World-systems theory (also known as world-systems analysis or the world-systems perspective), a multidisciplinary, macro-scale approach to world history and social change, emphasizes the world-system (and not nation states) as the primary (but not exclusive) unit of social analysis
- Among other related major developments, world systems theory (Wallerstein 2004) should be mentioned. Inspired by Marxist theories, it addresses dependency among nations and imperialism, placing the evolution of capitalist systems in a global and comparative perspective. Another variant of Marxist system theory is that of Pierre Bourdieu (1977) which unifies the material and the symbolic, as well as agency and structure.
- Tom R. Burns (2006) "System Theories" in: George Ritzer ed. The Encyclopedia of Sociology, Blackwell Publishing. p. 3.
- In the sixteenth century, Europe was like a bucking bronco. The attempt of some groups to establish a world-economy based on a particular division of labor, to create national states in the core areas as politico-economic guarantors of this system, and to get the workers to pay not only the profits but the costs of maintaining the system was not easy. It was to Europe's credit that it was done, since without the thrust of the sixteenth century the modern world would not have been born and, for all its cruelties, it is better that it was born than that it had not been.
It is also to Europe's credit that it was not easy, and particularly that it was not easy because the people who paid the short-run costs screamed lustily at the unfairness of it all. The peasants and workers in Poland and England and Brazil and Mexico were all rambunctious in their various ways. As R. H. Tawney says of the agrarian disturbances of sixteenth-century England: 'Such movements are a proof of blood and sinew and of a high and gallant spirit... Happy the nation whose people has not forgotten how to rebel.'
The mark of the modern world is the imagination of its profiteers and the counter-assertiveness of the oppressed. Exploitation and the refusal to accept exploitation as either inevitable or just constitute the continuing antinomy of the modern era, joined together in a dialectic which has far from reached its climax in the twentieth century.
- Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) The Modern World-System, vol. I, p. 233.
- [A world-system is] a system that is a world and which can be, most often has been, located in an area less than the entire globe. World-systems analysis argues that the units of social reality within which we operate, whose rules constrain us, are for the most part such world-systems (other than the now extinct, small mini-systems that once existed on the earth). World-system analysis argues that there have been thus far only two varieties of world-systems: world-economies and world empires. A world-empire (examples, the Roman Empire, Han China) are large bureaucratic structures with a single political center and an axial division of labor, but multiple cultures. A world-economy is a large axial division of labor with multiple political centers and multiple cultures.
- Immanuel Wallerstein (2004, p. 98), as cited in: Graham Scambler. Contemporary Theorists for Medical Sociology, 2012. p. 255