American sociologist. Born 1930.
From 1976 to 1999, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and director of The Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations at State University of New York, Binghamton, New York; simultaneously teaching at the Écoles des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris. From 2000, affiliated with Yale University.
Wallerstein's original specialty was Africa, but he first achieved wider fame in 1974 with the publication of Volume 1 of The Modern World-System. Based in Marxist theory, and inspired by the center/periphery theories of, among others, Samir Amin and André Gunder Frank, The Modern-World-System unfolded a massive theoretical structure, a comparative macro-theory of social development, dealing with the unequal relationships between a center and shifting peripheries, as the foundation of what he termed "the world-system". In the 16th century, as European world hegemony was being established, this theoretical world-system was determined chiefly by the relationship between a growth-oriented Western Europe and an Eastern Europe which had been gradually reduced to the rôle of a mere supplier of raw materials. This, Wallerstein posited, explained the "development of underdevelopment" in Eastern Europe.
Volume 2, published in 1980, dealt with mercantilism (1600-1750). Volume 3, published in 1989, dealt with the second phase of capitalism's expansion (1730-1840). In these volumes, the geographical perspective of the theoretical structure was expanded, drawing further regions of the world into the capitalist center/periphery relations of the model.
Wallerstein's theory has drawn criticism for shortcomings in both its empirical underpinnings and in its theoretical model of economic exploitation. Despite the dispute, however, it remains a central work of the field.
Apart from his many works published in connection with the analysis of the world-system, Wallerstein has written copiously on a number of subjects. Among these works, Geo-politics and Geo-culture (1991) and The End of the World as We Know It: Social Science for the Twentyfirst Century (1999) bear mentioning.