Issue 127, April 2015

Cultural systems, crisis, and entrepreneurship



What is world-systems analysis? Distinguishing theory from perspective

Salvatore Babones

Abstract: World-systems analysis is a well-established but poorly-defined critical research tradition in the social sciences. Its undisputed progenitor, Immanuel Wallerstein, steadfastly maintains that world-systems analysis is not a theory, yet it is widely referred to as such by commentators, critics, and practitioners alike. The resolution to this conundrum is to identify the defining elements of world-systems analysis as a perspective for understanding human society, then to evaluate propositions based on these defining elements as theories that have been conceptualized from a world-systems perspective. In this paper five defining elements of world-systems analysis are identified that together support a central theorem that the core-periphery hierarchy of the modern world-system can best be understood in terms of state strength and cultural integration. A further conjecture is made that the successor world-system to the current capitalist world-economy is more likely to be an American world-empire than the socialist world-government craved by many world-systems analysts.

Discussion of Babones:

Conceptual issues in world-systems analysis

Christopher Chase-Dunn

In defense of being wrong

Nitsan Chorev

Babones’s ‘What is world systems analysis? Distinguishing theory from perspective’: Clearing up the whole question of core, periphery and semi-periphery

Samuel Cohn

Towards a bottom-up view of hegemony in a world-systems perspective

Leslie C Gates

World-systems analysis and theory: A commentary on Babones

Mikhail Balaev

Articles, continued:

The image of crisis: Walter Benjamin and the interpretation of ‘crisis’ in modernity

Willem Schinkel

Abstract: Crisis jargon has become endemic in modernity. Whether in radical or in affirmative versions, the idea that ‘crisis’ offers ‘opportunity’, in accordance with the meaning of crisis as ‘decision’, is widespread. This paper questions the relationship between modernity and crisis, first by highlighting the ways in which modernity itself has been cast as ‘crisis’: first as crisis of tradition, then as crisis of modernity itself. The main part of this paper then consists of a reading of modernity-as-crisis inspired by Walter Benjamin, most notably by his Passagen-Werk. It consists of an attempt to consider ‘crisis’ as what Benjamin calls a ‘wish image’, an image that contains hidden utopian ideals. In invoking ‘crisis’, I argue, a conception of modernity as shock, raised to the level of the collective, becomes apparent. Crisis jargon thereby remains wedded to what Benjamin calls a mythical conception of history. The paper ends with a discussion of the political consequences that follow from this that are grounded in the relation between messianism and profane politics in Benjamin.

The role of agency in sociocultural evolution: Institutional entrepreneurship as a force of structural and cultural change

Seth Abrutyn and Justin Van Ness

Abstract: Inspired by Weber’s charismatic carrier groups, Eisenstadt coined the term institutional entrepreneur to capture the rare but epochal collective capable of reorienting a group’s value-orientations and transferring charisma, while making them an evolutionary force of structural and cultural change. As a corrective to Parsons’ abstract, ‘top-down’ theory of change, Eisenstadt’s theory provided historical context and agency to moments in which societies experienced qualitative transformation. The concept has become central to new institutionalism, neo-functionalism, and evolutionary-institutionalism. Drawing from the former two, a more robust theory of institutional entrepreneurship from an evolutionary-institutionalist’s perspective is posited. In essence, entrepreneurs formulate institutional projects with dual logic: a collective side focused on innovation where efforts are directed towards organizational symbolic mechanisms of integration and a self-interested side directed towards resource independence, monopolization, mobility, and power-dependence. While outcomes vary based on numerous environmental factors, success leads to (1) greater structural/symbolic independence and (2) ability to reconfigure physical-temporal-social-symbolic space.

Really existing socialization: Socialization and socialism in Adorno and Foucault

Deborah Cook

Abstract: The paper begins by comparing Adorno’s and Foucault’s accounts of the normalizing practices that socialize individuals, integrating them into Western societies. In this context, I argue that the animus against socialism can be read as an expression of profound anxiety about the existing socialization of reproduction in the West. In fact, Adorno and Foucault contend that really existing socialization has contained our political imagination to the point where even our ideas about alternatives only conjure up more of the same. Yet Adorno and Foucault do outline what radical social change might look like. Since Foucault linked radical change to the development of a specifically socialist art of government, but offered few clues about what this might mean, the paper also explores Adorno’s work to put more flesh on the idea of a socialist art of government.

The civilizing process – According to Mennell, Elias and Freud: A critique

Harry Redner

Abstract: This article critiques theories of the civilizing process as expounded by its leading expositors: Mennell, Elias and Freud. It begins with a criticism of Stephen Mennell’s book The American Civilizing Process. This book relies on an even more famous work, Norbert Elias’s The Civilizing Process. Unfortunately, Mennell’s otherwise commendable attempt to capture American civilization in its historical scope and sociological complexity is misdirected because Eliasian theory is not applicable to America, as we will show, and, furthermore, offers a dubious account of civilization in general. Elias’s approach is limited above all by its reliance on Sigmund Freud’s doubtful speculations about civilization, as presented in Civilization and its Discontents.

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