[* With apologies to Phil Kohl's similar title in one of his many contributions to
spreading the WST word among archaeologists, including the ones whose papers are commented
on here. They were presented at the session on "Leadership, Production, and Exchange:
Global Applications of World Systems Theory" organized by Nick Kardulias under the
sponsorship of the Archaeology Division of the American Anthropological Association at its
94th Annual Meetings in Washington DC. November 15, 1995. They have been
"published" in the electronic JOURNAL OF WORLD SYSTEMS RESEARCH Vol. 2. My
comments are based on the papers as originally submitted.]
Two different, albeit
related, questions were posed by the panel organization, the papers, and the discussion:
- What can archaeology do for world systems theory (WST)?
- What can WST do for archaeology?
I am only a world system [no hyphen a la Wallerstein's world-system]
"theorist" and an increasingly unorthodox one at that, but certainly not an
archaeologist. Therefore, I can here offer only an outsiders' birds-eye overview of the
mostly sceptical archaeological digs against WST in these papers, the panel title
notwithstanding. Moreover, as someone who has some acquaintance with the Americas since
1492 but none with any of the several pre-Columbian cases discussed by the papers, I can
only speculate on how if at all WST might further their interpretations and analyses
beyond those that the authors already offer.
WHAT CAN ARCHAEOLOGY DO FOR WORLD SYSTEM THEORY?
Alas, only one paper was deliberately devoted to addressing the first question in which
the emphasis is on how what existing and potentially future available archaeological
evidence and analysis can do to further WST. That paper was my own on "The World
System in Theory and Praxis" (Frank and Gills 1995). It has been withdrawn from this
published collection precisely because the question it posed and the tentatively proposed
answers it offered turned out to be altogether outside the concerns of the remainder of
the panel papers. These were almost entirely devoted to the second question of what WST
can - and can not - do for archaeologists and the advance or reinterpretation of their
archaeological research and explanation or understanding. Only two other papers briefly
touch on the first question: In his paper on the Inca Empire, Kuznar (p.18) cites and
echoes the call of Chase-Dunn and Hall (1991) for the "generation of empirical
patterns that social scientists can then use to test world systems theory
hypotheses." He correctly observes that his own and La Lone's (1994) description of
the Inca Empire helps provide such empirical information, but he does not see it as his
task - at least in this paper - to pursue this problematique. Instead, he asks and
examines "however, what does world systems theory do for studies of the Inca
Empire?" Otherwise, only Hall also touches on the other question when refers to
archaeological and historical evidence that points to different forms and degrees of
participation or incorporation in world systems, in which also multi-ethnic states are the
historical norm. Hall also discusses the relation of evolution and world system/s to each
other and refers to - but does not specifically cite - archaeological evidence that world
systems have their [cyclical?] ups and downs.
My own paper asked how far we can trace this our own world system back through time and
how far out it extended in geographical space. The Finley/Polanyi thesis about the alleged
non-existence of long-distance trade and dependencies has been disconfirmed as
"untenable" by countless archaeological findings and analysis. It is not only
untenable regarding classical Greece and Rome, but also with regard even to much earlier
Bronze Age times. That is the case throughout almost all of the "eastern"
hemisphere of Afro-Eurasia and, as will appear below, apparently also in the
"western" hemisphere. In this regard we need hardly appeal to "the absence
of evidence is no evidence of absence," since the evidence dug up by archaeologists
all over the world has long since been sufficient to bury the Polanyi/Finley thesis. These
same digs contribute "worlds" to WST; and they make WST itself also all the more
useful to interpret and guide the digs - also on the other side of the world, to which we
may now turn.
In this regard, my paper was substantially based on my "Bronze Age World System
Cycles" (Frank 1993) and "World System Cycles, Crises, and Hegemonial Shifts
1700 BC to 1700 AD" (Gills and Frank 1992 also in Frank and Gills 1993). The
references to the middle bronze age times in 1700 BC and a fortiori to third and even
fourth millennium early bronze age times necessarily rely on archaeological evidence. My
argument in brief is that archaeologists have already dug up enough evidence to suggest
that long cyclical ups and downs can be tentatively identified and dated back through at
least the third millennium BC, and that their rhythms are near simultaneous over most of
Afro-Eurasia. Therefore, I argue, these archaeological finds offer prima facie evidence
for the early formation and development of this world system, which already in the third
millennium BC encompasses most areas from the Mediterranean to the Pacific both south and
north of the mountain ranges that span Asia from east to west.
Within this world system framework, archaeological evidence of the "decline and
fall" of empires is interpreted as manifestations of downward "B" phases in
a world system-wide long cycle. Although I argue that we can identify and date many such
cycles and phases in Afro-eurasian history and pre-history, three of them stand out
particularly: One was after 1700 BC when there were major population movements - or
invasions with benefit of newly invented horse-drawn chariots - from "nomadic"
Central/ Inner Asia to South- and West- Asia and Europe. The most remarkable one was the
"Dark Ages" from 1200 to 1000 BC which engulfed most parts of Afro-Eurasia as
one after another empire and civilization literally bit the dust. A third example is first
the near simultaneous rise from 200 BC to 200 AD, and the also near simultaneous crisis
and decline from 200 AD to 500 AD of Han China, Kushan India, Parthian Persia, Axum East
Africa, and Imperials Rome, not to mention the Central Asian and other regions connecting
them in between. Again, the archaeological evidence of apparently simultaneous, and indeed
coordinated, ups and downs in population, production, urbanization, trade, empire and
"civilization" from widely dispersed regions across Afro- Eurasia is evidence of
world systemic connections among them.
Independently of each other, three sets of scholars tested and substantially confirmed
each phase from 1700 BC to 1450 AD on the basis of increases and decreases of city sizes.
Some periods and dating that were most borne out and/or confirmed out by these data and
tests will be cited in connection with the discussion of some papers, eg. by Morris,
Peregrine, Kardulias and Wells below. The degrees and kinds of connections, core-periphery
or otherwise, is another matter to which the archaeological evidence "speaks"
volumes. But that is one of the major questions posed by all the other papers, which ask
instead what WST can do for archaeology.
WHAT CAN WORLD SYSTEM THEORY DO FOR ARCHAEOLOGY?
We can classify the answers under:
- Much, or indeed everything. [Hall offers us a thick WST stick, which he suitably bends
to and embellishes for archaeological use]
- Nothing, or never heard of it, or would that I/we had never heard of it. [Stein examines
the stick, breaks it in two, indeed three, pieces, and tosses them aside; fortunately
without injuring any archaeologist or other innocent bystander].
- Well perhaps something, which is more than nothing, but not enough.
