chapter  4
24 Pages

Four The Itinerary of World-Systems Analysis; or, How to Resist Becoming a Theory

WithImmanuel Wallerstein

The term theory tends to evoke for most people the concept of a set of interconnected ideas that are coherent, rigorous, and clear, and from which one may derive explanations of empirical reality. The term theory however also denotes the end of a process of generalization and therefore of closure, even if only provisional. In the construction of adequate or plausible explanations of complex phenomena, proclaiming that one has arrived at a theory often imposes premature closure on scientific activity, and therefore can be counterproductive. The more complex the reality, the more this tends to be true. What I believe it is often better to do in such cases is to explore empirical reality using spectacles that are informed by theoretical hunches but not bound by them. It is because I believe this is eminently the case in the explanation of historical systems, which are large-scale and long-term, that I have long resisted the appellation of world-systems theory for the kind of work I do, insisting that I was engaged instead in world-systems analysis. This is thus the story of the itinerary and growth of a non-theory, which I call world-systems analysis.