World System Theory Sociology YouTube Lecture Handouts

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  • Macro-sociological perspective
  • Immanuel Wallerstein
  • 1974 - The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis.
  • 1976 - The Modern World System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century.
  • Inspired by Weber and Marx
  • Qualitative research
  • Theoretical and practical approach (Praxis) i.e.. Practicing an idea or theory
  • World System Theory of development explains the relationships between the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries.
  • Explains the dynamics of the “capitalist world economy” as a “total social system” .
  • Historical sociology and economic history
  • Development and unequal opportunities
  • Also called world economy
  • Annales school - Fernand Braudel- historical approach.


  • “A world-system is a social system, one that has boundaries, structures, member groups, rules of legitimation, and coherence. Its life is made up of the conflicting forces which hold it together by tension and tear it apart as each group seeks eternally to remold it to its advantage. It has the characteristics of an organism, in that is has a lifespan over which its characteristics change in some respects and remain stable in others … Life within it is largely self-contained, and the dynamics of its development are largely internal”
  • “Multicultural territorial division of labor in which the production and exchange of basic goods and raw materials is necessary for the everyday life of its inhabitants.”
  • Integrated through the market rather than a political center
  • Two or more regions are interdependent with respect to necessities like food, petroleum, oil and protection
  • Two or more polities compete for domination without the emergence of one single center forever
  • Division of labor - forces and relations of production of the world economy as a whole
  • Core - capital-intensive production
  • Periphery - labor-intensive

Two interdependent regions: Core and Periphery

1. Geographically and culturally different

2. The core-periphery relationship is structural

3. Semi-peripheral - buffer zone between the two

4. Mix of various activities and institutions exist on them

  • Powerful and wealthy – core
  • They dominate and exploit weak and poor peripheral societies.
  • Technology is central in positioning
  • Advanced or developed countries are the core, and the less developed are in the periphery
  • The differential strength of the multiple states within the system is crucial to maintain the system as a whole
  • strong states reinforce and increase the differential flow of surplus to the core zone - Wallerstein called unequal exchange
  • The systematic transfer of surplus from semi proletarian sectors in the periphery to the core
  • Leads to capital accumulation at a global scale
  • Imperialism refers to the domination of weak peripheral regions by strong core states.
  • Hegemony refers to the existence of one core state temporarily outstripping the rest.
  • Hegemonic powers maintain a stable balance of power and enforce free trade as long as it is to their advantage.
  • It is temporary due to class struggles and the diffusion of technical advantages.
  • Lastly, there is a global class struggle.
  • The current world-economy is characterized by regular cyclical rhythms - periodization of modern history
  • After this stage, Wallerstein envisions a socialist world-government
  • Only-alternative world-system to maintain a high level of productivity and change the distribution
  • Integrating the levels of political and economic decision-making


Q. 1. Periphery countries are often referred to as third-world countries. How are these countries characterized?

a) They export into all sectors of the economy

b) They have cheap labor and are, at times, exploited by more powerful economies

c) They have capital-intensive production and depend on a strong banking system

d) They have a workforce that is mostly highly educated and very well paid

Answer: b

Q. 2. A ________ country is gaining economic wealth while still being occasionally exploited by other countries.

a) Periphery

b) Semi-periphery

c) Core

d) Periphery and Semi-periphery

Answer: b

#Sociology of Development

#Dependency Theories of Underdevelopment

#World-system (Wallerstein)


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