Re: w-s critique of po-mo

Mon, 10 Mar 1997 12:18:12 -0500 (EST)
Robert Denemark (denemark@UDel.Edu)

I've organized a couple of panels where I tried to let some
post-modern folks, especially constructivist students of Nick Onuf,
interact with world system stalwarts. It is a frustrating experience.
There is a strong sense in 'social construction' that the world is made up
of no more than our own perceptions. Hence the idea that material
interactions provide some reasonably constant set of incentives that we
might come to understand is simply not acceptable. As such, all of world
systems work is an unfortunate error. This is 'illustrated' by
constructivists by picking at cases that fall outside the already broad
parameters of world system predictions. The argument that world systems
work is invalid because of the behavior of Albania in the l970s and 80s
(actually made at one panel) did nothing but infuriate the world system
folks and certainly didn't help the cause of reasonable interaction.

World system folks, on the other hand, tend to be overly sensitive
about the charge that they do not provide much of an agential foundation
for their work. Fearing the rational choice cul-de-sac I suppose, all
suggestions that agency ought be taken seriously elicit a negative
response. The problem we face is that structural analyses of the world
system sort suffer from indeterminancy. Different scholars offer similar
predictions based on dissimilar arguments. It is difficult to evaluate
which arguments are the best. One solution would be to trace the various
logics down through the effects they have on individuals. If one argument
has the capacity to predict the specific individual responses we
subsequently see, while others do not, that logic would appear more
complete. Hence a 'microfoundational' analysis would serve the cause.
This is an extraordinarily difficult standard to meet, especially because
world system folks are better at dealing with structural than agential
issues. Nonetheless, it seems one way of dealing with the methodological
tasks involved.

I'm trying to complete a paper on this issue now, though the task of
hacking through Giddens and Habermas seems more trouble than it might be
worth. I may never get much beyond the "agree to disagree" stage, though
I would be happy to send you a copy when the work is complete if you would
forward your address to me individually.

Best, Bob Denemark

On Sat, 8 Mar 1997, David Lloyd-Jones wrote:

> asks:
> >
> > Among my peers (I am a Ph.D. candidate in history), postmodern theory
> > is the rage. Culture, gender, the body, and the psyche are
> > preferred topics whose treatment seems to ignore social-economic
> > foundations. I feel most comfortable with Marxist-Braudel-Wallerstein
> > style, yet I appreciate much about my peers' approach. I would like to
> > hear w-s critiques of postmodernism in order to have a better idea about
> > its merits and pitfalls. Also, could anyone recommend an article
> > critiquing postmodernism from a w-s perspective?
> No.
> W-S and po-mo are agreed on the Fundamental Proposition(tm) that
> Everything is Related to Everything.
> To suggest otherwise would obviously be otherwise. And vice versa.
> My suggestion to you would be that if you want to critique a particular
> assertion you do it on the basis of fact; if you wish to criticise any
> school, ridicule is probably the best weapon. Using one school to
> attack another school would be like attacking a creampuff with donuts,
> woonit now?
> -dlj.