The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, with a New Prologue - Vol. 1

The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, with a New Prologue - Vol. 1

The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, with a New Prologue - Vol. 1

The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, with a New Prologue - Vol. 1

Synopsis

Immanuel Wallerstein's highly influential, multi-volume opus, The Modern World-System, is one of this century's greatest works of social science. An innovative, panoramic reinterpretation of global history, it traces the emergence and development of the modern world from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.

Excerpt

The Modern World-System was published in 1974. It was actually written in 1971–1972. I had some difficulty finding a publisher for it. The book was about the sixteenth century, and it dealt with a virtually unknown topic: a world-economy, spelled deliberately with a hyphen. It was long, and it had an enormous number of substantive footnotes. When it appeared, one less than friendly reviewer complained that the footnotes crawled up and down the page. Finally, Academic Press, and its then scholarly consulting editor, Charles Tilly, decided to take a chance by putting it in their new social science series.

When it appeared, its reception surprised everyone, and in particular both the publisher and the author. It received favorable reviews in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (on the front page) and in the New York Review of Books. In 1975, it received the award of the American Sociological Association for the best scholarly publication. At that time, the award was called the Sorokin Award. The award was so unexpected that I was not even present at the session at which the award was announced. The book was rapidly translated into a large number of other languages. It sold remarkably well for a scholarly monograph. By any measure, it was a success.

However, it also turned out right away that it was a highly controversial book. The book received wonderful plaudits, but it also was the subject of vigorous denunciations, and the latter came from many different camps. Writing thirty-seven years after the initial publication, I believe it is worth reviewing the critiques. What were their sources? How well have the critiques survived? What do I think myself today of the validity of the critiques? How have these critiques influenced the succeeding volumes?

I should note at the outset one particular subtext of the critiques. I was professionally a sociologist. This book seemed to many to be a book of economic history. Sociologists were not presumed, at least in the early 1970s, to be interested in writing about the sixteenth century or about matters with which economic historians dealt. Historians, on the other hand, were wary of intruders coming from other university disciplines, especially if they relied, as I did, almost entirely on so-called secondary sources. Furthermore, the book dealt centrally with global spatial relations, and this was supposed to be the purview of geographers. And finally, among the early enthusiasts for the book was an unexpected group: some archaeologists. So, I seemed to be defying the categories that at that time defined scholarly work, and not to fall into the usual boxes enshrined in the structures of knowledge.

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