prediction and the world system

Xxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx at
Sun Apr 29 18:14:15 MDT 2001

On the issue of prediction and the evolution of world system, W comments as

bye, Xxxx


Journal of World-Systems Research: Volume 1, Number 19, 1995


The Modern World-System and Evolution

***Hence, I suppose one cannot even begin to discuss  a concrete
"evolution" without enunciating an epistemological stance. Let me therefore
do that. I believe that what social scientists study is the evolution of
historical systems. Since these entities
are both systemic (lowlife) and historical (aleatory), it follows that
neither of the two meanings of evolution  is satisfactory for my purposes.
Rather, I believe  that all historical systems do evolve in the second
sense, that is, that their historical trajectories are  inscribed in their
structures - but only up to a point. And this point is in some sense truly
a point, or almost. That is to say, since all structures have inherent
contradictions (or rather are contradictory),  it follows that over time,
the *evolution* of the structure reaches a *point* where it is no longer
possible to make necessary adjustments to the structures and so the
paralyzing effects of the contradictions will no longer be contained.

When such a point is reached, further evolution ceases to be explained by
the structure; it becomes aleatory. The fluctuations are wild or at least
wilder; the impact of minor inputs  become major in consequence, and there
is a bifurcation, resulting in a new system. But the emerging structure of
this new system is *NOT* PREDICTABLE and is in no way inscribed in the
structure of the historical system out of which it is emerging and which
has become inviable. It follows that there are NO GENERAL RULES about human
evolution,  or the evolution of human social structures, except perhaps at
a very abstract and not very meaningful level. For example, it might
perhaps be argued that there is a multimillenial trend towards more complex
historical systems (though even at this vague level I would be cautious),
but this tells us little about the successive structures of historical
systems, and nothing at all about future ones. In any case, there is NO
empirical basis for any suggestion of historical progress as INEVITABLE or
even as an adequate description of past history.

This epistemological stance having been asserted, but to be sure not argued
here,<1>  we can proceed to discuss what might be meant by the evolution of
the modern world-system. I consider it important to distinguish three
processes in the historical life of
any system: its genesis; its relatively long period of normal functioning;
and its demise (the result of bifurcation), which can also be thought of as
the period of transition to a new historical system or systems. It is only
about the period of normal functioning that it seems useful to apply the
term evolution, and it is to this period that I shall restrict the

The modern world-system is by no means the only historical system that has
existed; it is not even the only *world*-system. But it has been a very
particular type of historical system, unlike any other that we have
heretofore known. It is a world-economy, to be sure not the first ever, but
the only one that survived long enough to institutionalize a capitalist
mode of production, and as a result the only  world-economy (indeed the
only world-system) that has ever succeeded in expanding its outer
boundaries to
encompass the entire globe. It has transformed itself from being much *a*
world to becoming the historical  system of *the* world.

It shares two features with every other historical system. It has an axial
division of labor whose effective "stretch" defines its boundaries,
boundaries which are flexible and can therefore expand(and contract). That
is to say, the boundaries evolve.
And it functions by means of a mixture of cyclical  rhythms (the repetitive
fluctuations which allow us to call it a system) and secular trends (the
transforma- tional vectors which allow us to call it historical).

What defines the specificity of the modern world-system,  the element which
makes it different from all other historical systems, is the primacy of the
drive for the *endless* accumulation of capital.  Of course, most
historical systems accumulate capital in some way. But only the capitalist
world-economy has made the accumulation of capital the prime mover. We are
not talking of a *psychological* drive, although of course *some*
individuals may have internalized this objective as such. The system is
constructed such that there are structural pressures to accumulate capital
and to accumulate it endlessly. Its panoply of institutions function in
ways to significantly reward  those who accumulate capital and to punish
those whodo not. Furthermore, the strength of these pressures has
constantly increased over time, which may be termed the  steady
intensification of the capitalist nature of the  modern world-system.
However, even in earlier periods, the strength of the pressures was already
sufficient to keep the system on track in the face of internal forces which
sought to alter its nature or prevent its further development***.

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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