Back to Contents


THE 5,000-YEAR WORLD SYSTEM An interdisciplinary introduction

Andre Gander Frank and Barry K. Gills


Our thesis is that the contemporary world system has a history of at least 5,000 years. The rise to dominance of Europe and the West in this world system is only a recent - and perhaps a passing - event. Thus, our thesis poses a more humanocentric challenge to Eurocentrism. Our main theoretical categories are:

1 The world system itself. Per contra Wallerstein (1974), we believe that the existence of the same world system in which we live stretches back at least 5,000 years (Frank 1990a, 1991 a, chapter 6 below; Gills and Frank chapters 3 and 5 below). Wallerstein emphasizes the difference a hyphen makes. Unlike our nearly world (wide) system, world-systems are in a "world" of their own, which need not be even nearly worldwide. However, the "New World" in the "Americas" was of course home to some world-systems of its own before its incorporation into our (preexisting) world system after 1492.

2 The process of capital accumulation as the motor force of (world system) history. Wallerstein and others regard continuous capital accumulation as the differentiae specificae of the "modern world-system." We have argued elsewhere that in this regard the "modem" world system is not so different and that this same process of capital accumulation has played a, it not the, central role in the world system for several millennia (Frank chapter 6 below; Gills and Frank chapter 3 below). Amin (chapter 8 below) and Wallerstein (chapter 10 below) disagree. They argue that previous world-systems were what Amin calls "tributary" or Wallerstein "world empires." In these, Amin claims, politics and ideology were in command, not the economic law of value in the accumulation of capital. Wallerstein seems to agree.

3 The center-periphery structure in and of the world (system). This structure is familiar to analysts of dependence in the "modern" world system and especially in Latin America since 1492. It includes but is not limited to the transfer of surplus between zones of the world system. Frank (1967, 1969) wrote about this among others. However, we now find that this analytical category is also applicable to the world system before 1492.

4 The alternation between hegemony and rivalry. In this process, regional hegemonies and rivalries succeed the previous period of hegemony. World system and international-relations literature has recently produced many good analyses of alternation between hegemonic leadership and rivalry for hegemony in the world system since 1492, for instance by Wallerstein (1984), or since 1494 by Modelski (1987) and by Modelski and Thompson (1988). However, hegemony and rivalry also mark world (system) history long before that (Gills and Frank, chapters 3, 5 below).

5 Long (and short) economic cycles of alternating ascending (sometimes denominated "A") phases and descending (sometimes denominated "B") phases. In the real world-historical process and in its analysis by students of the "modern" world system, these long cycles are also associated with each of the previous categories. That is, an important characteristic of the "modern" world system is that the process of capital accumulation, changes in center-periphery position within it, and world system hegemony and rivalry are all cyclical and occur in tandem with each other. Frank analyzed the same for the "modem" world system under the titles World Accumulation 1492-1789 and Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment (Frank 1978a, b). However, we now find that this (same) world system cycle and its features also extend back many centuries before 1492.

In this book, our thesis is introduced by the contribution of Kajsa Ekholm and Jonathan Friedman (chapter 2). It is extended by David Wilkinson (chapter 7) who argues that in 1500 bc relations between Egypt and Mesopotamia gave rise to what he calls "Central civilization," which has incessantly spread out through the world ever since. The "one world system" thesis is elaborated in our chapters, Amin and Wallerstein critique this thesis and defend their own thesis that the "modem world-system" began 500 years ago. They argue in particular that its capitalist mode of production distinguishes it fundamentally from "world empires" and all previous world-systems, which Amin calls "tributary." In his critical reply to us, Wallerstein emphasizes the above-mentioned distinction between his plural "world-systems" with a hyphen and our singular "world system" without a hyphen. Janet Abu-Lughod, whose work we also review below, contributes a critical discussion of these issues and defends the existence of a "thirteenth-century world system," which she regards as distinguishable as it was distinguished (chapter 9).

Our thesis speaks to several disciplines or concerns and participates in long-standing controversies within and between them. Among these fields and concerns, beyond world-systems theory itself, we here note our challenge to Eurocentrism. Then we outline the connections of our thesis with historiography, civilizationism, archaeology, classicism in ancient history, medievalism, modern history, economic history, macrohistorical sociology, political geography, international relations, development studies, ecology, anthropology, race and ethnic relations and their study, gender relations and their study, etc. Our thesis, its similarities and differences with others, and the discussions of the same also have some important philosophical, social-scientific, and political implications, which we may briefly note in conclusion.


We ask whether the principal systemic features of the "modern world system" can also be identified earlier than 1500 or not. Wallerstein (1974, 1984, 1989a, b, chapter 10 below), Modelski (1987), and Amin (chapter 8 below) argue that the differentiae specificae of our world system are new since 1500 and essentially different from previous times and places. However, Modelski (1991) includes leadership before 1500 in his analysis. Christopher Chase-Dunn (1986) and others find parallels in "other" and prior world systems. Wilkinson (1989) discovers at least some of these features in his "Central civilization" and elsewhere. However, he sees historical continuity, but no world system. Abu-Lughod (1989) sees a "thirteenth-century world system," but she regards it as different from the world system since 1500 or before 1250. Moreover, she is not so interested in comparing systemic features or characteristics. We combine all of the above into an analysis, or at least an identification, of the principal features of this world system over several thousand years of its history and development (Frank 1990a, 1991a, chapter 6 below; Gills and Frank chapters 3 and 5 below).

According to Wallerstein (1989b, c, 1988a, b and elsewhere) and many students of world capitalism, the differentia specifics of the modern world system is the ceaseless accumulation of capital: "It is this ceaseless accumulation of capital that may be said to be its most central activity and to constitute its differentiae specificae. No previous historical system seems to have had any comparable mot d'ordre" (1989b: 9).

Samir Amin (1991) also argues that this economic imperative is new and uniquely characterizes the modem capitalist world system. Of course, this is hot the same as arguing that capital accumulation was absent, minor, or irrelevant elsewhere and earlier. On the contrary, capital accumulation did exist and even denied this (or another) world system before, indeed long before, 1500.

Yet, Wallerstein, Amin, and most others argue that there is something unique and uniquely powerful about modem capital, i.e. an imperative to accumulate "ceaselessly" in order to accumulate at all. We contend that this imperative, both in the familiar money form as well as other forms of capital, is not a unique systemic feature of modem "capitalism." Rather the imperative of ceaseless accumulation is a characteristic of competitive pressures throughout world system history. Moreover, in chapter 5 we note the existence of cyin egrowth, both "pre-" and "post-" "capitalist," in the entire world system. Therefore, something more fundamental than "ceaseless" "capitalist" accumulation in its modern form seems to be at work in world (system) history throughout the millennia.

That is also the position of Ekholm and Friedman (chapter 2), who find "capital," as well as the now familiar logic of imperialism to accompany the expansion of capital, already existing from very ancient times in Mesopotamia. L. Orlin (1970), for instance, refers to "Assyrian colonies in Cappadocia" and Mitchell Alien (1984) to "Assyrian colonies in Anatolia." Ekholm and Friedman argue that ancient capital, particularly in its form of the accumulation of bullion (money capital), is essentially the same as capital in later, including modern times.

In this regard, and to anticipate our review of "archaeology" below, a generation and more ago the perhaps best-known polar-opposite positions were represented by Karl Polanyi et al. (1957) and Gordon Childe (1936, 1942). Polanyi is known for his deprecation of the role of markets and by extension of profit-driven accumulation. Yet even Polanyi concluded in a later essay, only posthumously published in 1975 and again in 1977, that throughout, the external origin of trade is conspicuous; internal trade is largely derivative of external trade,... [and] with trade the priority of the external line is evident... for what we term "luxuries" were no more than the necessities of the rich and powerful, whose import interest largely determined foreign policy.... Acquisition of goods from a distance may be practiced by a trader either froih ... (status motive) - or for the sake of gain. .. (profit motive).... (There are] many combinations of the two. (Polanyi 1975: 154, 135, 136-7)

Gordon Childe represented the historical-materialist and Marxist positions. Yet even so "Childe consistently underestimated the potential surplus that could have been generated by Neolithic economies," according to the archaeologist Philip Kohl (1987: 17). In a related vein, the well-known archaeological student of both Mesopotamia and Meso-America, Robert Adams (1974: 284), suggests "perhaps - to venture still a little further in this direction - we have wrongly deprecated the entrepreneurial element in the historical development of at least the more complex societies."

We also argue for this latter position, which is supported by more and more archaeological evidence and analysis, some of which is reviewed by Sherratt (n.d.) and Algaze (n.d.). However, we wish to expand the working definition of capital beyond the confines of current Marxism to encompass much wider manifestations of surplus transfer, both private and public. Therefore, we argue that for millennia already and throughout the world (system) there has been capital accumulation through infrastructural investment in agriculture (e.g. clearing and irrigating land) and livestock (cattle, sheep, horses, camels, and pasturage for them); industry (plant and equipment, as well as new technology for the same); transport (more and better ports, ships, roads, way stations, camels, carts); commerce (money capital, resident and itinerant foreign traders, and institutions for their promotion and protection); military (fortifications, weapons, warships, horses, and standing armies to man them); legitimacy (temples and luxuries); and of course the education, training, and cultural development of "human capital." Chapter 2 refers to capital accumulation already in prehistoric times, and it can also be inferred from the work of various archaeologists cited below. Even the drive to accumulate, or the obligation to do so in a competitive world, is not confined to modern capitalism.

Are other characteristics, in particular a core-periphery structure, of the modern world system unique to it since 1500? Or are they also identifiable elsewhere and earlier? In a short list of three main characteristics of his modern world-system, Wallerstein (1988b) identifies "this descriptive trinity (core-periphery, A/B [cycle phases], hegemony-rivalry) as a pattern maintained over centuries which is unique to the modern world-system. Its origin was precisely in the late fifteenth century" (108).

Wallerstein also makes lists of six (1989b) and twelve (1989a) characteristics of his modem world capitalist system since 1500. Frank (chapter 6) argues why all of them also apply earlier. The sections on archaeology, classicism, and medievalism below show how these categories, and particularly core-periphery, are also applicable to prehistory, the ancient world, and premodern history.

Another of the three world system characteristics mentioned by Wallerstein is hegemony-rivalry. But is this feature limited to the world since 1500? Or did it also exist elsewhere and earlier? Or, indeed, does it also characterize the same world system earlier? Wallerstein himself discusses the rise and fall of mostly economically based hegemony only since 1500.

Modelski (1987) and Modelski and Thompson (1988) as well as Thompson (1989) analyze largely politically based and exercised hegemony since 1494. Paul Kennedy's (1987) bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers went still farther back, but did not connect them in any systematic way.

Wallerstein employs a sequential model of hegemony which refers to productive competitiveness in other core markets, subsequent commercial competitiveness, and financial competitiveness. While this is a useful model of sequential attainment of different dimensions of hegemonic power, it leads to overemphasis on a temporary and fragile "moment" when a core power attains all three advantages simultaneously. It also confines our analysis of global hegemony too much to the single succession of a few such momentary hegemons, to the detriment of analysis of the total phenomena of global hegemony. Even when there is such a momentary hegemon, there are always other interlinked hegemonic powers. Wallerstein distinguishes modem "hegemony" from traditional "imperium." Yet all of his hegemonic powers themselves held colonial possessions and coexisted in a larger system of global hegemony in which other powers exercised imperium. Modelski (1987) and others emphasize political/military hegemony.

Our use of the term hegemony-rivalry refers to the political-economic predominance by a center of accumulation, which alternates with periods of rivalry among several such centers of accumulation. Therefore, we argue that hegemony-rivalry has also characterized the world system for thousands of years (chapters 3 and 5). As suggested above, hegemony is not only political. It is also based on center-periphery relations, which permit the hegemonic center to further its accumulation of capital at the expense of its periphery, hinterland, and its rivals. After a time, not least through the economic-military overextension signalled by Kennedy (1987), the hegemonic empire loses this power again. The decline in the hegemony of a great power gives way to an interregnum of economic, political, and military rivalry with others competing to take its place. After an interregnum of rivalry with other claimants, the previous hegemonic power is replaced by another one. Shifting systems of economic, political, and military alliances, reminiscent of those featured by George Orwell (1977) in his 1984, are instrumental in first creating, then maintaining, and finally losing hegemonic imperial power.

