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Re: Gills Response: RE: Frank as a world-systemist?
by Elson Boles
22 March 2002 17:11 UTC
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Dear Barry,

Thank you very much for your gracious response.  I appreciate that you've
taken the time to engage.

It is not my intention to understate the differences of your and
Wallerstein's theories, but it seems that your intention is to stress those
differences.  I happen to agree that the theoretical differences are
significant and raise important questions about social science.  But my
point here is to highlight the similarity of your and Wallerstein's method
in the context of the nomothetic-idiographic spectrum and the debate among
you, Frank, and Wallerstein.  In particular, I'm interested in addressing
"false" critiques and problems.

Your consideration of the need to possibly retract your reference to
world-systems in the Americas, and the implication that there was a large
and old world system in the Americas for a (unspecified) period of time (as
opposed to seeing mini-systems, world-empires, and world-economies), would
seem at first blush to address the issue I raise.  However, this is to
conflate a theoretical issue with a methodological issue.  You see the
"Central World System" (a term from Chase-Dunn that you and Frank, not
Wilkinson, use twice with reference to your World System) as older and
larger than Wallerstein's world-system.  Therefore, it is necessarily the
case that Wallerstein's world-empires and world-economies (world-systems)
are merely "parts" of your larger system.  To then conclude that the two of
you have different methodological units of analysis (as opposed different
units of observation) is to is to (mis)represent a conflict of theory (which
exists) as a significant conflict of method.

In the context of the nomothetic-idiographic spectrum, you and Wallerstein
alike effectively claim to take a "via media" position: that world history
is the history of social systems.  Both you and Wallerstein see more than
one system in history at different times and places.  This is why
Wallerstein's criticism that your unit of analysis is timeless and spaceless
is incorrect (though your position may fall within the category of a
"temptation" if by that we mean something less than universal laws of
history but more than many world-systems).  Either way, you both claim to or
implicitly eschew the "nomothetic" position.  Further, I suspect that if you
and Frank were to reach back in history to hominids anywhere, at some point
in that journey back you would probably agree there were smaller world
systems analogous to mini-systems or states.

Thus, by focusing on the differences between your theories of the social
system we live in today, you miss the underlying methodological similarity
of your positions (at least by your own arguments).  In this respect, the
hyphen only delineates a different size and age (theory) of the system we
live in today.  It does not represent different method, but a different
theory about the history of the area of Eurasia.  Outside of Eurasia, both
of you operate by the same method: you all agree that social systems are the
proper units of historical analysis.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: nbkg [mailto:B.K.Gills@newcastle.ac.uk]
> Sent: Thursday, March 21, 2002 5:04 PM
> To: Elson Boles; nbkg
> Subject: RE: Gills Response: RE: Frank as a world-systemist?
> Dear Elson,
>      Thank you very much for your timely rejoinder to my reply to
> your views.
> Let me respond. Yes, it is correct that our world system is both
> older and
> larger than that proposed by Wallerstein. In this regard, we do
> posit a very
> different Timespace interpretation of the world system than in
> Wallerstein's
> theory. As for your contention that myself and Frank would regard
> world-systems as the 'best' unit of analysis, I am afraid there is a
> misunderstanding at work here. We are not in complete agreement
> about this
> issue in my view. On the contrary, it was because we could not
> really accept
> all the elements of Wallerstein's world-system unit of analysis
> that we joined
> together to formulate
> a new theory and a new approach to world system history. When you
> contend that
> there is no contradiction between world-empire; world-economy,
> mini-system
> triolgy in world-system theory and the Gills and Frank argument, you are
> certainly mistaken. In particular, we disagree with the argument on
> world-empires and their purported role in relation to his
> world-systems, and
> to our 'world system' moreso. Moreover, it is not correct to conflate our
> world system with the ideas of our friend and colleague david
> Wilkinson on the
> 'Central World System'. We have been working with Wilkinson for
> some 12 years
> since he and I were the co-founders of the World Historical
> Systems theory
> group in the International Studies Association. Wilkinson's criteria for
> systematicity are primarily realist in nature- i.e. political and
> military
> interaction are more important for him than participation in
> mutual capital
> accumulation processes. He does however recognise these
> processes.  So please
> do not conflate or confuse the Frank and Gills 'world system'
> with Wilkinson's
>  'Central civilisation' idea. Wallerstein's modern world-system
> idea and our
> world system idea are not 'exactly the same' at all. Yes we do
> both include a
> division of labour  and we emphasise even moreso the role of 'capital
> accumulation' from several millennia ago to the present as a key
> process of
> the world system that developed in Afro-Eurasia. Yes we have once
> commented
> that in the Americas prior to 1492 there were probably some
> 'world-systems'.
> Perhaps we should retract the hyphen now- and regard it as an
> oversight at the
> time, or just a tentative statement. We did not mean that we
> thought that in
> the Americas before 1492 we would simply be content to apply a
> Wallersteinian
> 'triology' approach of world-economy; world-empire; and
> mini-systems to all
> the complexities of world histiorical systems in the Americas
> prior to 1492. We would probably want to use the very same
> approach we used to
> examine world system history in Afro-Eurasia.  Our unit of
> analysis is netiher
> timeless nor spaceless of course- but rather encompasses over
> 5000 years of
> real world economic, social, political, ideological and cultural
> history. This
> is certainly not a matter of a mere modification of jargon.
> Finally, I have spent several years developing a further theory
> and analytical
> framework for investigation of the dialectic of forms in world
> history, or
> ''global history' between 'capital' and 'oikos' forms, and
> between 'free' and
> 'unfree' labour forms. This work is scheduled to appear in the
> not too distant
> future in the Journal of World History, edited by Jerry Bentley,
> and a version
> of it is available now from Cambridge University Press in the
> book recently
> out edited by Hobson and Hobden as I previously indicated.
> I look forward to further discussions, especially concerning new
> directions in
> the on-going research on the history of the world and ideas that
> may take us
> to new understandings.
>  Yous faithfully,
>  Barry K Gills

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