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Thursday, 8 November 2007

Immanuel Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory

To what extent is Immanuel Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory still relevant in the current international situation? - by: Ahmad Syah Ejaz Hj Ismail

The modern worlds of today need a system approach in explaining the current situations of inter-reliant of states and economic players in trades and business. As what had been explained by Immanuel Wallerstein via his works of the modern world concept, the succession of the uni-polar world spearheaded by the United States through Capitalism had brought a new dimension in determining the dynamic and complex concept of freedom and Capitalism within the league of the develop (core) and developing (peripheries) nations.

Such system approach will be the main vector in solving various problems which occurred in the free world such as the disowned feudal system, dependency economy, sufficiency economy, patronage systems, special preferences and un-competitive trade among the states players. As such with the World System analysis developed by Immanuel Wallerstein, the complex and dynamic groups of core, periphery and semi-periphery can be explained and examined by the flow of the states resources which can be in many forms such as energy, materials, information, labors and to an extent knowledge capacity through technology transfer.

Core, semi-periphery and peripheries states

The arising power of Capitalism after the collapsed of the Soviet bloc had forced the periphery and semi-periphery groups/ states to seek equilibrium after the much inter-reliant interaction before that had been experienced through the Cold War which only promised sheer dependence towards the super power states either it be United States or Soviet Union; inadvertently opening access to manipulations and deceitfulness of the trading nations. Such states that tried to emancipate themselves from such trap of dependency system can be called as entities that seeking equilibrium. But as we all know that when such endeavor is seeks, there will be resistance internal (societies) and externally (by the core states which would like to retain the status quo).

With the arising power of International Governmental Organization, the United Nations and new economic bloc (such as EU, APEC, and NAFTA) can be considered as a platform for them to seek equilibrium. And if such attempt for emancipation do not succeed, such nations will resort to exhibit oscillating, chaotic or exponential behavior as what had been proved by the states of Afghanistan, Palestine, Venezuela, North Korea and Iraq. It mustn’t only be explained through trade and economic cooperation per se, but also through the complex system of world politics and social problems.

World System analysis – a system

The world system analysis is an evolutionary system which depicts the nature of social and psychological behavior of a nation. It is not a hard system which can’t be changed far off the soft system which is negligible among the citizens of its states. Evolutionary system is a system and concept which can be fixed and change from time to time. If once the state can considered feudal and poor, but with the great leadership and democratic practice of an economic system and good political stability, such states can transformed themselves from the “have not” (peripheries) to the “have” (core) states.

The patronage system is a system which is usually can be explained through the World System analysis. Once again the dependency systems that were being implemented among the three groups (core, peripheries and semi-peripheries) is a testament of how corrupt the concept of wealth accumulations is being operated especially for the benefits of the core groups (developed nations). There are at the times, that the political operation especially of the developing states in Southeast Asia which implements its dependency concept of the feudal lord and few selected few politicians is for the sake of retaining the status quo of the three main class (have and the have not).

Patronage system

The support system created by the “have” (core) within the core groups via government contracts and government jobs that are promised for the exchanging votes during the general elections can be explained by this world system analysis. The political individual which resided at the helm of power especially among the third world nations will encourage economic sufficiency in ensuring dependency for them to remain in power. Such privileges will only be given to the party members and business community that will conduit the money back to the party treasury.

Such an administration concept is widely implemented among the Southeast Asian Kingdom and considered as traditions of how business should be done. The political and governmental seats are no more given based on their merits and capabilities, but are given because they feel that they deserved to be there and most of the time based on elitism bloodline. The evidence of such an administration conduct can be proved when we make a research especially among the third world nations and mostly will find out that most of the governmental post are given based on their political inclinations and not based on their capabilities.

Certain society also will resort to complacency and will not try to break the bond of seclusion as what can be seen in Malaysia where there is no good effort by the government to integrate the three main races of the Malaysian society ensuring the racial political party will always be relevant as long as they in power. Plus nepotism and cronyism especially with the government distribution of wealth where the one that should get partial of the distributed wealth do get nothing when the middle man in charge is among the political party members and not from the welfare staff.


World system analysis also can be used to explain the concept of self sufficiency in the developing nation’s society. Much of the time, the corrupt government will try to preserve the sufficiency economic system for the sake of staying in power. But sometimes, the state of the world would try to break away from the international system by being self-sufficient themselves. Most of the emancipations done are through sheer resistance from government subsidies. Building a nation based on their own economic and political mould and this would require not to receive any aid and support from the external entities such as the developed nations also is one the break away from the self-sufficiency system. But history had proved that states need to depend on each other due to their lack of resources within their own particular states so much so that they try to trim down the effect of the self-sufficiency system.