We argue not only that there have been numerous and repeated instances of hegemony and rivalry at imperial regional levels. We also suggest that we may be able to recognize some instances of overarching "super-hegemony" and centralizing "super-accumulation" at the world system-wide level before 1500 (chapters 3 and 5). The Mongol empire certainly, and Song China perhaps, had a claim to super-hegemony. Thus, very significantly, the later rise to super-hegemony in and of western Europe, Great Britain, and the United States after 1500 did not constitute unique first instances in the creation of a hegemonic world system. Instead, as Abu-Lughod (1989: 338) persuasively argues, '"the fallof the East' preceded the 'Rise of the West'" and resulted in a hegemonic shift from East to West. This shift came at a time - and perhaps as a result - of overextension and political economic decline in various parts of the East, which suffered a period of cyclical economic decline so common to all as to have been world system-wide. Thus the "Rise of the West," including European hegemony and its expansion and later transfer of the "New World" across the Atlantic, did not just constitute a new, modem world-capitalist system. This development also - and even more so - represented a new but continued development and hegemonic shift within an old world system.

Janet Abu-Lughod (1989) makes a major contribution to the writing of world history in pushing the starting date for the world system back to 1250. In so doing, she has finally cut the Gordian knot of the supposed break in world history at 1500, as per Wallerstein (1974) and others. She denies that the present world system emerged in Europe through the transition from any previous mode of production. She argues instead that whatever mode of production existed in the sixteenth century also existed already in the thirteenth century in Europe - and in the "Middle East," India, and China.

Abu-Lughod shows that eight interlinking city-centered regions were united in a single thirteenth-century world system and division of labor. According to her reading, however, this world system economy experienced its apogee between 1250 and 1350 and declined to (virtual) extinction thereafter, before being reborn in southern and Western Europe in the sixteenth century. In her words, "of crucial importance is the fact that the "Fall of the East" preceded the "Rise of the West". She argues that if we assume that restructuring, rather than substitution, is what happens when world systems succeed one another, albeit after periods of disorganization, then failure cannot refer to the parts themselves but only to the declining efficacy of the ways in which they were formerly connected. In saying the thirteenth-century world system failed, we mean that the system itself devolved.... From earliest times, the geographically central "core regions" ... were Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, to which the Mediterranean was eventually appended. These cores persisted through the classical and thirteenth-century world systems. A decisive reorganization of this pattern did not occur until the sixteenth century. (Abu-Lughod 1989: 343-5)

It seems at least plausible, if not obvious, then to argue that between the fourteenth-century decline of the East and the fifteenth to sixteenth-century rise of the West there occurred a "declining efficacy" and "disorganization" of "the ways in which they were formerly connected." In that case, consequently there would have been a shift of the center of gravity in the system from East to West but not a complete failure of the system as a whole. On the contrary, this temporary disorganization and renewed reorganization could and should be read as the continuation and evolution of the system as a whole. Indeed, in our approach all history can and should be analyzed in terms of the shifts in centers of accumulation, as J we emphasize in our titles "World system cycles, crises and hegemonial | shifts 1700 bc to 1700 ad" (chapter 5) and "1492 and Latin America | at the margin of world system history: East - West hegemonial shifts j 992-1492-1992" (Frank 1993a).

Thus, Wallerstein (1989b) sees a single cycle in Europe (albeit "matched by a new market articulation in China... [in] this vast trading world-system"), and yet a variety of "unstable" systems around the world, each of which "seldom lasted more than 4-500 years" (1989b: 35). On the other hand, Abu-Lughod (1989) sees a single world system, certainly in the thirteenth-century cyclical conjuncture on which she concentrates, but also in earlier periods. Yet, successively each of her world systems cyclically rises (out of what?) and declines (into what?). However, neither Wallerstein nor Abu-Lughod is (yet?) willing to Join their insights in the additional step to see both a single world system and its continuous cyclical development.

The third characteristic of Wallerstein's world system after 1500 is long economic cycles of capital accumulation. Their upward "A" and downward "B" phases generate changes of hegemony and of position in the center-periphery-hinterland structure. These cycles, and especially the Kondratieffs, play important roles in the real development of the world system and in its analysis by Wallerstein (1974), Frank (1978a), Modelski (1987), Goldstein (1988), and Thompson (1989). All emphasize the relations among cycles in the economy, hegemony, and war. However, are these cycles limited to modern times, or do they extend farther back? Wallerstein himself notes that

It is the long swing that was crucial.... The feudal system in western Europe seems quite clearly to have operated by a pattern of cycles of expansion and contraction of two lengths: circa 50 years (which seem to resemble the Kondratieff cycles found in the capitalist world economy) and circa 200-300 years.... The patterns of the expansions and contractions are clearly laid out and widely accepted among those writing about the late Middle Ages and early modern times in Europe.... It is the long swing that was crucial. Thus 1050-1250+ was a time of the expansion of Europe (the Crusades, the colonizations).... The "crisis" or great contractions of 1250-1450+ included the Black Plague. (1989b: 33,34) Thus, even according to Wallerstein there was systematic cyclical continuity across his 1500 divide - in Europe. But Abu-Lughod (1989), McNeiIl (1983), and others offer and analyze substantial evidence that this same cycle was in fact world system wide. Wallerstein (1989b: 57, 58) also perceives some of the evidence. Moreover, all these developments were driven by the motor force of capital accumulation. The "crucial long swing" was a cycle of capital accumulation. Frank in chapter 6 tries to demonstrate that this same cyclical pattern definitely extends back through die eleventh century and that it could well be traced further back still. Gills and Frank in chapter 5 trace these long cycles much further back to at least 1700 bc in world (system) history.

So do these characteristic similarities with the modem world-capitalist system extend only to "other" earlier empires, state systems, or regional economies or to different "world systems"? We argue in chapters 3 and 6 that similar characteristics extend backwards through time in the same world system, which itself also extends much farther back in time. That is, we argue for the extension back in time through the same world system of the essential features of the modern-world-capitalist-system of Wallerstein (1974), Frank (1978b), Modelski (1987), Goldstein (1988), Thompson (1989), and others, and of the "other" world systems and civilizations of Chase-Dunn (1986, 1989), Wilkinson (1987, 1989), and others. This extension of the world system to at least 5,000 years has implications for many disciplines and concerns in history and social science, beginning with historiography and the Eurocentrism which underlies much of its other "scientific" and cultural endeavors.


Samir Amin (1989) in Eurocentrism and Martin Bemal (1987) in his Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization criticized Eurocentrism and offered alternative approaches, especially on an ideological level, which center on the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa respectively. Another alternative to Eurocentrism is the development of "Afrocentrism" by African-American historians and others in the United States, which as its name implies centers on Africa, specifically sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that these critiques of Eurocentrism are all to the good, but that they are too limited.

Our approach offers the basis for a wider world-historic humanocentric alternative to Eurocentrism. World history should be a refle, and representation of the full diversity of human experience and development, which exceeds the limited and limiting recent bounds of the "West." Indeed, the "West" does not exist, except by reference to the "inscrutable" "East." Yet their historical existence is only a figment of "western" imagination. Eurocentrism and other centrisms prevent seeing or even asking how all the "parts" relate to the world [system] whole. Therefore, Eurocentrism is also an analytical fener on world history.

A few generations ago, even some western historians, like Frederick Teggart in 1918, criticized "Eurocentric" history and pleaded for a single "Eurasian" history in which

The two parts of Eurasia are inextricably bound together. Mackinder has shown how much light may be thrown on European history by regarding it as subordinate to Asiatic.... The oldest of historians (Herodotus) held the idea that epochs of European history were marked by alternating movements across the imaginary line that separates East from West. (Teggart 1939: 248)

Yet since then, western domination in power and technology has further extended the domain of its culture and Eurocentric, western perspective through proselytizing religion, mass media, language, education, and, yes, "world" history writing and teaching, using the (in) famous Mercator projection maps, etc. Nonetheless, homogenization has proceeded less far and fast than some hoped and others feared; and many people around the world are seeking renewed and diverse self-affirmation and self-determination: "Think globally. Act locally." Some scholars also speak of this problematic in terms of "globalization-localization" (Featherstone 1991; King 1991; Lash and Urry 1987; Robertson 1990).

Western, Eurocentric world history and its distortions need not be replaced by "equal time" for the history of all cultures. Nor need we admit (a variety of competing) other centric histories, be they Islamo-, Nippo-, Sino-, or whatever other centric. No, we can and should all aspire nonexclusivist humanocentric history. This world history can be more than a historical "entitlement program," which gives all (contemporary) cultures or nationalities their due separate but equal shares of the past. Instead, a humanocentric history can and must also recognize our historical and contemporary unity in and through diversity beyond our ideological affirmations of cultural self.


Although we should not aspire to "equal lime" in the history of everybody in the world, world history also need not just concentrate on adding representative nonwestern civilizations and cultures to western ones. Nor should we limit our historical study of cultures and civilizations to the comparative examination of their distinctive and common features. This is the procedure of most so-called courses and textbooks on "world" history or "comparative civilizations."

Some examples of these approaches and their internal contradictions and limitations are examined in Frank (1990a). Two well-known examples to be examined below are the comparative studies of civilizations by Toynbee and Quigley. Another example is the approach to "Civilization as a unit of world history" by Edward Farmer (1985) and Farmer et al. (1977) in their Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia.

We argue that our world history can and should also make efforts to connect and relate the diversity of histories and times to each other. It may be empirically possible, and in that case it is historically important, to uncover all sorts of historical connections among peoples and places, not only over time but especially at the same time. These connections would lend additional meaning to our comparisons. Frederick Teggart (1939) made such connections, for instance, in his Rome and China: A Study of Correlations in Historical Events. Teggart correlated and connected diverse political and economic events (particularly wars, "barbarian" invasions, and interruption/resumption of trade) in these two areas and others in between. Teggart made these connections among contemporaneous events "for the purpose of gaining verifiable knowledge concerning "the way things work" in the world of human relations ... in the spirit of modern scientific work, on the study of World History" (Teggart 1939: v, xii).

A one-world history should also seek to systematize these connections and relations, as well as comparisons, into an analysis of a world system history. This is now the opinion of our contemporary dean of world history, William McNeill (1990). Recently, he reflected back over "The Rise of the West after twenty-five years" and concluded that:

The Central methodological weakness of my book is that while it emphasizes interactions across civilizational boundaries, it pays inadequate attention to the emergence of the ecumenical world system within which we live today.... Being too much preoccupied by the notion of "civilization," I bungled by not giving the initial emergence of a transcivilizational process the sustained emphasis it deserved.... In the ancient Middle East, the resulting interactions ... led to the emergence of a cosmopolitan world system between 1700 and 500 bc. There is a sense, indeed, in which the rise of civilizations in the Aegean (later Mediterranean) coast lands and in India after 1500 bc were and remained part of the emergent world system centered on the Middle East.... All three regions and their peoples remained in close and uninterrupted contact throughout the classical era.... [Moreover] one may, perhaps, assume that a similar [to the modern] primacy for economic exchanges existed also in earlier times all the way back [to] the earliest beginnings of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. (McNeill 1990: 9-10,12-14)

Thirty-five years earlier, Marshall Hodgson (1954) had already pleaded: During the last three thousand years there has been one zone, possessing to some degree a common history, which has been so, inclusive that its study must take a preponderant place in any possible world-historical investigation.... The various lands of urbanized, literate civilization in the Eastern Hemisphere, in a continuous zone from the Atlantic to the Pacific, have been in commercial and commonly in intellectual contact with each other, mediately or immediately. Not only have the bulk of mankind lived in this zone, but its influence has emanated into much of the rest of the world. (Hodgson 1954: 716)

[In] the following approach... events may be dealt with in their relation to the total constellation of historical forces of which they are a part... .This means that we are to consider how events reflect interdependent interregional developments. (Ibid.: 717)

Hodgson (1958: 879) thought that "few scholarly tasks are more urgent. This same theme was taken up by L.S. Stavrianos (1970: 3-6) in The World to 1500: A Global History, In the "Introduction: nature of world history" he wrote: The distinctive feature of this book is that it is a world history. It deals with the entire globe rather than some one country or region. It is concerned not with Western man or non-Western man, but with all mankind.... The global approach to history represents a new departure in modern historiography.... The story of man from its very beginnings has a basic unity that must be recognized and respected. Neither Western nor non-Western history may be properly comprehended without a global overview encompassing both. Only then is it possible to perceive the interaction amongst all peoples at all times, and the primary role of that interaction in determining the course of human history....

