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Re: Fw: Armchair theorizing and scholarship on wsn
by Threehegemons
13 March 2002 19:10 UTC
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A few points:

1.  World Systems Theory is not a term used by either Wallerstein or Arrighi.  
Wallerstein emphasizes the utility of the concept of the world system as unit 
of analysis, but he does not claim to be developing a series of propositions 
universally applicable to world systems in general.  He specifically opposes 
this position in Keep the Tiller Firm.  

Arrighi usually talks about 'world systems perspective', meaning merely that 
the long term, global view is distinctive and fruitful.  His recent work has 
noticeably lacked terms like a-phase/b-phase and core/periphery/semiperiphery.  
Some of his stuff looks more like Samuel Huntington stood on his head (or, pace 
Marx, Huntington moved from standing on his head to standing on his feet)--the 
clash of civilizations as a process hundreds of years old.

Within the PEWS section, there are even more perspectives on what one is doing 
when one is practicing 'world systems'.

2.  World systems, like many other intellectual projects of the last thirty 
years, traces its lineage to the movements of 1968.  Its specific issue 
revolved around questions of political/economic inequality between the 
Euro-American core and the rest.  Like many of these intellectual movements, it 
has become detached from the social movements that spawned it. It has also 
become delinked from some of these other intellectual movements.  For example, 
the rise of East Asia is a burning question for world systems analysis because 
of its significance to the whole North/South question--but I don't think many 
Feminist or Queer theorists spend much time worrying about it. How exactly to 
reattach it is not particularly obvious.  I personally don't believe that a 
single-minded focus on helping the movements, 'experiencing the real world', 
etc, necessarilly produces better intellectual work.  It reminds me of debates 
I used to follow in the art world, where people demanded that artists 
constantly demonstrate their political commitment.  I think one is better 
advised to do what one is best at, with no guarantee that it will be 
immediately useful to anyone.  Good art--and good social science--is produced 
when someone with an interesting vision figures out a way to convey it.  That 
is worth more than all the bathetic hand-wringing in the world.

3.  The wsn is an e-mail list, open to anyone who signs on.  It is not a 
graduate seminar, a list of elite social scientists, or even of the PEWS 
section.  Although Gunder Frank does sometimes contribute, why would anyone 
expect the more famous names in the field to consistently contribute here?  It 
seems to me that it was set up largely because people have set up e-mail lists 
for everything.  The fact that it uses the name 'world systems' hardly 
obligates certain people to contribute.  And contrarilly, people who lack even 
the minimum commitment to ending the inequality between North and South are 
welcome to sign on and participate. I personally get stuff out of it, but don't 
anticipate that it is a particularly good opportunity to pick the brains of the 
big shots.

Steven Sherman

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