Modern History Sourcebook:
Summary of Wallerstein on World System Theory
THE DEVELOPMENT OF A WORLD ECONOMIC SYSTEM
A Summary of Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Academic Press, 1974)
In his book, The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century, Immanual Wallerstein develops a theoretical framework to understand the historical changes involved in the rise of the modern world. The modern world system, essentially capitalist in nature, followed the crisis of the feudal system and helps explain the rise of Western Europe to world supremacy between 1450 and 1670. According to Wallerstein, his theory makes possible a comprehensive understanding of the external and internal manifestations of the modernization process during this period and makes possible analytically sound comparisons between different parts of the world.
Before the sixteenth century, when Western Europe embarked on a path of capitalist development, "feudalism" dominated West European society. Between 1150-1300, both population as well as commerce expanded within the confines of the feudal system. However, from 1300-1450, this expansion ceased, creating a severe economic crisis. According to Wallerstein, the feudal crisis was probably precipitated by the interaction of the following factors:
1. Agricultural production fell or remained stagnant. This meant that the burden of peasant producers increased as the ruling class expanded.
2. The economic cycle of the feudal economy had reached its optimum level; afterwards the economy began to shrink.
3. A shift of climatological conditions decreased agricultural productivity and contributed to an increase in epidemics within the population.
THE NEW EUROPEAN DIVISION OF LABOR
Wallerstein argues that Europe moved towards the...