Immanuel Wallerstein 1930 – 2019

One of the most astute thinkers of our time has left us. Immanuel Wallerstein died at the age of 88 on 31 August 2019. Read the obituary of Hannes Hofbauer for Promedia Verlag.

Promedia Verlag is mourning the loss of a groundbreaking author with whose publications it has been involved for decades.

Wallerstein came from a German-Jewish family; his parents emigrated in the 1920s from Berlin to the US where Immanuel was born on 28 September 1930. Among other disciplines, he studied sociology, history, political science, and, with Paul Lazarsfeld, sociology.

He will take his place in the pantheon of great thinkers as the co-founder of world-systems theory.  As such, Wallerstein became, in the exact sense of the phrase, an interpreter of the world in that he saw the formation of economically central regions and the peripheries dependent on them as necessarily connected. Or, in other words, he succeeded in converting the philosophical recognition of simultaneity into real economic relations on a world scale. In so doing he rejected the prevailing neoclassical and Marxist theories of modernisation as well as postmodern approaches.

His four-volume magnum opus, The Modern World-System, is a history of capitalism from its beginnings in the sixteenth century to the intellectual and ideological bases of globalisation in the twentieth.

Alongside his scholarly work, Wallerstein was always a politically engaged person. The first consequences of this was when he gave up his well-paid lecturer position at Columbia University in 1971 and had to go to Canada as a professor of sociology because he sympathised with the students’ anti-Vietnam War protests. Five year later he returned to the US and remained at Binghamton University in New York State until he retired as an emeritus professor. In addition, for many years he directed the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilizations and intermittently served as Directeur d’études associé at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
In the 1980s he toured the world together with André Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, Silviu Brucan, and others in the framework of the United Nations University, providing generations of students with a tool for critiquing capitalism in naming the process of capital accumulation as the decisive cause of regional disparities and social inequities in the world-system.

We will miss Immanuel Wallerstein. On July 1st, for reasons of age, he had to terminate his biweekly blog, in which he analysed current flashpoints from a world-system angle, after its 500th commentary (This is the end; this is the beginning). His foundational works, however, which were published in many languages, have retained their great explanatory power. At Promedia Verlag we regard it as our honourable duty to build on them.

Hannes Hofbauer for Promedia Verlag
Vienna, 2 September 2019

Immanuel Wallerstein’s most influential publications – an incomplete selection

The Modern World-System IV. Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914. Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press 2011.

The Modern World-System I. Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press 2011 [1974].

The Modern World-System II. Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy 1600–1750. Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press 2011 [1980].

The Modern World System III. The Second Era of Great Expansion of the Capitalist World-Economy 1730–1840s. Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press 2011 [1989].

European Universalism. The Rhetoric of Power. New York: The New Press 2006.

(ed.) The Modern World-System in the Longue Durée. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers 2005.

The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press 2001.

After Liberalism. New York: The New Press 1995.

with Etienne Balibar: Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso 1992.

with Samir Amin/ Giovanni Arrighi/ Andre Grunder Frank: Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World-System. New York: Monthly Review Press 1990.

Africa and the Modern World. Trenton: Africa World Press 1986.