Immanuel Wallerstein “On the Study of Social Change”: The Modern World Sytem PP. 3-11

MA Sociology: Tribhuvan University

Sociology 581: The World System Perspective

Unit I

Summary of Immanuel Wallerstein (IW) ‘On the study of Social Change.’ PP 3-11 in The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century. PP 3-11

Immanuel Wallerstein wants to understand motors of social change and evolution of structures of the whole system.

In this article, Wallerstein talks about challenges that need to be tackled for above mentioned endeavor and how he come to his current realization.

Here are the important points of his article:

It is a false perspective to take a unit like a ‘tribe’ (of a colonized country) and seek to analyze it’s operation without reference to the fact that in a colonial situation, the governing institutions of a “tribe” far from being “sovereign” were closely circumscribed by the laws (and customs) of a larger entity of which they were an indissociable part, the colony. This idea led Wallerstein to the larger generalization that the study of social organization was by and large defective because of the widespread lack of consideration of the legal and political framework within which both organization and their members operated.

In search for appropriate unit of analysis, he turned to “states” in the period after formal independence (from colonial rule) but before they had achieved something that might be termed national integration. This involved him in notion of stages of development which further posed two problems:  Criteria for determining stages and Comparability of units across historical time. But later he abandoned the idea of taking sovereign state or the vaguer concept, the national society, as the unit of analysis. He decided neither one was a social system and that one could speak of social change in social systems. The only social system in this scheme was the world system.

Next problem was the question of Objectivity and Commitment.

In Social Science, “Truth” changes because society changes. A social system and all it’s constituent institutions including the sovereign states of the modern world, are the loci of a wide range of social groups – in contact, in collusion and above all, in conflict with each other. Since we all belong to multiple groups, we often have to make decisions as to the priorities demanded by our loyalties. Scholars and scientists are not somehow exempt from this requirement. Objectivity is honesty within this framework.

And next thing is, it is also particularly tricky because the social impact of statements about the world system are clearly and immediately evident to all major actors in the political arena. Hence, the social pressure on scholars and scientists in the form of relatively tight social control on their activities, is particularly great in this field.

What we have to realize is, the more difficult we acknowledge the task to be, the more urgent it is that we start sooner rather than later. It is of course not in the interest of all groups that this be done. Hence, here comes the commitment. It depends on our image of the good society. To the extent that we want a more egalitarian world and a more libertarian one, we must comprehend the conditions under which these states of being are realizable. To do that requires first of all a clear exposition of the nature and evolution of the modern world system heretofore, and the range of possible developments in the present and the future. That kind of knowledge would be power.