Will We Know It When We See It? Contemplating Emergent World-Systems


Author: Williams, Gregory P.
Journal: Journal of Globalization Studies. Volume 9, Number 1 / May 2018

DOI: https://doi.org/10.30884/jogs/2018.01.09

With some exceptions, intellectuals in the world-systems tradition trust that the capitalist world-economy will not last forever. Less often discussed is how to identify the system or systems that will replace it. This paper takes up the topic of emergent world-systems by proposing criteria for identifying the end of capitalism and the rise of potential replacements. It does so in three steps. First, it lists two signs marking the conclusion of capitalism, including the end of the endless accumulation of capital and the end of nation-state dominance. Next, this study notes five factors for labeling emergent world-systems, including: (1) the location of boundaries; (2) the exchange of luxury goods; (3) the number of economic and political centers; (4) the presence of inequality; and (5), the character of ecological exploitation. This checklist can help determine whether a world-system is a world-economy, a world-empire, a mini-system, or some kind of unprecedented world-system. And finally, this paper cautions against relying on ideological narratives of a system as well as the labels assigned to workers. Common values may follow the functional formation of a world-system. This paper is also wary of short-term trends, which often prove to be less important than they may initially appear. It concludes by remarking on the role of individuals in shaping the formation of world-systems.

Keywords: capitalism, nation-state, transformation, world-system.