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Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 347-350

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Book Review

Rise and Demise: Comparing World Systems

Rise and Demise: Comparing World Systems.By CHRISTOPHER CHASE-DUNN and THOMAS D. HALL. Boulder: Westview Press, 1997. Pp. xi + 322. $25.00 (paper).

This volume is a contribution to the conversation that has developed among historians and social scientists since the publication of Immanuel Wallerstein's The Modern World System (3 volumes, 1974-89). Wallerstein showed how the process of capitalist development in Europe created imbalances between central "core" and external "peripheral" areas as the latter were hooked into the expanding capitalist market "system."

Over the last decade, Wallerstein's "world-systems theory" has been criticized for ignoring the importance of economic activity outside and "before Europe." Janet Abu-Lughod proposed a pre-1500 world system from 1250-1350 and André Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills argued for a single Eurasian world system continuing over five thousand years. Debates have raged over the continuity of early and modern systems, the number, unity, plurality, or polarity of systems, the meaning (and, thus, the spelling) of "world[-]system[s]," and the relationship of a world system to capitalism.

Christopher Chase-Dunn and Thomas Hall summarize these debates and develop their own positions in the course of a dozen chapters, both theoretical and historical, organized into four parts. Part I develops "definitions and concepts." Part II asks how world systems change, incorporate new areas, evolve, and are transformed. Part III directs these theoretical insights to three historical cases: the tiny world system of precontact northern California, the ancient world system of Afroeurasia between 500 B.C.E. and 1400 C.E., and the modern Europe-centered world system. Part IV draws conclusions and speculates about the future of the modern world system.

The authors begin Part I with a survey of world-system literature, [End Page 347] sorting and labeling the various debates and developing their own positions. They choose to define world systems broadly as "intersocietal networks that are systemic" or "interactional entities that [are] self-contained." Autonomy rather than size is the key. While they recognize only one modern capitalist world system, they believe there have been thousands of world systems as society evolved from foragers to villages to chiefdoms to states to empires.

To determine the boundaries of a world system, the authors distinguish various types of networks--bulk-goods, prestige-goods, political/ military interactions, and information networks. Sometimes they add marriage networks (perhaps especially for kinship societies). They seem to suggest that most world systems will contain most or all of these networks. In most systems, the prestige-goods and information networks are the largest (for example, the ancient silk road system was larger than Roman military alliances), though in some cases all four networks may be coterminous (as in the instance of the precontact Hawaiian Islands and the modern world system). There must be two-way and regularized interaction to be systemic. As an example, they judge the arrival of the Peruvian sweet potato in Hawaii insufficient to render Peru and Hawaii part of the same bulk-goods network of a world system.

Part II asks how world systems are transformed. Here the authors make good use of the notion of semi-peripheral areas, regions which lie between core and periphery or share some of the characteristics of each. Drawing on classical theories of economic "backwardness," they include as semi-peripheral the Akkadian conquest of Sumer, the role of capitalist city states on the borders of medieval landed empires, frontier chiefdoms, and borderland "marcher states." The "rise of the West" is offered as an example of this larger process of semi-peripheral power replacing an older core. Within that Western history, future core states (Holland, England, and the United States in succession) have originated in the semi-periphery, as have challengers to the "logic of capitalism" (the Soviet Union and China). Such challenges fail or succeed within the context of other factors, among them: "population growth, environmental degradation, conflict, hierarchy formation, and the intensification of production" (p. 98). Chapter 6...