Palumbo-Liu, David, Bruce Robbins, and Nirvana Tanoukhi, eds. Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. viii + 263 pages. Paper, $23.95.
The collection of essays in Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World is a critique by leading cultural theorists of Wallerstein's world-systems analysis. To understand the cultural critics, there is need to briefly put Wallerstein's model into perspective. The World-System model builds on the Center-Periphery model, advanced by sociologist and economic historian Andre Gunder Frank, and begins with the premise that no nation in the world can be seen in isolation. Implicitly, each country, no matter how remote, is tied in many ways to the other countries in the world.
According to Wallerstein, this world system has been developing since the sixteenth century, and the level of economic development can be explained by understanding each country's place and role in the world economic system. Of primary importance are the economic connection in the world markets of goods, capital, and labor. For example, all countries sell their products and services on the world market and buy products and services from one another. However, this is not a market of equal partners. Because of historical and strategic imbalances in this economic system, some countries are able to use their advantage to create and maintain wealth, while other countries that are disadvantaged remain poor.
The World-System model draws attention to how the roles of nations in the world system are constantly reproduced by existing trading relations. Proponents of this model see the world divided into three groups of interrelated nations: First, the core countries at the center of the world economic system are the rich, industrialized countries that control the system. Second, the semi-peripheral countries are at middle level income and partly industrialized, and occupy an intermediate position in the world system. Third, the peripheral countries are poor, not industrialized, largely agricultural, and manipulated by the core countries. They are found mostly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In addition, the world system highlights another feature of the world economy, which involves not only the movement of capital across national boundaries, but also the large-scale migration of labor. The economic interconnection of the countries of the world has created an...