So, we'll have to modify WST somewhat [Feinman] or substantially, or so much so as to
emasculate it and render it virtually meaningless and/or unrecognizable, which is what
some other participants/ contributors do. First, they whittle away at the WST stick, then
shake it at their data; and yet they still lament that their data don't all fall into WS
place. So they critique WST for being less [useful] than what its proponents claim for it.
Regrettably, WST is not a magic wand.
Moreover, the founder and high-priest of WST, Immanuel Wallerstein, never claimed that
his "world-system" theory could be applied to times or "worlds" before
or outside the European- based modern capitalist world-system, which form the core of his
historical/ empirical and theoretical analysis. On the contrary, Wallerstein insists that
there has ever been only this one modern capitalist world system, and that all others have
been something else, mostly this or that "world empire." Far from welcoming it,
he decries the application of his theory or the structural and functional characteristics
of the apple [of his eye] he studies to extraneous oranges here and there. "Hold the
Tiller Firm" to his original [primitive?] itinerary, he entitled his recent response
to a myriad of [mis]applications, [mis]adaptations, [mis] extensions, emasculations and
adulteration of his work. Many others however, including the archaeologists and others on
this panel and in this collection, do not heed the counsels and qualms of Wallerstein's
"leadership." Instead, they try to "exchange" received local
archaeological dig-in-the-sand and stick[stuck?]-in-the-mud ways through the
"production" and "diffusion" of new varieties of WST.
That is the counsel by Hall, whom we can classify in the first, that is most pro-WST
category above. He offers many good guides to how WST can actually be used by and can help
archaeologists in their work. Hall himself summarizes them on his first page:
- Modern WST must be modified extensively.
- The systemic range increases and its boundaries expand for different exchange networks
from bulk goods, to political/military interaction, to prestige goods, to
information/cultural flows [which McNeill (1993,1995) has recommended as the most
important world systemic activity to be studied, and for which anthropologists, certainly
linguists and even archaeologists should have and use their comparative advantage!].
- The systems pulsate with expansion and contraction.
- Pulsation changes the relative positions of polities within the system [but not
necessarily the system itself].
- System expansion transforms social relations in the newly incorporated areas [but
pulsation can also transform them in the old ones].
- These cycles combine with demographic and epidemiological [but also climatological and
ecological] processes to shape evolution.
A number of these points appear and reappear in the papers below, and maybe all of them
should be incorporated into each case-study paper, or at least in their combination in
That is not the position of Gil Stein, who places himself rather at the other extreme
and stands firmly in the second camp: He would have us all just as well - indeed better -
dump most all WST and leave it by the wayside "Toward an Alternative Paradigm [and]
Model [of] the Dynamics of Interregional Interaction" to cite a combination of his
title and sub-titles. That is, WST is of virtually no use for archaeology, indeed it leads
us down the garden path even after it is modified so much as to leave "little more
than a short-hand for 'inter-regional interaction system'." Stein claims that for the
study of such interaction, his own "Distance-Parity Model" (Stein 1993),
combined with the "Trade- Diaspora Model" of Cohen (1969,1971) and Curtin (1984)
can do the same thing as WST, only much better! But not so fast, please!!
The expert participants/contributors already spend enough time whittling and shaking
the WST stick [ and Stein breaks and discards it entirely]. I therefore see my task here
to defend and extend/apply WST as far as possible within the confines of the
archaeological problematiques posed by these various authors. That means the following:
- First, identify and call straw men what they are: put up jobs that are easy targets for
critiques which would bounce off the real thing.
- Where possible, display, modify or even build a better world system mousetrap than those
in the third, that is adaptor camp. They put it to sometimes good and sometimes to
questionable use [Stein, of course, puts the WST mousetrap down altogether].
- Use that WST mousetrap if I can to catch more, bigger, and better archaeological mice
with their own data than the authors themselves do.
Where and when my own ignorance does not permit me to do all that, I intend to suggest
instead how such a WST mousetrap could potentially be used on the archaeological record to
extend it and to expand and/or improve its interpretation in the particular cases under
review by the authors in their papers - and now here by myself in this commentary.
We may begin with the first-mentioned task, identifying some straw men. Alas, the panel
and papers have left the field strewn with them. Whichever author does not like a
particular alleged part of WST, or none of it like Stein, sets it up as a straw man and
then demolishes it with "that's not the way it was/is" in my dig, backyard, or
other local or regional "field" of interest. Too bad!
Stein wants to throw the baby out with the WST bathwater, indeed with the entire
bathtub, and tear out the plumbing to replace it with is own to boot. He alleges that WST
is a procrustean bed that overemphasizes the role of "external" [to what?]
dynamics and whose economic determinism denies all possible agency and especially the role
of culture and ideology, to the periphery. "In assigning interregional interaction
the decisive transformational role, the world-system model ignores the less visible, but,
in the long run, far more important [domestic] endogenous changes," he writes
Stein, citing Adams (1974,1978) and Flannery (1972) in support, also remarks on a
correlation [causation?] between complexity of a society and its instability. Quite so. At
a previous panel on archaeology and environment on which I was discussant at the same AAA
meetings, Payson Sheets gave a paper under the evocative title "The Bigger They Are,
The Harder They Fall: The Effects of Explosive Volcanism on Societies in Middle
America." He argued that compared to simpler tribal groups, the more complex the
"society," the more was [is?] it at risk of decline and fall when its life line
or sustenance is broken by natural and/or social events beyond its control. A number of
other papers at the same panel on environmental crises made essentially the same argument,
only less explicitly.
However, the significant factor here is not so much the 'socio- political
organization" per se which forms the fourth factor in Stein's supposedly better
alternative theoretical approach. That is not so, or at least it is not so simple. For
complexity of social organization is also correlated - to say the least! - with economic,
political, social, cultural participation in a wider world-system and a fortiori in the
world system. And when there are troubles in the latter, the tendency is to divide into
smaller polities, each of which involutes. Kristiansen [who also appeals to WST
(1991,1993)] and other archaeologists observed the same in the Central European Hallstatt
area in the first millennium BC. So the process of disintegration that, as we will observe
below, Wells found in Roman times had also taken place in this same region already a
millennium earlier, and apparently for similar [world] systemic reasons. Therefore, Stein
is doing us a dis-service by asking us to look more endogenously inward and less
"exogenously" outward. For the real problem is that we have not looked far
enough afield to find all relevant world systemic factors and even causes of local or
Similarly, it makes non-sense for Stein to claim that trade diasporas can "best be
understood by looking at the internal dynamics ... within the so called 'peripheral'
areas" (p.12). Instead, we must regard them as an integral [structural/?] functional
elements of the world economy/system and its operation of which they are but a
manifestation and without which world economy/system they would have no raison d'etre.