For an example the consummation of food products of isolated states would never be sufficient in catering the needs of their citizens. Individuals have their own personal perseverance and with the triumphant of the Capitalistic world, citizens of the world would like to be free from the chain of nationalism agenda and want to own things through individual ownership. So much so that the states would like to be isolated in the era of integrations, but the power of individual ownership superseded everything. The East German states need to build a thick wall in blocking the flow of their citizens to the free world. It proved that the world systems analysis created by Immanuel Wallerstein is relevant enough for the future freedom of mankind.

David Ricardo one of the greatest economic thinkers of the 18th Century, had explained the betterment of the Comparative advantage studies. So much so that it was Ricardo one of the first to introduce the reciprocal symbiosis of the trading nations, it was only with the World System theory that the explanations of the inter-reliant among the trading nations be explained holistically. The world system analysis like the comparative advantage had explained why and how the core groups benefits from the two parties in trades especially in lowering cost in producing finished products. The periphery and the semi-periphery groups had created an opportunity cost for the core groups to accumulate wealth and harnessed the benefits of the low labor cost especially during the globalization boom such can be seen in Thailand, Vietnam and China.

Absolute advantage

Adam Smith had written on the issues of absolute advantage received by the developed nations when they engaged the developing the poor states. The resources are scarce and sometimes core groups such as the states of Japan do not have resources at all. In ensuring the survivability of a nations and economic viability of the developed states, the absolute advantage gained by them for having enormous Capital power and Credit viability is the weapon for them to manipulate and capitalize the resources that lies within the heart of the periphery and semi-periphery groups. It will then be the win-win situations for the three groups and most of the time without supervision from the world governance, the periphery and semi-periphery states will be manipulated till the drainage of the resources occurred. It can be proved during the Sierra Leone crisis when developed states and their business entities had ensured such instability occurred and make it easy for them to smuggle diamonds and other natural resources which will benefits them in the future.

With the booming of the IT advantages and IT power among the world states and world society, ones cannot deny de fact that such informational apparatus can create differences among the interacting states/ groups. Thirty nine years ago, nobody care when the Junta military government oppressed the people of Burma. But in the year 2007, despite the disadvantages experienced by the people of Burma during the monk’s riot, they still have the most powerful weapon of to topple the Junta Military regimes. To an extent, the Junta Military commander once transported their family to Singapore fearing the success of the riots precipitated by the common people which were once considered non-powerful to them. Plus the flow of information which the Burmese can send to the international community through internet blog had brought the attention of the free world to gather international pressures of the Junta Military regimes.

The concept of absolute advantage coined by Adam Smith has a defects where it did not discuss on the issues of the transportation cost which transporting the goods among the three main groups in the Immanuel Wallerstein system analysis. Absolute advantages can be harnessed if absolute gained is experienced by the core groups. Differ from the world system analysis, which discuss on the complex issues of the psychological gain in an accumulated wealth, the world system analysis is a much more precise educational materials compared to the absolute gain theory.

World Capitalism

The concept of the world system analysis came into being after the succession of the Capitalism ideology and much of the analysis itself had explained on the dichotomy of capital and labor. The three groups of the world system players had experienced endless wealth and capital accumulations before the world systems theory came into practice. According to Joseph P. Schumpeter, Capitalism brings with mankind freedom and to an extent promotes democracy. The world system analysis can be used as an indicator for the periphery and semi-periphery states in realizing the dire situation of they are experiencing. Plus the world system analysis too can act as a reminder for the citizens that resided in the states of the periphery and semi-periphery groups to embrace the concepts of the core groups in empowering their citizens especially with democratic elections and plebiscites.

The flow of the wealth, labor and Capital that are explained according to the world system analysis can be used as basic principles in ending world poverty. According to John Kenneth Galbraith, if the developed nations (core) are willingly to put their immigration issues on the flexible drive, the wealth with their endless opportunity that they possessed can be used to end poverty. In the core group, there are a lot of opportunity that can be utilized in ending poverty and providing jobs for the citizens and residents of the poorer countries. If the flow of the labor are allowed and easy up among the three main groups, the periphery and the semi-periphery’s residents are very much in good situations to capitalize on such opportunity that occurred. Much to an extent it will create win-win situations where the core states can enjoy the much needed low cost labor and first class service from the people of the other groups.

