Immanuel Wallerstein was born in New York in 1930. He attended Columbia University where he received his BA in 1951, his MA in 1954, and his PhD in 1959. He then continued to lecture at Columbia until 1971. Wallerstein became a Professor of Sociology at McGill University in 1971 and in 1976 he joined the Department of Sociology at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Binghamton. During his career as a sociologist, historian, and philosopher, Wallerstein lectured across the nation and around the world. He was the head of the Fernand Braudel Center for the study of Economics, Historical Systems, and Civilization. He also held the position of Directeur d’etudes associe at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Wallerstein was president of the International Sociological Association from 1994-1998 and was the chair of the International Gulbenkian Commission on the Resurrecting of the Social Sciences from 1993-1995. He retired in 1999.
In 1974, Wallerstein published his political economy theory of modern world system. World-system theory asserts that worldwide division of labor is not formed by political or cultural boundaries, but by different social structures and member groups. These groups are self-contained within boundaries and held together by constant tension, which may at any time destroy the system. Wallerstein argues that there have only been two different types of world-systems: a world empire and capitalism. A world empire relies on political and military control. Capitalism relies on economic factors to maintain control. In capitalist society, the bourgeois capitalists from the core regions, primarily Europe and America, exploit the proletarians of the periphery, who provide the raw materials necessary for production. In this system there is also a semiperiphery, which contains areas that are exploiting others while at the same time being exploited themselves. Wallerstein claims that a third world-system, a socialist world government, may arise, in which division of labor would be determined by both political and economic factors.
Wallerstein’s theory of world systems examines colonialism, postcolonialism, and political discourse. It contributes to the historical context of anthropological analysis in its examination of the alienation of labor. In his examination of the history of the development of global capitalism, Wallerstein acknowledges its negative effects on noncapitalist peoples. Global capitalism is sustained by unequal exchange. Wallerstein argues that the wealth of some nations cannot occur without the poverty of other nations. Due to Wallerstein’s intellectual leadership, many more political economy theories emerged in the late 20th century, reflecting a broader intellectual disenchantment with the philosophical foundations of Western society. Immanuel Wallerstein contributed to the intensity with which anthropologists began to reflect on the role of sociocultural anthropology in academia and the world.
- Wallerstein, I. (1991). Geopolitics andgeoculture: Essays on the changing world-system. New York:
- Cambridge Press. Wallerstein, I. (1999). The end of the world as we know it: Social science for the twenty-first century.
- Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Wallerstein, I. (2004). Alternatives: The United States confronts the world. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.