Wells' independent operators beyond the Roman frontier could be examined as functional
analogues if not equivalents of such "external" diaspora; but of course they are
and function as part and parcel of the same [world] system, which we must analyze to make
any sense of them.
But let us examine Stein's own first example, which he offers as proof positive of the
uselessness, indeed contrariness of WST. As a tool in Stein's hands, that is admittedly
so; but that is no reason for all of us to discard the tool.
WST can account for the Chinese and Hawaiian responses he cites, which is at least as
explanatory as his own. Indeed, WST can do even better; because it can account for a lot
more besides, which the more localist or regional analyses leave not- or mis- understood.
It is not so much Chinese and Hawaiian ideology or cultural taste, and much less
endogenous domestic changes, which account for what Stein describes. It is their common
incorporation, participation, place and role [or function?] in the world system that
accounts for the domestic changes: At Stein's ethnographic present, China had been part
and parcel of the world system for millennia [Chase-Dunn and Hall (1995) have remarked on
how its rates of urban growth and decline went in tandem with those of West Asia, as
suggested by myself, since the middle of the first millennium BC]. Stein remarks that
after three centuries of trying, "the European core was unable to dominate its
trading partner" in China. Indeed not! And why not? Precisely because [Wallerstein
and company notwithstanding] the core of the world system was not in Europe, but in China!
It was China that for those three centuries and more was the world's richest, most
productive, and most competitive region in the world, as Adam Smith (1937) still
recognized and remarked in 1776. That is why it had a consistently favorable balance of
trade and was the "sink" which attracted perhaps half of the world's silver to
pay for Chinese exports (Frank 1996). No wonder, that the then still very marginal, indeed
peripheral, Europeans were unable to "dominate" China, quite apart from any
"cultural" or "ideological" differences.
Just the contrary for the Hawaiians of course. They also had cultural and ideological
differences but nonetheless were easy prey for the Europeans and Americans when their
still expanding world system incorporated Hawaii. Nonetheless, even Hawaiians did - and
still today do - have recourse to "agency" to defend themselves and their
culture as best they can, which alas is not much. So it is precisely the
"inter-regional interaction" in the world system which is the most explanatory
factor, and not the "indigenous ideology" or culture, to which Stein appeals.
Let us examine an analogous case posed by Shutes for Irish and Greek farmers. He asks
"how can macro-level [WS] theories about social change help ethnographers [and
archaeologists] to make broader comparative sense out of the changes they observe and
analyze at the micro-level?" (p.1). "How, in other words, can the ethnographer
safely "study-up"? Answer: he can not do so by looking for a golden middle local
or regional compromise [as we will also see others attempting] between macro- and
micro-levels. For the differences between Irish and Greek agricultural productive
decisions are not so much due to their respective national or local "appropriate
social [let alone cultural] rules" as they are to their respective agricultures' and
economies' place and function in the European, and it in the world, economy/system. It is
their inherited differential structural place in the world system that generates the
different interests, and therefore also determines the productive and political responses
of the Irish and Greek farmers.
The point is precisely that participation in the same [world] system can generate
different effects in different parts of that system, because these different parts occupy
different places and play different roles [have different functions?] in this same unequal
structure of the [world] system. That, of course, is one of the first [object] lessons of
WST. A second and related one is that it is the unequal structure and the uneven
[cyclical?] dynamic of the [world] system itself that generates change [evolution?] in the
system as a whole. It does so also through different new challenges for and responses from
its constituent parts, as Hall warns. Therefore, since the whole is more than the sum or
its parts, we cannot satisfactorily account for events - let alone the responses - in any
constituent part without reference to how other parts and the whole [system] itself
impinge on it. That is why - and how! - Stein's charge is unfounded that WSTheory, not to
mention the really existing world system, does not admit of peripheral/part agency. For
the same reason, Stein's counsel to follow Merton into middle-range theory is ill advised,
if it means abandoning rather than complementing the more comprehensive [WS] theory with
more precise middle-range theory. That observation will recur again and again with regard
to various other papers below.
Kardulias witnesses the very same world system [theory?] structure and dynamic in the
Bronze Age Aegean -- but, alas, he doesn't quite see it. He usefully distinguishes between
internal island wide, intermediate Aegean regional, and long-distance relations and
influences. The latter are with and come from "societies outside the Aegean area,
including the Near East, the Anatolian interior, and Egypt" (p.7). But what is the
[world] "system" to which Kardulias refers? Well, at different times he refers
to each of the three, local, Aegean and wider ones. He not only subtitles each as a
[different?] "system" on succeeding pages (8,9,10). He also discusses and tries
to analyze events here and there as systemically related to each of these
"systems" as though they were of the same or at least analogous significance.
Kardulias cannot defend his [unsatisfactory] use of WST by also noting that "I shall
investigate the Aegean BA trade network as just such an interdependent part of a larger
world system" (p.4) and saying that "in WST terms, this was core-core
interaction" (p.7) ... with "Near Eastern civilizations and peripheral
So how could [should?] better use of WST help Kardulias strengthened and/or extended
his analysis? He could devote more effort to locating just what or where his system is,
rather than indifferently analyzing events at three different "systemic" levels.
It is not just a change in terminology to treat these as sub-systems that lodge within
each other like Russian dolls. Moreover Kardulias could and should carry his systemic
analysis farther; but since he does not, I will try to do so for him: He says that an
Aegean-Egyptian connection is well established, and then notes but does not analyze
"key exchange ... with more distant members of the world system (e.g., Egypt,
Anatolia, Syria). His parentheses and e.g.! That is, just from where the effects on the
Aegean he is researching emanate so far appears to him as no more than a merely
parenthetical for instance. Of course, it will not do just to change the parenthetical
notation in the next draft. No, an [the?] additional [world system] question is exactly
how far the systemic effects extended, what they were, and how the operated. That is where
WST could lend Kardulias a hand, if only he would use it. He can surely do better than
just to note that there was a "conflagration that destroyed the palace ca.1200
B.C." (p.13) and to mention in passing that "according to Frank (1993) [a
system-wide crisis] pervaded the entire Near East and neighboring areas like the Aegean.
Frank also discusses the cyclical expansion ... 1400-1200 B.C., which coincides with the
Late BA in the Aegean and will be the focus of much of the discussion below" (p.8).
Alas, Kardulias' never does discuss this 1400-1200 expansion, and he does not but
should take account of the 1200-1000 "Dark Age" Crisis when the palace was
destroyed. Kardulias also could [should?] inquire just what other "neighboring
areas" like the Aegean were involved and also affected - even if his main focus
remains on the Aegean. According to the Frank (1993) he cites, these "neighboring
areas" extended through the eastern end of Siberia! So perhaps the world systemic
influences on Kardulias' dig extend rather further out than even his Anatolian-Egyptian-
Near Eastern connections. [Not incidentally, "near east" is a Eurocentric
denomination, which should be replaced by "West Asia" at the very least!].