World history is not the sum of histories of the civilizations of the world.... The structure of world history requires focusing on historical movements that have had major influence on man's development, so the geography of world history requires focusing on those regions that initiated those historical movements. When this is done, one land unit stands out uniquely and unchallengeable: Eurasia, the veritable heartland of world history since Neolithic times.... To an overwhelming degree, the history of man is the histoof these Eurasian civilizations. (Stavrianos 1970: 3-6)

In volume 1, number 1 of the new Journaof World History, Allerdyce (1990: 62, 67, 69) quoted others to the effect that what world history is a simple, all-encompassing, elegant idea, which offers inadequate tual base for a world history." We suggest that the basic elements is idea may be found in the foregoing quotations from McNeill, Igson, and Stavrianos. The central concept of this all-encompassing Ssacrranced here is the process of capital accumulation in the world in approach requires the rejection of still another historiographic tra-We should not treat historical diversity and comparisons as Perry ierson (1974) does. He goes beyond comparing the same or similarrical processes and formations like absolutism at different times. He p argues explicitly that "there is no such thing as a uniform temporal urn: for the times of the major Absolutism ... were precisely, enorily diverse ... no single temporality covers it." Instead, the systemat-mot interregional world history must realize, as Hodgson (1954: 719) id, that "What is important is the recognition ... that there has been son of developing pattern in which all these interregional develop-S can be studied, as they are affected by and in turn affect its elements IJCOnstituted at any one time." Prank (1978a: 20) argued that Ariderson's apparent attempt to make historiographic virtue out of empirical necessity when he argues that the historical times of events are different though their dates may be the same must be received .with the greatest of care - and alarm. For however useful it may be [comparatively] to relate the same thing through different times, the essential (because it is the most necessary and the least accomplished) contribution of the historian to historical understanding is successively to relate different things and places at the same time in the historical process.

Much earlier, Teggart (1939) established] (for the first time) the existence of [temporal] correlations in historical events ... which exhibits the relationship between contemporaneous disturbances in several areas ... [and] awareness of the concurrence of events in different regions.... The study of the past can become effective only when it is fully realized that all peoples have histories, that these histories run concurrently and in the same world, and that the act of comparing is the beginning of knowledge.... It at once sets a new problem for investigation by raising the question of how the correspondences in events are to be accounted for. (Teggart 1939: 243, 245, 239)

Therefore, we should discard the usual western, Eurocentric rendition of history, which jumps discontinuously from ancient Mesopotamia to Egypt, to "classical" Greece and then Rome, to medieval western Europe, and then on to the Atlantic west, with scattered backflashes to China, India, etc. For meanwhile all other history drops out of the story. Or some people and places never even appear in history, unless they are useful as a supposedly direct descendant of development in the West.

Instead, any world history should try to trace and establish the historical continuity of developments between then and now in the world systemic whole and all its parts. Hodgson and McNeill already emphasized this continuity. David Wilkinson (1987) puts Hodgson's earlier suggestion into practice and demonstrates convincingly that "Central civilization" has a continuous and expanding (we would say world system) history since Mesopotamia and Egypt established relations in about 1500 bc, We return to his thesis below.

We argue that these relations extend even farther out and further back. During another millennium from 2500 bc or earlier, peoples established relations with each other around and through the Mediterranean to the Levant, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and importantly on to the Persian Highlands "and between them and the Indus Valley, as well as with many Central Asian '"nomads." Gordon Childe (1942) already argued for the recognition and analysis of these and, even earlier and more widespread, of such relations in Neolithic times.

Moreover, world (system) history is not limited to that of sedentary "civilizations" and their relations. It also includes "barbarian" nomads and other peoples, and especially the multifarious relations among the former and the latter. Following Lattimore (1962) and others, we make a strong plea for much more study of Central and Inner Asian "nomadic" and other "peripheral" peoples. We recommend that special attention be given to the significance of their continuous trade and political relations with their "civilized" neighbors, and to the timing and causes of the recurrent waves of migratory and invasory incursions from Central/Inner Asia into east, south, and west Asia and Europe. Similarly, the nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula long before the time of Mohammed merit more attention. Moreover, it is high time to drop and take exception to the now pejorative term "barbarian." The supposed differences between peoples who have been so called and those supposedly more "civilized" are doubtful at best. There is even reason to question many supposed distinctions between "nomad" and "sedentary" peoples. However that may be, there can be little doubt about "the Centrality of Central Asia" in world (system) history (Frank 1992b).

Africa has also received less attention than it merits in world (system) history. Curtin has done pioneering work on trade and migration in Africa, but in his Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (1984) he has not sought to pursue the African connection in Afro-Asia as far back in history as it may deserve. The south-east Asian peoples and their history were long since intimately related to and also influential on those of China and India, if only for the trade and migrations between them. Yet south-east Asia is often largely omitted from even those world histories that give their due to China and India.


Civilizationists and many historians as well as macrosociologists claim to write the history of the world, but without ever attempting to write world history. They distinguish various civilizations or other systems, and sometimes study one problem or another, like ideology, power, economy, or technology. Toynbee (1946), Quigley (1961), and more recently Mann (1986) are among them.

Arnold Toynbee (1946: 34-40) finds 19 or 21 separate civilizations, 5 still living and 16 dead, though "most of them [were/are] related as parent or offspring to one or more of the others." He rejects "the egocentric illusion [of] the misconception of the unity of history - involving the assumption that there is only one river of civilization, our own." We should indeed reject this Euro/western egocentric illusion, but it is Toynbe's misconception to assume that there cannot have been or be a single unifying river unless it was "our" western or another civilizational river. We suggest that there is a common river and unity of history in a single world system and that it is multicultural in origin and expression, which has been systematically distorted by Eurocentrism.

Toynbee also rightly rejects "the illusion of 'the unchanging East." "The East" has no historical existence. Indeed, it was a Euro/western-centric invention. Moreover, of course, the many peoples and regions of "the East" have been very different and ever changing. This fact and reading of history need and should not, however, exclude these peoples and regions from participation in a common stream of history or historical systemic unity.

Thirdly, Toynbee rightly rejects "the illusion of progress as something which proceeds in a straight line." Leaving aside for the moment the criterion of progress or not, we can nonetheless observe cyclical ups and downs in parts of the system and maybe in the whole system itself (chapter 5). Finally, Toynbee rejects the "very different concept of the unity of history" as the diffusion of Egyptaic civilization over thousands of years. We accept the rejection of this diffusion, but not his unwarranted rejection of the unity of history or of a singhistorical world system.

Carroll Quigley (1961) devotes more attention than Toynbee to the interreland mutual influences among civilizations and their rise and decline through their seven stages of mixture, gestation, expansion, conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion. Nonetheless, he still recognizes sixteen separate civilizations. Thus, Quigley also writes a history of the world without attempting to write world history. Instead, he emphasizes the separate internal logics of development in civilizations through a pur-portedly "universal" pattern of stages.

David Wilkinson (1987 and chapter 7), by contrast, writes a more unitary history about what he calls "Central civilization." It began in the west Asian pan of the Eurasian landmass and spread eventually to encompass the entire globe.

Central Civilization is the chief entity to which theories of class society, the social system, world-economy and world systems must apply if they are to apply at all. A suitable theoretical account of its economic process does not yet exist; one for its political process may. (Wilkinson 1987: 56-7)

Wilkinson's subtitles indicate his intent and recommended procedure: Recognizing Central Civilization as a Reality.... Recognizing a single entity in adjacent "civilizations".... Recognizing a single entity after civilizations collide.... Recognizing a single entity when "civilizations" succeed each other.... Did Central civilization ever fall? (Wilkinson 1987: 35-9)

Wilkinson's answer is no, since its birth when Mesopotamia and Egypt joined hands around 1500 bc. Therefore Chase-Dunn and Hall (1991) have suggested that we should adapt Wilkinson's terminology and call their system the "Central World System."

However, we are wary about the category of "civilization" itself. "Civilization" is ambiguous as a unit and terribly difficult to bound either in space or in time. When McNeill says he "bungled" by being too preoccupied with civilization as the unit of analysis, this was because it stands in the way of seeing and analyzing world [system] history as a whole.


As already observed in our discussion of capital accumulation and the role of markets and entrepreneurship in ancient history, the field was long dominated by the work of scholars such as Moses Finley (1985, original 1975) and Karl Polanyi et al. (1957). Both deny or downplay the role of market relations in the ancient economy, and by implication the scope for "capital" accumulation. Ekholm and Friedman (chapter 2) provocatively attempted to expand world system analysis to the ancient economy and to break with this predominant view. They put forward a bold thesis on the continuity of "capital" and imperialism in the ancient world. Archaeological critiques of Polanyi, in particular by Silver (1985), Kohl (1989), Woolf (1990), and Sherratt and Sherratt (1991) re-examine the evidence. Archaeologists find ample empirical evidence of capital formation and for the operation of true price-setting markets in the ancient economy. Gills and Frank, chapters 3 and 5, rely on this evidence to systematize their reading of the role of capital accumulation and markets in the ancient world system.

Yet, all too often, historians and others have operated with the simplistic assumption that ancient states and empires were purely extractive, expropriating mechanisms. Anderson (1974) emphasizes the primacy of the political/coercive means of extraction of surplus in precapitalist social formations. Amin (1989 and chapter 8) similarly emphasizes the ideological and political-extractive character of surplus extraction in the "tributary" modes of production. We believe that the emphasis on these characterizations of ancient political economy are distorting. There is growing evidence of the vital and widespread role of private merchant capital and "free" imperial cities in generating the revenues on which the state lived in even the most militaristic and coercive of the ancient empires, Assyria, not to mention the more famous Phoenician commercial interests. What holds true for Assyria holds equally true for every other ancient empire and even China, though there perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent. Once this is recognized, the way is open to new studies of the transregional economic processes involving the transfer of goods and capital across ancient Eurasia and their effects "within" all the ancient empires.

Nonetheless, much of the work so far remains either civilizadonal or comparative civilizational in scope and conception. The leap to applying center-periphery and world system conceptual frameworks to the wider geographical, social and economic contexts we believe to exist has yet to be fully accomplished. There are a few glimmers of light on the horizon in this regard, for instance Sherratt's (1992) paper on the Bronze Age "world system" and McNeill's (1990) comments on the scope and significance of economic relations in the ancient world system quoted earlier. We believe that, given the state of the archaeological and historical evidence, there is good reason to encourage this nascent trend to analysis at the largest scale possible as the logical extension of the method and theses we advocate over the entire course of world history.

However, a new wave in archaeological studies has recently appeared. It applies center-periphery and/or world system analysis to the study of complex societies of the past. Thus, Rowlands, Larsen, and Kristiansen (1987) entitled a book Centre and Periphery in the Ancient World; Champion (1989) edited one on Centre and Periphery: Comparative Studies in Archaeology and Chase-Dunn and Hall (1991) on Core/Periphery Relations in Precapitalist Worlds; Greg Woolf (1990) discusses "World-systems analysis and the Roman Empire," Andrew Sherratt writes of "Core, periphery, and margin: perspectives on the Bronze Age" (n.d.) and asks "What would a Bronze Age world system look like?" (1992) and Frank (1993c) examines "Bronze Age world system cycles." Thus, much of this new literature and its titles about ancient and "precapitalist" societies or "worlds" imply that it is not only possible, but analytically fruitful to apply concepts developed for the analysis of the modern world also to the "premodern" and indeed the "prehistorical" world.

Progress in this direction has, however, been limited by the attempt to apply Wallersteinian categories too rigidly and/or by confining them to "world-systems" of excessively narrow scope. Guillermo Algaze (n.d.), for instance, comparatively examines "Prehistoric world systems, imperialism, and their expansion" in each of Egypt, southern Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley, as well as central Mexico. Yet he does not consider the connections among the first three, as well as among them and northern Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Levant, Persia, and Central Asia, which are examined in chapter 5. George Dales (1976) probed the "Shifting trade patterns between the Iranian Plateau and the Indus Valley in the third millennium bc." Hiebert and Lamberg-Karlovsky (1991) in turn examined the relations between "Central Asia and the Indo-Iranian borderlands." Shereen Ratnagar (1981) explored Encounters: The Westerly Trade of the Harrapan Civilization with Mesopotamia.