World systems analysis also can explain on the dire effect of the un-integrated states which only interact solely on trades. If the wealthy nations resorted to isolate themselves from the semi-periphery and the periphery states and only seeking absolute advantage of the other groups, the blow effect of unsatisfied people of the semi and periphery states will be felt. Such had been proved during the G8 meeting in Ireland where people had riots opposing the dogma of Free Trade thus they believe such economic beliefs will only benefits one side of the trading states.

World systems analysis – culture

Apart from the interactions among the state players, the world system analysis also can explain another side of psychological and social aspect of interactions among groups which can be determined as core, semi periphery and the periphery apparatus. To an extent, the world system analysis can explain the interaction networks which culturally different peoples are strongly linked together especially by trades, political-military engagement or the information flows. For an example, trade must not only be engaged by Government to Government interaction. To an extent, trade also occurred among the Multinational companies which do not posturing towards any present government of the world.

The arms trafficking in the state of Africa can be explained by the interaction among the arms dealer and the rogue African states. Liberia for an example had manipulated Sierra Leone for their diamonds resources to buy weapons from the illegal arms dealer. At one time the state of Liberia can be considered the core if the interactions occurred with Sierra Leone, but on another perspective it can be considered as the periphery groups when they interact with the arms dealer. On the issues of political-military engagement can be explained on the experienced felt by Thailand.

Thailand is a unique state where there are 18 military coup de etat and 17 new renew constitutions. Every time the democratic government of Thailand managed to break away and try to abolish the patronage and sufficiency system adopted by the Thailand feudal King, there will be coup de etat due to the military and Kings Considerations that democratic elected government couldn’t handle too much power in hand. In realizing that the political and administration issues of Thailand will never ends, the people of Thailand themselves try to dissociate with any economic activities that associated with the government economic aid. They tend to be more independent and strong in handling their own economic affairs. As such to an extent the economic situations of Thailand wouldn’t be influenced by the political and administrations problems in Bangkok.


The world system analysis too can explain on the problems of resistance felt by the three groups. According to neo-liberalism believers, there will be resistance when the periphery and the semi periphery groups tried to break away from the interaction. The core groups definitely would want to be core and the periphery and semi periphery would definitely want to be core. To an extent the problems of resistance can be felt among the periphery and the semi-periphery states where the governing government would like to maintain the status quo of being in power.

What had been experienced in Burma after the interaction occurred among the periphery and the core groups through the flow of the information had created awareness that democracy should be upheld. The World system analysis in these issues can be considered as a basic conceptual framework in promoting democracy.

What had been felt during the G8 summit or any Economic forum where people are rioting and protesting against the concept of Globalization is also a testament of the resistance problems occurred when people realize that they are being manipulated by the core groups. Such resistance then will try to break away from the system explained by the world system analysis and perhaps creating a new global political architecture which does not have the three secluded group anymore. The new global political architecture perhaps is integrated into one as such World government is possible.

The World system analysis concept too can be used in explaining the new global social movement. Why am I saying this movement is new, is that the full fledged Capitalism government is still at the new phase of operational. With the increasing power of the Capitalism freedom, it had promote the non-violent struggle against any oppression come it either economic or political endeavor. Mankind or the citizens of the periphery states had found a new non-violent solution in ending disputes and settling problems that arises from any dissatisfaction. For an example, the issues of Northern Ireland which were once marred by violent struggles of the Irish Republican Army had been put to an end on the table of discussion after realizing that the British government and the Irish movement is basically interlinked with each other (culture, Christianity, and geographic locations). Absolute gain will only lead to a no win situations for both sides of the warring parties.


As had been explained before, the World system analysis had explained on the issues of democratic practice of each group. To an extent, the operational framework of the democratic process can be explained and studied through the world system analysis. Come till the day that the citizens of the states realize that the seat of the political leadership of a country shouldn’t be based on the bloodline or bequeathed by family legacy, but a seat which is presided on the basis to do executive work. With the world system analysis, analyst can determined that each particular state had a sass pool of good talent to execute such jobs to the best of their ability. The main objective is the welfare and economic viability of the states and not personal gain.

