein states, "confirmed my sense that I should consider myself, in the language of the 1950s, a 'political sociologist.'"[4] Eleven years later on May 25, 1964, he married Beatrice Friedman; the couple has one daughter.[5]

Academic career

Wallerstein's academic and professional career began at Columbia University, where he started as an instructor and later became an associate professor of sociology from 1958 to 1971.[5] During his time there, he served as a prominent supporter of the students during the Columbia University protests of 1968.[6] In 1971, he moved from New York to Montreal where he taught at McGill University for five years.[5]

Originally, Wallerstein's prime area of intellectual concern was not American politics, but politics of the non-European world, most especially those of India and Africa.[4] For two decades Wallerstein served as an Africa scholar, publishing numerous books and articles,[4] and in 1973, became president of the African Studies Association.[7]

In 1976, Wallerstein was offered the unique opportunity to pursue a new avenue of research, and so became head of the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilization at Binghamton University in New York,[8] whose mission is "to engage in the analysis of large-scale social change over long periods of historical time."[9] The Center was opened with the publishing support of a new journal Review[5] (of which Wallerstein was the founding editor), and would go on to produce a body of work that "went a long way toward invigorating sociology and its sister disciplines, especially history and political-economy."[5] Wallerstein would serve as a distinguished professor of sociology at Binghamton until his retirement in 1999.[10]

Throughout his career, Wallerstein has held visiting professor posts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, British Columbia, and Amsterdam, among numerous others.[11] He has been awarded multiple honorary titles, intermittently served as Directeur d'études associé at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and was president of the International Sociological Association between 1994 and 1998.[12] Similarly, during the 1990s he chaired the Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences, whose object was to indicate a direction for social scientific inquiry for the next 50 years.[13]

Since 2000, Wallerstein has served as a Senior Research Scholar at Yale University.[14] He is also a member of the Advisory Editors Council of the Social Evolution & History journal. In 2003, he received the Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association,[7] and in 2004 was awarded with the Gold Kondratieff Medal by the International N. D. Kondratieff Foundation and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RAEN).[15]


Wallerstein began as an expert of post-colonial African affairs, which he selected as the focus of his studies after attending international youth conferences in 1951 and 1952.[16] His publications were almost exclusively devoted to this until the early 1970s, when he began to distinguish himself as a historian and theorist of the global capitalist economy on a macroscopic level. His early criticism of global capitalism and championship of "anti-systemic movements" have recently made him an éminence grise with the anti-globalization movement within and outside of the academic community, along with Noam Chomsky and Pierre Bourdieu.

His most important work, The Modern World-System, has appeared in four volumes since 1974, with additional planned volumes still forthcoming.[17] In it, Wallerstein draws on several intellectual influences:

  • Karl Marx, whom he follows in emphasizing underlying economic factors and their dominance over ideological factors in global politics, and whose economic thinking he has adopted with such ideas as the dichotomy between capital and labor, the view of world economic development through stages such as feudalism and capitalism, belief in the accumulation of capital, dialectics, and more;

However, Wallerstein categorizes Frantz Fanon, Fernand Braudel, and Ilya Prigogine as the three individuals that have had the greatest impact "in modifying my line of argument (as opposed to deepening a parallel line of argument)."[4] In The Essential Wallerstein, he chronologically lists the three individuals and describes their influence on his views:

  • Frantz Fanon: "Fanon represented for me the expression of the insistence by those disenfranchised by the modern world‑system that they have a voice, a vision, and a claim not merely to justice but to intellectual valuation."[4]
  • Fernand Braudel: who had described the development and political implications of extensive networks of economic exchange in the European world between 1400 and 1800, "more than anyone else made me conscious of the central importance of the social construction of time and space and its impact on our analyses."[4]
  • Ilya Prigogine: "Prigogine forced me to face the implications of a world in which certainties did not exist - but knowledge still did."[4]

Wallerstein has also stated that another major influence on his work was the 'world revolution' of 1968. He was on the faculty of Columbia University at the time of the student uprising there, and participated in a faculty committee that attempted to resolve the dispute. He has argued in several works that this revolution marked the end of "liberalism" as a viable ideology in the modern world system. Wallerstein anticipated the growing importance of the North-South divide at a time when the main world conflict was the Cold War.

