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Frank as a world-systemist?
by Elson Boles
17 March 2002 19:51 UTC
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> I'm not sure if you are referring to what I wrote here, or what I wrote to
> you privately in response to the paper you posted to the list last week.
> At any rate, nowhere did I imply that everything is connected, and that
> any disconnected piece is a reification.  What is a reification is a claim
> that any specific unit of analysis is equivalent to "the Whole", to
> history wie es eigentlich gewesen.  That is precisely why I said that the
> crux of the discussion was not about which unit of analysis was proper to
> world-historical study, but rather to what degree we are privileging
> specific units of analysis, and placing analytical categories outside of
> historical time.

> Boris Stremlin
> bstremli@binghamton.edu

Specifically I was responding what you had written to WSN.  Apparently, I
read the sentence, "the  extent to which holist analyses fail to reassemble
world-historical reality after they finish breaking it down into little
disconnected pieces," as implying that everything is connected.  I see
that's not what you mean.  There's a difference between "holist" analysis
and how one defines "the whole," which clarifies your intention for me.

I agree with the point made above, in part.  But I'm not sure what you mean
by "placing analytical categories outside of historical time."  I see some
placing world-historical processes out of the historical "wholes" that they
define (Wallerstein) while others putting everything they can into it
(Frank), thus positing a whole so big in TimeSpace that it is tantamount to
unilinear history, as you seem to suggest.

The oddity in the Frank-Wallerstein debate is that Frank and Gills have no
reason to use the unhyphenated "world system" term, except to distinguish
their world-system as being bigger in TimeSpace than Wallerstein's.  In
fact, Frank and Gills' use the term "world-systems" at least once,
acknowledging that other world-systems existed in the past and elsewhere
(Frank and Gills, _The World System, five hundred years or five thousand?_,
1996: 3).  Moreover, they claim to use all the same criteria to define their
world-system as Wallerstein does: a division of labor, cycles, hegemony,
etc.  And in the end they agree with Chase-Dunn that they ought to call
their big system, Central World System, thus being a world-system among
others.  (I'd personally prefer, "the Big System" or BS for short.)

The crux of the issue is not just that the units in both cases may be
reified by leaving out historical processes that might be relevant.  That
seems to suggest that neither Wallerstein or Frank have any justification
for doing so, which isn't the case.  Wallerstein, for example, seems to
acknowledge the larger processes and that world-system's boundaries are
fuzzy due to the connections among systems.  So, the key issue is whether or
not the processes, events, developments -- the history -- within a thusly
given unit are justifiably explained as significantly connected, that is, as
interconnected and therefore exhibiting "systemic meaningfulness."

Regarding Frank's unit, he of course says yes, the developments are
interconnected, while Wallerstein says no they're not.  Does Frank show the
same degree of integration of his system that Wallerstein's shows in his?
Frank says yes, Wallerstein says no.  Does the evidence of other writers
tend to support Frank's view or Wallerstein's?  The upshot is that whether
one finds Frank or Wallerstein's arguments more convincing hinges on the
evidence and arguments that each and others bring to bear with regard to
significant mutual causality -- systemicity -- among the people within
demonstrated or justified unit of analysis.  I don't think ReOreint is
comparable to M W-S in this respect.

Of course, there are other issues, including the levels of abstraction
employed.  I think there has been a deep confusion between explicating an
historical system's structures (establishing systemicity and general
"logics") and explaining the historical development of a system.  This
relates to Frank's bizarre conceptualization of "capitalism."  It's not that
Wallerstein's definition isn't also problematic, and not because of issues
raised in the Brenner debate.  There's a lack of historical specificity in
both.  If I'm convinced that Wallerstein has concretely demonstrated
systemicity -- the unicity -- of the processes he examines in the M W-S, I'm
also convinced by Tomich's critique of that analysis.   Wallerstein has
concretely established systemicity and structural patterns and processes,
but the structural level of analysis isn't itself concrete analysis of the
system.  It's the difference between, on the one hand, establishing that
peasant peonage in Eastern Europe and slavery in the Caribbean are both
parts of the same system, and, on the other hand, recognizing that
capitalist Estates using peasant labor and capitalist plantations using
slave labor are also quite different, having different logics and
contradictions (theoretically and empirically) that are constitutive of the
system's development and transformation.  It is necessary to show the local
"dimensions" of world-historical developments and vice-versa to build a
concrete understanding of a system's development.

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