Palumbo-Liu, David, Bruce Robbins, and Nirvana Tanoukhi, eds.: Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Uneke, Okori
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture (Essay collection)
Persons: Reviewee: Tanoukhi, Nirvana; Palumbo-Liu, David; Robbins, Bruce
Accession Number: 294895899
Full Text: Palumbo-Liu, David, Bruce Robbins, and Nirvana Tanoukhi, eds. Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. viii + 263 pages. Paper, $23.95.

The collection of essays in Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World is a critique by leading cultural theorists of Wallerstein's world-systems analysis. To understand the cultural critics, there is need to briefly put Wallerstein's model into perspective. The World-System model builds on the Center-Periphery model, advanced by sociologist and economic historian Andre Gunder Frank, and begins with the premise that no nation in the world can be seen in isolation. Implicitly, each country, no matter how remote, is tied in many ways to the other countries in the world.

According to Wallerstein, this world system has been developing since the sixteenth century, and the level of economic development can be explained by understanding each country's place and role in the world economic system. Of primary importance are the economic connection in the world markets of goods, capital, and labor. For example, all countries sell their products and services on the world market and buy products and services from one another. However, this is not a market of equal partners. Because of historical and strategic imbalances in this economic system, some countries are able to use their advantage to create and maintain wealth, while other countries that are disadvantaged remain poor.

The World-System model draws attention to how the roles of nations in the world system are constantly reproduced by existing trading relations. Proponents of this model see the world divided into three groups of interrelated nations: First, the core countries at the center of the world economic system are the rich, industrialized countries that control the system. Second, the semi-peripheral countries are at middle level income and partly industrialized, and occupy an intermediate position in the world system. Third, the peripheral countries are poor, not industrialized, largely agricultural, and manipulated by the core countries. They are found mostly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In addition, the world system highlights another feature of the world economy, which involves not only the movement of capital across national boundaries, but also the large-scale migration of labor. The economic interconnection of the countries of the world has created an international division of labor. The new international division of labor approach notes that products are now produced globally. Thus, Wallerstein developed his world-system framework to explain the historical and continuing exploitation of the world by the West. As the editors put it, "What has mattered to him [Wallerstein] most often has been evidence that could be brought to bear on the 'the control by the West of the rest of the world,' on the unequal distribution of resources and life chances that has resulted from it, and how global inequality can be understood and eventually, hopefully, undone" (p. 1).

While humanists have criticized the World-System model for paying insufficient attention to values and objects of knowledge, including culture, agency, difference, and subjectivity, scholars of comparative literature, gender, geography, history, law, and sociology ponder what thinking on a global scale might mean for particular disciplinary practices, knowledge formations, and objects of study. The essays in this collection reflect on what is at stake for the study of culture in decisions involving the adoption or rejection of global-scale thinking. Wallerstein's world-system analysis is placed vis-a-vis the humanities.

This collection of essays is grouped into four sections. System and Responsibility focuses on the motivations and consequences for the humanities of adopting and rejecting systematic thinking. Richard Lee (sociology) and Bruce Robbins (humanities) ask: Does thinking systematically on a global scale enable us to assign responsibility more efficiently or disable ethical practice? They conclude that "Wallerstein's belief in system (as definitive and exclusive object to be blamed) seems the very antithesis of the humanist's disbelief in system.... Wallerstein has more in common with the humanities.... [T]he humanities need more of Wallerstein's sense of system than they admit" (p. 15).

In Literature: Restructured, Rehistoricized, Rescaled, Franco Moretti (literature) and Nirvana Tanoukhi (African/African American studies) look at two different models--world-systems analysis and literary text--that adapt in different ways. To understand the literary world system, Moretti argues for an analytical model that accounts for the relation between modes of diversification and integration. He, in fact, proposes "a more scale-sensitive approach that would combine world-systems analysis with evolutionary theory" (p. 15). Tanoukhi explores the tension between placing a text in historical and geographical contexts, and suggests the necessity, in a bid to reinvent comparative literature, to reassess the concept of scale.

The third section, Re-spatializing, Remapping, Recognizing, focuses on moves from literary studies to geography, area studies, and gender studies. The essays of Neil Brenner (sociology), Karen Wigen (history), and Tani Barlow (history) are devoted to understanding globalization and the impact of this specifically historical dynamic to reconfigure geopolitical space particularly and unevenly. They discuss the influence of world-systems analysis on their disciplines, as well as the missing part the model has not addressed. Each considers the impact of adding new elements to the methodological formulae of their disciplines. They note that, on the one hand, such data would disrupt and, on the other hand, enlighten the functioning of world-systems analysis.

In the last section, Ethics, Otherness, System, Helen Stacy (law) and David Palumbo-Liu (comparative literature) are concerned with ethical ramifications of law and rationality. Their essays show that the notion of universal human rights and universal endowment of rationality "were and are deeply embedded in the particularities of culture, religion, and race" (p. 19). They argue that the specificities of culture, race, and religion are problematic for the implementation of law and reason on the world scale. The section ends with both Wallerstein's epilogue in which he situates world-systems analysis vis-a-vis the humanities, and Gopal Balakrishnan's (history) reassessment of Wallerstein's work.

The recent world-wide economic downturn and current financial crises particularly in the euro zone reflect the genius of Wallerstein's large-scale vision, in terms of the world-systems analysis. This reviewer has to say that some of the essays are laced with arcane literary jargon making them a difficult read. The collection of essays in this compilation nonetheless should be of interest to scholars both in the humanities and the social sciences, as well as to those in the growing number of global studies programs.

Okori Uneke, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Behavioral Science

Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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