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Gills Response: RE: Frank as a world-systemist?
by Elson Boles
21 March 2002 21:15 UTC
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Thank you Barry K Gills.

Hope you don't mind me cross-posting this to WSN.   Actually, it was I,
Elson Boles, not Boris Stremlin, who argued about "systemicity" and that
"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."

I stand by my claim.  Your response below only addresses your different
theories about the world system (or world-system) that we live in -- when it
began, how big it was, etc.  Your comments do not address method and the
unit of analysis question that I raised.

Wallerstein and Frank and you are incomplete agreement that world-systems
(or world systems) are the best units of analysis (qua method).  You simply
have very different ideas as to whether the evidence supports your different
theories about the world system we live in today.  There is no contradiction
between Wallerstein's trilogy of world-system (world-empire, world-economy)
and mini-systems with your argument about the Central World System.  And
except of their size and age, Wallerstein's modern world-system and your
Central World Systems are exactly the same according to your own arguments.
Both of you contend that the criteria showing the systemicity of your
systems is based on a division of labor and capitalist accumulation.
Indeed, you make the very same argument below: that your system involves "
'inter-penetrating accumulation' among zones of the world system such that
their respective elites as well as their producing classes were involved in
each others'  accumulation processes (Gills and Frank 1990/91, also in Frank
and Gills 1993/6 The World System)."  This is precisely the same criteria
Wallerstein uses.

Of course, Wallerstein says that your system doesn't qualify as a system by
this definition, that your and Frank's world system isn't really a world
system because the trade network wasn't a division of labor.  (I'm not
taking a position on that.)   But that isn't a "unit of analysis issue",
though it is posed as one.  It is rather an empirical question by your own

And of course, you and Frank emphatically contend that your world system is
exactly the same as Wallerstein's in this regard, and that, on empirical
grounds, Wallerstein got the unit wrong because his is too small and new.
No doubt, by making yours larger and older, there are many differences of
theory in terms of how the system works and has changed.  But that's not at
issue here.

What is important, as regards the discussion of units of analysis, is that
all of you all believe that you are constructing world-systems (or world
systems) and that there have existed many world-systems on the planet
throughout human history, in Africa, in the Americas, etc.  Indeed, Frank
and you use the term "world-systems" at least one time:   "However, the ‘New
World’ in the ‘Americas’ was of course home to some world-systems of its own
before its incorporation into our (pre-existing) world system after 1492.”
(Frank and Gills, The World System, five hundred years or five thousand?,
1996: 3, italics added).

It is precisely because you also believe that there existed many
world-systems, that Wallerstein is mistaken in arguing that Frank and your
position constitutes a nomothetic method, or that your unit of analysis is
timeless and spaceless.  Frank and your system is merely larger and older.
It is described as just one among other world-systems of human history,
albeit, perhaps the largest that ever existed.

In short, Frank and you modify the jargon a bit to distinguish your bigger
and longer "world system" from Wallerstein's shorter and newer
"world-system."  But as far as units of analysis go, in terms of your own
arguments, that's certainly not a difference of method, but of theory,
empirical evidence, and political positioning.  What would constitute a
difference of method is if Frank and you claimed that world-systems (or
world systems) never existed, or that all of human history was a single
world system, or some other position.

Elson Boles
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Sociology
Saginaw Valley State University
University Center
Saginaw MI, 48710

