Special Contribution: Interview with Immanuel Wallerstein Retrospective on the Origins of World-Systems Analysis

Gregory P. Williams


Nearly four decades ago, in 1974, Immanuel Wallerstein published the first volume of his magnum opus, The Modem World-System. That same year, Perry Anderson, British historian and editor of the New Left Review, released the first two installments of his own large-scale history on the origins of modernity. The coincidence of publication invited many scholarly comparisons of their macro-historical perspectives. It is noteworthy that both writers think in terms of totalities. To totalize is to insist on methodological holism. Wallerstein conceives of totality in terms of world-systems, while Anderson advocates for totalization. This is a meaningful contrast. World-systems are closed totalities in the sense that they are historical systems, with a beginning, an end, and identifiable geographical boundaries. Totalization is historically open-ended, and thus invites analyses, in Anderson's case, beginning in Antiquity and without a specified end. While they each write about the modern world, Wallerstein and Anderson conceive of that world in drastically different terms. Neither scholar, however, has asserted his view as a singular paradigm of social analysis. Wallerstein has instead claimed world-systems to be a "call for a debate about the paradigm."

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2013.491


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