Changing Economic History and Unchanging Development Theories: Can World Systems Theory Survive a Past That Is Continually Being Re-Written?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Samuel COHN, Texas A&M University, TX, USA, Texas A and M University, USA
There is a tendency in development sociology to view all theoretical advancement as coming from recent economic and sociological changes. Such discourse carries the implicit assumption: “We Understood the Past Perfectly Well – So Our Theories of the Past Are Practically Perfect. The Only Challenge Out Theories May Face Come From Late Breaking Recent Empirical Developments.” Unfortunately, the historical profession does not stand still – and new data continuously emerge about older realities that suggest that our former theoretical constructions do not even fit the old data terribly well.

     This paper addresses the adequacy of world systems theory as an explanation of global disparities in development. The paper addresses the following “inconvenient” changes in the historical narrative:

1)      Jeffrey Williamson’s discovery of a positive correlation between low commodity prices and SUCCESSFUL rather than failed industrialization.

2)      Dieter Senghaas’s discovery of the economic advantages of core nations stemming from agricultural rather than manufacturing exports

3)      Jonathan DiJohn’s discovery of the positive relationship between latifundism and national capacity to confront international capital and create nationalist development

4)      Wallerstein’s own treatment of the failure of Hapsburg Spain – which undercuts most traditional of the developmentalist arguments made by world system theorists

     World systems theory can actually survive all of these inconvenient empirical formulations – but it requires a new series of propositions about the relationship of global economic relations of domination to national economic growth. I conclude by presenting an initial version of what such a revisionist world systems theory might look like.