Philip Kohl (1991) also examines the connections between Persia and transcaucasian Central Asia, and between that and the Indus Valley. He sees parallels and shifts of center of gravity in the latter, but is reluctant to probe possible causal interrelations. Kohl (1987, 1989, 1991) has also written several times about center-periphery relations and "the use and abuse of world systems theory" regarding these areas. He concludes that "these Central Asian materials cannot easily be incorporated into an unmodified Wallersteinian world systems model.... Economic development and dependency were not linked phenomena during the Bronze Age.... Central Asia clearly interacted with South Asia and Iran in the late third millennium, but it was neither a core, a periphery, nor semi-periphery" (Kohl 1989: 235,236, 237). Moreover, among others. Kohl also stresses the maritime connections with Oman.

From our p, all of these structures and processes, as well as the specific historical events, can and should be stuas part of a single world system process. It seems particularly opportune to do so when, as we write, a front-page headline in the International Herald Tribune (6 February 1992) reports the use of satellite observation to make the "major new find... of the Omanum Emporium" at or near "Ancient Arabia's Lost City" of (Omanian) Ubar, which was the center of the overland and maritime frankincense trade with most of the areas we have just discussed. Only extension and adaptation of world system analysis to earlier times can offer the analytical categories essential to examine all this in its then contemporary Bronze Age systemic interrelations. Moreover, we agree with the archaeologists like Kohl who suggest that the age-old inquiry into the origins of the ancient state also must be reoriented to take account of "international relations." However, these relations were competitive as states were rivals for economic suzerainty, and not only on a bilateral basis, but within an "interstate" world system. We return to this matter in our sections on international relations and anthropology below.


In classicism, eurocentricity, as noted above, has been powerfully criticized by Martin Bernal (1987) and Samir Amin (1989). Both argue that ancient Greece was less the beginning of "western" than the continuation of "eastern" civilization and culture. However, we would caution against misuse of Bernal's work by some of his new "Afrocentrist" interpreters. Similarly, "poly-centrism" can be misused by multiculturalist counterattacks on Eurocentric culture.

On a more material level, the archaeologists Andrew and Susan Sherran insist similarly about Aegean civilization that "its growth can only be understood in the context of its interaction with these larger economic structures" in the Levant and "behind them stood the much larger urban economies of Mesopotamia and Egypt" where for "already 2000 years... the easterners had the gold, the skills, the bulk, the exotic materials, the sophisticated lifestyle, and the investment capacity" (Sherratt and Sherratt 1991: 355). Why else, we ask in chapter 5, would Alexander have turned East to seek his fortune?

Our world system perspective not only reinforces the Amin and Bernal ideological critique of Eurocentrism, but carries it much further still. We also offer an analytic framework, within which to perceive the "interaction with these larger structures" by Greek, Roman, and other "civilizations" in "classical" times. Thus, our perspective offers a powerful antidote to the Eurocentric classical historians, who imposed their bias upon studies of the ancient world by privileging the role of Graeco-Roman civilization in the story of world history. The contributions of nonwestern, and particuliyly "oriental," societies were systematically denigrated or dismissed as unimportant. Most importantly, Eurocentric classicism distorted the real political and economic position of the "West", i.e. the Graeco-Romans, in the ancient world as a whole. Yet we know that Hellas began its ascendance after a preparatory period of so-called "orientalizing," i.e. emulating and integrating with the more advanced and prosperous centers of civilization and commerce in the "East."

The Eurocentric distortions of classicism in ancient history can best be corrected by applying a world system approach in which all the major zones of ancient Eurasia are analyzed on the basis of their participation in a common economic process. Culturalism and the assumption of western superiority has distorted analyses of the true world historical position and relations of the west European and west Asian (Middle Eastern) regions. A world system framework clarifies that for most of world history, including ancient "classical" history, Europe was ever "marginal" and west Asia ever "central."

The ultimate center of economic gravity in the ancient world remained in the East even after the rise of Hellas, which is well attested in the history of the Hellenistic kingdoms. It can be argued that, even when Rome ascended to political predominance over these Hellenistic kingdoms, the real economic core of this pan-Mediterranean-oriental world system nevertheless decidedly remained in the East, whilst Rome itself played a largely parasitic role. The historical evidence corroborates the contention that the real position of the West relative to that of the East has been misunderstood.

Witness the ambition of Antony and Cleopatra to rule this world from the East; the secession of Queen Zenobia in the third century; the founding of Constantinople as the eastern capital, and its subsequent centuries-long tenure as the premier economic metropolis of the East. Indeed, the so-called "fall" of the Roman empire was mainly confined to the economically far weaker western provinces. It was primarily Eurocentric bias and privileging of Graeco-Roman civilization that produced the quite false dichotomy between the "fall" of Rome and the subsequent Byzantine empire. The latter, of course, was the same Roman empire; and it only retrenched and regrouped in its economic core in the East.

The true position and relations of the west European and west Asian (Middle Eastern) region have been analyzed even less within the context of the entire Eurasian economic world. Teggart (1939) established a model for how such a task might be accomplished. Such a project would need to incorporate the ancient history of every major region in Eurasia, especially those of China, India, Central Asia, and south-east Asia. Our world system history offers a framework to do so. In that framework as in world-historical reality, Europe was marginal and west Asia central. Gills and Frank in chapter 5 discuss a Eurasian-wide pattern of correlations in economic expansion and contraction and hegemonic rise and decline during the ancient period. They attempt to explore the synchronization and sequentialization of these patterns between all the major zones of ancient Eurasia, on the working assumption that they participated in a common world accumulation process.


Most study of medieval history is also extremely Eurocentric. The famous "Dark Ages" refer explicitly to Europe, indeed to western Europe. However, the implication is that either the rest of the world also experienced centuries of the same; or worse, that it did not exist at all, or if it did, there were no connections between (western) Europe and the remainder of the world. All these theses and their implications are directly challenged by our study of the Afro-Eurasian world system during "medieval" times in chapter 5.

In terms of twentieth-century European sociological historiography, the dispute could be summarized through the polar-opposite positions of the contemporaries Max Weber and Werner Sombart. The archaeologists Andrew and Susan Sherratt (1991) identify this contrast with regard to the ancient world. However, it also applies to medieval times or rather, perhaps it was projected backward by Weber and Sombart from their study of medieval times and indeed from their concern with modern capitalism. Weber and Marx were antagonists in their interpretation of capitalism and in the theoretical apparatuses they bequeathed to twentieth-century social science and history. However, they were tactical allies with regard to their interpretation of medieval times, from which, however differently, both sought to distinguish modern capitalism. They-saw medieval Europe as sunk in a Dark Age hole of immobility, which was closed in upon itself. For them and for their many and mutually antagonistic followers through most of the twentieth century, Europe was characterized by small-scale and agrarian feudal fiefdoms based on master-serf relations. The most important exponent of similar theses among historians was perhaps Marc Bloch. All of these followed in turn Edward Gibbon's renowned Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the eighteenth century and European Renaissance writers before that.

A contrary thesis wdeveloped and defended by Sombart (1967, 1969), who laid much greater emphasis on commercial developments, by Alfons D(1918), and to some extent by Henri Pirenne (1936) and Henri See (1951). Dopsch emphasized the continued importance of trade after the decline of the Roman empire in the West and denied that Europe involuted completely. Pirenne recognized the integration at least of western Europe in the age of Charlemagne. Though See, like Marx and Weber, was concerned with "the origins of modem capitalism," he identified many medieval commercial precursors, also in the Church. Sture Bolin argued against Pirenne and suggested that without Mohammed - or indeed Rurik, the Swedish invader of Russia - there could have been no Charlemagne. That is, medieval western Europe was systemically related to eastern Europe and Islam. (For a discussion of these theses, see Adelson 1962.) The important place and role of Venice and Genoa in late medieval Europe were derived from their connections with the Byzantines and others in the "East." The Crusades went there because that was where the action was, while Europe still was in a backwater of world system history.

However, even if we start in Europe as we should not, these observations lead us much farther afield. The importance of the commercial and monetary ties between Europe and Islamic lands is emphasized by, among others, Maurice Lombard (1975). He rightly terms the medieval centuries as "the Golden Age of Islam." Marshall Hodgson (1974) sees medieval Islam as the veritable center and hub of a flourishing Eurasian oikumene, while (western) Europe - and by Eurocentric extension the world? -supposedly languished in the "Dark Ages." K.N. Chaudhuri (1990) goes on to analyze medieval splendor in Asia Before Europe. Countless historians of China have studied the rise and decline of the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties; and the world-historian William McNeill (1983) ascribes world preeminence to the latter in the late Middle Ages. Christopher Beckwith (1987) insists on the systemic connection among all of these regions and other regions, in particular Central Asia including Tibet, and their polities throughout the medieval period. We rely heavily on all of these authors to construct our analysis of the world system during the medieval period (chapter 5, Frank 1991b).

From a world system perspective medieval Europe was socially, politically, and economically quite backward or less developed in comparison with the contemporary cores in the world system, all of which lay to the East. Perhaps no other region in Eurasia suffered so deep and prolonged a retrogression after the classical period. In this sense, medieval Europe was an exception rather than the rule, and Eurocentric preoccupation with feudal social forms distorts our appreciation of real social, political, and economic development in the world as a whole during those centuries. Thus, in this regard also, Eurocentrism distorts our understanding of human history.


Early modern history is variously dated more or less from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, depending on the specific historical topic under review. These include but are not confined to the following more or less contemporaneous or temporally overlapping events: the Wars of the Roses in England and/or the Hundred Years War, the Renaissance in Europe, Norman expansion southward through Europe, the end of the European Crusades, European expansion westward through the Mediterranean into and then across the Atlantic, Mamluk rule in Egypt, the decline of the Byzantine empire, the rise of the Ottoman empire and its expansion westward, Mongol expansion in all directions, the Black Death, the rise of the Safavid empire in Iran, India before and during the Muslim conquest, the Yuan dynasty in China and then its replacement by the Ming dynasty, and farther afield perhaps the Mali empire in west Africa, the rise of the Incas in Peru and of the Aztecs in Mexico. At best, some of these events or empires are treated comparatively, as in the "Early Modern Seminar" at the University of Minnesota led by Edward Farmer, whose approach was discussed above. Yet all of them are treated either independently of each other or at most in relation to their immediate neighbors.

Per contra, in our interpretation of the world system, all the Eurasian events would be supposed if not treated as having been interlinked and related to each other. We do not treat the Mongol expansion and the Black Death as arising, deus ex machina, out of nowhere and their impact on and reactions to them in China, India, Persia, and Europe as isolated instances. Instead, we treat all these events and others as integral pans of an integrated Eurasian-wide world system and historical process. Exceptionally, Janet Abu-Lughod's (1989) Before European Hegemony does the same. She treats eight of these areas as interlinked across Eurasia during the years 1250-1350. We already commented on her work in connection with "world system theory" above.

Palat and Wallerstein (1990) speak of an "evolving Indian Ocean world economy," which combined a set of intersecting trade and production linkages from Aden and Mocha on the Red Sea, and Basra, Gombroon, and Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, to Surat and Calicut on the western seaboard and Pulicat and Hughli on the Coromandel and Bengal coasts of India, Melaka on the Malay archipelago; and the imperial capitals such as Delhi and Teheran, connected by caravan trails. They "lived at the same pace as the outside world, keeping up with the trades and rhythms of the globe" (Palat and Wallerstein 1990: 30-1; also Braudel 1981-4: 18).

Nevertheless, Palat and Wallerstein insist that three autonomous historical systems existed: the Indian Ocean world economy, that centered on China, and the Mediterranean/European zones, which merely converged at intersections. Yet they note the "swift collapse of these cities once their fulcral positions were undermined." But they would have it that "their riches accumulated from their intermediary role in the trade between different world-systems" rather than acknowledging the existence of a single world economy. Furthermore, Palat and Wallerstein conclude that despite the temporal contemporaneity of post-1400 expansion of networks of exchange and intensification of relational dependencies in Europe and in the world of the Indian Ocean, the processes of large-scale socio-historical transformation in the two historical systems were fundamentally dissimilar. In one zone, it led to the emergence of the capitalist world-economy. In the other, to an expanded petty commodity production that did not lead to a real subsumption of labour. (Palat and Wallerstein 1990: 40)

We regard this as an excessively near-sighted view (see chapter 5 below for further discussion of this point).