The concept of World system analysis can be discussed in promoting social justice. With the empowering concept of individual ownership and self expressed freedom, people will need to protect themselves from bad elements of human behavior. Such an analysis can be used in promoting social justice where people will feel safe to be and do what they do. Why the concept of an American Dreams had intrigue millions of immigrants from the Asian and European region is that the promotions of self freedom and social justice reiterated by the Americans. Even though the concept of justice in America had their experiences of ups and downs, but still it is the main and number one justice system which can be used as a role model especially for the third world nations. Such idea of social justice promotions and freedom can be explained through the world system analysis.

One of the resistance traits of the core group states to remain secluded from the periphery states is their inclusiveness behavior. Great Britain had shunned to used the Euro currency so much so that EU concept is emerging strong among the people of Britain itself. But being an island cut off from the continent of Europe, Britain is very much adamant in keeping the traditional government of Westminster in administering everything that happened within their English borders. Be it economic matters, sports issues of political affairs. Such traits of inclusiveness can be seen as certain to fail according to the World System analysis due to the interlinked of the Euro trade system among each member states. To remain isolate is not an option anymore for the English government in the future to come.

Extremism and terrorism

The issues of Islamic extremism to can be settled according to the world system theories. The reason for the Islamic clerics either it be in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq currently holding wars with the United States is that their dissatisfaction of certain issues. They might argue it is a political issue, but the main concern is that there is no integrated system of fair distribution of wealth. At the end of the day, they may resort themselves to extremism and opposing what they called as secularism. Reason being is that they believed everything new and developed came from the Infidel states (usually developed nations) and it is illegal for them to embrace moderations promoted by these Infidels. Such beliefs can be break and tackle with the free flow of capital in enhancing integrations through trade, commerce and educations. It was explained through the conceptualize framework of World System analysis.


Perhaps one of the reality issues that best can be described through the World system analysis is the Globalization agenda that is happening around the world. The world states had realized how much important of lessening the border line of each states in promoting trade and connectivity. Such situations will not only create opportunity, but also promotes freedom and progression. Such integration can be seen when once the states of European nations were fighting endless war with each other. Upon realizing how much important that the war should be settled only on the football field, the intellectual minds of the European people had drive the continent to vast progression and development. The movement of the people of Europe is made easy among the Euro members. Creating a job opportunity and encourage social mobility to the European residents is much more important than waging war with each other.

The World system analysis too had promote the role of non governmental agencies among the three groups especially to overseer the interaction and connectivity of the core and periphery states in the world system analysis conceptual framework. Ones should not forget that the Breton Wood’s institutions are the one that revive the development of European nations after the World War II and not the role of the winning states (Allied countries). With the development and creations of such agencies, it will harness the greatest brain for human progress. Research and innovation will be promoted by the endless capital and efficient management of the scant valuable resources. To an extent, such agencies which was created just to oversee the development of the European continent, had ventured into profitable business outside European region as been experienced during the Asian Financial Crisis, IMF and The World Bank had given their contribution in reviving Thailand’s economic viability.

World system analysis conceptual framework had brought to use the imperativeness of countering the hegemonic bloc especially against the core groups. By using the world system analysis, the world community can now work towards achieving more coherence in organization and action. Once the poverty problems and tribal war that happened in Africa doesn’t even come to the attention of the core states. Being the states which had large amount of power and residing the seats of the Security Council, there is no attention and decision made to settles these intricate problems of Africa. But with the development of the counter hegemonic bloc, the world community had created a platform in meddling into such problems and thus bringing much needed attentions on the issues of Africa. United Nations with their wings of UNICEF, and UNHCR back up by the world funds slowly had made progression in bringing educations and civilization among the African peoples. To an extent, the core business entities that capitalizing on the unstable problems of Africa had contribute to ending the civil war in Africa which can best be described through the Executive Outcome contract in driving RUF from the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown even though its virtue intention is doubted.


With the world system analysis too, come awareness that the world community need to be more coherence and open up in settling disputes and differences because one decision and act will create a chain reaction to an extent capable in bringing the world catastrophe into reality. For an example, in settling the problems of North Korea nuclear programs which was claimed finished by the military regimes of North Korea should be seen as solvable issues through the six nations talks. If China is hesitant to coax and encourage North Korea to integrate with the free world, then the domestic problems of North Korea should be vested on the China shoulders.

One of the ways that the developed nations are promoting and encouraging coherence in organization, program and actions is through the world economic forums which are held in Davos, Switzerland and Doha summit annually. Such forum in discussing economic issues and geopolitical problems can be considered an opportunity in addressing the core group to stop manipulating the third world nations in bad perspective. No doubt that the third world states need the core groups to inject capital and promote technology transfer, but in doing so does not mean that the core group should operate in absolute gain. There is enough wealth for everyone in this world that can be utilized to increase the social mobility, and well being of the people.