He has argued since 1980 that the United States is a 'hegemon in decline'. He was often mocked for making this claim during the 1990s, but since the Iraq War this argument has become more widespread. Overall, Wallerstein sees the development of the capitalist world economy as detrimental to a large proportion of the world's population.[18] Similar to Marx, Wallerstein predicts that capitalism will be replaced by a socialist economy.[19]

Wallerstein has both participated in and written about the World Social Forum.

The Modern World-System

Wallerstein's first volume on world-system theory (The Modern World System, 1974) was predominantly written during a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (now affiliated with Stanford University).[2] In it, he argues that the modern world system is distinguished from empires by its reliance on economic control of the world order by a dominating capitalist center in systemic economic and political relation to peripheral and semi peripheral world areas.[20]

Wallerstein rejects the notion of a "Third World", claiming that there is only one world connected by a complex network of economic exchange relationships — i.e., a "world-economy" or "world-system" in which the "dichotomy of capital and labor" and the endless "accumulation of capital" by competing agents (historically including, but not limited, to nation-states) account for frictions. This approach is known as the World-System Theory.

Wallerstein locates the origin of the modern world-system in 16th-century Western Europe and the Americas. An initially slight advance in capital accumulation in Britain, the Dutch Republic, and France, due to specific political circumstances at the end of the period of feudalism, set in motion a process of gradual expansion. As a result, only one global network or system of economic exchange exists in modern society. By the 19th century, virtually every area on earth was incorporated into the capitalist world-economy.

The capitalist world-system is far from homogeneous in cultural, political and economic terms; instead, it is characterized by fundamental differences in social development, accumulation of political power, and capital. Contrary to affirmative theories of modernization and capitalism, Wallerstein does not conceive of these differences as mere residues or irregularities that can and will be overcome as the system evolves.

A lasting division of the world into core, semi-periphery and periphery is an inherent feature of world-system theory. Areas which have so far remained outside the reach of the world-system enter it at the stage of 'periphery'. There is a fundamental and institutionally stabilized 'division of labor' between core and periphery: while the core has a high level of technological development and manufactures complex products, the role of the periphery is to supply raw materials, agricultural products, and cheap labor for the expanding agents of the core. Economic exchange between core and periphery takes place on unequal terms: the periphery is forced to sell its products at low prices, but has to buy the core's products at comparatively high prices. Once established, this unequal state tends to stabilize itself due to inherent, quasi-deterministic constraints. The statuses of core and periphery are not exclusive and fixed geographically, but are relative to each other. A zone defined as 'semi-periphery' acts as a periphery to the core and as a core to the periphery. At the end of the 20th century, this zone would comprise Eastern Europe, China, Brazil, and Mexico. It is important to note that core and peripheral zones can co-exist in the same location.

One effect of the expansion of the world-system is the commodification of things, including human labor. Natural resources, land, labor, and human relationships are gradually being stripped of their "intrinsic" value and turned into commodities in a market which dictates their exchange value.

In the last two decades, Wallerstein has increasingly focused on the intellectual foundations of the modern world-system and the pursuit of universal theories of human behavior. In addition, he has shown interest in the "structures of knowledge" defined by the disciplinary division between sociology, anthropology, political science, economics and the humanities, which he himself regards as Eurocentric. In analyzing them, he has been highly influenced by the "new sciences" of theorists like Ilya Prigogine.