Per contra other students of the world system therefore, if other pans of the world have been the most imponant players in the same world system earlier on, some of these players were imponant in the same world system after 1492 as well. Therefore, it is necessary to rephrase (or repose?) the question of "incorporation" into the system as perceived by Hopkins and Wallerstein in their 1987 issue of Review dedicated to "Incorporation into the world-economy: How the world-system expands." Moreover, the hegemony first of Iberia in the sixteenth century and then of the Netherlands in the seventeenth, as well as the relative monopolies of trade on which they were based, came at the expense of still operative trading powers, e.g. the Ottomans and Indians.

However, beyond the retreat into greater isolation of China under the Ming at one end of Eurasia, another major reason that this historical development eventually became a more unipolar rather than a multipolar transition is explained by J.M. Blaut (1977, 1992) with reference to the other end: the western European maritime powers conquered the Americas and injected its bullion into their own processes of capital accumulation. The western powers then used the same to gain increasing control over the trade nexus of the stillattractive and profitable Indian Ocean and Asia as a whole. Yet as late as 1680 the Director of the English East India CompaSir Josiah Child still observed that "we obstruct their [Mogul Indian] trade with all the Eastern nations which is ten times as much as ours and all European nations put together" (cited in Palat and Wallerstein 1990: 26). In that case, what was really in or out of the world system, what were its essential features, and when did these features and the world system itself begin?

In this regard, an argument similar to ours was already made by Jacques Gernet in his History of China: what we have acquired the habit of regarding - according to the history of the world that is in fact no more than the history of the West - as the beginning of modern times was only the repercussion of the upsurge of the urban, mercantile civilizations whose realm extended, before the Mongol invasion, from the Mediterranean to the Sea of China. The West gathered up part of this legacy and received from it the leaven which was to make possible its own development. The transmission was favored by the crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the expansion of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.... There is nothing surprising about this Western backwardness: the Italian cities... were at the terminus of the great commercial routes of Asia.... The upsurge of the West, which was only to emerge from its relative isolation thanks to its maritime expansion, occurred at a time when the two great civilizations of Asia [China and Islam] were threatened. (Gernet 1985: 347-8)


The same problematic marks much of economic history. In recent Eurocentric times, economic history has focused on Europe, its rise, and its expansion worldwide. Par too many books to mention have been written on the whys and wherefores of the "Rise of the West," and almost all of them have sought the answer in this or that factor or combination of them ; within Europe. When the rest of the world is there, as for scholars such as Jones (1981), Hall (1985), or Baechler, Hall, and Mann (1988), it is there only to be found deficient or defective in some crucial historical, economic, social, political, ideological, or cultural respect in comparison to the West. Therefore, these authors also revert to an internal explanation of the presumed superiority of the West to explain its ascendance over the rest of the world. For all of them, the rise of Europe was a unique "miracle" and not a product of history and shifts within the world (system). The major exception in posing and answering this question is McNeill's The Rise of the West; and it is not an economic but a world history!

As for the others, we may choose The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History by Douglass C. North and Robert Paul Thomas (1973) as an example. The reason is the explicitness of its title, its emphasis on "new," the renown of the authors, and their revision of received theory. Yet under their subtitles "Theory and overview: 1. The issue" and on the very first page, they clearly state "the development of an efficient economic organization in Western Europe accounts for the rise of the West" (North and Thomas 1973; 1, our emphasis). They then trace this institutional change, and especially the development of property rights, to increased economic scarcity, which was generated in turn by a demographic upturn in western Europe. The rest of the world was not there for them, but we shall return to its demographics in our discussion of macrohistorical sociology below. Here it is worthy of note, as North and Thomas (1973: vii) emphasize in their preface, that their economic history is "consistent with and complementary to standard neo-classical economic theory."

Marxist economic history, by contrast, has been dominated by concepts like "mode of production" and "class struggle." Yet, both these concepts have generally also been interpreted within a framework of a single "society" or social formation, or at least a single entity, whether that be a state or a civilization. That is, with regard to "the rise of the West" and "the development of capitalism," Marxist economic history has been equally or even more Eurocentric than its "bourgeois" opponents. Examples are the famous debate in the 1950s on "the transition from feudalism to capitalism" among Maurice Dobb, Paul Sweezy, Kohachiro Takahashi, Rodney Hilton, and others (reprinted in Hilton 1976) and the Brenner debate on "European feudalism" (Aston and Philpin 1985). De St. Croix (1981) on the class struggles in the ancient "Graeco-Roman" civilization and Anderson (1974) on "Japanese feudalism" also considered these as a particular "society."

This limitation on the scope of analysis was not inevitable nor laid down by any law. Rather, it was the result of Eurocentrism and a preference for endogenous class-based, causal explanatory frameworks. In this preference for the limited and limiting units of analysis, like the national state or society or civilization, "transitions" occur mainly for "internal" "class" reasons. Central to these "transitions" have been the transitions between modes of production, which were usually analyzed as if they occurred wholly within each separate entity according to the development of its internal contradictions.

Thus Anderson (1974) analyzed the "fall" of late Rome in the West as the demise of the slave mode of production and its gradual replacement by the feudal mode of production. Brenner (in Aston and Philpin 1985) analyzes the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe as if it occurred primarily (if not solely) as a consequence of internal class contradictions that brought about a crisis of feudal relations in the European social formation - irrespective of external causes. This was also the central theme of Maurice Dobb (1963) which led to the debate between him and other "productionists" like Rodney Hilton versus the "circulationist" Paul Sweezy, who emphasized the contribution of world market relations to the transition from Feudalism to capitalism in Europe, without however yet studying the dynamics of that world economy itself. Kohachiro Takahashi tried to take an intermediate position between the two sides in this debate in the early 1950s (reprinted in Hilton 1976). The same themes and theses resurfaced a generation later in the Brenner-Wallerstein exchange.

To re-examine the transition from feudalism to capitalism in western Europe and the simultaneous rise of the "second serfdom" in eastern Europe, Brenner takes a Dobbian productionist position; and Wallerstein focuses on the development of the capitalist modem world-system. Denemark and Thomas (1988) review this debate and contend that it is better to maintain a wider-system level of analysis and also to pay more attention to the concrete determinants of power within political systems. Denemark and Thomas point to the errors of overly state-centric analysis. Their refutation of Brenner's claims that Poland's relative status was primarily conditioned by its internal structure and not by trade is a useful empirical affirmation of the greater explanatory power of a world system framework of analysis. An illustration of the importance of these long-term and large-scale structural factors is that from his vantage point as a Hungarian Jeno Sziics could observe that in drawing the line between east and west Europe at their meetings in Moscow and Yalta.

It is as if Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt had studied carefully the status quo of the age of Charlemagne on the 1130th anniversary of his death.... [Also] the old Roman limes would show up on Europe's morphological map, thus presaging right from the start the birth of a "Central Europe" within the notion of the "West". The whole history of the Hapsburg state was an attempt to balance the unbalanceable while being squeezed somewhere between the two extremes of East-Central Europe. The only consequent structural element in that formula [was] the setting up by the Hapsburgs of a diminished East-Central European-copy on an "imperial scale" of the division of labodrawn up by the nascent "world economy" on a larger scale ... between West (industrial) and East (agricultural).... In the "Hapdivision of labour," Hungary was cast in the East's role [with its East European hinterland and Austria governing Bohemia in the West's]. (Sziics 1983: 133, 172, 173)

The issue of how to combine the respective strengths and insights of the global and state levels of analysis is taken up in a collection on "neo-Structuralism" (Palan and Gills 1993).

At the center of these still very relevant discussions is a vital methodological issue. Should we take as the primary unit of analysis a Jliingle society (if such a thing can be said to exist!), or a single state, or ***** single mode of production (if there ever was one in isolation)? Doing so leads us to privilege production and endogenous factors in for*****iulating our causal explanations of social change. Or should we take on ** largest unit of analysis suggested by the material and political-military interactions in which any particular geographical area is involved? That gitels us to privilege (or at least to emphasize) accumulation, exchange, and hegemonic influences or rivalries. That is our methodological choice. Of *****, we differ from Wallerstein in that we do not see the world system as arising from 1500, but much earlier. Therefore, we do not regard the Sfffansition," if any, as an intra-European process, but more as the conse-lltjttence of a shift in the economic center of gravity from East to West. ***** is our argument explicitly in chapters 5 and 6 and in Frank (1992a, ?93a). Thus, we then find "systemic" and conjunctural causal explanations I "transitional" change that appear "external" to Europe and its "internalizations of production. Since these appear primary to the "productionists," therefore accuse us of "circulationism," Frank in chapter 6 in turn reighs against "Transitional ideological modes: feudalism, capitalism, *dalism."

In this regard, we may perhaps be permitted a personal but revealing Ide. In 1965, one of us debated with Rodolfo Puiggros in the Sunday pplement of a Mexican newspaper about the transition between feudalism d capitalism in Latin American agriculture (Frank 1965). The tide was !7ith what mode of production does the hen convert maize into golden ;s?" The answer was that the hen's mode of production in agriculture 1 a fortiori Latin America itself was capitalist since its conquest and corporation into the capitalist system by the newly hegemonic Europe. teen years later, Frank's then 17-year-old son Paulo suddenly said like a bolt out of the sky that "obviously Latin America could not have been feudal, since it was colonized by Europe."

The 1965 article began by inviting readers to solve a puzzle: connect nine points, which visually seem to form (and enclose) a square, with a single line of four continuous and straight segments. The point was - and still is - that it is impossible to find the solution as long as we stay within the limited frame that the nine points appear to impose on us: "The solution is that we must emerge from the limited and self imposed frame" by going outside it. The argument in 1965 was that "if we are to understand the Latin American problematique we must begin with the world system that creates it and go outside the self-imposed optical and mental illusion of the Ibero-American or national frame" (reprinted in Prank 1969: 231).

That is still the point, and it applies equally to understanding "the transition from feudalism to capitalism" in Europe -and to "the rise of the western world: a new economic history." In the last generation, all sides of the Dobb-Sweezy debates, the Brenner debates, the Brenner-Wallerstein debates among Marxists and neo-Marxists, as well as the debates between neoclassicists and other Eurocentric scholars before them have posed all their questions and sought all their answers only or primarily within Europe, be it in its "mode of production," "institutions of property," or otherwise. Yet if we are to understand this apparently European problematique we must begin with the world system that creates it and go outside the self-imposed optical and mental illusion of the European or national frame.

We recommend the world system as the locus, and the process of accumulation within it as its motor force of development, as the primary determinants of the historical process. In this regard we are very much in agreement with Wallerstein, Amin, Abu-Lughod, and others - as far as they go. However, as noted in our discussion of world system theory above, we want also to apply the same methodology much further in space and time. We believe that Marxist and neo-Marxist historiography also should not be confined in its self-imposed "isolationist" orthodoxy. Rather, historical-materialist analysis, Marxist or otherwise, should move in ever more holistic and inclusive directions, which were proposed by earlier materialist economic historians, like Gordon Childe (1936, 1942), and later by Fernand Braudel's (1953, 1981) "total history." Only then can we hope to comprehend the full causal frameworks for transitions -be they in modes, centers of accumulation, or hegemonic power - on the scale of the "world-as-a-whole."


Both the Marxist heritage and its self-limitations impinge on macrohistorical (political) sociology, and so do our critiques thereof from a world system perspective. For example, Michael Mann (1986) sums up his approach in two statements. Both could offer justification and basis for a world system historical approach. However, in Mann's hands they do rather the opposite:

Societies are not unitary. They are not social systems (closed or open); they are not totalities. We can never find a single bounded society in geographical or social space. Because there is no system, no totality, there cannot be "sub-systems," "dimensions," or "levels" of such a totality. Because there is no whole, social relations cannot be reduced "ultimately," "in the last instance," to some systemic property of it - like the "mode of material production," or the "cultural" or "normative system," or the "form of military organization." Because there is no bounded totality, it is not helpful to divide social change or conflict into "endogenous" and "exogenous" varieties. Because there is no social system, there is no "evolutionary" process within it. There is no one master concept or basic unit . of "society." ... I would abolish the concept of "society." altogether.

