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Rise and Fall: East-West Synchronicity and Indic Exceptionalism Reexamined
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Social Science History 24.4 (2000) 727-754


The world-systems perspective was invented for modeling and interpreting the expansion and deepening of the capitalist regional system as it emerged in Europe and incorporated the whole globe over the past 500 years (Wallerstein 1974; Chase-Dunn 1998; Arrighi 1994). The idea of a core/periphery hierarchy composed of “advanced” economically developed and powerful states dominating and exploiting “less developed” peripheral regions has been a central concept in the world-systems perspective. In the last decade the world-systems approach has been extended to the analysis of earlier and smaller intersocietal systems. Andre Gunder Frank and Barry Gills (1994) have argued that the contemporary global political economy is simply a continuation of a 5,000-year-old world system that emerged with the first states in Mesopotamia. Christopher Chase-Dunn and Thomas Hall (1997) have modified the basic world-systems concepts to make them useful for a comparative study of very different kinds of systems. They include very small intergroup networks composed of sedentary foragers, as well as larger systems containing chiefdoms, early states, agrarian empires, and the contemporary global system in their scope of comparison.

All world systems with at least a chiefdom level of political organization exhibit a pattern of the rise and fall of large polities. Among chiefdoms this pattern has been referred to as “cycling.” In state-based systems it is known as the rise and fall of empires. And in the modern system it is called the “power cycle” or the “hegemonic sequence.” This article reexamines the question of synchronicities of rise and fall in systems linked only by very-long-distance prestige goods trade. Earlier research found that increases and decreases in the territorial sizes of empires and the population sizes of cities were highly correlated in East Asia and West Asia/Mediterranean regions from about 600 B.C.E.. to 1500 C.E. (Chase-Dunn and Willard 1993). Though data were somewhat scarce for South Asia, it appeared that Indic civilization did not rise and fall in tandem with the East and the West. In this article we report an improved test of the synchronicity of empire sizes and the different pattern found in India.

World-System Cycles:
Rise and Fall and Pulsations

Comparative study reveals that all world systems exhibit cyclical processes of change. Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) focus on two major cyclical phenomena: the rise and fall of large polities, and pulsations in the spatial extent of interaction networks. What they call “rise and fall” corresponds to changes in the centralization of political-military power in a set of polities. They note that all world systems in which there are hierarchical polities experience a cycle in which relatively larger polities grow in power and size and then decline. This applies to interchiefdom systems as well as interstate systems, to systems composed of empires, and to the modern rise and fall of hegemonic core powers (e.g., The Netherlands, Britain, and the United States). Very egalitarian and small-scale systems such as the sedentary foragers of northern California (Chase-Dunn and Mann 1998) do not display this kind of cycle, however.

The unit of analysis for the rise-and-fall process is the political-military network (PMN) or “polity system,” a set of polities that are directly (or not too indirectly) interacting with one another. These polities can be bands, tribes, chiefdoms, states, or empires. The terms states system or interstate system are used when states are present, and interchiefdom system indicates a set of polities in which the chiefdoms are present, but not states.

Chase-Dunn and Hall also note that all systems, even very small and egalitarian ones, exhibit cyclical expansions and contractions in the spatial extent of interaction networks. They develop a schema for spatially bounding regional world-systems in which smaller bulk goods networks (BGNs) are contained within larger political-military networks (PMNs), prestige goods networks (PGNs), and information networks (INs). They posit the hypothetical pulsation of BGNs, PMNs, PGNs, and INs. By this they mean that the spatial scale of interaction increases and then decreases...

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