Immanuel Wallersteinon Culture in the World-System

Theory/Sociology Culture (general) Cultural Globalization Intellectual Biography



In the case of Wallerstein it seemed appropriate to combine his statements concerning the two topics of our interview scheme: own theory and tasks for sociology facing globalization. The theoretical stance of Wallerstein is so deeply related with the fundamental conceptualizing in the social sciences that the questions concerning the pertinence of his world-system theory for globalization and concerning the current strategy for sociology as a discipline were evoking a coherent set of answers.

So his unit of analysis (world-systems) and there special kind of historicity (genesis, functioning, transition) excludes (pretended) value neutrality but gives the social scientists the role of a involved critics. Obviously his attempt for a (re-)unified epistemology, for the reintegration of the science of the good and the science of the true is also related directly to this.

"The good is the same as the true in the long run, for the true is the choice of the optimally rational, substantively rational, alternatives that present themselves to us. The idea that there are 'two cultures,' a fortiori that these two cultures are in contradiction to each other, is a gigantic mystification. The tripartite division of organized knowledge is an obstacle to our fuller understanding of the world. The task before us is to reconstruct our institutions in such a way that we maximize our chances of furthering collective knowledge. This is an enormous task, given the inherent conservatism of institutional authorities and the danger such a reconstruction poses to those who benefit from the inegalitarian distribution of resources and power in the world. But the fact that it is an enormous task does not mean that it is not doable. We have entered a bifurcation in the structures of knowledge, which appears in many ways to be chaotic. But of course we shall emerge from it with a new order. This order is not determined, but it is determinable. But we can only have fortuna if we seize it." (The Structures of Knowledge, or How Many Ways May We Know?).

"The Structures of Knowledge, or How Many Ways May We Know?" presentation at "Which Sciences for Tomorrow? Dialogue on the Gulbenkian Report," Stanford University, June 2-3, 1996. ( )


Culture in general

Refusal of culture as separate domain and of derivatism of culture -- Constancy and change -- Culture as reflection-arena and as a battleground

Concerning culture in general in Wallerstein's perspective one has to remember his concept of system. His use of 'system' is meant to reflect the coherence of the processes of the world-system as something unitary. This also means that he challenges the distinction of autonomous spheres like state, economy, and culture. The coherence of the processes can be seen in 'Globalization'.

To represent this unitary approach the statements concerning 'culture' in general were placed unstructured in a circle.

Geopolitics and Geoculture. Essays on the changing world-system, Cambridge 1991.


Cultural Globalization

Wallerstein discusses cultural globalization before the background of the whole history of the modern world-system. With its genesis in the 16th century it started to expand over the entire globe. Except for two utterances which deal with the main processes of the modern world-system the statements in this section refer to historical occurrences. So it seems imperative to represent these statements along a time scale (perpendicular). Though the modernn world-system came into existence in the 16th century the historical events Wallerstein commented on in our interview start with the French revolution. In respect to culture the French Revolution is relevant because it created new problems of legitimization which are still relevant for our present situation.

One of the main processes of the modern world-system is the division of core and periphery, by which the system reproduces itself (its division of labour) and which it is always creating anew by its expansion. This topic is elaborated in the parts concerning ethnicity, homogenization, and polarization.

Because the division in core and periphery also touches the role and content of the respective cultures it gives the second (horizontal) dimension of the chart.

The Politics of the World-Economy. The States, the Movements, and the Civilizations. Essays, Cambridge e.a. 1984.

Ethnicity / Homogenization/ Polarization French Revolution / Formation of three ideologies/ Dominance of liberalism/ Double-reaction of periphery / Delegitimation of the state/ Failure of (old) antisystemic movements/ New antisystemic movements/ Complex Transition


Intellectual Biography

From states in statu nascendi to the world-system; Methodological criticism - epistemology - restructuring social science; Not Globalization but Transition; 1968

Reference: Anand Kumar; Frank Welz: Culture in the World-System: An Interview with Immanuel Wallerstein. In: Social Identities, 7(2), 2001, 221-231. URL:

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