> -----Original Message-----
> From: nbkg [mailto:B.K.Gills@newcastle.ac.uk]
> Sent: Thursday, March 21, 2002 3:11 PM
> To: Andre Gunder Frank; Boris Stremlin
> Cc: Barry Gills; boles; franka
> Subject: RE: Frank as a world-systemist?
> Dear Gunder, Boris, et al,
>   I have read over the text from Boris and the brief comment by Gunder.
> If the issue is 'systematicity' then we (Gills and Frank, Frank and Gills)
> have defined world system systematicity as based on 'inter-penetrating
> accumulation' among zones of the world system such that their respective
> elites as well as their producing classes were involved in each others'
> accumulation processes (Gills and Frank 1990/91, also in Frank and Gills
> 1993/6 The World
> System). We do defend the absence of a hyphen- and the
> 'difference a hyphen
> makes' is not insignificant but on the contrary extremely
> significant and it
> is impossible to agree with Boris that we are essentially in
> agreement with
> Wallerstein about the definition and nature of a world-sysyem as
> synonymous
> with our world system. This is simply incorrect. There is a
> profound set of
> differences between us and the wallersteinian position on the
> definition and
> nature of the world(-)system(s)- much of which was first
> discussed in Gills
> and Frank 1992 in Review - in an issue that featured our head on
> debate (also
> in Frank and Gills 1993/6- The World System). The issue is still
> very much the
> interpretation of the role of capital in world economic history
> especially
> before the putative 1500 AD divide- which we reject of course. If
> you want
> latest comments on this and the difference a hyphen makes- see
> Barry K Gills
> chapter in John Hobson and Steve Hobden's new Cambridge book on bringing
> historical sociology back into IR. ReOrient is in large part and
> at Gunder's
> personal insistence a continuation of the project we began in the
> World System
> and in particular the further exploration of the period
> 1450-1750- in part
> stimulated by the debate with Palat and Wallerstein present
> alreasy in our
> 1992 Review piece- where we directly reject their interpretation
> of 'separate'
> world-systems (with a hyphen) in the Indian Ocean economy and
> between it and
> China and Europe. We obviously continue to reject their
> interpretation and
> insist that the whole was already in one world system before and
> after the
> 1500 divide.
> I could go on but...
> I do hope we will have the opportunity to meet and discuss such issues at
> length. I am about to assume duties as Director of the
> Globalization Research
> center of the University of hawaii, and as a visiting research
> professor there
> at UH.
> Yours faithfully,
>  Barry K Gills
> >===== Original Message From Andre Gunder Frank <franka@fiu.edu> =====
> >I dont recognize myself doing any of the ''things'' that Boris
> attrib utes
> >to me - and the ''historical context'' that eerved as backgrpound for B's
> >IM/AGF essay made virtually no sense/ seems of no use to me.
> >
> >On Mon, 18 Mar
> >2002, Boris Stremlin wrote:
> >
> >> Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2002 03:24:31 -0500 (EST)
> >> From: Boris Stremlin <bstremli@binghamton.edu>
> >> To: Elson Boles <boles@svsu.edu>
> >> Cc: WORLD SYSTEMS NETWORK <wsn@csf.colorado.edu>
> >> Subject: Re: Frank as a world-systemist?
> >>
> >> On Sun, 17 Mar 2002, Elson Boles wrote:
> >>
> >> > 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.
> >>
> >> Then you see what I mean.  If I say I'm writing history as it REALLY
> >> happened, I am saying my perspective is epistemologically privileged.
> >> Historical time, as most world-systemists (at any rate) realize, is not
> >> objectively given (nor simply imposed by the ego), but "socially
> >> constructed".  Hence, TimeSpace is socially constructed as well,
> >> and herein lies the crux of its historicity (although
> >> this constructive aspect does not make it any less real).  There is a
> >> tendency to forget the constructive nature of these TimeSpaces, and to
> >> assert that they exist objectively, with respect to any
> reference point,
> >> and hence they are always relevant, regardless of what question you are
> >> trying to ask.  In this sense, they exist outside of history.
> >>
> >> > 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.)
> >>
> >> It is identical except for the one (key) thing - the
> Weltanschauung of the
> >> "endless accumulation of capital".  For Frank, this represents a mere
> >> ideological byproduct of the system's functioning.  For Wallerstein (as
> >> Frank astutely points out), it represents the crucial element of the
> >> social construction which allows the system to function.  That
> amounts to
> >> a huge difference, and one which is impossible to get at simply by
> >> applying an "empirical" measurement of "significance", because the
> >> significance is itself socially constructed.
> >>
> >> > 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."
> >>
> >> I never said either Wallerstein's or Frank's system is reified