The second statement flows from the first. Conceiving of societies as multiple overlapping and intersecting power networks gives us the best available entry into the issue of what is ultimately "primary" or "determining" in societies,... (There are] four sources of social power: ideological, economic, military, and political (IEMP) relationships. (Mann 1986: 1-2)

We can only agree to Mann's proposal to abolish the concept of society and to his rejection of the search for some single ultimately determinant property thereof. For most of Mann's rejection of the premises of orthodox history and social science. Right and Left, also eliminates many underbrush obstacles on the way to the world system history we propose. However, we have some reservations about his prima facie rejection of all totality and systemic property as well as about his singular preoccupation with power alone. In particular, we cannot be satisfied by his enquiry only into "the sources of social power" at different times and places, without a systematic attempt to investigate possible connections between here and there, and to trace possible continuities between then and now. Moreover, we suggest that Mann's focus on power itself devotes insufficient attention to the use, if not the motive, of power for ulterior economic ends,

This more materialist perspective is much more pervasive in Jack A. Goldstone's (1991) Revolutions and Rebellions in the Early Modem World. This book is not so much, and certainly not just, another study of revolutions and rebellions. In addition, indeed instead, it offers a demographic/ structurand cyclical analysis of economic, political, social, cultural, and ideological factors responsible for state breakdown. The revolutions are only the sthat break the camel's back; and the rebellions are those that fail to do so, because the structural conditions are not ripe. "Any claim that such trends were produced solely by unique local conditions is thoroughly undermined by the evidence" (Goldstone 1991: 462). To explain, we may best let Goldstone speak for himself:


My primary conclusion is quite beautiful in its parsimony. It is that the periodic state breakdowns in Europe, China and the Middle East from 1500 to 1800 were the result of a single basic process.... The main trend was that population growth, in the context of relatively inflexible economic and social structures, led to changes in prices, shifts in resources, and increasing social demands with which the agrarian-bureaucratic states could not successfully cope. The four related critical trends were as follows: (1) Pressures increased on state finances and inflation eroded state income and population growth raised real expenses.... (2) Intra-elite conflicts became more prevalent as larger families and inflation made it more difficult for some families to maintain their status ... while creating new aspirants to elite positions.... (3) Popular unrest grew, as competition for land, urban migration flooding labor markets, declining real wages, and increased youthfulness raised the mass mobilization potential of the populace.... (4) The ideologies of rectification and transformation became increasingly salient... and turned both elites and middling groups to heterodox religious movements in the search for reform, order, and discipline. The conjunctures of these four critical trends ... combined to undermine stability on multiple levels of social organization. This basic process was triggered all across Eurasia by periods of sustained population increases that occurred in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and again in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, thus producing worldwide waves of state breakdown. In contrast, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries populations did not grow, and the basic process and its four subthemes were absent. Political and social stability resulted. (Goldstone 1991: 459-60, his emphasis)

What lies behind the long cycles of expansion and contraction at least of "economic" growth rates and their political consequences, which are identified by us in chapter 5? Perhaps demographic changes, due in turn to Eurasian-wide ups and downs in mortality rates, as Goldstone persuasively argues. They could well combine with the long cycles of typically 200 years expansion and contraction, which we identify. Alas, we have not even investigated this possibility - if it is possible to do so with available demographic evidence. However, ecological cycles, as Goldstone also calls n, perhaps based on climatic changes, have also been suggested and srigated by others; and they are discussed in Frank (1990a and 1991a, 2b). Goldstone's kind of analysis could and should be extended beyond cases he studied.

Goldstone's demographically based economic, political, and social cycles Uenge of course both the view that history is only linearly progressive I the view that, at least since early modem times, it is determined by development of capitalism. We agree (chapter 5, Frank 1991a). Of trse Goldstone's point is even better taken if the demographic and (lirical economic cycles extend farther back than the supposed origin of pitalism around 1800, 1500, or whenever. Indeed, and although Goldstone himself does not go so far as to say so, his materialist analysis Undermines the very idea of capitalism as a separate and useful category, *** to mention system. That is what Frank in chapter 6 argues, also on in Biaterialist grounds.

A related major case in point is the insistence, against all the evidence, that class struggle is the motor force of history. Goldstone denies that, landadduces contrary evidence again and again. Alvin Gouldner (1980) already emphasized the contradiction between "the two Marxisms." One olds that material economic conditions shape social relations and form sciousness, and the other claims that the class struggle and conscious there of drive history. Yet, at about the same time, the Polish Marxist zek Nbwak (1983 translation) pointed out that the transition from lilavery to feudalism was not generated by interclass slave revolts against E their masters, and the transition from feudalism to capitalism was not due to interclass uprisings by serfs against their lords. In both "transitions", if any, the conflicts and "struggles" were intraclass within the old and emerging new ruling classes, which responded to underlying economic changes. Slave and serf revolts were at best secondary and supplementary. Now Goldstone demonstrates that in each of the cases he analyzes, the important conflicts, and struggles were among the existing and emerging B elites, and not between the "people" and those elites. "Factional conflict p within (he elites, over access to office, patronage, and state policy, rather than conflict across classes, led to state paralysis and state breakdown" (Goldstone 1991: 461), as we also observed (chapter 3). Grassroots social movements from below were supplementary in that they helped further destabilize an already unstable state, if only by obliging it to spend already scarce resources to defend itself; and in that the popular movements favored the interests of some elite factions against others. "I know of no popular rebellion that succeeded by itself without associated elite revolts or elite leadership in creating institutional change" (Goldstone 1991: 11). All this would be obvious, if it were not so frequently denied by those whose ideology leads them to claim to know better.

Gills (1989) also refers to the intra-elite struggles underlying periodic crisis-He sees this pattern virtually everywhere prior to 1500. The pattern is driven not only demographically, but more fundamentally as a cyclical struggle among elites for control over shares of the surplus and state power. The typical pattern, as evident in the history of east Asia, is for privatization of accumulation to grow to a point at which it threatens the stability of the state, whose revenue declines as the rate of exploitation increases, This immiserates the peasantry and impoverishes the economy, and precipitates rebellion. In east Asian history, the timing of major rebellions is closely correlated to the eno-opic nadir in this cycle of accumulation and hegemony.

These and other revolts and revolutions have been the object of long study by Charles Tilly and his associates. They help fill an important void in the analysis of world system history, in which people's participation often does not receive the attention it rightfully deserves. Under the suggestive title Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons Tilly (1984) asks "how can we improve our understanding of the large-scale structures and processes that were transforming the world?" Tilly answers and argues that "the most pressing theoretical problems are to connect local events to international structures of power and to improve existing models of these international structures."

He considers doing so at the world-historical, the world-systemic, the macrohistorical, and the microhistorical levels. "If the world forms but a single coherent network, the first two levels collapse into one.... How many levels exist and what units define them are partly empirical questions." But "if any connection counts, we will most likely discover that with trivial exceptions the world has always formed a single system." Tilly rightly rejects counting any connection; but he jumps to the unfounded conclusion that therefore "only in the last few hundred years, by the criterion of rapid, visible, and significant influences, could someone plausibly argue for all the world as a single system.... [This] implies that human history has seen many world systems,often simultaneously dominating different pans of the globe." Therefore, Tilly argues, we must study many "big structures, large processes, huge comparison." Yet Tilly's own objectives and alternative criteria to pernicious postulates also permit alternative plausible arguments. To begin with, there could have been a multi-centered and yet a single system. Nonetheless, Tilly himself still does not accept these arguments. On the contrary, in private correspondence (30 July 1989) he suggests that we would have to adopt precise numerical criteria of degrees of influence to measure significance, which in turn we reject as deleterious. Thus, we could say that Tilly's study of social movements breathes welcome life into the baby; but he throws out much of the wider social bath water, all of the systemic bath tub, and leaves the baby perilously suspended in midair.


Political geography as a world-encompassing subject is concerned primarily "with analysis of the spatial dimensions of global political economy. Formerly, the dominant form of international political geography was geopolitics, which was preoccupied with strategic studies and power politics. Global rivalry among the great powers called into being a social-science discipline to inform strategists and statesmen. As such, geopolitics was the handmaiden of international relations, a similarly policy-oriented academic discipline. Mahan and Mackinder epitomized the infancy of geopolitics and its strategic obsession, e.g. in Mackinder's famous "heartland" theory.

Fortunately, in recent years political geography has been taken in new directions by critical scholarship addressing the spatial dimensions of the modem capitalist world economy. Particularly instrumental therein have been geographers like Peter Taylor (1989) who also edits the journal Political Geography, R.J. Johnson and P.J. Taylor (1986), Richard Peet (1991), and A.D. King (1991). Wallerstein (1991) has also contributed in this direction.

The spatial analysis of capitalism on a world scale has become more "fluid." It is moving away from notions of fixed territoriality, particularly when addressing questions of nation and nationalism, identity and locality, and the organization of production. The burgeoning literature on globalization/localization, postmodernism and critical human geography, and global culture indicates the still increasing intellectual interest in new ways of incorporating the spatial dimension into analyses of global processes (Soja 1988; Lash and Urry 1987; Jameson 1984; Anderson 1983; Featherone 1991; A.D. King 1991).

The debates about world system theory and history intersect with these spatial explorations in political geography and critical social theory. Taken to its logical conclusion, our approach to cycles of accumulation and hegemony at the scale of the world system as a whole implies a new conceptualization of the spatial dimension of world accumulation/hegemonic processes (chapter 5). The fluidity of the spatial organization of the world system becomes all the more sharply apparent in a perpetual process of restructuring, which has been continuous for not only the past 500, but throughout 5,000 years of world system history.

The "geography of imperialism" should be understood not merely territorially, but temporally and sequentially, via the (.shifts in centers of accumulation that occur over time, and which themselves reflect the underlying processes of competitive accumulation that forever restructure the spatial organization of the world economy. In reality, no political geographical/spatial unit or entity, be it nation or state, is fixed. Instead, all have historically been and still are being kaleidoscopically transformed on die wheel of the processes of accumulation in the world system.


Of all the academic disciplines our world system history should speak to, international relations (IR) and international political economy (IPE) are the most obvious candidates. World system analysis established its value by challenging both disciplines by its very multidisciplinary and holistic approach. By insisting on studying 500 years of world system history, world system analysis broke with the short-term post-1945 self-definition of both IR and IPE. It also broke with the then predominant state-centric approach in IR, which was mirrored in the modernization approach in development studies. World system theory made a case for the superiority of taking the world system as a whole as the unit of analysis. Since its first onslaught on the state-centric approach, conventional IR has been influenced by growing dissatisfaction with traditional realist state centrism. A number of prominent IR theorists have turned their attention instead to IPE (Gilpin 1981; Keohane 1984; Krasner 1983).

Our approach to hegemonic transitions also complements rather than competes with or contradicts the new Gramscian school in IPE of, for instance, Stephen Gill (1990) and Robert Cox (1981, 1983,1987). They use larger frameworks of global hegemony, but also incorporate class and social forces, as well as their relationship to world order. This work complements our insistence on analyzing "interlinking hegemonies" in world historical processes. Gills (1993) attempts new synthesis of the Gramscian and world system approach in an analysis of hegemonic transitions in east Asia. However, most adherents of the new Gramscian approach to IR/IPE do not (yet) extend their analysis back in time beyond the relatively recent modern period.

However, the main point of continuing contact and dialogue between IR theorists and world system theorists has been long-cycle theory. Both were concerned with understanding the relationship between economic cycles of expansion and contraction and leadership/hegemonic cycles. These relationships were explored especially in Modelski (1987) and Modelski and Thompson (1988) coming from the "political" IR side; Wallerstein (1974) and Frank (1978a) on the "economic" world system side; the reader on both edited by Thompson (1983); the reworking of all of the above and much more in the magisterial study on long cycles and war by Goldstein (1988); and are reflected in recent discussion of world leadership and hegemony (Rapkin 1990). In addition to establishing historically grounded empirical studies of long-term cyclical change in the international/world system, they also made a contribution to cumulative social science knowledge, as reviewed by Chase-Dunn (1989).