Wallerstein's theory has provoked harsh criticism, not only from neo-liberal or conservative circles, but even from some historians who say that some of his assertions may be historically incorrect. Some critics, including R. Robertson and F. Lechner, suggest that Wallerstein tends to neglect the cultural dimension of the modern world-system, arguing that there is a world system of global culture which is independent from the economic processes of capitalism;[21] this reduces it to what some call "official" ideologies of states which can then easily be revealed as mere agencies of economic interest. Nevertheless, his analytical approach, along with that of associated theorists such as Andre Gunder Frank, Terence Hopkins, Samir Amin, Christopher Chase-Dunn and Giovanni Arrighi, has made a significant impact on the field and has established an institutional base devoted to the general approach of intellectual inquiry. Their ideology has also attracted strong interest from the anti-globalization movement.

Terms and definitions

Capitalist World-System
Wallerstein's definition follows Dependency Theory, which intended to combine the developments of the different societies since the 16th century in different regions into one collective development. The main characteristic of his definition is the development of a global division of labour, including the existence of independent political units (in this case, states) at the same time. There is no political center, compared to global empires like the Roman Empire; instead, the capitalist world-system is identified by the global market economy. It is divided into core, semi-periphery, and periphery regions, and is ruled by the capitalist method of production.

Defines the difference between developed and developing countries, characterized e.g. by power or wealth. The core refers to developed countries, the periphery to the dependent developing countries. The main reason for the position of the developed countries is economic power.

Defines states that are located between core and periphery, and who benefit from the periphery through unequal exchange relations. At the same time, the core benefits from the semi-periphery through unequal exchange relations.

Defines a kind of monopoly where there is more than one service provider for a particular good/service. Wallerstein claims that quasi-monopolies are self-liquidating because new sellers go into the market by exerting political pressure to open markets to competition.[22]

Kondratiev Waves
Defines a cyclical tendency in the world's economy. It is also known as a supercycle. Wallerstein argues that global wars are tied to Kondratiev waves. According to him, global conflicts occur as the summer phase of a wave begins, which is when production of goods and services around the world are on an upswing.[23]


Year Title Author(s) Publisher
1961 Africa, The Politics of Independence Immanuel Wallerstein New York: Vintage Books
1964 The Road to Independence: Ghana and the Ivory Coast Immanuel Wallerstein Paris & The Hague: Mouton
1967 Africa: The Politics of Unity Immanuel Wallerstein New York: Random House
1969 University in Turmoil: The Politics of Change Immanuel Wallerstein New York: Atheneum
1972 Africa: Tradition & Change Immanuel Wallerstein with Evelyn Jones Rich New York: Random House
1974 The Modern World-System, vol. I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century Immanuel Wallerstein New York/London: Academic Press
1979 The Capitalist World-Economy Immanuel Wallerstein Cambridge University Press
1980 The Modern World-System, vol. II: Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600-1750 Immanuel Wallerstein New York: Academic Press
1982 World-Systems Analysis: Theory and Methodology Immanuel Wallerstein with Terence K. Hopkins et al. Beverly Hills: Sage
1982 Dynamics of Global Crisis Immanuel Wallerstein with Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi and Andre Gunder Frank London: Macmillan
1983 Historical Capitalism Immanuel Wallerstein London: Verso
1984 The Politics of the World-Economy. The States, the Movements and the Civilizations Immanuel Wallerstein Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
1986 Africa and the Modern World Immanuel Wallerstein Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press
1989 The Modern World-System, vol. III: The Second Great Expansion of the Capitalist World-Economy, 1730-1840's Immanuel Wallerstein San Diego: Academic Press
1989 Antisystemic Movements Immanuel Wallerstein with Giovanni Arrighi and Terence K. Hopkins London: Verso
1990 Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World-System Immanuel Wallerstein with Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi and Andre Gunder Frank New York: Monthly Review Press
1991 Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities Immanuel Wallerstein with Étienne Balibar London: Verso.
1991 Geopolitics and Geoculture: Essays on the Changing World-System Immanuel Wallerstein Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
1991 Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth Century Paradigms Immanuel Wallerstein Cambridge: Polity
1995 After Liberalism Immanuel Wallerstein New York: New Press
1995 Historical Capitalism, with Capitalist Civilization Immanuel Wallerstein London: Verso
1998 Utopistics: Or, Historical Choices of the Twenty-first Century Immanuel Wallerstein New York: New Press
1999 The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-first Century Immanuel Wallerstein Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
2001 Democracy, Capitalism, and Transformation Immanuel Wallerstein Documenta 11, Vienna, March 16, 2001
2003 Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World Immanuel Wallerstein New York: New Press
2004 The Uncertainties of Knowledge Immanuel Wallerstein Philadelphia: Temple University Press
2004 World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction Immanuel Wallerstein Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press
2004 Alternatives: The U.S. Confronts the World Immanuel Wallerstein Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Press
2006 European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power Immanuel Wallerstein New York: New Press
2011 The Modern World-System, vol. IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914 Immanuel Wallerstein Berkeley: University of California Press
2013 Uncertain Worlds: World-Systems Analysis in Changing Times Immanuel Wallerstein with Charles Lemert and Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas Herndon, VA: Paradigm Publishers
2013 Does Capitalism Have a Future? Immanuel Wallerstein with Craig Calhoun New York: Oxford University Press

