The Interplay between Social and Environmental Degradation in the Development of the International Political Economy*
AbstractThis article considers capitalism as a dissipative system, developing at the expense of exporting disorder into two sorts of ?environment?: the physical ecosystem; and a subordinate area of society which serves to nourish mainstream order without experiencing its benefits. Particularly significant is the relationship between the two forms of dissipation. The paper begins by assessing the dangers of translating systems theory into social relations, concluding that the project is nevertheless worthwhile, provided that exploitation and struggle are constantly borne in mind. Exploring the concepts of ?core? and ?periphery,? the paper highlights the contradictory nature of an attribute of chaos which is both ascribed to the out-group, and also really exported to it. If the core?s growth merely destroyed peripheral order, the entropy of capitalism would be starkly exposed in the form of an exhaustion of future room for maneuver. This problem can be kept at bay by maintaining a self-reproducing ?low? order within the subordinate social system; however the fundamental entropy is still there, and will sooner or later manifest itself in the shape of threats to the sustainability of that subordinate system. At the level of the international political economy (IPE), this dialectic unfolds against the background of a ?lumpy? development whereby (following structural crises) order can be reconstituted, but at a cost which must be absorbed somewhere. In the case of the post-World War II reordering, this cost was massively exported to the physical environment. Since a high level of ecological depletion now appears permanently embedded within the capitalist IPE, future major efforts of order-building cannot rely on this dimension to the same degree, and must instead access some new forms of dissipative relationship with the social environment. The paper argues that this is the fundamental significance of the ?sustainable development? discourse: it brings together the physical and social environments into a single approach, where substitution between one and the other can be experimented. To some extent, the social environment can be treated as ?fuel,? and contemporary management sys-tems are noteworthy for exploring the access to an added value through the self-exploitation of small producers, realized through emergent process such as production chains. But ultimately, the ?fuel? definition cannot be separated from the other definition of dissipa-tion, the export of disorder; and this must be managed somehow. The dominant interests respond by means of social engineering in the periphery, for example by pushing the sustainability notion in the direction of social development theories like ?sustainable livelihoods.? Most immediately the problem appears in the form of purely negative phenomena: namely unmanageable levels of poverty and conflict. But there is another issue, even more threatening to the capitalist order, but hopeful for those critical of it: the increasing likelihood of unco-opted forms of emergent social order.
How to Cite
Biel, R. (2006). The Interplay between Social and Environmental Degradation in the Development of the International Political Economy*. Journal of World-Systems Research, 12(1), 109–147. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2006.373
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- The Author retains copyright in the Work, where the term “Work” shall include all digital objects that may result in subsequent electronic publication or distribution.
- Upon acceptance of the Work, the author shall grant to the Publisher the right of first publication of the Work.
- The Author shall grant to the Publisher and its agents the nonexclusive perpetual right and license to publish, archive, and make accessible the Work in whole or in part in all forms of media now or hereafter known under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License or its equivalent, which, for the avoidance of doubt, allows others to copy, distribute, and transmit the Work under the following conditions:
- Attribution—other users must attribute the Work in the manner specified by the author as indicated on the journal Web site;
- The Author is able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the nonexclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the Work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), as long as there is provided in the document an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post online a prepublication manuscript (but not the Publisher’s final formatted PDF version of the Work) in institutional repositories or on their Websites prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work. Any such posting made before acceptance and publication of the Work shall be updated upon publication to include a reference to the Publisher-assigned DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and a link to the online abstract for the final published Work in the Journal.
- Upon Publisher’s request, the Author agrees to furnish promptly to Publisher, at the Author’s own expense, written evidence of the permissions, licenses, and consents for use of third-party material included within the Work, except as determined by Publisher to be covered by the principles of Fair Use.
- The Author represents and warrants that:
- the Work is the Author’s original work;
- the Author has not transferred, and will not transfer, exclusive rights in the Work to any third party;
- the Work is not pending review or under consideration by another publisher;
- the Work has not previously been published;
- the Work contains no misrepresentation or infringement of the Work or property of other authors or third parties; and
- the Work contains no libel, invasion of privacy, or other unlawful matter.
- The Author agrees to indemnify and hold Publisher harmless from Author’s breach of the representations and warranties contained in Paragraph 6 above, as well as any claim or proceeding relating to Publisher’s use and publication of any content contained in the Work, including third-party content.
Revised 7/16/2018. Revision Description: Removed outdated link.