Ian Morris deals with the same area and period and in a way that seems less organized
and in part therefore more contradictory than need be. He begins by saying that he wants
to concentrate on a small area in the Aegean for two good practical and heuristic reasons:
That is what he is working on, and small scale studies are good and necessary for grand
theory. Yes indeed. As a mere "grand" WST theorist, I welcome and use all the
"small scale" data I can get and use. However, I am not persuaded by the other
reasons Morris gives for his choice: "third, the grand sweep doesn't pay enough
attention to the way knowledgable actors construct core-periphery relations." What is
this "knowledge" he attributes to the actors? What generates the knowledge of
conditions that these actors have and act upon? What is it that according to Morris the
"grand sweep" is so inadequate for? [Fortunately he does not say
"theory," since theory does nothing, but the sweep of history and events do!].
The first one to appeal to the "grand sweep" is Morris himself. He may be
doing a "small scale study," but the first thing he does is place it in the
"grand" sweep of time and place that impinged on it. Good for him! Like
Kardulias, Morris also makes note of the generalized "Dark Age" that grandly
swept all before it from 1200 to 1000 BC. That precedes but still influences the period he
wants to deal with. Alas, it is less than clear what just that period is. He mentions
dates that include 1100, 1050, 1025, 1000, 925, 900, 850, 825, 800, and in reference to
Hesiod's poetic account 700. Moreover, Morris goes back and forth through this longish
period. It might be helpful to his analysis, and certainly to my WST, if he could organize
his material or its presentation a bit more chronologically.
Under the circumstances what I read out of [or into?] the data he presents is the
following: There was a dark age from 1200 to 1000, in which not surprisingly he finds that
"population fell, political decentralization decreased, and advanced crafts,
including writing, disappeared" over a large area. Well, that is what we mean by
"dark age" in a "B" phase of "my" long cycle (Frank 1993).
So it is also not surprising to find reference to "an enclosed, isolated
present" and "a revolution in ritual and mythology in Greece" [p.2]. Morris
writes "I'd suggest, they stabilized a new system of power around 1000 BC,"
trade expanded, and "Greece was being drawn into a Levantine economic system,"
so that Near Eastern imports begin to appear in digs at Athens and Argos. "But
between 825 and 800 this trend was reversed, and by the early eighth century graves are
generally poorer and simpler than at any time since the tenth century" [p.4]. I can
only be thankful for this "small-scale" evidence in support of the dating of my
theory about the "grand sweep." Fore there I found an expansive "A"
phase of expansion from 1000 to 800 BC, followed by another long "B" crisis
phase after that Frank (1993).
Morris goes on to observe that after 800, "Aegean, Greek horizons were widening,
not contracting" and they "had renegotiated their peripherality to the
Levant"[p.4]. One of the "CA treatment" objections to my characterization
of the post 800 BC period as a "B" phase was that during this very period the
Phoenicians expanded westward across the Mediterranean. My published "Reply" was
in part that "might it not have been precisely the emergence of economic crisis after
800 B.C. that generated Phoenician exploration and new colonies in the Mediterranean"
(Frank 1993:419). Ditto for some of Morris' Greeks! So, far from the "grand
sweep" not paying enough attention to the way knowledgable actors [react!] in their
core-periphery relations; it seems rather that it was the "grand sweep" that
gave them both the reason and the knowledge to so do.
So there may indeed be Morris' "small scale" and Kardulias' "multiple
levels" of local internal, regional intermediate, and "grand sweep" of the
world system. The question is: how are these different scale "sweeps" related?
It is all very well to study-up from one's own dig, but if the archaeologist does not take
due account of the whole [world] system of which "his/her" site was a
constituent member, then s/he will not know where in the world [system] s/he was digging -
nor where to look to dig the next time!
That is Wells' problem with his findings in the Roman empire. He asks, "what does
the word 'Roman' actually mean in this context... Who exactly is the empire?" (his
emphasis, p.9). Indeed! What does any 'imperial," "societal," not to
mention local or regional designation actually mean? Wells shows that the Roman occupying
armies were dependent for many of their supplies on independent producers, that is
producers who were independent of Roman military and administrative power beyond the
"frontier." Yet Roman economic demand generated supplies from them, which were
adapted to Roman needs and tastes -- and the latter also adapted to the various local
ecological possibilities and pre- existing cultural tastes. Structurally - and
"functionally"! - the areas beyond Wells' frontier were certainly part of the
same "system," whose function we would miss if we treated them only as
functional equivalents of Stein's or Curtin's outlying "diaspora." So how far
did "Rome" extend? The Byzantine area -- well beyond Wells' temperate Europe --
was part, indeed the most productive part, of "Rome." Pirenne argued that after
the fall of the "Roman Empire" [whatever exactly that was and how much of it
"fell"] there would have been no Charlemagne without Mohammed -- or indeed
And Oh Mr. Gibbon, just why did Rome decline and fall, and did Byzantium fall with it?
Was it just historical accident that Imperial Rome fell [in the European west and
northeast where Wells is looking] at just the same time that Han China, and other empires
and non-empires in between also declined and fell? Teggart (1939) wrote about
"correlations" in the historical events in Rome and China. However, he really
demonstrated connections between them, of which there are still archaeological traces in
the decline of the Central Asian cities that did connect China with Rome - as part of a
single world system! (Gills and Frank 1992, Frank and Gills 1993).
