1 minute read

Latin America World Systems Theory

The Age Of Decolonization And The Failings Of Modernization Theory, Precursors To World Systems Theory, Wallerstein And World Systems Theory

The term world systems analysis was coined in 1974 by Immanuel Wallerstein to refer to a broad set of ideas about the global political economy, and especially the relationship between Latin America and the dominant economies of Europe and the United States, which were then gaining currency. The phrase world system is explored in detail in Wallerstein's famous book The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century (1976). The form of critical inquiry advanced in this legendary study was then used in varying ways around the globe by such other scholars as Samir Amin of Senegal, Giovanni Arrighi of Italy, and André Gunder Frank of Germany, all of whom collaborated with Wallerstein on a notable book published through Monthly Review Press in 1982 entitled Dynamics of Global Crisis.

Landmark theories often emerge when the concrete events of history demand a new politics, and with it a new explanatory framework. Such was the case with world systems theory, and the preceding dependency theory of the 1960s and 1970s. As anthropologist Eric Wolf would later write, these intellectual movements tried to synthesize theoretically informed history with historically informed theory in response to the pressing problem, expressed most acutely during the political upheavals of 1968, "to discover history, a history that would account for the ways in which the social system of the modern world came into being," since "only in this way could we come to comprehend the forces that impel societies and cultures here and now" (p. ix). As this statement—and Wolf's own political activism in the United States during the 1960s—makes clear, world systems theory and its antecedent movements were not merely intellectual exercises; the scholars involved in them were also activists, many of whom risked their lives and suffered political repression, imprisonment, and exile in their efforts to transform the unequal system they abhorred.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Well-being to Jan Ɓukasiewicz Biography