Moving toward Theory for the 21st Century: The Centrality of Nonwestern Semiperipheries to World Ethnic/Racial Inequality

Wilma A. Dunaway, Donald A. Clelland


While there has been much attention to the economic, political, and transformative potential of the semiperiphery, scholars have failed to explore the ways in which this zone of the world-system causes, contributes to, and exacerbates world ethnic/racial inequality. By 2015, a majority of the world’s population is concentrated in 41 nonwestern semiperipheries that generate 40 percent of the world Gross Domestic Product. For those reasons, this essay decenters analysis of global ethnic/racial inequality by bringing the nonwestern semiperiphery to the foreground. Part I examines the ascent of nonwestern semiperipheries over the last half century, calling into question the popular “global apartheid model” which posits “white supremacy” as the singular cause of global ethnic/racial inequality. In Part II, we conceptualize, and present empirical data to support, ten conjunctures between the nonwestern semiperipheries and world ethnic/racial inequality. Part III offers a “theoretical retrenchment” in which we call for new approaches that bring the nonwestern semiperiphery to the foreground of theory and research about global ethnic/racial inequality. We argue that future theory building must pay particular attention to the rise of the Asian semiperiphery where two-fifths of world population is concentrated. Drawing upon previous world-systems research, we aggregate and update lists of countries in the core, semiperiphery and periphery in 1960, 1980 and 2015. 


semiperiphery, transnational capitalist class, nonwestern state, ethnicity, race, global apartheid, global inequality

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