On Global Social Mobility, or How Kondratieff Waves Change the Structure of the Capitalist World System

Author: Norkus, Zenonas
Almanac: Kondratieff waves:Cycles, Crises, and Forecasts


According to Nikolai Kondratieff's close friend, great Russian-American soci-ologist Pitirim Sorokin, social mobility means a change in social position of persons and groups. The change of positions of countries in the World System (WS) is one of the many varieties of social mobility. The paper discloses the implicit connection between the research agendas of Kondratieff and Sorokin, using dependency theory and Immanuel Wallerstein's WS analysis as the inter-face. Classical dependency theory claims the polarization of the WS into centre and periphery. Wallerstein asserts the existence of the stable semiperiphery as the ‘middle class’ of the WS. Drawing on the findings of the recent empirical research grounded in relational data and applying network analysis, this paper claims that the number of intermediate positions between the core and ultimate periphery in the WS is not stable. It grows with each new Kondratieff wave. This means that long economic cycles not only provide opportunities of upward mobility or threats of downward mobility for individual countries, but change the ‘hierarchy ladder’ itself. In the WS core and upper tier semiperiphery countries, the quantitative expansion of the ‘new middle class’ did not abolish the divide or mobility barriers between the top capitalist elite and those described as the ‘we are the 99 %’ by the activists of the Occupy movement. Drawing upon the Weberian concepts of opportunity closure and usurpation as key mechanisms of class building, I argue that the division between CWS core and the Rest will persist, accompanied by the growth of the number of countries occupying intermediate positions in the WS along with the multiplication of these structural positions themselves. The number of these positions increases according to formula MSP=N-2, where MSP stands for ‘middle structural position’, and N is the order number of current Kondratieff wave (as of 2016, N=5). Instead of unconditional convergence, the future of the WS harbours the increase in numbers of countries stuck in the ‘middle income trap’.

Keywords: World System analysis, Capitalist World System (CWS), Kondratieff waves, social stratification, neo-Marxian class theory, neo-Weberian class theory, closure, usurpation, social mobility, mega-classes in the World System, core, semicore, semiperiphery, strong periphery, weak periphery.