Defending Wallerstein

In Harris’ chapter on countering, he describes three broad methods of arguing in a critical and meaningful way: arguing the other side, uncovering values, and dissenting. Arguing the other side, Harris says, is “attaching a positive value to something another writer denigrates or a negative value to what another writer applauds.” (Harris, 60) Giddens frequently mentions other authors, outlining their beliefs and then using the limitations of their writing to define his own point of view. This means there are many opportunities to argue the other side.

In defining what he calls the dimensions of globalisation, Giddens illustrates two sets of separate forces that make up the globalised world. One dimension is the nation state system and the international division of labor, and the other is the world capitalist economy and the world military order. Giddens says that world-system theorists, specifically Immanuel Wallerstein, believe that capitalism is the dominant force in global change, while he considers capitalism only one of four parts that make up globalisation.

Giddens argues that states do not “operate as economic machines, but as “actors” jealous of their territorial rights, concerned with the fostering of national cultures, and having strategic geopolitical involvements with other states or alliances of states.” (Giddens, 72) The “fostering of national cultures” he refers to is very seldom a concern of states. It is something that happens naturally, and only in unusual circumstances, such as the creation of a new country or rise of a new government, is creating a national culture a states’ conscious objective.

The other two examples Giddens gives, I would argue, are in fact economic concerns, rather than things that distinguish states from “economic machines.” With the exception of very specific places, such as Jerusalem, territory is something nation-states desire almost exclusively for economic gain. Territory is what allows states to become powerful, gaining natural resources and space for citizens, and their labor, to live. The United States, China, and Russia are all massive, powerful countries. England could be pointed to as an example of a small country that is an important world power, but this is because England once possessed more territory, in colonies, than any other country. Indeed, the colonial period was when states were the most “jealous of their territorial rights,” and this was motivated entirely by economic factors. No country wants their land taken, but when the land being encroached upon is not considered of any value, serious action is much less likely.

“Strategic geopolitical involvements with other states or alliances of states,” the other supposed difference between a nation-state and an economic machine, is also an economic one. As Giddens himself writes, “The influence of any particular state within the global political order is strongly conditioned by the level of its wealth.” (Giddens, 72) He follows this up by saying that “However, states derive their power from their sovereign capabilities,” but a state’s sovereign capability is intrinsically tied to its economic independence. If a country must rely on others, as all modern states do, it is giving up some of its sovereignty, and how much one must give up is only tempered by how much it can take from those relying on it. Ideally, this would be a mutual exchange.

I believe that Giddens is correct in saying that capitalism is not the only force driving global change, but a modern nation-state’s military power and economic desires are more connected than he says, and the examples he gives are not effective at showing the differences that do exist between them.

2 thoughts on “Defending Wallerstein

  1. Alex,

    In what seems to be characteristically clear and strong prose (well done), you argue here that Giddens underestimates economic interests. I wonder how an example like the conflict over the Falkland islands interacts with your position–was it an exception that proved the rule or were there important economic gains to be had? Or would you want to complicate your narrative?



  2. In ‘Defending Wallerstein’, you accurately uncover Wallerstein’s shortcomings crediting capitalism as the dominant force in global change but blatantly omitting other significant globalization factors. Globalization encompasses many other non-capitalistic factors like cultural diversity, resource management and vague jurisdictional responsibilities.
    What do you think Wallerstein would say about when Giddens oversimplifies capitalism as ‘centered upon the relationship of privately owned capital and property less wage labor’ (p55)? Here Giddens overlooks specialization, where equals exchange goods because it is advantageous to do so, not because of the imbalance between the haves (privately owned capital) and the have nots (property less wage labor). Overall, nice post.


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