> in itself
> >> (well, Frank's isn't after the social construction of it is made
> >> explicit, at any rate; a good lead for investigating how it is put
> >> together is given by Samir Amin's critique of _ReOrient_ in Review).
> >> I only suggested that they become reified only in so far as
> they are put
> >> forward as the only appropriate unit of world-historical
> analysis.  To put
> >> it in other words, the crux of the issue is the "naturalization" of our
> >> units of analysis - the assumption that the TimeSpace created
> is identical
> >> in every instance with a physico-geographic TimeSpace.  This is the
> >> assumption Frank makes with respect to the 5,000 year system,
> and, as you
> >> note in your paper, Wallerstein in effect makes with his 500-year one.
> >> Not everything "within" the system in the physico-geographic sense is
> >> explicable in terms of the proposed unit of analysis.
> >>
> >> The problem I continue to have with your formulation is that
> "significant
> >> connectedness" is unqualified as to when, where, how, and for whom.  To
> >> say Frank's system is not significant "enough" is to naturalize those
> >> criteria which you feel are enough.  The linkages of
> long-distance trade
> >> were significant and meaningful to the people who were
> implicated in and
> >> effected by it, in some places and some of the time.  Moreover, its
> >> significance is also underlined in the amount of fruitful
> research it has
> >> generated over the last decade on interlinkage and interdependence of
> >> (Afro-)Eurasia.  If it had been deemed insignificant from the start, it
> >> would have never been done, and we would not have the benefit of even
> >> arguing about it.
> >>
> >> This is not the same as saying that it was decisive in
> >> determining the character of relationships in every instance.
> It seems to
> >> me that you are asserting that a given logic is the most significant in
> >> every instance over a particular contiguous extent of a given
> Timespace.
> >> Not only do I not agree with this, but it seems to me your own paper
> >> militates against such a judgment as well.  If every system is
> open, then
> >> every system also breaks down somewhere, in some socially constructed
> >> TimeSpace.  Where what are usually referred to as antisystemic
> movements
> >> succeed in articulating some sort of alternative, the system has broken
> >> down, perhaps not for ever (usually not, in fact), but at least for a
> >> time.
> >>
> >> > Regarding Frank's unit, he of course says yes, the developments are
> >> > interconnected, while Wallerstein says no they're not.
> >>
> >> Actually, Wallerstein says that he accepts Frank's explanation as "a
> >> fairly initial and partial outline of what had been happening
> in the world
> >> between 8000 BC (or so) up to 1500 AD" and he even tentatively
> accepts the
> >> existence of common economic rhythms within the entity which
> Frank calls a
> >> system (pp.293-4 in _The World System: 500 years or 5000?_,
> ed. Frank and
> >> Gills, 1993, Routledge).  If you say something has common rhythms, it
> >> certainly sounds like you accept the fact that it's interconnected.  He
> >> does not call it a system because he, like you, naturalizes
> the criteria
> >> of systematicity, and accepts their validity as given for all
> Timespaces.
> >>
> >>
> >> >  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.
> >>
> >> What are the criteria of systematicity you use to make this
> judgment?  Do
> >> they apply to all systems?
> >>
> >> To me, once interconnectedness has been established (and I think in
> >> ReOrient and in the book I cite above it has been), the issue
> DOES in fact
> >> become empirical - and that involves the demonstration of the concrete
> >> relationships between open, hence overlapping systems.  Some
> systems are
> >> in fact better interconnected than others - at certain points
> in time and
> >> space - although the proponents of governing systems (which is what
> >> Wallerstein wants to investigate) always argue that their dominance is
> >> a product of some innate, ahistorical virtue.
> >>
> >> [SNIP]
> >>
> >> > 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.
> >>
> >> But can't "local" dimensions also be shown to be systemic?
> >>
> >> --
> >> Boris Stremlin
> >> bstremli@binghamton.edu
> >>
> >>
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> >
> >               ANDRE    GUNDER      FRANK
> >
> >Senior Fellow                                      Residence
> >World History Center                    One Longfellow Place
> >Northeastern University                            Apt. 3411
> >270 Holmes Hall                         Boston, MA 02114 USA
> >Boston, MA 02115 USA                    Tel:    617-948 2315
> >Tel: 617 - 373 4060                     Fax:    617-948 2316
> >Web-page:csf.colorado.edu/agfrank/     e-mail:franka@fiu.edu
> >
> >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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