Civil society

The world system analysis too can be nurtured in forming a modern states or civil society. We know that with the flow of capital comes great knowledge in harnessing benefits. Such knowledge if used to create a platform for the periphery states to integrate and seeking equilibrium will be put into good used in developing great social well being of the periphery citizens. Capitalism will only works at the hands of an able person who are executing an excellent jobs. If such jobs in handling public funds or Capitalistic power are not implemented in such a good manner, then the person in charge should be changed.

This will create a beliefs and a good governance environment where civil society matters in handling such reformation. Civil society is a society which does not posturing or inclining themselves to any particular groups or people. The main objective of the civil society is the people as a whole. After residing onto certain seats of governmental operations, the person should be changed to another person who is capable in doing such jobs after a period of time. That is why the civil society is very important in ensuring stable economic growth and nation development and also good internal check and balances.

By having the world system analysis as the bearing of the trading nations, it will then nurture a global trade pattern among the world states for the benefits of all the economic players. If once according to the world system analysis that trade and interconnectivity among the core and the peripheries states is at the basis of pure economic matters in gaining profits and advantage, but for the future trade pattern, the relationship among the groups shouldn’t be seen as only economic issues per se. But harnessing all types of wealth and opportunity arises from the linkage made among the groups. The trade pattern too must be seen in positive way as promoting freedom among the multinational companies to do business. The role of such entities must not only be seen as reaping the benefits of free trade, but also in bringing opportunity, wealth and good well being to people of the peripheries states.

If once the people of third world nations only supplied the Starbucks and Coffee beans companies with high quality beans, nowadays such entities also responsible in injecting capital and funds to the peripheries state for them to venture into research and development of growing coffee beans in a high quality manner. Such transformation from the labor cost industry to the high intensive capital industries will bring a win-win situations for both sides where demarcation line of a nations or states is less important compared to the lifestyle and social well being of mankind.


The world system analysis too is best be describe not just for the relation among the trading states, but also it can be used in explaining the pattern formed through regions, areas, society, business entities and culture. There will be time when the world system analysis be used in explaining the intricate complex of relationship formed between tribes of Africa and three main races in Malaysia. Such problems that arise from those differences can be settled and change through the research and studying the world system analysis. Once integration and equilibrium is considered as impossible with the existing gap among the three groups, but with the linkage that exists among the main players, it can create a channel of an opportunity in learning from each other to an extent integrate them fully.

Once the states and nation of Europe would like to be secluded and being left into their own borders. But with the growing experience and benefits that felt through hundred years of war and industrial revolutions, the states of Europe nowadays resort to be known as one. The resources and intellectual gained from such endeavor will be a major factor in retaining the core status quo of the European key players and bringing prosperity and wealth to the European residents. To an extent, the problems of European affairs will be settled by the people of Europe and not by the United Nations anymore.

Immanuel Wallerstein also has argued that it is the global capitalist system that creates shared interest among the dominant parties, thus inhibiting potentially harmful belligerence. Negri and Hardt also take a similar stance, arguing that the intertwined network of interest in the global capitalism leads to the decline of individual nation’s states, and the rise of a global Empire which has no outside, and no external enemies. As a result, the write, “The era of imperialist, inter-imperialist, and anti-imperialist wars is over. We had entered an era of minor and internal conflicts, thanks to the succession of Capitalism.


1.The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 2004. David Ricardo, Dover Publications;
2.The Affluent Society, 1999. John Kenneth Galbraith, Penguin Books Limited;
3.World System Analysis, 2004. Immanuel Wallerstein, Duke University Press;
4.Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 2006. Joseph P. Schumpeter, Routledge;
5.Capitalism and Freedom, 2002. Milton Friedman, University of Chicago Press.


noorulhafidzah said...

Its very impressive when you relate Wallertein's theory with the current situation in Asia. It gave me much more confident to pursue my dissertation on this great theory and to apply it on Malaysia.

Teddy said...

u know what.. it came to me to realize that we Malaysian have so much to understand about Capitalism, democracy and freedom.. our own enemy is not communism, white people or foreign influences.. but our own ignorance.. good luck in your dissertation!

Faces of Tun Teddy

Faces of Tun Teddy