In the Introduction to Volume One of The Modern World-System, Immanuel Wallerstein writes that his experiences in colonial Africa during the time of the African anti-colonial movements enabled him to see that European and African Nationalist conceptions are fundamentally different.
“I went to Africa first during the colonial era,” he writes, “and I witnessed the process of ‘decolonization,’ and then of the independence of a cascade of sovereign states. White man that I was, I was bombarded by the onslaught of the colonial mentality of Europeans long resident in Africa. And sympathizer of nationalist movements that I was, I was privy to the angry analyses and optimist passions of young militants of the African movements. It did not take long to realize that not only were these two groups at odds on political issues, but that they approached the situation with entirely different sets of conceptual frameworks” (1974:4; italics added).
African nationalists, Wallerstein noted, “saw the reality in which they lived as a ‘colonial situation,’” fundamentally different from and opposed to the “colonial mentality” of the Europeans (1974:4).
Wallerstein saw in Africa what Bernard Lonergan describes as the formulation of opposed understandings in the context of different culturally-based horizons (see “What is cross-horizon encounter?” 7/26/13). Moreover, Wallerstein’s scholarship shows that cross-horizon encounter is the key to social scientific understanding, for Wallerstein’s encounter with the African nationalist movement stimulated a process of reflection that enabled him to understand that the use of “society”as the unit of analysis, common in the Western social science of that time, established false assumptions for understanding the “colonial situation.” This understanding led Wallerstein to the conclusion that “the correct unit of analysis is the world-system” (Wallerstein 1974:7). Driven by what Lonergan calls the “pure desire to know,” Wallerstein committed himself to the task of describing the historical development of the modern world-system (Wallerstein 1974, 1980, 1982, 1989, 2000, 2011 and Hopkins and Wallerstein 1996). His important and groundbreaking work ignores the disciplinary boundaries among history, economics, sociology, and political science in order to formulate the world-systems perspective, an alternative to the dominant Western social scientific paradigm and an alternative that takes into account the insights of the twentieth century Third World national liberation movements.
Wallerstein has identified four stages in the development of the modern world-system: (1) the origin of the system on the foundation of the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of vast regions of the American continents, establishing a world-economy, with Western Europe as its core and Latin America and Eastern Europe as its periphery (1492-1640); (2) a stage of stagnation, characterized by competition among core powers, during which the basic structures of the system were preserved and reinforced (1640-1815); (3) the expansion of the system from 1815-1917, made possible by the conquest of vast regions of Africa and Asia by European powers; and (4) 1917 to the present, characterized by the development of imperialism and neocolonialism as new forms of core domination and by the emergence of anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial movements in the Third World.
In future posts, we will draw upon the insights of Third World intellectuals and leaders, and we also will often find Wallerstein’s formulations to be helpful as we seek to understand.
Scroll down to find posts that critically analyze the work of Immanuel Wallerstein:
“Wallerstein: A Critique” 7/31/0213
“Wallerstein and world-systems analysis” 3/25/2014
“Wallerstein and Africa” 3/26/2014
“Wallerstein: Europe-centered or universal?” 3/27/2014
“The terminal crisis of the world-system” 3/28/2014
“Domination and ideology” 3/31/2014
“Reunified historical social science” 4/1/2014
“Universal philosophical historical social science” 4/2/2014
“We can know the true and the good” 4/3/2104
“How can knowledge be reorganized?” 4/4/2014
“Wallerstein on liberalism” 4/6/2014
“Liberals or revolutionaries?” 4/7/2014
“Wallerstein on Leninism” 4/8/2014
“Wallerstein on revolution” 4/9/2014
“Wallerstein, Marx, and knowledge” 4/14/2014
“The alternative world-system from below” 4/15/2014
“Universal human values” 4/16/2014
“An alternative epistemology” 4/17/2014.
Hopkins, Terence K., and Immanuel Wallerstein. 1996. The Age of Transition: Trajectory of the World System, 1945-2025. New Jersey: Zed Books.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1974. The Modern World System, Vol. I. New
York: Academic Press.
__________. 1979. The Capitalist World Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
__________. 1980. The Modern World System, Vol. II. New York:
__________. 1982. “Crisis as Transition” in Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi, Andre Gunder Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein, Dynamics of Global Crisis. New York: Monthly Review Press.
__________. 1989. The Modern World System, Vol. III. New York: Academic Press.
__________. 1990. "Antisystemic Movements: History and Dilemmas" in Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi, Andre Gunder Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein, Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World-System. New York: Monthly Review Press.
__________. 1995. After Liberalism. New York: The New Press.
__________. 2000. “Long Waves as Capitalist Process” in Immanuel Wallerstein, The Essential Wallerstein (New York: The New Press), Pp. 207-19. [Originally published in Review VII:4 (Spring 1984), Pp. 559-75.]
__________. 2000. “The Three Instances of Hegemony in the History of the Capitalist World-Economy” in Immanuel Wallerstein, The Essential Wallerstein (New York: The New Press), Pp. 253-63. [Originally published in International Journal of Comparative Sociology XXIV:1-2 (January-April 1983), Pp. 100-8).
__________. 2003. The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World. New York: The New Press.
__________. 2011. The Modern World System IV: Centralist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789-1914. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, Lonergan, cognitional theory, epistemology, philosophy, Wallerstein, world-system