Honors and fellowships

  • N.D. Kondratieff Gold Medal, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, 2005
  • Distinguished Fellow, St. John’s College, University of British Columbia, 2004–present
  • Centro de Estudios, Información y Documentación Immanuel Wallerstein, Univ. de la Tierra-Chiapas y el CIDECI Las Casas, 2004–present
  • Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award, American Sociological Association, 2003
  • Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award, Political Economy of the World-System Section of ASA, 2003
  • Premio Carlos Marx 2003, Fondo Cultural Tercer Mundo, Mexico
  • Leerstoel (Chair) Immanuel Wallerstein, University of Ghent, 2002- [Inaugural Lecture by IW on Mar. 11, 2002]
  • Fellow, Amer. Acad. of Arts & Sciences, 1998
  • IPE Distinguished Scholar, International Studies Association, 1998
  • Gulbenkian Professor of Science and Technology, 1994
  • Medal of the University, Univ. of Helsinki, 1992
  • Wei Lun Visiting Professor, Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong, 1991
  • University Award for Excellence in Scholarship, Binghamton University, 1991
  • George A. Miller Visiting Professor, University of Illinois-Urbana, 1989
  • Officier, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France, 1984
  • Sorokin Prize (for Distinguished Scholarship), American Sociological Association, 1975
  • Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, 1970–71
  • Ford Fellow in Economics, Political Science and Sociology, 1970–71
  • Foreign Area Fellowship, Africa, 1955–57
  • Phi Beta Kappa, 1951