Peregrine addresses the same problematique at the beginning of his paper -- before
seeking to escape from it into the ideology of Habermas, which is certainly more anti-WST
than just "non- WST." [I happen to have personal experience of the destruction
and closure of an entire institute by Habermas just to spite some of his and my colleagues
because he did not like their WS theory and praxis]. To set the stage for Peregrine's
appeal to the "non-WST" of Habermas, Peregrine first sets up another straw man:
World-systems analyses should "equally weigh rise and collapse, centralization and
decentralization, growth and decline, viewing them as alternate outcomes of a singular
[sic] process of world- system operation, rather than polar opposites ... [yet] despite
this, world-systems analyses have rarely focused on collapse" (p.1). Well, yes and
no, or rather yes and yes. Yes, WST should do as Peregrine says [but not as he himself
does, as we will see!]. And NO, it is not true that practitioners of WST do not focus on
collapse; for yes they do as the discussion above already shows and that below will show
Then, Peregrine holds Tainter (1988) up as an example of such WS analysis, only to say,
no that's the wrong way to do it. Well, yes, I agree that Tainter's is the wrong, or at
least insufficient, way to study collapse; but not because he does WS analysis, which
Tainter does not, but precisely because he does NOT use WST! Peregrine says that a perusal
of Tainter's summary of others' explanation of collapse implicitly ascribe them to
environmental degradation. Well, some do; but more significantly all, including Tainter's
own composite alternative theory, ascribe all other explanations to causes that are almost
entirely "internal" to the social unit [empire, etc] under consideration. The
only exceptions are unexplained Deus ex Machina invasions from abroad, like Gibbon's
barbarians. The trouble with all the "explanations" Tainter reviews, including
his own, is that they do not take any account of any structure, dynamic or even the
possible existence of a world system. Imperial Rome and Han China each decline for its own
reasons [plus a bit of a push from Gibbon's "barbarians"]. No connection with
anything or anywhere else, world systemic or otherwise, is even contemplated. However,
that is not the shortcoming of these [non-WST] explanations, which disturbs Peregrine. No,
he does not like their link to ecologically influenced "crisis in the subsistence
economy," because Peregrine "suggest[s] collapse is equally likely to stem from
a crisis in social reproduction" (p.2). And that is where he brings in the myopic
Habermas, who can only steer us into the wrong direction, since contrary to Peregrine the
real problem is that WSTheorists and others take far less account of ecology than they
Still even without that, World System analysis can and does address the "decline
and fall" question from a much broader Afro- Eurasian wide perspective than
Peregrine, [it would be better!] not to mention Habermas. The "world system
cycle" posited by Gills and Frank (1992) [and also see Frank and Gills 1993 and Frank
1993) notes the near simultaneous fall of the Chinese Han, Indian Kushan, Persian
Parthian, and a bit later East African Axum empires - and economies - as well in a
"B" phase decline from 200 AD to 500 AD. "However, the eastern Byzantine
part of the Roman empire never suffered such a severe collapse as its western European
part" (Frank and Gills 1993:171). Gregory (1994) confirms both propositions, neither
of which fall prey to the critiques of Tainter.
What Peregrine takes from Habermas is a trinity of economic, socio-cultural, and
political "systems" that are "tightly interdependent," so much so,
that it seems dubious to call them "three systems" or even one
"system." Habermas has one set of names for them and Peregrine another, but no
matter; since they seem more like the very same three factors, dimensions or sets of
relations we can find in any book. Nor does Peregrine seem to get much mileage out of this
trinity. For the South Pacific Tonga, it only "helps" him observe that
long-distance trade brought prestige-goods which helped legitimate political power, which
in turn is under threat from any interruption of this trade supply. That seems like no
more than what can be observed with the naked eye [not to mention without Habermas] in
zillions of "societies" around the world.
Peregrine's other case study, Mississippian Moundville, also had far-flung trade
relations with Florida and the Great Plains; and its elite also traded prestige goods [no
thanks to Habermas] as well as other goods. We do not know why Moundville collapsed [alas
Habermas cannot help us], but there is no evidence of prior environmental catastrophe or
population decline. Less prestige goods have been dug up, though it is less clear whether
this was cause or effect or both. There is also evidence of the population's division
and/or displacement into a number of smaller political entities. That is, of course, the
usual pattern in world-system decline [and contra Stein] is largely independent of their
particular political forms.
That is the case all the more so in a cyclical B phase of the world system as a whole.
We know this because, contrary to Peregrine's claim that we overlook such collapse and/or
decline, it has been observed and analyzed quite frequently by world- systems as well as
other analysts, for instance of interminable instances in West Asia. In Central Asia,
tribal consolidation and division on the Inner Asian Frontier of China has been the staff
of their life as a function of their trade and other relations with the economy and polity
of China. These were observed studies pioneered by Owen Lattimore and were recently
pursued by the anthropologist Tom Barfield (1989) and myself (Frank 1992). The same is
also the subject matter of other papers in this same panel and collection, as we will
So what is the extent of Peregrine's system? Beyond Moundeville, he mentions its
contemporary Cahokia, which of course also had some far flung contacts. I don't know what
hand Habermas might lend him there, since he does not say. However, the WST he disdained
instead could lend him a hand to explore if and how his Moundville and Cahokia were
related, and/or how either or both participated in a still larger world-system, and how
that may have impinged on their individual or mutual decline. After all, Alice Kehoe and
others claim to see evidence of what may have been a much larger still
"world-system" in which the Mississippi, Southwest, and Mesoamericans all
participated jointly. Cahokia is the topic of the next paper and Mesoamerica of still
The Cahokia experience is examined by Jeske. Among other things, he contradicts
Peregrine - and rightly so - when he states that "Cahokia decline and peripheral
ascendance is expected in world systems theory" (n.p.). However, he also reviews
Peregrine's (1992) own examination of Mississippian including Cahokian society/es and
observes that Peregrine cannot find sufficient evidence to meet Stein's (1993) [rather
stringent] three criteria. [Is that why Peregrine now seeks an escape to Habermas?].
"What does that leave us?" asks Jeske. Not much, but perhaps because Peregrine
and he try too much to fit their data onto Stein's procrustean version of a supposedly
minimalist WST bed. Why don't Peregrine and Jeske instead try to look for
"correlations" [Teggart's (1939) term], not to mention connections, let alone
any possible world-system [own] structure and dynamic?
The real object lesson is not so much the [unwarranted and perhaps wrong] one of these
three authors that WST is worse than useless for their purposes. For their data don't fit
their pre- conceived model - to use Stein's terminology - which they derive from what they
suppose WST has to offer. All of us, including this trio trinity, might get a lot further
if instead we examined our available data more inductively with the help of any and all
"theory" or theoretical/analytical tools at hand. That includes especially the
WST "perspective" [a terms that signifies a demotion by Stein and a promotion
for Hall]. It could first expand the horizons of our inquiry and then guide our search for
additional data and/or inferences from the ones we already have, without trying to fit
them onto a procrustean bed. That is not what WST is, or need be restricted to, any more
than Marxian, Weberian, Darwinian, or probably any other "theory." Easier said
than done, perhaps, especially for a literally ignorant outsider like me. However, it is
much easier and would be more useful for trained and competent archaeologists to do so, if
they only would. Precisely that is what I challenged them to do in and with my
"Bronze Age World System Cycles" (Frank 1993), which however is about the
"old" world and not the "new" one. Is an analogous challenge in the
offing also for the latter? Let's turn to look at Meso- and South- America.
