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Re: Armchair theorizing and scholarship on wsn
by Daniel Pineu
12 March 2002 15:53 UTC
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Just a quick reaction to the thread about "the Islamic State" and the turn
it just took.

First of all, I must state that throughout my (short) life and education,
I've always realized the importance of "knowing by living/doing", as a
necessary complement to learning tools such as books. And that perception
has deepened since I started to travel extensively. Galileo called it
learning directly "from the great book of the universe". That said, my two
cents on this:

World-systems theory is, as its name plainly indicates, a THEORY. I don't
want to bog this down into what theories are and how they are perceived
(although it could prove useful, especially the explaining/understanding
distinction), but it would be well to remember that WS is an intellectual
construct of scholars. Based on a vision and an experience of reality by the
"founding fathers" such as Wallerstein, Gunder-Frank and Arrighi, and aiming
at societal development, but a theoretical construct nonetheless. And this
list, as far as I see it, is a place for intellectual exchange on thath

Now critiques have surfaced that this forum is too academic, and that
academics somehow are less in touch with the realities they study than
non-academics. I'd say that is pretty debatable. Who can make such
assumptions, and do they have any general validity? Let's say I post about
Bolivia's paradigmatic position as a peripheral country. Taking the
aforementioned oppinion into account, some could then ask what does a Pol
Sci/IR graduate from Lisbon know about that. Could those people know that he
has travelled the country extensively? That he has friends there? That he
has lived there for almost two months? That he is fluent in Spanish? That he
has experienced first-hand the inequality of the second poorest country of
South America? Could we really (and realistically) expect them to? And, more
importantly, why would that confer me any more authority than a Chinese
scholar that has been on the subject for 20 years but has never left his
country? This whole "academia vs the street-wise" debate feels rather
pointless and immature to me... (and yes, this is a non-academic statement)

Adam Starr apparently does not understand that transformation of social
realities is achieved no less effectively (or with less merit) through
analysis, and education than it is by direct action "on the field" -
althought it takes much longer. Fighting inequality is not done exclusively
(or better) by standing besides the world's poorest. Changing the research
agenda, raising public awareness of the problem, changing young people's
perceptions through education and changing decision-makers perspectives
through publication are equally essential to fighting
poverty/inequality/development (or AIDS, deforestation, whale-hunting, etc).
IF that is your goal. But I think the current discussion points to something

I feel it is symptomatic that a paper such as the one posted recently by
Elson Boles, one that deals with the very core, with the ontology and
epistemology of WS was left virtually untouched by the listers, while a
discussion of the Israelo-Palestinian question in more or less bright
ideological shades has been kept lively at all times. I feel it is very
symptomatic that this list has seen a huge ammount of non-scholarly,
non-academic surge of opinions about Sep. 11th, but for the past 6 months,
hardly a single discussion of an article from the Journal os World-Systems
Research. As Jane Shahi says, the most interesting stuff on this list is
quite literally what is left unsaid.

I have already complained, in the past, about the seemingly unclear nature
of the list. Is this a primarily scholarly, or a non-scholarly list? Is this
list about world-systems theory, or about comparative historical sociology,
more generally? Is it a place for informed discussion of world-systems
theory, or a rally point for the ideologically-coloured discussion of
current affairs? Why are we seemingly more interested in discussing who is
right in a conflict where everybody is wrong, rather than to what extent WST
applies to the analysis of that conflict? Why have we not witnessed, for so
long, a single discussion about possible upcoming changes in the structure
of the core and of the periphery? About the changing nature of the hegemon
at the core? Has anyone ever wondered why are contributions by Gunder Frank,
Chase-Dunn, Wallerstein, Arrighi so incredibly sparse and "thin" on this
list, supposedly a forum about their brain-child?

Humour, anedoctes, personal experience, hard data, news, current affairs,
calls to arms and even some occasional rambling CAN be constructive, and can
be a useful complement to WST. I just wouldn't like to watch it become - and
that appears to be the trend - the BULK of this listserv's content. Am I the
only one to think that way?


Daniel Pinéu

BA (Hons.) Political Science & International Relations
Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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