See also


  1. ^ "China and the World System since 1945" by Immanuel Wallerstein
  2. ^ a b "Wallerstein, Immanuel (1930- )." The AZ Guide to Modern Social and Political Theorists. Ed. Noel Parker and Stuart Sim. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997. 372-76. Print.
  3. ^ Agence Global
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wallerstein, I. 2000. The Essential Wallerstein. New York, NY: The New Press.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Sica, Alan. 2005. “Immanuel Wallerstein.” Pp. 734-739 in Social Thought: from the Enlightenment to the present. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  6. ^ Ed. Lemert, Charles. 2010. “Immanuel Wallerstein.” Pp. 398-405 in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classical Readings. Westview Press.
  7. ^ a b Wallerstein, I. (April 2009). Curriculum Vitae. Retrieved from
  8. ^ Sica, Alan. 2005. “Immanuel Wallerstein.” Pp. 734-739 in Social Thought: from the Enlightenment to the present. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Wallerstein, I. (April 2009). Curriculum Vitae. Retrieved from content/uploads/docs/iwallerstein-cv-eng-09.pdf
  11. ^ Allan, Kenneth (2006). Contemporary social and sociological theory: visualizing social worlds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. 
  12. ^ Lemert, edited with commentaries by Charles (2010). Social theory : the multicultural and classic readings (4th ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.  
  13. ^ Wallerstein, Wallerstein. "Immanuel Wallerstein". Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  14. ^ Ed. Parker, Noel and Stuart Sim. 1997. “Wallerstein, Immanuel (1930- ).” Pp. 372-76 in The AZ Guide to Modern Social and Political Theorists. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  15. ^ The International N. D. Kondratieff Foundation
  16. ^ Wallerstein, I. 2000. The Essential Wallerstein. New York, NY: The New Press.
  17. ^ Williams, Gregory. P. 2013. Special Contribution: Interview with Immanuel Wallerstein Retrospective on the Origins of World-Systems Analysis. Journal Of World-Systems Research 19(2): 202-210.
  18. ^ Paul Halsall Modern History Sourcebook: Summary of Wallerstein on World System Theory, August 1997
  19. ^ Carlos A. Martínez-Vela, World Systems Theory, paper prepared for the Research Seminar in Engineering Systems, November 2003
  20. ^ Ed. Lemert, Charles. 2010. “Immanuel Wallerstein.” Pp. 398-405 in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classical Readings. Westview Press.
  21. ^ Abercrombie, Nicholas, Hill, Stephen, and Bryan Turner. 2006. Dictionary of Sociology. 6th ed. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd.
  22. ^ Wallerstein, Immanuel (2004). World-systems analysis : an introduction (5. print. ed.). Durham: Duke University Press.  
  23. ^ "What Is the Kondratiev Wave?". Retrieved 30 September 2012. 

Further reading

  • Kenneth, A. "Contemporary social and sociological theory: visualizing social worlds". Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 2006.
  • Brewer, A., Marxist Theories of Imperialism: A Critical survey, London: Macmillan, 1990.
  • Frank, A.G. and B. Gills (eds), The World System: 500 years or 5000?, London: Routledge, 1993.
  • Hout, W., Capitalism and the Third World: Development, dependence and the world system, Hants: Edward Elgar, 1993.
  • Sanderson, S., Civilizations and World Systems, London: Sage, 1955.
  • Shannon, T., An Introduction to the World-System Perspective, Oxford: Westview Press, 1989.
  • Wallerstein, I., The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century, New York: Academic Press, 1974.

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Immanuel Wallerstein's Official Website
  • Immanuel Wallerstein's profile at
  • Immanuel Wallerstein's Full CV
  • Wallerstein's Bimonthly Syndicated Commentaries
  • Presentation of Immanuel Wallerstein's "World-System Model"
  • Wallerstein's Own Fortnightly Commentaries on Current Events
  • Journal of World-Systems Research
  • "Modern History Sourcebook: Summary of Wallerstein on World System Theory" - Fordham University
  • Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Compact Macromodels of the World System Growth by Andrey Korotayev, Artemy Malkov, and Daria Khaltourina
  • Wallerstein's World-Systems Theory
  • Interview with Wallerstein (2008) on the End of Capitalism and World-Systems
  • Binghmaton University Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations
  • "The United States Facing Its Decline" - Fall 2006, Conference given by Immanuel Wallerstein at the Université de Montréal (in French)
  • "Major crisis still ahead, past one was minor" (2009) on YouTube - Immanuel Wallerstein comments on America's recent financial crisis in TV interview
  • "Immanuel Wallerstein - Unit of Analysis" (2010) on YouTube
  • "Immanuel Wallerstein - Capitalism is reaching its end" (2011) on YouTube
  • Grace Lee Boggs and Immanuel Wallerstein Dialogue - U.S. Social Forum, 2010
  • "Global Africa: Liberation Movements Since 1945" - Sept. 24, 2008, dialogue between Immanuel Wallerstein, Walter Turner, and Will Grant at CounterPULSE, part of the ongoing Shaping San Francisco Talks series
  • KPFA Radio Interview - Nov. 12, 2008, Immanuel Wallerstein comments on the structural constraints faced by Obama and the current economic crisis
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