I cannot but agree with Feinman when he ponders whether it really makes sense to decide
"unilaterally" [ex-ante?] what analytical or organizational [world-system?]
scale to privilege. Rather we should proceed more [inductively] to regard that as an
empirical issue, which depends on the problem at hand and the context in which it is to be
analyzed. Now we are at least potentially armed with both empirical precedent and
theoretical guides [perspectives?] about wider and more complex world-systems or indeed
the world system, which affect the experience and interpretation of "local"
evidence elsewhere. Therefore, it seems prudent at least to be open to the eventuality
that any site, dig and/or other data at hand may also be part of and influenced by its
participation in such a wider "system." The fact that most archaeologists can
only dig here and now, at least at any one time, is not sufficient reason to justify their
"intuitive bias to focus more locally" (Feinman, p.1).
It is all to the good to focus on one's [local] data, but not to the exclusion of
whatever the [world-system?] context that may have given rise to it. That wider context
may also have accompanied, influenced or even determined the development of, and
contributed to the eventual "decline and fall" of the site in question. The
debate over whether trade in prestige goods was or was not germane is more of a side show,
since in each case it is really more a question to be empirically examined as far as the
artifacts and their analysis permits than a principle to be debated in theory. Again,
however, what we have learned [from] elsewhere can be a useful guide - not a procrustean
bed - to our analysis here.
In passing, I am also wont to add my assent to Feinman's scepticism about placing [too]
much weight on ethnicity. Too many [well done] ethnographic studies of contemporary and
historic times have shown how circumstantial and not essentialist ethnic identity is here
and there, now and then. Therefore, we should also not lend "too much weight" to
ethnicity in pre-historic ones. Moreover, Hall warns that most large polities, not to
mention world-system/s, have always been multi-ethnic. Alas, that lesson also seems
largely to contradict Stein's "intuitive bias" and/or at least in part
ill-advised counsel to look "inward" - to what?
Once again, as already observed more than once above, Feinman also remarks on how
decline led to balkanization, in this case at Monte Alban. And why not? Moreover,
competition emerged among the smaller successor polities, even if they probably also were
more locally involuted and inward-looking. There is no necessary contradiction, especially
if the preceding/accompanying decline was caused by or resulted in a diminished resource
and economic base in a smaller pie. More threatened and/or diminished access to slices of
a smaller pie "naturally" increases and sharpens competitive conflict about how
to share out what's left. Alas this conflict over shares of the pie may itself also reduce
the resource size of the pie and/or some or all of the claimants' ability to utilize it
productively still further. The resultant warfare, destruction or neglect of irrigation
systems, impaired social capital, etc. can impair the resource base and economy still
further. [A contemporary example is the former Jugoslavia and Bosnia, where world economic
crisis and its repercussions in the national debt crisis and local poverty first generated
the breakup and civil war, which in turn further aggravated the impoverishment of the
land, economy, society and people]. Of course, contra Peregrine, all this is part and
parcel of the structure and function of most or all real world-system/s and of any
sensible analysis of the same. So Feinman does well to look for world-systemic connections
between what happened in and around Monte Alban, and also to note explicitly that even the
smaller successor polities were still part of the same world- system. But what was this
world-system, that is what was and was not part of it? "The Classic-Postclassic
transition in Oaxaca [including Monte Alban] was part of broader marco-scale processes
initiated by the fall of Classic period urban centers, like Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, and
the cities of the Mayan Peten between 700-900 AD" (p.4). And how much more? That is
an empirical [world-system] question, that I am in a position to ask, but alas not to
answer. Perhaps Hall has information or intelligence from the [US] Southwest, or Peregrine
and Jeske from the Mississippi. If Jeske's Cahokia or Peregrine's Moundville prospered
just after regions to the south declined, that is not evidence for the absence of any
possible [world-systemic] connections. Hall has emphasized time and again how marginal
marcher-states rise beyond the smoldering ashes of a declining or fallen core. Let them
and of course also Feinman look for evidence if any, or dismiss the question altogether if
Returning to Feinman, he pleads for a "multi-scalar" approach that combines
rather than plays off differing theoretical perspectives and analytical tools. Well and
good, but not because "the macro-scale approach leaves important aspects ...
unexplained" (p.4). Of course, a or the most satellite eye or telescopic
marco-approach cannot distinguish, let alone "explain" every item dug up at a
particular site. But neither can the most micro approach! Indeed, even less so, since the
more micro [scopic] view can perhaps reveal the inner composition of the artifact or site,
but it cannot afford the equally necessary and perhaps even more explanatory contextual
telescopic overview of the more macro approach -- as Feinman himself just pointed out from
the vantage point of his own telescope. But how far further out to carry this
macro-systemic telescope and to examine which problematique? Meso America? South America?
Europe? Asia? Three other panel papers, dealing with both the same and other time periods,
allow us to pose these questions, if not yet to answer them.
Schortman and Urban make a polite bow to WST in their analysis of the Naco Valley in
Southeast Mesoamerica. But they limit their "use" of WST to its sometime
identification of exploitative economic core-periphery relations, for which they cannot
find any evidence in their case. So they find WST of little or no use to themselves. Too
bad, for it may be of some use to us to account for some of their findings. They do well
to depart from their initial concern with power relations on the local level alone and to
consider that they may indeed also be related to regional and inter-regional relations,
whether "core-periphery" or not. They even do well to recognize that there may
be several regional "cores" each of which has its own "periphery," but
they do not do well to regard that as incompatible with WST.
Schortman and Urban seem to find some evidence also for "ideological
core-periphery relations." However, they cannot account for them except by noting
that imported ideology may be useful to legitimize local power relations. For they find no
evidence for any military or economic counterparts or quid-pro- quo for this transfer of
ideology. They did look for and at economic relations, but perhaps not enough. Moreover,
despite Schortman and Urban's interest in these relations of interchange, they seem far
less interesting than the ones they neglect.
Schortman and Urban take my name in vain, literally. They [pp 9- 10] cite [only] Frank
(1993) in support of the proposition that "evidence of interlinked trajectories is
commonly taken as symptomatic of common participation in a single world system." In
the next sentence they cite themselves  for evidence of "persistent contact
among participants in this interaction network" across at least all of Southeast
Mesoamerica. That's it, and no more. Only at the end of their ethnographic account and
again in the concluding paragraph of their paper about the uselessness of WST do they note
the dominant ideology's
ultimate failure at the end of the Late Classic ... [which] may have been precipitated
by disintegration of centralized power in the early 9th century AD... after SE
Mesoamerican cores began to disappear from the network, reducing the flow of crucial
ideological and material resources on which elite preeminence was based ... [which was
followed by] consequent political decentralization in Naco, occurring from AD 950-
We may return to the question about the extent of the world system that I posed to
Feinman above AND to the evidence supplied by Feinman about "marco-scale processes
initiated by the fall of Classic period urban centers" from Teotihuacan in the north,
Oaxaca to the south and the Peten to the east. Curiously, it refers to this same period of
disintegration and decentralization observed by Schortman and Urban in the Naco Valley. So
why do they fail to regard their Southeast Mesoamerican AND this wider evidence as
"symptomatic of common participation in a single world system"? They seem not
only to take my name in vain but to have read WST in vain, or they would use the empirical
knowledge they have and/or is available to them [but alas not so to me] to explore these
possible systemic connections and their bearing on their own and others' findings.
