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Re: Do Systems = Structures?
by francesco ranci
05 December 2002 10:49 UTC
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Just a semantic and methodological note. Both “system”
and “structure” stand for mental activities that we
can perform on anything. In the same way, I can see my
own skin as the “beginning” or as the “end” of my body
- or possibly as neither one of them. If I take my
skin as a “system”, I am driven to deal with its
overall functions, while if I consider it as a
“structure” I’m rather driven to deal with its
components and their own functions. From a
methodological point of view, it seems more useful to
investigate “systems” before getting into
“structures”; i.e. to consider societies as systems
before considering them as structures. Even though,
most likely, every time one finds out something
interesting, using one or the other word, it will be
useful to look for some related findings coming in
from the use of the other. Hence, it does look right
to me that some of followers of Wallerstein’s
systematic analysis are getting into “structures”,
while the opposite change that happened between
Braudel and Wallerstein looks to me more like a
paradigm shift, so to speak. The “systematic” stage
prior to Braudel and the Annales school would then be
the traditional historian or historians. And, as a
consequence, I have to end up saying that the Annales
school’s was not a paradigm shift, or not as much as
Wallersteins’s was. At least from the point of view
suggested by their use of the such terms as “system”
and “structure”. In the very broad terms of general
phylosophical trends, we could have had system theory
roaring in the ‘50s and structuralism booming in the
‘60s, AI in the ’70s and connectionism in the ‘80s,
cognitive science’s explosion in the ’90s and, now,
the embodied mind.

Francesco Ranci

--- Boris Stremlin <bstremli@binghamton.edu> wrote:
> On Fri, 29 Nov 2002, Milo Jones wrote:
> >
> > Could someone please hazard for me an explanation
> of whether the
> > "Systems" within WST are "Structures" as the term
> is understood by
> > Structuralists?
> Not exactly.  For Wallerstein, (historical) systems
> are entities which are
> durable, but which are nevertheless finite, having
> discernible beginnings
> and ends.  This notion of systematicity draws upon
> Braudel's concepts of
> "histoire structurelle" and "longue duree", which
> are counterposed to the
> trans-historical "very long term", "sheltered from
> accidents, conjunctures
> and breakdowns, the time of qualitative mathematics
> and of Claude
> Levi-Strauss" (see Wallerstein, _The Capitalist
> World Economy_, p.270;
> Braudel, _History and the Social Sciences_). 
> Wallerstein also speaks of
> structures (e.g. the "structures of knowledge"), but
> they are structural
> in the Braudelian, not the Levi-Straussian sense.
> Having said that, it should be noted that
> Wallerstein eschews all talk of
> a world-systems theory (WST), but many others who
> use the concept do not
> (e.g. Chase-Dunn, but also to some extent Gunder
> Frank and Arrighi).  Some
> of the latter explicitly associate their notions of
> systematicity with the
> "very long term", which would make it closer to the
> "structures" of
> structuralists.
> -- 
> Boris Stremlin
> bstremli@binghamton.edu

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