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All important thinkers tend to have followers and disciples as well as intellectual opponents, both of whom try to define the thinker’s thought in particular ways. In itself, this is normal, neither to be deplored nor applauded. Any thinker who produces writings is like someone on a ship who throws overboard a glass bottle with some text inside. Once he has thrown it overboard, he can no longer control where the seas will take it, who will claim to own it, who will pick it up and change it, who will try to destroy it or hide it. It is well known, and often repeated, that Karl Marx, referring to the so-called Legal Marxists, said ‘what is certain is that I’m not a Marxist!’1
Inequality is a fundamental reality of the modern world-system as it has been of every known historical system. What is different, what is particular to historical capitalism, is that equality has been proclaimed as its objective, and indeed as its achievement—equality in the marketplace, equality before the law, the fundamental social equality of all individuals endowed with equal rights. The great political question of the modern world, the great cultural question, has been how to reconcile the theoretical embrace of equality with the continuing and increasingly acute polarization of real-life opportunities and satisfactions that has been its outcome.
Patrick O'Brien and Leandro Prados de la Escosura say they are discussing «the economic consequences of empire», but in fact they are discussing «the costs and benefits of European imperialism». This is clearer and more specific, but I fear less useful. It is clearer, since «costs and benefits» are easier to quantify, and less useful in that I do not agree that «economic consequences» are the same as, or can be reduced to, an assessment of «costs and benefits». Furthermore, as they themselves note, «counterfactual assumptions are… implicit in any attempt… to measure costs and benefits of macro economic strategies» (O'Brien & Prados, 1998, p. 31), and I shall want to argue that what we need to do is make «factual assumptions».
The publication of the new Cambridge Economic History of India in 1982, and the subsequent, highly charged polemic between two of its editors, stimulated a fundamental reorientation of research agendas for Indian history. These volumes demonstrated that the growing compartmentalization of bodies of research and debate was accompanied by the rise of distinct historiographic traditions within each of these specialized bodies of literature, making it quite difficult to synthesize processes of long-term, large-scale social change within the subcontinent. Furthermore, the insularity of research and discussion hampered comparative studies between historical processes in the subcontinent and those elsewhere in the world.
Recognizing these problems, a broad consensus on the need to go beyond the parochial concerns of the earlier historiography has emerged in recent years. These attempts to locate patterns of social transformation in India within a wider historical canvas have produced very divergent interpretations. Rather than reviewing these often conflicting reconstructions of Indian history, we seek to indicate how a world-systems perspective can contribute to current debates through an examination of the following five questions: (1) Why did prebendal forms of rule penetrate the subcontinent, but not South East or East Asia – in particular the Islamicized polities of the Malay peninsula and the eastern Indian Ocean archipelago and the large agrarian empires of China?
If one wonders what is the “sense” of their endless chase, why [businessmen] are never satisfied with what they have, and thus inevitably seem to act in senseless ways in terms of any purely worldly approach to life, they would occasionally respond, if they knew how to answer at all: “to provide for my children and grandchildren.” But, that argument not being peculiar to them but working just as well for the traditionalist, they would be more likely to respond in a simpler, most exact fashion, that business with its constant work had become “indispensable to their life.” That is in fact the only accurate explanation and brings out what is so irrational in this lifestyle from the point of view of personal happiness, that a man exists for his business, and not the other way around
(Weber 1947: 54).
The Rise of the West?
The West, capitalism, and the modern world-system are inextricably linked together – historically, systemically, intellectually. But exactly how, and why? This is a question on which there has been little consensus up to now, and there is indeed less and less.
The imbrication of the three concepts (three realities?) reached its apogee in the nineteenth century. But how even do we delimit this nineteenth century? – 1815–1914? or 1789–1917? or 1763–1945? or even 1648–1968?
From the perspective of world-systems analysis, the inter-state structure of the modern world-system (conventionally the principal subject matter for students of international relations) is merely one institutional structure or plane of analysis among a number that altogether make up the integrated framework of the modern world-system. This worldsystem, like all world-systems, is an historical system governed by a singular logic and set of rules within and through which persons and groups struggle with each other in pursuit of their interests and in accord with their values. Pertinent analysis of geopolitics, in this perspective, can only be done within the context of the functioning of the modern worldsystem as a whole and in the light of its particular historical trajectory.
I shall therefore first outline the structure and historical development of the modern world-system as a whole, and then describe the functioning of the inter-state system in particular, ending with an analysis of the present and future trajectory of the modern world-system in general and its inter-state system in particular.
