Wallerstein World-Systems Model: Does it Work?

Immanuel Wallerstein discussed the connection between dependent and independent countries as well as their possibility for development in his book “The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century.” Basically, Wallerstein claims that the World-System Model can be viewed as a part of the dependency theory. The author “develops a theoretical framework to understand the historical changes involved in the rise of the modern world” (Sociosite para. 1). He points out that the rise of the European countries in the modern world system was due to its capitalist nature. The feudal crisis was the fundamental issue that helped the Europeans make their countries reach supremacy in the period between 1450 and 1670. Wallerstein pointed out that “his theory makes possible a comprehensive understanding of the external and internal manifestation of the modernization process during this period and makes possible analytically sound comparisons between different parts of the world” (Sociosite para. 1).

Moreover, Immanuel Wallerstein agrees that previously dependent countries do not have to continue being trapped forever under the pressure of more developed ones. He states that all the countries must develop and climb the economic ladder. The practice has shown that many of those ex-colonies have done that. “However, he also believes that the global capitalist system still requires some countries, or at least regions within countries to be poor so they can be exploited by the wealthy at the top” (Revise Sociology para. 3). For this purpose, Wallerstein has divided his theory into four underlying principles:

  • The world system must be viewed as a whole;
  • The international division of labor is strictly divided between three major capitalist zones;
  • “Countries can be upwardly or downwardly mobile in the world system” (Revise Sociology para. 10);
  • The Modern World System must be viewed as a dynamic phenomenon.

Wallerstein provides fundamental facts to prove that Europe’s course towards capitalistic country was a choice that helped them achieve constant economic growth. Thus, the geographical extension was a necessity, as well as “the development of different modes of labor control and the creation of relatively strong state machineries in the states of Western Europe” (Sociosite para. 4). This happened due to the feudal crisis occurrence. There was a need to create a new efficient economic model to replace the devastated previous one. In the period from 1450 till 1670 the major part of the world was involved in the newly created economic model “that superseded national or other political boundaries” (Sociosite para. 4). The new economic system differed significantly from the previously existing one as it was not a part of the single political unit. It did not depend on the tyrannical monopoly of the existing empires. However, “commercial monopolies combined goods from the periphery to the center” (Sociosite para. 4). Those empires developed certain political boundaries, which helped them maintain control through the usage of the army as a force, and extensive bureaucracy. “Only the techniques of modern capitalism enabled the modern world economy, unlike earlier attempts, to extend beyond the political boundaries of any one empire” (Sociosite para. 4).

Wallerstein has stated that “the new capitalist world system was founded on an international division of labor that determined relationships between different regions as well as the types of labor conditions within each region” (Sociosite para. 5). The geographical and political issues played an integral role in the development of the countries’ economies according to this theory. Four different categories were proposed by Wallerstein. He categorized those regions into the core, periphery, external, and semi-periphery. Those categories describe the relative position within the world economy of each region. They also determine their external and internal political and economic characteristics.

Even though Wallerstein had published his World System Model in 1974, and the majority of the examples were used to explain the growth of capitalism in 1450-1670, the theory remains actual. Its dynamic development is identified by the author. However, specific features remain stable. Those are the division of the regions into the core, periphery, semi-periphery, and external ones. Thus, the core areas still gain benefits from selling staff achieved from periphery and semi-periphery. Those goods are usually sold in the external areas. “Through extremely high profits gained from international trade and from an exchange of manufactured goods for raw materials from the periphery (and, to a lesser extent, from the semi-peripheries), the core enriched itself at the expense of the peripheral economies” (Sociosite para. 29). Nowadays, the theory is applicable to many countries. They still consider people from rural areas as a labor force. The natural resources are taken from the periphery and semi-periphery to be sold abroad. Not much money is given back to those areas. Thus, many of them become depressive with the time flow. The developed countries use the customs services to create additional boundaries for the developing businesses. Emmanuel Wallerstein’s theory remains valid as it explains the rules of capitalism developing from 1450 until now in many countries across the globe.

Works Cited

Revise Sociology. World System Theory. 2015. Web. Retrieved from https://revisesociology.com/2015/12/05/world-systems-theory/

SocioSite. World System Theory. No date. Web. Retrieved from https://www.sociosite.net/sociologists/texts/wallerstein_summary.php

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