Fear of a Yellow Planet: The Gilets Jaunes and the End of the Modern World-System


  • Peter Wilkin Brunel University




Gilet Jaunes/Yellow Vests, Horizontalism, Populism, Protest


The emergence of the Gilet Jaunes has seen a section of the popular classes present a significant challenge to the elite-driven ideological frameworks that have dominated since the end of the cold war: neoliberalism and the Clash of Civilisations. What Immanuel Wallerstein calls ‘centrist liberalism’ has been the dominant ideological foundation of the modern world-system since the late nineteenth century. Its current form, neoliberalism, is in crisis across the core of the world-system, intensified following the Great Recession of 2008. This has invited new challenges from revived and reconstituted political formations of both right and left. Populist movements are a part of this process of ideological reconstitution, and the Gilets Jaunes are an important example of progressive populism calling for social and economic justice. What was triggered by a protest directed at increased fuel taxes rapidly escalated into a much broader protest movement whose influence has spread beyond French borders. Importantly, the Gilet Jaunes have brought a layer of the French working-classes into the public realm in dramatic fashion, raising issues such as equality, public welfare, and participatory and direct democracy that challenge neo-liberal norms. The agenda that has emerged from the Gilet Jaunes illustrates the way in which a working-class left is being reconstituted in opposition to forces of the political right. The article addresses three main questions: Why have the Gilet Jaunes emerged? Who makes up these protests? What do they mean?

Author Biography

Peter Wilkin, Brunel University

Peter Wilkin is a Reader in sociology and communication at Brunel University. His research draws upon his interests in political economy and anarchist social theory and he has published articles and books on issues relating to security, satire and popular culture, social media and trade unions and global communications.


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How to Cite

Wilkin, P. (2020). Fear of a Yellow Planet: The Gilets Jaunes and the End of the Modern World-System. Journal of World-Systems Research, 26(1), 70–102. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2020.902



Research Articles