This dialogue and growing interest in historically grounded IR and IPE theory also led to the establishment of the World Historical Systems (WHS) sub-section of the IPE section in the International Studies Association (ISA). However, the 1991 and 1992 meetings of the WHS showed that a growing number of its members and others are now applying the study of a combination of both "political" and "economic" long cycles, and also of center-periphery structures, to world-systems - or, as we are, to the world system - before 1500. Our theses on world accumulation attempt to push the historical agenda of research even further back in sociohistorical time. Thereby, the established virtues of the world system and long-cycle approaches are extended to contribute to the study of world history. Premodern history and archaeology in turn can contribute to and perhaps "redefine" the study of IR and IPE.

The key question we pose to both existing world system theory and to IR and IPE theorists in whether there are fundamental historical cyclical patterns that shape not only the present and the past 500 years, but also much more of human history. Do the patterns of historical cyclical development of the present originate only 500 years ago with the emergence of the "capitalist mode of production" and the "modem interstate system," or do they emerge much earlier, as we suggest in chapter 5? If these patterns transcend transitions between modes of production and hegemonic power, as we think the evidence indicates, then the implications for social science are far-reaching indeed. We do not want fall into some trap of "transhistoricism" by claiming that all world history is the same. We do not deny the reality of constant change and restructuring in thworld economy. Far from it; what we seek to establish is that a process of accumulation existed in a world economic system long before the emergence of the "capitalist modem world-system" and that rhythms of expansion and contraction in this world system/economy have a continuity, which long predate - and indeed contribute to and help account for - the emergence of this "capitalist modem world-system." These patterns are interlinked with the historical rise and decline of hegemonic powers and shifts in the centers of power, whose fundamental characteristics, as we maintain, also long predate modem states systems.

Our hypotheses not only counter the short-term and state-centric views of much of IR and some of IPE, they also challenge these disciplines and their concerns to encompass more of the human experience and to analyze it more holistically. Ultimately, our position makes a case for both a macro- and a microhistorical sociology as the basis of any IR and/or IPE theory to understand and formulate policy for the modem world. The call for a world-historical approach to IR and IPE does not mean that current changes and conditions in the world system are irrelevant or a distraction. The real purpose of world-historical approaches is to inform and enrich our understanding of and policy for these on-going sociopolitical processes in the world today - and tomorrow. We explore some of these social-scientific, political and practical implications below in our conclusions.


Development studies as such was born only after the Second World War and is, not unlike its second cousin "socialist development," already over the hill if not downright dead (Seers 1979; Hirschman 1981). The present world economic crisis has replaced concern for "development" by that for crisis management in the South and East. Moreover "development" has been replaced by the new buzzword "democracy," although managing the crisis allows for hardly any democratic control of public policy (Frank 1993b). On the other hand, as we contend, the world system has been around for over 5,000 years already; and its systematic study along these lines has only just begun. However, both the existence and the study of this world system have far-reaching implications for both development studies and "development" itself.

A world system perspective on "development" helps clarify how much - that is how little if at all - the "development" we have known has been good for people. "Development is bad for women," feminists say (Prank 1991b). If that is true, development is already bad for over half the world's population. However, "development" has also been bad for most men, as Wallerstein explicitly and Amin implicitly point out: over the five centuries existence of the modem world-system, as they see it, the growing polarization of income and wealth in the world has not benefitted most men (and still less women). Today, roughly speaking, 20 per cent of the population get 80 per cent of the world's goods, and 80 per cent have to share the poverty of the remaining 20 per cent of the goods. Wallerstein argues that as a result, the majority of the people in the world are absolutely worse off than 500 or even 200 years ago. If now we extend the idea of the world system still much farther back in history, the perspective on polarization and "development" becomes dimmer still, even if Amin argues that world-scale polarization only began with the birth of the modern world (capitalist) system.

However that may be, if there is only one world system, then "national" (state) development within it can only bring about a (temporary) improvement of a region's or a people's position within that system. In that case indeed, the very term "development" makes little sense unless it refers to the development of the whole world system itself, and not just of some part if it (Frank 1991b). That is, the entire (national state/society) foundation of "modernization" theory and policy, whether "capitalist" or "socialist," is challenged by the world system (theory) as well as by the bitter experience of those who put their faith in it and/or were obliged to suffer its costs.

The verity of this discovery is spectacularly illustrated by the experience with "socialist development." To begin with, the "development of socialism" was always little more than misnamed "socialist" development, as distinct from some "other" development, but nonetheless (national/state) development above and before all else. That has now been unmasked as a snare and a delusion. Unfortunately, perhaps even more on the ideological Right than on the Left, the blame for the failure is falsely attributed to the "socialist" part of this [non]development. In fact, "socialist development" was tried and failed exclusively in underdeveloped regions, which has been underdeveloped for ages and remain so - for that reason, that is because of their inherited and still continuing position in the world system, and not because of their supposed socialism. To the possible retort that some "capitalist" countries did develop, however, the answer is that most capitalist countries, regions, etc., in the world also did not "develop" and that they failed to do so for the same reason: not their "capitalist" or "socialist" "system," but their position in the world system! So the existence of, participation in, and awareness of the world system puts the problematique of development in a completely different light from that which was mistakenly and ideologically thrown upon it during the four postwar decades.

Development "policy" - and "theory" - has largely been a sham. Very few actors in this drama (farce? tragedy?) have sought anything other than their own profit and enrichment - at the expense of others. That has been true not only of "capitalists" for whom it comes naturally, but also of "socialists" for whom it may come unnaturally, but it comes nonetheless. The development theory either had policy-makers as its referem who turned out not to exist, or it had none at all to begin with. How could it have been otherwise, if all are part and parcel of the same dog-eat-dog competitive world system? In that system only a few can win the "development" race at any one time; and apparently they cannot even maintain their lead for long.

If world system theory is an outgrowth of dependence theory, as is often claimed especially by observers who subscribe to neither, then it should not be surprising if "world system" also has implications for "dependence." Briefly, they are that dependence exists - indeed has existed for millennia - within the world system; and that eliminating dependence or being/becoming independent of the world system is impossible. Thus, dependentistas, including Frank (1967, 1969), were right in giving structural dependence a central place in their analysis. Indeed, they did not know how right they were; for that dependence cannot be eliminated simply by replacing one "system" by another, because there is only one world system. On the other hand, therefore, the dependentistas were wrong in proposing easy solutions for dependence, as Frank (1991b) acknowledges under the tide "The underdevelopment of development." It has been an essential part in the center-periphery structure of the world system for thousands of years; and it is not likely to be overcome easily or to disappear soon. Although they are not unrelated, concern about "dependent [under]development" has been shifting to concern for ecologically "sustainable development" (Redclift 1987).


Our thesis also touches on the contemporary and growing globe-embracing ecological threat and worldwide consciousness about the same. We argue that it was ecological considerations that led to the formation of the world system in the first place (chapter 5). The initial connections between Mesopotamia and Anatolia, Egypt and the Levant, etc., were forged to overcome ecologically determined regional deficiencies: Mesopotamia hto import metals from Anatolia, and Egypt wood from the Levant. Ecological considerations and changes also underlay many of the migrations and invasions from CentralAsia into their neighboring regions to the east, south, and west. The resulting human activity, in turn, however, also had far-reaching ecological effects. Some may have been regionally beneficial for, or at least supportable by, the environment. Others, however, caused far-reaching environmental damage and, perhaps in combination with climatic and other environmental changes, led to regional environmental disasters. As a result, entire civilizations disappeared, like the Harappan in the Indus Valley.

Once formed, the "central" world system as a whole survived, however. Indeed, it expanded to incorporate ever more of the globe. Eventually, technological development, population growth, and of course the exploitation both of others and of the environment in the world system led to the growing globe-embracing environmental damage and threats, of which consciousness is only just emerging. However, vast regional environmental damage and awareness thereof - for instance in the Americas - occurred before in the world system and as a result of its expansion in what Alfred Crosby (1986) called Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Analogous, if perhaps less dramatic, human-caused ecological scourges also occurred earlier in various Eurasian parts of the world system. Now, however, ecological disaster in the world system has itself become altogether global. Yet, the existence of the world system means that the causes of this disaster are generated primarily among the rich, who most benefit from the system, and that the damage and costs are visited selectively upon the poor, who can least defend themselves and their meager livelihood against the ecological threat and the structure and operation of the world system. Some of these people(s) have traditionally been the object of study by anthropologists.


Pursuing the world system back over thousands of years also touches some concerns of anthropologists. We have already considered the concern of archaeologists among them and some of the issues they debate. Evolutionism or neo-evolutionism a la White and Steward fell on hard times among anthropologists. However, there is certainly an overlap of interest with the longer historical view of a world system theory for 5,000 or more years, even if that is perhaps an exceedingly short view. The Lenskis (1982) referred to a 10,000-year world system, and physical anthropologists are of course concerned with more and more millions of years of humankind and its migration. Another issue is that of independent invention vs. diffusion. Emphasis on ties over long distances, not to mention participation in the same system, lends additional credence to diffusion and/or to simultaneous or repeated invention in response to common problems and stimuli.

A related recurrent issue among anthropologists is the question whether the societies they study are or were pristinely independent or related to others and participants in a wider system of societies. Currently, the long-held thesis that the !Kung (Bushmen) led an independent existence in the Kalahari Desert has been the subject of increasing disconfirmation. Like most peoples, they have long participated in broader relations. It may nonetheless not be legitimate to say that these have long included the world system. Nor should it be excluded. However, the long-standing "substantivist" vs. "formalist" debate among economic anthropologists may find its Gordian knot cut when the "societies" they discuss are found to be part of the world system. The formalists argued that the same economic "laws" (e.g. of supply and demand) operate in all societies and times. The substantivists disagreed and countered that most societies were organized around "redistribution" and "reciprocity" instead. Reference in this regard has already been made above to the major substantivist writer Polanyi, who has been challenged by new archaeological finds. These finds and authors support a 5,000-year world system without, however, becoming formalists.

The transition from roaming if not nomadic hunters and gatherers to settled agriculturalists has not been as unidirectional as was once claimed. Instead, adaptive "transitions" have gone back and forth in response to ecological but also socioeconomic changes in the areas that particular peoples inhabited, which often formed part of and were subject to the influences of the world system (cf. Lattimore 1962). Thus, the anthropological concern with kinship-based social organization also appears in a different context, if kinship-based "societies" are viewed as part of the world system.

In particular, political organization that is supposedly derived only or primarily from kinship organization is subject to reinterpretation. Politic organization and especially state formation has responded not only or ever primarily to "internal" needs within this or that "society" but has been function of contacts and rivalries with neighbors and/or invaders from afa within the world system. They in turn often responded to world system wide circumstances and changes. A survey of the related anthropological literature on state formation based on "internal" factors or on "interpolity relations" may be found in Cohen (1978). For Central Asia and its relation* with its neighbors in east, south, and west Asia, this problematique is analyzed by among others the anthropologists Khazanov (1979) and Barfield (1989) and in Frank (1992b). Barfield (1989: 6-7) summarizes, following Irons (1979): "Among pastoral nomadic societies hierarchical political institutions are generated only by external relations with state societies and never develop purely as a result of internal dynamics of such societies."

The anthropologists Talal Asad (1973) in Anthropology and the Colonwt Encounter and Eric Wolf (1982) in Europe and the People without History1 deal with the relations between colonial powers and indigenous peoples? Although their concern is with relatively recent times, analogous problems) also existed during encounters within the world system before modern! times. Of particular interest in this regard are the related issues of ethnicity| and race, their relations and study.


Another vital concern for anthropologists is ethnogenesis and ethnicity; which is of special relevance to ethnic identity, not to mention racial identification, today. The recurrent major and incessant more minor Vollserwanderungen in, through, and out of Eurasia have certainly mixed and3 mixed up ethnicity and race. So how can they be identified today?