The modern world-system
The modern world-system is not the only world-system that has existed. There were many others. It is, however, the first one that was organised and able to consolidate itself as a capitalist world-economy. Although initially formed primarily in (part of) Europe, its inner logic propelled it to seek the expansion of its outer boundaries. Over some four centuries, it proved durable and strong enough to be capable repeatedly of incorporating new areas and peoples within its division of labour until, by the late nineteenth century, its organisation or integrated labour processes effectively covered the entire globe, the first world-system in history to achieve this.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the study of Africa in the United States was a very rare and obscure practice, engaged in almost exclusively by African-American (then called Negro) intellectuals. They published scholarly articles primarily in quite specialized journals, notably Phylon, and their books were never reviewed in the New York Times. As a matter of fact, at this time (that is, before 1945) there weren't even very many books written about African-Americans in the U.S., although the library acquisitions were not quite as rare as those for books about Africa.
This book, first published in 1992, seeks an explanation of the pattern of sharp discrepancy of wage levels across the world-economy for work of comparable productivity. It explores how far such differences can be explained by the different structures of households as 'income-pooling units', examining three key variables: location in the core or periphery of the world-economy; periods of expansion versus periods of contraction in the world-economy; and secular transformation over time. The authors argue that both the boundaries of households and their sources of income are molded by the changing patterns of the world-economy, but are also modes of defense against its pressures. Drawing empirical data from eight local regions in three different zones - the United States, Mexico and southern Africa - this book presents a systematic and original approach to the intimate link between the micro-structures of households and the structures of the capitalist world-economy at a global level.
The idea that there exists an “informal sector” of economic activity is a relatively new one. In the early 1970s feminist theorists raised the issue of domestic work as productive labor. At about the same time, Italian authors began to discuss l'economia sommersa, referring to small entrepreneurial activity in central Italy which evaded various legal restraints. Authors writing about eastern Europe began to discuss the phenomenon of artisans utilizing collectivized facilities for afterhours work that were privately contracted for, the clients wishing to avoid the long delays of “official” repair channels. Anthropologists began to reopen the question of the structure of the household in Third World areas.
The reality of course was not new, but the intellecutal discussion was, especially in relation to the standard analyses of the post-1945 period. Two things had happened. On the one hand, the world revolution of 1968, as one of its consequences, posed a challenge to the standard (and simplified) categories of mainstream social science, both in its liberal and Marxist variants. Simultaneously, the stagnation of the world-economy (the Kondratieff B-phase) led, as it had always done previously, to an expansion of the “informal” sector. Because of the first change, some social scientists were more sensitive to observing this phenomenon, especially since it had become more visible because of the second change.
Our own interest in the structure of households was a product of this changed intellectual climate.
We laid out in the introductory chapter how (and why) we reconceptualized the household as an income-pooling unit, with boundaries subject to continuing change. We suggested that households were socially constituted entities subject to pressures deriving from the cyclical rhythms of the world market and from the statemachineries. We argued that ethnicity was a principal modality of socializing household members into particular economic roles, and that these very norms of socialization kept changing under the influence of the multiple pressures generated by the ongoing operation of the world-system. Once formulated, this reconceptualization served as the premise of our collective research.
We proceeded to try to observe how households were constructed and reconstructed in eight “regions” of three parts of the world over a period of a century or so. This empirical work has been presented in Parts II, III, and IV. As the reader will readily observe, we discovered a complex picture, but one which our concepts rendered clearer, or at least so we believe. However, there are no simple conclusions that we can draw from what inevitably was (and was always conceived to be) an exploratory study. We wanted to see if our concepts were usable, and whether they revealed patterns that were prima facie plausible. Obviously, we were plagued by the problem of inadequate and incomparable data. New concepts seldom find already existing data that closely fit their needs of empirical measurement.
This book is the fruition of work conducted over many years by the Research Working Group on Households, Labor-Force Formation, and the World-Economy of the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations. The group's membership has evolved over the years, but the authors of this volume formed its core during the key years of the collective research whose results we now present. This book is a joint product, planned and conducted from beginning to end by the entire group. This is not to be read as a collection of essays but as a single monograph, despite the multiple authorship of the various chapters. The argument of the book is a singular one, and the book should be seen as a continuous exposition from beginning to end.
The earlier work of this group can be found in the proceedings of a conference that we held jointly with the Sociology of Development Research Center of the University of Bielefeld (Federal Republic of Germany) and which was published as Joan Smith, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Hans-Dieter Evers, eds., Households and the World-Economy (1984). The very first published statement of the group, by Immanuel Wallerstein, William G. Martin, and Torry Dickinson, appeared in Review in 1982. An interim report on our research, by Randall H. McGuire, Joan Smith, and William G. Martin, appeared in Review in 1986.
This project received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, for which we are most grateful (Projects RO-1900-81 and RO-20647-84).