World systems theory   , also known as world system analysis, is a theory of social analysis and social changes from a macro-social perspective that seeks to explain the dynamics of the “global capitalist economy” as a “complete social system”. This approach is located in the fields of historical sociology and economic history, and given the theory’s emphasis on the importance of development and unequal opportunities across countries, it was also adopted by development theorists, making this combination a theory of interpretation of a global system with a political and intellectual endeavor .

Perhaps to say is true , as we go back the beginning of the Tlahil theory of the global system to Immanuel Wallerstein – Immanuel Wallerstein , when his article published in 1974 entitled: Ascension and disappearing future global capitalist system: Concepts for Comparative Analysis – The Rise And the Future Demise Of The : World Capitalist the System Concepts , For Comparative the Analysis.

This article was followed by many works, the most important of which was the First Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European Global Economy in the Sixteenth Century –  The Modern World System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, which was published in three volumes in 1974, 1980 and 1989.

Through this theory Wallstein attempted to achieve a clear conceptual disconnect with the theories of modernization , and thus presented a new theoretical model to guide an investigation into the emergence and development of capitalism, industrialism, and nation-states. : The performance of the global capitalist economy as a system, how and why? Its origins, and its relations with non-capitalist structures of previous centuries, a comparative study of alternative modes of production, and the ongoing transition to socialism.

Through these themes, Wallerstein attempted to explain why modernity affects the world in a wide and different scale. And to show how the political and economic conditions after the collapse of feudalism in northwestern Europe shifted attention to the prevailing commercial and political power .

Intellectual influences

In world order theory, Wallerstein was clearly influenced by a number of thinkers. Perhaps the first of whom Karl Marx – , Karl Marx , was inspired by the idea of division between capital and labor, in addition to the interim outlook for world economic development through stages such as feudalism and capitalism, and faith in the accumulation of capital, and controversial, and other concepts of the theories of Marx. The most important points that he drew Wallerstein from Marx in his theory are:

1- The class struggle between human groups with a material basis.

2 – The holistic view.

3- Theories of social forms.

4- The centrality of the wealth accumulation process and the competitive class struggle that results from it 

5 – Dialectical movement through conflict and contradiction.

In addition, Wallerstein introduced major concepts from the theory of dependency into his theory of the world system, and at a time when the theory of mobilization focused on its new Marxist interpretation of development processes, Wallstein tried to focus his theory on understanding  the periphery by looking at the relationships of the core   with the periphery.   Which flourished in third world regions such as Latin America .

As for the second influencer in Wallerstein’s ideas, he is the French historian Fernand Braudel and the Annales School . This was through Wallstein’s focus on geographical ecological regions as units of analysis, and attention to rural history.

Other important influences in Wallerstein’s work are Karl Polanyi through concern for the global order of business cycles, and Joseph Schumpeter . By introducing three basic types of economic organization: reciprocal patterns, redistribution, and markets.

The theorists of the dependency theory first explained the relationship of “unequal exchange” whereby the rich countries of the world imposed trade relations on the poor, as the former extracted the surpluses from the latter. Among the most important structures in the current world order is a hierarchy of power between the core and the periphery , in which core societies dominate power and wealth and seek to exploit surrounding societies – periphery weak and impoverished .

The most important concepts 

For Wallerstein , the world order is a social system, with boundaries, structures, organs, rules and cohesion. In short, this system consists of a world of conflicting powers that it has kept together divided as each group seeks to direct the rules in an absolute way that serves their interests.

Wallerstein also sees the global system as a “global economy” integrated through the market rather than the political center, where two or more regions are interconnected with respect to necessities such as food, fuel and protection, and two or more policies compete for dominance without a single center emerging forever This system is based on an international division of labor that defines the relationships between the different regions as well as the types of work conditions within each region. The type of political system is also directly related to the position of each region in the global economy as a basis for comparison. 

Wallerstein lays out a few core concepts and categories in this approach: the core, the periphery, and the periphery. All regions of the world fall into one of these categories. The categories describe the relative position of each region as well as some internal political and economic characteristics.

The core states: According to Wallerstein’s interpretation, regions of this category have benefited more from the global capitalist economy. In this category, countries have developed strong central governments, large bureaucracies, and large armies. This allowed the local bourgeoisie to control international trade and extract capital surpluses from this trade for its own benefit.
As the rural population expanded, the growing number – though small – of wage workers without land provided labor on farms and manufacturing activities. In the wake of the feudal crisis, independent farmers drove many other peasants from the land, and most of these poor peasants moved to the cities, providing more cheap labor necessary for the growth of urban industrialization. Thus, the Industrial Revolution and its boom, which led to the economic growth of these countries.

The periphery: On the other end of the scale are the periphery regions. These areas lack strong central governments or were under the control of other countries. These countries depend on the export of raw materials to the core countries and the use of forced labor practices. And due to the lack of sufficient political and economic experience in these countries as well as other reasons, the countries of the periphery fall into the trap of the economic games that the core countries are  playing to confiscate much of the surplus capital generated by the periphery through unequal trade relations.

– Semi Periphery countries : Semi Periphery states are located between the two previous extremes, so that these regions represent either the core regions – the core   in a state of decline or the periphery countries – Periphery   if their relative position in the global economic system improves.
Economically, these regions have maintained limited but diminishing access to international banking services and the production of high-quality, high-cost manufactured goods.However, according to Wallerstein , these countries fail to dominate international trade and thus will not benefit as much as the core regions .

External areas:   the countries that have preserved their own economic systems, and have managed to survive outside the modern global economy .

Technology: Technology is a pivotal factor in determining a country’s position in the core, ocean, or near-ocean countries. The technologically advanced countries are at the core, while the less developed countries are located in the ocean. Also, countries that lie in the ocean are made up of a structure that does not allow them to develop their position in the global system. Technology has given economic and political power to the core countries and the difference between the core countries and the periphery in power gives preference to the core countries that seek to preserve the status quo because it leads to the continuation of the system as a whole and the increase in the flow of surplus to them 

Sources and references:

Chirot, Daniel and Thomas D. Hall. 1982. “World-System Theory.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 8 pp. 81-106.

Skocpol, Theda. 1977. “Wallerstein’s World Capitalist System: A Theoretical and Historical Critique.” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 82. N. 5. 1075-1090.

Wallersten, Immanuel. World System Analysis, n.d.

Vela, Carlos A. Martínez. World Systems Theory, nd

Sorinel, Cosma. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN’S WORLD SYSTEM THEORY. Universitaty Constanta, n.d.

A Summary of Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century. Fordham University, n.d.