Alexander examines a later period in parts of Spanish colonial Mesoamerica. Alas the
evidence she brings, and even part of her own analysis, demonstrate just the opposite of
her dismissal of WST, which she caricatures as little more than some hastily assembled
straw men. Indeed, Alexander's charge that WST "models lack specific referents to
political-economic structure as well as to archaeological correlates of the modes of
articulation between cores and peripheries " (p.1) is not even a red herring straw
man. It is simply counter-factual and hardly worth rejecting. So why bother at all? Well,
because Alexander herself demonstrates that it is a red herring. Why would she do that?
Because she is herself writing good WST prose, apparently without being aware of it.
Perhaps that is because she also fails to understand the WST what others - alas including
myself - have written even when she cites them.
It is complete balderdash for Alexander to claim that "Wallerstein (1984)
misconstrue[s] the complexity of the relations of production in both prehistoric and
modern contexts" (p.2). To begin with, Wallerstein et all did not even refer to
prehistoric times, and it is Alexander herself who misconstrues what he/they have to say
about [early] modern ones. Wallerstein's rendition of the modern world-system says that
its structure and function tends to generate and modify a world-systemic structural
division of labor and mix of relations of production. Wallerstein and other world-system
theorists never, to my knowledge, directed their telescope specifically at Mopila,
Cetelac, and Cacalchen. So how can they be accused of having misconstrued or over-
simplified this local complexity?
However, we WSTheorists and others are in debt to Alexander for the interesting
empirical work and good WS analysis of this local data that she does for us! For she
demonstrates the value of WST even for this micro analysis, even of political economic and
social structure at the local level and therefore de facto contradicts Alexander and
others in the panel/collection who deny that such is possible. Alexander's appeal to
supposedly extraneous explanatory factors is quite superfluous. Instead thanks to her, we
can now see just how these "communities" integration and participation and role
or "function" in the structure of the world system themselves first generated
and can now account for the different relations of production, and indeed specialization
and diversification among different products that she details.
Alexander can and does show very well how local ecological differences and productive
roles in the local [and by indirection regional- and world-] economy determine local
choices in production, consumption and housing/lot size. She shows how that happens
through self-interested risk-aversion and doing-the-best- you-can under the miserable
circumstances imposed by differential place and participation in the local and world
system. These differential circumstances presumably include better land and water for the
Cetleac hacienda and more production for the market than in the poorer and more populated
Mopila pueblo and Cacalchen ranchos, which suffer from more "land stress." Far
from demonstrating "variation from what would be predicted following the world
systems model" (p.6) the role of the large cattle estates "demonstrate" the
same insofar as they [also] served as collateral for loan capital used by their owners in
other commercial enterprises. That has been - and still is - par for the course wherever
that is in the landowners profit maximization interest. So as Alexander denies but herself
shows, WST predicts and explains [re]actions in all three [types of] settlements and
localities as a function of their respective but different places and roles in the world
[economy and system].
For any sensible world system perspective and analysis would predict that in far-off
Yucatan a not very profitable hacienda underwent "incomplete market
transformation" (p.5), did not displace indigenous communities as a rural social
units (p.6) and did leave them considerable household autonomy (p. 3). Of course, the
hacienda did so only after taking much of the best land from the indigenous population and
left them their labor only as long as it was not needed - for the local participation in
the world economy/system. Of course, Yucatan is not the only case of the
"failure" to transform all relations of production in all rural areas, as
Alexander unbelievably seems to believe, where and when there was no profit in so doing.
Alas, the same was not true everywhere else as Alexander also shows in her references
to Central Mexico. There, haciendas were built and operated to supply food and other
materials like timber to the urban markets and to the silver mines, which were being
opened and worked -- by indigenous workers. Regrettably for the Spaniards, God or geology
had placed the ores in mountainous areas, which had no indigenous population and were
distant from the densely populated fertile valleys. Solution? Move the Indians from here
to there. "The expansion of the hacienda in Central Mexico in the late sixteenth
century has historically been viewed as the organization of production that facilitated
world system expansion... [which] has been widely regarded as a hallmark of the transition
from a "dual" economy to mercantile capitalism (Frank 1979)" (pp 10-11).
I rise to a point of personal privilege. When in 1966 I wrote the book cited but not
published in English till 1979, no one thought so, unless perhaps it was Eric Wolf and his
Mexican friend Angel Palerm, who had not published the same. My book was a critical
attempt to turn the local "institutional" explanation of the "feudal"
hacienda on its head and to show how that hacienda was generated by the structure and
cycles in the capitalist world system. One of its main demonstrations was to show when and
how the predominant "system" of labor deployment and modes of articulation - to
use Alexander's terminology - changed from outright slavery until 1633, to the encomienda
thereafter till 1648, and then to the repartimiento until 1675, and to hacienda peonage
after that. I demonstrated how each change in the deployment and organization of labor was
determined by the Spanish needs for labor and how these in turn were a function of the
epidemics engendered by the Spaniards in the indigenous population and of the cyclical
expansion and contraction of silver production and economic activity in general, not only
in Mexico but in the world economy/system. Just how labor was organized through what
relations or mode of production was neither here nor there, so long as the Indians were
deployed for and did work! I am gratified to find that my then rather outlandish thesis
and work is now widely enough accepted to be termed a historic "hallmark" by
That being the case, it shows that the use of WST to analyze Central Mexico in the work
cited by Alexander does exactly what Alexander laments WST can and does not do for her
data in Yucatan. But of course, it DID do so for the relatively more isolated Yucatan as
well, as we saw above. Alas, no theory works on its own. It also requires a theorist or at
least analyst to apply it in his/her analysis of the evidence. That is the job of the
theorist. We can be thankful to Alexander for having spoken excellent WST prose, albeit
apparently without knowing it. With a bit more selfconsciousness, she could do even more
with her data and better for us.
