Matter, Space, Energy, and Political Economy: The Amazon in the World-System


  • Stephen Bunker University of Wisconsin, Madison



Many authors have attempted co-incorporate the local into the global. World-systems analysis, though, is rooted in processes of production, and all production remains profoundly local. Understanding the expansion and intensification of the social and material relations of capitalism that have created and sustain the dynamic growth of the world-system from the local to the global requires analysis of material processes of natural and social production in space as differentiated by topography, hydrology, climate, and absolute distance betweenplaces. In this article, I consider some of the spatio-material configurations chat have struc-tured local effects on global formations within a single region, the Amazon Basin. I first detail and criticize the tendency in world system and globalization analysis, and in the modern social sciences generally, to use spatial metaphors without examining how space affects the material processes around which social actors organize economy and policy. I next examine thework of some earlier social scientists who analyzed specific materio-spatial configurations as these structured human social, economic, and political activities and organization, searching for possible theoretical or methodological tools for building from local to global analysis. I then review some recent analyses of spatio-material determinants of social and economic organiza-tion in the Amazon Basin. Finally, I show that the 400-year-long sequence of extractive econ-omies in the Amazon reflected the changing demands of expanded industrial production in the core, and how such processes can best be understood by focusing our analysis on spatio-material configurations of local extraction, transport, and production. The Amazon is but one of the specific environments that have supplied raw materials to changing global markets, but close consideration of how its material and spatial attributes shaped the global economy provides insights into the ways other local systems affect the world-system.




How to Cite

Bunker, S. (2003). Matter, Space, Energy, and Political Economy: The Amazon in the World-System. Journal of World-Systems Research, 9(2), 219–258.



Globalization & the Environment