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What really is Andre Gunder Frank's position on worlds?
by Elson Boles
12 August 2003 14:54 UTC
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Dear Gunder,

I've been working on an article for Review since about the time we both 
presented at an ISA panel in Chicago, Feb 2001 (I presented on the Japan-US 
silknetwork and published my paper in JWSR.)   A heavy teaching load keeps me 
from finishing this article (and much else).

When assessing your and Gills arguments, it is sometimes necessary to 
distinguish the literal word with the spirit of intention (or the content).  An 
recent example is found in WSN in which you audaciously claim:
In reality, there are and have been NO civilizations, societies, cultures, 
ethnicities   and even states in and of themselves. There are NO such 
essentialist intrinsically self-contained entities. To claim, identify, and 
study any such makes NO sense whatsoever and only beclouds reality. There are 
only connections and relations within and among such alleged civilizations.

However, the spirit of the words is later qualified: "I dont deny existence of 
culgture, of cousre not, but evidence suggests that it is not a much causative 
element of what happens. Structure is mucg mnore so."

This particular subject of structure and agency isn't part of my essay.  
However, what is concerns the temporal and spatial boundaries of your and Gills 
5000 year old system.  

Let me switch to the third-person.

Frank very frequent uses  the term "global" in characterizing the difference of 
your and IW's views, but he doesn't literally mean the globe which implies the 
entire planet.  The spirit of the term, and sometimes alternative wording like 
"Eurasian world system," indicates that Gills and Frank's world system is 
smaller than the entire planet.  Another example is that in one essay Gills and 
Frank write:  

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 1996: 3).

Clearly, their use the term "world-system" (with hyphen), must be an editorial 
error.  And Barry has confirmed this in correspondence with me.  But this issue 
has led to confusion for many, including Wallerstein, who incorrectly contended 
that, "They use the singular because, for them, there is and has been only one 
world system through all of historical time and space" and "They cannot 
conceive of multiple 'world-systems' coexisting on the planet" (1996 [1991]: 
294, 295).   There is evidence in Gills and Frank's writings to the contrary, 
including the statement about the "belated incorporated Americas after 1492 and 
of Oceania after 1760."   

The question then is what was in the Americas prior to that?  So, I put these 
more general questions to AGF:

1.  Do you see other "world systems" existing coterminous with the Eurasian 
world system of ReOrient?

2.  At some point in time in human history, do you not acknowledge the 
existence of systems (and more of them) smaller than your large world systems?  

3.  If so, what do you call them if not bands, tribes, chiefdoms, or networks, 
or "mini-systems"?  If not, then what?

4.  Is it not the case that you use the same criteria as Wallerstein (a 
division of labor) to measure the boundaries of your systems in time and space?

Elson E. Boles
Assistant Professor
Saginaw Valley State University

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