In fact and in summary, all of what Alexander discusses and shows only demonstrates the
utility - indeed the necessity - for WST. However, it is only a half-truth for her to also
claim that "the expansion of the world system to Mexico City can be described as a
consequence of Spain's worsening position relative to the rest of Europe." The other
more significant part of the [world system] truth is that Columbus' and Cortez'
[ad]ventures were a reflection of the unfavorable position of all of Europe in the world
economy/system relative to various parts of Asia, and especially to China, which the
Europeans sought to reach. And as Stein points out, Europe was unable to subdue China
economically or politically for several centuries thereafter. Of course that was not for
the "cultural" reasons Stein assigns, but precisely because of Europe's own
absolute weakness relative to that of China and the rest of Asia , as already argued above
and in Frank (1994,1996). [Also it was not so much the "levelling tyranny of
distance" as Stein alleges (p.9), but the greater economic and political strength of
the Levant that defeated the Crusaders, who after all came from the relatively much more
backward Europe precisely because of the magnetic attraction of the Levant, which in
itself was only a western outpost of the much richer and stronger Asia -- which is what
any examination of the real world economy/system immediately shows]. And the same must be
said about the Spanish [ad]venture of Pizarro to Inca Peru, which was weaker and
momentarily in political crisis, to which we may now turn.
Kuznar examines a whole series of "beneficial influence[s] of a world systems
approach to studies of the Inca Empire" (p.18). Contra some of his colleagues on the
panel, he even concedes that WST "can contribute to understanding of the role of
ideology in the empire" (p.19). There is no need here to repeat Kuznar's
demonstration of "what does world systems theory do for studies of the Inca
Empire?" in his and La Lone's (1994) hands (p.18). One thing it does not do in
Kuznar's hands, however, is to tell us just what the boundaries of the Inca world-system
were. He claims that "the Inca case provides clear-cut boundaries" (p.7), but of
what? Perhaps of the Empire, if we accept his denominations and identifications of core,
semi-periphery including especially the Aymaras in Bolivia, and the peripheries here and
there, but not necessarily of the whole "system" of which they were part.
[Incidentally, the functional extension of the Inca empire - not even to mention any
"world-system" - also seems to disconfirm the llama-carried limitations of
Stein's distance-parity model]. Where is the evidence that this or any other major part of
Stein's "models" "provide a much clearer view of the dynamics of
interaction - specifically, how interregional networks function and change over time"
as he claims (p.7) in his comparative rejection of WST?
But where does the Inca Empire/world-system end, as Wells asked about the Roman
Empire/world-system? When Kuznar refers, for instance, to the altercations with the
Mapuches in the south of Chile, he suggests that the Empire ended there, because the
Mapuches never submitted to the Incas. Well, the Mapuches did not submit to the Spaniards
and the Chileans either until they were subdued by settlers, arms, and alcohol in the
mid-nineteenth century. That does not mean that they were not "incorporated" in
a world-system by either the Incas, who perhaps ran out of time, nor the Europeans who
battled with them for three centuries. David Wilkinson (1987, 1993) suggests and Hall
seems to accept that regular[ized] political conflict - especially over economic resources
- between to "groups" ipso facto puts them in the same "world-system."
Wells' - not to mention Feinman's and maybe even Jeske's and Peregrine's - treatment of
"boundary" problems shows that it is not so clear just where to draw that
boundary. Gills and Frank (1991, 1993) and I (Frank 1993) have proposed a number of
operational definitions for empirical establishment of boundaries - but for our world
One of Wallerstein's most confusing and least satisfactory categories are his
"world empire" vs. "world-system." The distinction is not only
confusing, but it has already confused quite a few archaeologists, eg. Greg Woolf (1990)
on the Roman empire/world-system, not to mention some in the present panel/collection. My
own position has all along been not to use this alleged distinction and best to forget
about it altogether. That is not to say that there have been no empires. The issue is
which empire/s and what adjoining [non-imperial] areas and peoples were
structurally/functionally [with apologies to Radcliffe-Brown et all] de facto part and
parcel of what world system? And what difference did/does it make for our understanding of
what happened within any of these empires or other polities [Inca, Rome/ China,
Cahokia/Moundville, Maya/ Oaxaca/ Teotihucan/??? ] and between them and [in] their
What's more, if an outsider may be allowed a couple of [near] closing impertinent
questions, were any pre-Colombian South-, Central/Meso-, North-American
"indigenous" peoples members of the same world system [and would it make any
difference] ? Or did they even participate in any way in a round-the-world-embracing world
system? Betty Meggers and Alice Kehoe might well wish to answer with a loud YES! If so,
did that world "system" have enough coherence and mutual influence between here
and there that we would need to take account of it adequately to account for and
understand what happened either here or there?
Whatever the right answer may be it certainly is not that of Stein when he concludes
that WST sins in "overemphasizing interaction and the global structure of the system,
[and] they ignore or minimize the role of in internal dynamics in the [part] areas they
call 'peripheries'. Second, world system approaches fail to specify ... power
relationships among different polities within the interregional exchange network"
(p.18). The failure is Stein's, not in WST. Fail also must all those archaeologists who -
to their and our peril - ignore or disdain interregional exchange networks out to their
farthest [empirically to be investigated] reaches. Moreover, it is not so much ignoring
the "internal dynamics" of the part/peripheries that will make us miss the power
relationships among - and even within! - different polities. It is ignoring the internal
dynamic of the whole world system that puts our partial analyses at risk of missing an
essential element of the explanation! Feinman grapples with this problem; while Wells,
Kardulias, Peregrine, Jeske, and Alexander seek to elude it. Stein, of course, just
outright denies its existence like an ostrich, but that will not make it go away.
Hall, bless him, regards the 5,000 [plus] years of the world system a la Frank and
Gills (1993) as giving too short shrift to the at least 10,000 years of the "world
system" that Chase-Dunn and he wish to pursue, following in the footsteps of the
Lenskis (1966). More power to them, if they can demonstrate systemic connections, through
which what happened here cannot be understood without taking account of what then or
previously happened there. 10,000 years may be more than we now have evidence for on the
operational definitions proposed and used by Frank and Gills (1993) or Wilkinson (1987) or
indeed Chase-Dunn and Hall themselves. But this is really a case where the absence of
evidence is no evidence of absence. And if we don't look for any evidence, we are unlikely
to find any, or if we find some by accident to understand its potential significance.
Maybe it is a bit too much to ask of WST to guide and bring us to that end, and even
moreso to the next one to which I allude in conclusion blow. However, we can be thankful -
instead of resentful, derogatory, and rejecting - that WST has already done as much as it
has, also for archaeologists. If they will only take off some of their blinders, WST still
has quite a lot more to offer them.
So where should we stop? The late American China historian John King Fairbank (1969)
advised that history must be researched, not forward from the middle, but backward from
the present as far back as the evidence will take us. A fortiori for archaeology and
physical anthropology [and linguistics?]. Migration and intermarriage, yes and perhaps
armed conflict and/or the spread of disease, and certainly changing climactic and
ecological conditions have diffused [no objection to that term!] and mixed up genes,
languages, further aspects of material and other culture, indeed "ethnicities"
since time literally immemorial. Just helter-skelter? Or was there, and can we detect,
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