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Journal of World History 12.2 (2001) 479-482

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Book Review

World-Systems Theory in Practice: Leadership, Production, and Exchange.

World-Systems Theory in Practice: Leadership, Production, and Exchange. Edited by P. NICK KARDULIAS. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999. Pp. xxii + 326. $75.00 (cloth); $27.95 (paper).

World-Systems Theory in Practice: Leadership, Production, and Exchange, edited by P. Nick Kardulias, is a challenging book to review. The central theme of this volume of papers is the application of World-Systems Theory (WST) to historical cases, especially in archaeology. WST was first articulated in the early 1970s by Immanuel Wallerstein to characterize the global nature of interactions over the last four centuries between the expanding and dominant mercantile capitalist societies (the "core") and the distant peoples that both enabled and were exploited by this development (the "periphery"). WST has had the helpful effect of calling the attention of social and economic historians to the fact that there were useful insights to be obtained by [End Page 479] expanding their frame of reference from years and decades to centuries and from a local to a global scale. WST is less of a "theory" as it might be defined in the sciences and instead seems more like a model of interlinked contingencies and assumptions of causality about the emergence of modern global capitalism. The writings of some of its adherents also seem to have a political "edge" in that they focus on the transformation (usually for the worse) of traditional structures, such as the household, in the periphery under the hegemony of the core.

Archaeologists discovered WST in the 1980s and sought to apply it to try to understand ancient complex societies and the people who lived on their peripheries. Fitting ancient societies into the WST paradigm proved difficult. For one thing, no prehistoric or early historic state had a global reach, so it was then necessary to use the oxymoron "regional world-system." Archaeological applications of WST have generally been discussions of core-periphery relations in as broad a geographical and temporal frame of reference as possible, often with just a token nod toward formal WST, perhaps to suggest that archaeology has common interests with other historical fields.

The papers in World-Systems Theory in Practice reflect this ambiguity and ambivalence about the relevance and utility of WST in archaeology and ancient history. Two of the papers, those by Hall and Frank, represent the "true believer" view that WST is a powerful explanatory tool. Several others, by Shutes, Peregrine, Alexander, Kardulias, Kuznar, LaLone, Urban and Schortman, and Modelski and Thompson, believe that WST is a useful and promising interpretive framework for understanding core-periphery relations. Feinman suggests that it is useful if one does not lose sight of other scales of analysis. Stein and Jeske appear to conclude that WST has serious deficiencies in interpreting the archaeological cases that they study. Wells and Morris discuss core-periphery relations in prehistoric Europe in a relatively non-theoretical vein and mention WST only in passing.

Most of the papers in this volume do not apply WST to their archaeological examples uncritically. Even the authors who are sympathetic to WST selectively choose elements of it for their own models and discard others. A widespread theme in this volume is to challenge the fundamental WST proposition that the core dominates the periphery and that there is little, if any, influence in the reverse direction. Perhaps this is the most useful contribution of archaeology to WST--to point out that while the core may dominate the periphery politically and economically, the periphery can also affect the core socially and culturally and can retain some level of autonomy to change and adapt.

Perhaps the most successful merging of WST and archaeological [End Page 480] data in this volume is found in Alexander's paper that discusses the impact that the expansion of the European economic system had on communities and households in rural Yucatán during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Contrary to WST orthodoxy, Alexander concludes that world-system...


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