What is World Systems Theory?

World systems theory at least as it is practiced by Frank evolved out of the dependency school. Frank grew to believe that the idea of national development was impossible given the nature of the unfolding global economy in the '70's. Frank became convinced that the idea of 'delinking' popular in dependency circles as a means to development was not possible.( I think Samir Amin still believes in delinking). Either was development within the system. At this point, he becomes little different from most liberals i.e. all a country can do is hope to find a niche producing for the world market. The world system theory of Frank seems to be version of the 'globalization' thesis that states are incapable of just about anything. However, this idea is falsified by the experience of Korea and the NIC's as Alice Amsden and Robert Wade have argued. Development theory must take into consideration the experience of the phenomenal capitalist growth that occurred in these countries and why it has come to an end. I'm less familiar with Wallerstein, but world systems to him seems to be a methodological position i.e. a kind if holism where one cannot study a part of the world in isolation from the whole. I think he maybe right but I am not sure of the implications. On development theory in general I recommend _The Rise and Fall of Development Theory_ by Colin Leys. Maybe I'll do a little write-up on this book and the issues it covers. It contains a lot of good rumination on Africa. Good Marxist writing on Africa is hard to come by these days. I Read _Africa's Choices_ by Michael Barrett Brown a short time ago and he comes close to endorsing the World Bank. Same with Susan George these days.

Sam Pawlett


Wallerstein's scheme potentially explains NICs in that he permits a semi-peripheral zone in what is basically a "tri-zonal" model of the world-system, as opposed to Frank's dichotomous (metropolis/satellite) model. NICs are explicable in certain respects because of the level of state intervention, but it is also true that similar levels of state intervention in peripheral regions has not under capitalism led to development. However, under state socialism, there is a different pattern, which suggests delinking is a viable strategy (of course world-system theorists, similar to state cap theory, deny state socialism to be a separate system). There are plenty of examples, like ALL of the former peripheral countries that turned state socialist rose to the level of analogous semi-peripheral countries comparatively. Rather, in the capitalist world-economy, NICs are those formerly peripheral states that have performed essential roles in maintaining global hegemony, i.e., mediating the exploitative relations between core/periphery, and this explains their relative development (they represent "collaborator states," if you will). Two often, and Frank's scheme has contributed to this reification, zonal exploitation is conceived in a polarized dichotomy, rather than as a range of developmental variation, with the categories discussed here being analytical categories only. Wallerstein emphasizes this throughout his work. I think Frank would prefer people read the analytics into his text as well.

Andy Austin