This essay focuses on two related “radical theories” of development, dependency and world-systems theory, and shows how they emerged as a critique partly of modernization theory and of the development strategy of import substitution industrialization. The dependency and world-systems perspectives on development were very influential among radical development theorists from the late 1960s onwards, all of whom agreed that capitalism had to be theorized as a world-system. These include Andre Gunder Frank, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Theotonio Dos Santos, Walter Rodney, Samir Amin, Arghiri Emmanuel, and Immanuel Wallerstein. Some “stronger” versions of dependency, associated with underdevelopment and world-systems theory, have been introduced in recent years. In particular, A. G. Frank proposed the idea that development and underdevelopment are two sides of the same coin. A more nuanced approach to understanding dependency suggested that development and dependence were in some respects compatible. Wallerstein’s world-systems theory has spawned another approach called world-systems analysis. As theories, the ideas associated with both dependency and the world-systems are problematic, failing, for example, to adequately explain the origins of the capitalist world economy. However, both theories remain useful for understanding the current global order. In addition to recognizing that capitalism can in some respects be regarded as a world-system, the two approaches correctly assume that neoliberalism reinforces hierarchies by undermining the capacities of states to shift out of low value production into higher value sectors, as shown by historical patterns of manufacturing.
The relationship between diplomacy and revolution is often intertwined with the broader issue of the international dimensions of revolution. Diplomacy can offer important insights into both the historical evolution of world order and its evolving functional and normative needs. In other words, the most important dimension of diplomacy, beyond its concrete symbolic and pragmatic operational value, is its very existence as raison de système. A number of scholarly works that explore the link between revolution and the international arena have given rise to a minority subfield of scholarly research and debate which is particularly vibrant and plural. Three basic lines of research can be identified: case studies undertaken by historians and area studies scholars that focus on the international dimensions surrounding particular revolutions; comparative political studies that address the international implications of revolutions by departing from a more comprehensive theoretical framework but still based in comprehensive case studies; and more theoretically comprehensive literature which, in addition to careful case studies, aims to provide a general and far-reaching explanatory theoretical framework on the relationship between revolution and long-term historical change from different perspectives: English school international theory, neorealism, world systems analysis, postmarxism, or constructivism. In a context of growing inequality and global exploitation, the international dimension of revolutions is receiving renewed attention from scholars using innovative critical theoretical approaches.
World-systems theory is a multidisciplinary, macro-scale approach to world history and social change which emphasizes the world-system as the primary (but not exclusive) unit of social analysis. “World-system” refers to the inter-regional and transnational division of labor, which divides the world into core countries, semi-periphery countries, and the periphery countries. Though intrinsically geographical, world-systems perspectives did not receive geographers’ attention until the 1980s, mostly in economic and political geography. Nevertheless, geographers have made important contributions in shaping world-systems perspectives through theoretical development and critique, particularly in the understanding of urban processes, states, and geopolitics. The world-systems theory can be considered as a sub-discipline of the study of political geography. Although sharing many of the theories, methods, and interests as human geography, political geography has a particular interest in territory, the state, power, and boundaries (including borders), across a range of scales from the body to the planet. Political geography has extended the scope of traditional political science approaches by acknowledging that the exercise of power is not restricted to states and bureaucracies, but is part of everyday life. This has resulted in the concerns of political geography increasingly overlapping with those of other sub-disciplines such as economic geography, and, particularly, with those of social and cultural geography in relation to the study of the politics of place.
International relations and history are inextricably linked, and with good reason. This link is centuries old: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, one of the very earliest and one of the very greatest historical works of all time, is widely regarded as the founding textbook of international relations. Still, those two disciplines are legitimately separate. A somewhat clear boundary between them can probably be drawn around three lines of demarcation: (1) past versus present, (2) idiographic versus nomothetic, and (3) description versus analysis. The utility of history for the analysis of international affairs has been taken for granted since time immemorial. History is said to offer three things to international relations scholars: (1) a ready source of examples, (2) an opportunity to sharpen their theoretical insights, and (3) historical consciousness, that is, an understanding of the historical context of human existence and a corresponding ability to form intelligent judgment about human affairs. This tradition continued well after international relations firmly established itself as a recognized separate discipline some time after World War II, and would remain virtually unchallenged until the 1960s. Since the 1960s, attitudes toward history have diverged within the international relations community. Some approaches, most notably the English school and the world system analysis, have almost by definition thriven on history. History plays a fundamental role in the critical-constructivist approach, while realist scholars continue to draw regularly on history. History is far less popular, though not absent from works belonging to the liberal-idealist approach. Postmodernism is the one approach that is almost completely antithetical to the analytical use of history. Postmodernists have characterized history as merely another form of fiction and question the existence of objective truth and transhistorical knowledge. One cannot exclude the possibility that postmodernism is correct in this respect; however, it is highly unlikely that uncountable generations of people have been victims of mass deception or mass psychosis regarding the utility of history, not least in the analysis of international relations.
José da Mota-Lopes
The current scholarship on European colonialism may be divided into two approaches: colonial studies, sometimes referred to as a political-economy approach, and postcolonial studies, also known as “postcolonialism” or “subaltern studies.” Whereas the field of colonial studies appeared with the emergence of colonialism, the second emerged with decolonization, the national liberation armed struggles, and the political, formal, or institutional collapse of colonialism. The two approaches became or appeared as protests against very similar circumstances and critically complemented one another, but they soon tended to follow parallel and very different trajectories. Three basic conceptual references offer important insights not only about the geostrategic, historical, and socioeconomic trajectories of colonialism but also on its cultural evolvement and its present consequences: colonial encounter, colonial situation, and colonial legacy. In addition, the field of colonial or postcolonial studies today may give rise to three major evolvements in the near future. The first consists in the recovery of what started to be the initial subject matter of postcolonialism. The second arises from the requirement of a return to the political, historical, and economic origins of postcolonialist studies. Finally, it will perhaps be at the point of conjunction of world-systems analysis with postcolonial studies that a fundamental problem affecting our world will find the beginning of a possible solution. The combined application of world-systems analysis and postcolonial studies is a promising intellectual instrument for confronting the in-depth influence of Eurocentrism or Euro-American universalism in the current practice and teaching of the social sciences.
David O. Wilkinson
The study of comparative civilization raises a variety of questions; for example, how “civilization” is related to “culture,” what criteria shall be used to distinguish one civilization from another, or whether the past of civilizations can tell us anything about the future of our global civilization. One way to approach these elements of the comparative-civilizational problematique is by analyzing the successive theses of notable workers in the field, from Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Marco Polo to Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, Ibn Khaldun, Giambattista Vico, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The works of Hegel and four other scholars—Nikolai Danilevsky, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, and Pitirim Sorokin—are considered classics in the study of macrosocial systems. More recent studies of macrosocial systems that deserve consideration are those by André Gunder Frank and Barry Gills; Christopher Chase-Dunn and Thomas Hall; Carroll Quigley; Matthew Melko; and Samuel P. Huntington. The “civilizations” and “world-systems” approaches to macrosocieties are both strongly concerned to explain political conditions like hegemony and rivalry, general war, and general peace. Thus, it would be useful to concentrate on the political–military–diplomatic foci of both approaches. A key to making comparative-civilizational research more systematic is to identify the spatio-temporal boundaries of civilizations as complex systems with particular locations in space and time.