Whatever the gaps in our knowledge, or the disputes, about past enthno-genesis and present ethnicity, their fundamentals are clear: ethnogenesis is less traditional than situational, and ethnicity is less an identity among "us" than a relation with "them." Both the situation and the relation are I substantially defined by state and other political power; and the presence, absence, and especially the change in economic welfare occasion changes in the perception of ethnic identity and in the urgency of its expression. The anthropologist Frederick Barth (1969) persuasively argued for the recognition of situational and relational ethnic identity in his Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. The same was reiterated in more general terms in Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan's Ethnicity: Theory and Experience. Summarizing in the words of Roger Ballard's (1976) review of the latter, "ethnicity is then, a political phenomenon, in which material interest unites with moral and emotional bonds." We argue in chapter 5 that all of these in turn are part and parcel of participation and changing circumstances in the system, to which ethnic identity and racial identification are the onses. Therefore, our study of the millennial world system also bears in these vital concerns, which are convulsing the former Soviet Union and Jugoslavia as we write. In this regar, we may also recall again the piously cited literature on globalization and localism by among others erstone (1991), Friedman (1991), S. Hall (1991), King (1991). To irize in the words pronounced by MikhaGorbachev before the Nations, and we believe by Hegel before him: "unity in diversity."


ninist archaeologists and historians (thank Goddess for them!) have un to dig up or reinterpret a Paleolithic and Neolithic past supposedly "emed by nonpatriarchal "partnership" relations. However, these itions were found to be "indigenous" particularly in Catal Huyuk and lHacilar in Anatolia, the site of Jericho in the Levant, later in Minoan Crete, and in the Balkans (Eisler 1987, following especially Marija Gimbutas 11980, 1981 and James Mellaart 1975). Figurines that suggest nonpatriarchal jjbddess-worship have also been found farther eastward into India. These scholars argue that these societies, and by extension western Judaeo-Christian society, only switched to patriarchy later, after armed invaders rfrom Inner and Central Asia brought them warfare, military technology, oppression, and therewith the "diffusion" of patriarchy. Thus, these feminists suggest that western patriarchy is the result of its (unwelcome) diffusion from farther east in Inner Asia. This thesis is supported by the work of SiJames DeMeo (1987, 1990, 1991). He claims that "matrist" (but not matrishal) relations were "original" in much of the wetter and greener world Ijfcefore Arabia and Central Asia dried up about 4,000-3,500 bc. Then ja desertification expanded through what he calls the 1,000-mile-wide Saharasian belt stretching 8,000 miles from Africa through Inner Asia to China.

As a result, many of its inhabitants suffered famines and were obliged to become pastoralist nomads, whose harsh and competitive realities then sfostered "patrism" including patriarchy.

(Re)writing history from a more gender-balanced or feminist perspective is very welcome as all to the good. We particularly need more "feminist historical-materialist" analysis of different and changing gender and family relations, accumulation, politics, and culture/ideology. For much of history has been dominated by men in their own interest and written by them from their own perspective. However, the above-cited feminist version of history seems less than satisfactory and has at least the following four weaknesses and limitations: 1) it focuses rather selectively on some circum-Mediterranean societies with supposedly indigenous partnership societies and sees patriarchy as having been only belatedly diffused there from Inner Asia; 2) patriarchy was well established very early even in several societies to the east of the Mediterranean; 3) patriarchy was not comparatively more evident in Central Asian nomad societies, but rather the contrary. Frank (1992b) reports

I asked every professional Central Asianist I have met whether the evidence available to them supports the Eisler and DeMeo theses. Unanimously, they have all said that it does not. According to their evidence on the contrary, Central Asian nomad societies accorded women higher status and had more egalitarian gender relations than their sedentary neighbors in Eurasia. I hesitate to cite the people who could only offer their evidence to me orally. However, I can quote some who have written something about this matter (of which we here reproduce short selections from a sample of two): "Women had more authority and autonomy than their sisters in neighboring sedentary societies.... Although the details cannot be confirmed for the entire history of Inner Asia, most visitors made comments [to this effect]" (Barfield 1989: 25). "Information dating from Mongol times suggests that women in the steppe empires had more rights and independence than their counterparts in sedentary states. These indications are confirmed for the Uighur empire" (Kwanten 1979: 58). (Frank 1992b: 20)

Finally, 4) to go to the roots of a worldwide problem like patriarchy, these primarily Euro-Mediterranean-centered feminist historians would do well to expand their scope to that of the world, if not also to the world system, as a whole. Beyond DeMeo's multicultural data, drawn from all around the world, a world systemic analysis could perhaps throw some additional light on this worldwide gender problem. For instance, just as emphasis on the competitive process of capital accumulation in the world system puts class and state formation in a different light, so may the same also offer a better perspective on the formation of the gender structure of society.


This thesis and approach also speaks to the age-old philosophical dilemma about determinism and free will. The formation of and incorporation within the world system may or may not have been necessary and "determined." However, the world system both limited or "determined" and expanded the options or "free will" once the world system came into existence and/or incorporated a region or people within it. Surely, the formation and expansion of the world system and its "division of labor" increased material possibilities and cultural options for at least those who benefit from the system and probably for those who propagate it. However, the division of labor also assigned roles and strengthened social structures and historical processes, which limited the options and perhaps determined some of the choices of all participants in the system. Of course, those who are directly exploited and/or oppressed in, not to mention those who are eliminated by, the system have their options limited and perhaps largely determined. However, even those who derive most of the benefits from their positions "on top" of the system probably have some of their behavior "determined" by the exigencies of maintaining and/or furthering (heir positions within and their benefits from the system. Thus the unequal structure and the cyclical process, as well as the "progressive development" of the system simultaneously expand the "free will" possibilities and "determine" the limited options within the system. However, the "determinism" is not predetermined. The options are determined in and by the structure and process of the system at each point in time. They were not predetermined beforehand by some "invisible hand" and for all time. Like a glacier, the historical process within the system and indeed the world system itself make their own way, both adapting to and changing the ecology.

The recognition and analysis of the system, as distinct from its existence imdependendy of its recognition, further holism in social science. Many I, social scientists and historians reject holism in theory, and/or they are not I; very holistic in (their) practice. We seek to make our analysis as holistic as possible. So do "world-systems" theorists. Yet, we do so in different ways, guided by our respective visions of the "whole." For Amin (chapter ^S) and Wallerstein (chapter 10 and 1989b), the important whole system is the modern capitalist world-system. Perhaps it is for Abu-Lughod (chapter i 9 and 1989) as well, although she also devotes her attention to the "thirteenth-century world system." All three also recognize other historical world-systems, as do Ekholm and Friedman (chapter 2), who devote more atten-vioa to studying ancient ones. We extend the same kind of holism to the tfsiudy of a single world system and its development over 5,000 years. We suggest that this approach is an appropriate application both of the world I system idea or approach and the holist mandate in social science and history. Ekholm and Friedman are receptive thereto; Abu-Lughod is skeptical; and Amin and Wallerstein reject this extension of the world-system and use of holism. The latter altogether, and the former partly, argue that before 1500 there were other world-systems, which can and should also be studied holistically, but on their own terms. Of course, if our present world system really has had a millennial existence and history as we claim, then our holistic long-view approach is all the more appropriate.

Like our "systems" colleagues, we also subscribe to and practice what we call the "three-legged stool" approach: like that stool, our study of the social world system is supported equally by three ecological/economic, , and cultural/ideological/ethical legs. At one time or another, some of us may concentrate excessively or inadequately on one or two of these legs to the apparent exclusion of the other(s). However, in principle, if not always in practice, we recognize the role of all three legs. The most neglected one, perhaps, is the ecological material of the economic leg. That unfortunately, is a shortcoming we still share with all too many other students of society.

Our thesis, as well as the related debates reviewed above, also have far- reaching political implications. Amin and Wallerstein identify the world system with its mode of production. Our study of the millennial world system and how it operates leads us to demur. Gills insists that the world system must not be confused with its "modes of production." Instead, he sees a complex mixture or articulation of modes at all times in the development of the world accumulation process and the world system and cannot accept the identification of the world system with a single dominant mode. Frank (chapter 6) goes further and argues that feudalism, and socialism, but also capitalism, are only "ideological modes," which should be excluded from our social-scientific analysis altogether.

This issue is perhaps the central political point in the social-scientific debate, which Amin and Wallerstein also join. They argue that the modem; world-system is uniquely characterized by the capitalist mode of production. That is why they will not accept the proposal that the analysis of this world system can and should be pushed back before 1500. Before that, they argue and are joined by Abu-Lughod, there were other world-systems. Amin and Wallerstein insist, like probably all Marxists and most others, whether or not they see other prior world-systems, that in earlier I times other modes of production were dominant. Amin sums them all up I as "tributary" modes of production, in which "politics [and ideology] is was in command," to recall Mao Zedong. In the modem capitalist world-system, by contrast, the economic law of value is in command, and that j on a world-system scale.

We insist that this is nothing new. Therefore, Frank also suggests that it would be senseless to call all that previous history throughout most of the world "capitalist." If "capitalism" does not distinguish one "thing" from another, then there is no point in maintaining that label. Amin, Wallerstein, and most others insist that "capitalism" is distinguishable. Of I course, today especially the political/ideological Right finds "capitalism" particularly distinguished and distinguishable from "socialism." Frank denies that any of these categories have any social-scientific and/or empirical content and suggests that they serve only ideological "false- consciousness" purposes to confuse and confound instead.

The (mis)use and replacement of these categories bears importantly on the analysis and understanding of some major world events today, particularly the end of "socialism" and of American "hegemony," albeit not of the "end of history." We believe that ideological blinkers - or worse, sets - have too long prevented us from seeing that the world political-economic system long predated the rise of capitalism in Europe and its emony in the world. The rise of Europe represented a hegemonic shift n East to West within a pre-existing system. If there was any transition b, it was this hegemonic shift within the system rather than the forma- of a new system. We are again in one of the alternating periods of hegemony and rivalry in the world system now, which portends a renewed steward shift of hegemony across the Pacific. To identify the system with dominant mode of production is a mistake. There was no transition from feudalism to capitalism as such. Nor was there (to be) an analogous transition from capitalism to socialism. If these analytical categories of "modes of production" prevent us from seeing the real world political-economic system, it would be better to abandon them altogether.

We should ask: what was the ideological reason for Wallerstein's and (Frank's "scientific" construction of a sixteenth-century transition (from feudalism in Europe) to a modern world capitalist economy and system? Hit was the belief in a subsequent transition from capitalism to socialism, if not immediately in the world as a whole, at least through "socialism in one country" after another. Traditional Marxists, and many others who debated with us, even more so, were intent on preserving faith in the prior but for them more recent transition from one (feudal) mode of production to another (capitalist) one. Their political/ideological reason was that they Hwere intent on the subsequent transition to still another and supposedly different socialist mode of production. That was (and is?) the position of Marxists, traditional and otherwise, like the above-cited Brenner (in Aston |and Philpin 1985) and Anderson (1974). That is still the position of Samir Amin (1989), who, like Wallerstein, now wants to take refuge in "proto-capitalism" - and by extension "protosocialism." (Before he was ousted after the Tiananmen massacre, Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang came up with lne idea that China is now only in the stage of "primary" socialism.)

If people would dare to undertake a "transition" from their "scientific" categories, they could spare themselves and their readers some of the political (dis)illusions regarding recent events in the "Second" and "Third" Worlds. These categories of "transition" and "modes" are not essential or even useful tools, but rather obstacles to the scientific study of the underlying continuity and essential properties of the world system in the past. They also shackle our political struggle and ability to confront and manage me development of this same system in the present and future.

We would all do better to see the reality of the globe-embracing structure and the long historical development of the whole world system itself, full stop. Better recognize this system's "unity in diversity." That would really be a "transition" in thinking. This "transition" would help us much better to choose among the diversities which are really available in that world system - Vives cettes differences! Moreover, this transition in thinking could also help us to understand the real transitions that there are and to guide us in the struggle for the good and against the socially bad difference.

In particular, we suggest that these labels confuse and confound the real world system issues about which people have to and do dispute and fight. The belief in these labels supports disputes about political "systems" and self-determination, which have little or no real possibilities to be put into practice in the single really existing world system. The same labels serve to misguide or defuse the real social movements. About these, Amin, Frank, and Wallerstein agree enough, despite their disagreements about world system history, to have written a book jointly with Giovanni Arrighi and Marta Fuentes under the title Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World-System (Amin et al. 1990). Our joint conclusion was - A luta continual

Back to Contents