Globalization or the Age of Transition?

A Long-Term View of the Trajectory of the World-System

Immanuel WallersteinBinghamton University


Globalization is a misleading concept, since what is described as globalization has been happening for 500 years. Rather what is new is that we are entering an `age of transition’. We can usefully analyze the current world situation using two time frames: 1945 to the present and circa 1450 to the present.

The period since 1945 has been one long Kondratieff cycle, with an A-phase that ran through 1967-76 and a B-phase ever since. The economic and political developments of the last 50 years are easy to place within this framework. The period from 1450 to the present is the long history of the capitalist world-economy, with its secular trends all reaching critical points. This article analyzes the long-term rise in real wage levels, in costs of material inputs of production and of levels of taxation, the combination of which has been creating constraints on the possibilities of capital accumulation. The long history of the antisystemic movements and their structural failures has led to a serious decline in the legitimacy of state structures which is threatening to subvert the political pillars of the existing world-system.

For all these reasons, the modern world-system is in structural crisis and has entered into a period of chaotic behavior which will cause a systemic bifurcation and a transition to a new structure whose nature is as yet undetermined and, in principle, impossible to predetermine, but one that is open to human intervention and creativity.

wallersteinImmanuel Wallerstein is an American sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst, arguably best known for his development of the general approach in sociology which led to the emergence of his World Systems Theory



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