Link to What's New ThisWeek Andre Gunder Frank

Dear Habermas Logo and Link to Site Index A Justice Site

The World System

Mirror Sites:
CSUDH - Habermas - UWP - Archives

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: May 30, 2004
Latest Update: May 30, 2004

E-Mail Icon

Index of Topics on Site Andre Gunder Frank's World System
This essay is based on Andre Gunder Frank's preface to PREFACE to REORIENT: GLOBAL ECON0MY IN THE ASIAN AGE University of California Press April 1998. I first read Andre Gunder Frank's work in the early 70s when I was at USC. I taught and wrote about his explanation of how we had raped Latin America, and I tried to explain that to Herman Turk, one of my professors, with an engineering background.

Turk had completed a study with the 100 largest cities, or maybe all the cities over 100,000 population, or something like that, and it had been published as a Rose Monograph. As part of my post-doctoral studies at the time, I enthusiastically explained to Turk how his discovery of the need for both local and extralocal organization and integration in the acquisition of resources could serve to explain what Frank was calling the rape of Latin America. I explained it to my students, and gave up doing any more with it, since I didn't have a mentor at USC (they hardly admit to my existence) and I didn't have the slightest idea how to connect to any scholarly groups that might share my interest.

Now, thirty years later, I still teach both Turk's theory, and what he called "mine" to my students. They still get it. And thanks to some research I was doing today on answerability, I came across one of Andre Gunder Frank's latest books. So now I'll try to reconnect and maybe see what Frank thinks about it all.

Frank's book, and I no longer even remember which it was, explained the anger of Central American countires when US companies like United Fruit pulled out. In the demography center at that time, people exclaimed that we could not be said to have raped Latin America, when we left everything, all the factories, machinery, roads, telephone lines, everything, when we left and received no compensation (as I recall.)

Now what Turk had found (oversimplified, sorry) in the city study was that in order to be successful at acquiring resources a city needed to have strong internal organization, AND strong ties to the extralocal source of power. For example, Beverly Hills, a rich school district, was highly organized, structured, knowledgeable. And Beverly Hills had an employee in charge of getting national funding from Washington, D.C. for underprivileged students in it's district. That sounds good. Underprivileged kids need funds. But Comppton, a poor school district about ten miles south of Beverly HiIlls, was dysfunctional locally, with constant turmoil and lack of funds, and so, of course, it had no funds for an employee to build contacts in Washington, D.C. The net result? Beverly Hills got more money at that time for underprivileged kids than did Compton.

Back in the early 70's, when I was studying issues of racial integration in the LA School system, that was a fact that kind of grabbed my attention. It had never occured to me that it wasn't enough to have your game together locally; you had to have contacts with the outside sources of funding, in this case, Washington, D.C., too. That explained some things, like why schools like Stanford and USC had a better shot at funding research than small state colleges. I remember a Stanford professor complaining at an American Sociological Association meeting years later that he started out of graduate school with a half million dollar grant, and lo, these many years later, he couldn't get $50,000 without seed money from his local campus to get the proposal into the fray.

Herm Turk's study seemed like a good place to start to look at why poor school districts get raped, but even Herm didn't see it. He puzzled a little over it, and then told me that must be my theory because he couldn't see any relation to his. Hmmm. So no seed money for my young state college, and I might as well turn to other issues. Maybe Stanford blessed its new professors with some kind of research understanding I just didn't have.

But I did keep on drawing on the theory of a need for integration of local and extralocal resources to capture resources. For example, in any of the United Fruit countries in Central America, there were always strong ties to New Orleans and New York, and maybe to other ports I wasn't aware of. Those ties would have been in telephone communication between the country's main coastal city and the port cities in the US. Strong extralocal ties. There were also strong road and railway connections to the country's main port city, so that the fruit could be shipped for local of growing to the port. So the US built, or the companies built (with tax credits?), somebody built roads and railway lines in the Central American country. So when we left, we left them roads and technology and networks for communication. So what was their problem?

Well, go back and look at where the roads went. They didn't go from small local village A to small local village B to . . . They went from central farm to the port. That's it. No roads to little connecting towns along the way. United Fruit didn't need them. But when the locals tried to run the factories and ports they had chased United Fruit out of, guess what? They didn't have any local connections. And what's the first thing needed to capture resources, any kind of resources? local organization. Then when the locals tried to negotiate the trade of their labor on their own, guess what they didn't have? The connections in the US ports to the people with authority and power to make their trading effective. So guess what? It's not so easy to run corporate assets, even if you seize them and chase away the corporate guys.

So the locals howled - that they'd been raped? Maybe. Seizing the land and the technology didn't give them the skills with which to express their needs and validity claims. And the US corporations didn't understand the need for a good faith attempt at illocutionary discourse and fair governance. I can see how that could be called rape, and so could my students.

So maybe you can see why I've always liked André Gunder Frank. He made things clear that looked a little messy from the schools I went to. And now, there's this relatively new book on the world system. Remember the "New World System" everyone talks about? Well, the theory, historically, is that capitalism and a Europe that was central to progress and achievement was what created the New World System, starting either with 1492 with discovery of the "New World" or around 1800 with industrialization.

Andre Gunder Frank is now challenging that historical time table, suggesting that the world system as we know it did not start over in 1800, or even in 1492, but long, long before that. He says that the world system that has led to this capitalist impasse started not with Europe at its center, but with Asia as its center, long before Europe stripped its gold from the new world and bought into the world system that then existed.

Who cares? We do. Because history is the background against which we understand our social system. If the origin of the world system was in early times in Asia, then what does that say about capitalism as an essential component of the world system?

". . . Braudel and other historians are wrong to have "known" (emphasis added) all along that Europe had formed a world around itself. My above cited critiques show on their own evidence that Europe did not expand to "incorporate" the rest of the world into its "European world-economy/system." Instead, Europe belatedly joined, or at least cemented its previously looser ties with, an already existing world economy and system."

. . .

" If Latin America was colonial it was because it was part and parcel of the world system. Therefore, not only can it make no sense to call it "feudal." It also makes questionable sense to so categorize it at all - even as "capitalist" - other than as a dependent part of the world economy or system. What do we gain by any such "definition," if we can even "define" it at all? Really nothing; indeed this focus on "modes of production" only diverts our attention from the much more importantly defining world system of which everything is a part, as I already argued elsewhere (Frank 1991, 1993, 1996).

In that world economy/system, we can observe "the development of underdevelopment" here and there, then and now. Much of Latin America and Africa are still underdeveloping. However, now we can also observe that "Great" Britain is also underdeveloping. We noted that my son Miguel already observed that in 1978, before Margaret Thacher took over as Prime Minister! Miguel and maybe Mrs. Thacher did not see it for lack of sufficient world systemic hindsight, but in fact we can observe Britain underdeveloping already since the beginning of "The Great Depression" in 1873. How so? Well even with the benefit of Wallerstein's modern-world- system perspective, we can now see that some sectors, regions, countries and their "economies" not only move up, but also move down in their relative and even absolute positions within the world economy and system as a whole. Britain began its decline over a century ago, when its pride of place began to be taken by Germany and North America. They fought two world wars - or one long war from 1914 to 1945 - to dispute who would take Britain's place. Alas for some, today their place in the sun is also being displaced by the "Rising Sun" in East Asia. One of the theses of this book is that these developments should come as no surprise, because parts of East Asia already were at the center of the world economy/system until about 1800. In historical terms, "The Rise of the West" came late and was brief!" Preface to PREFACE to REORIENT: GLOBAL ECON0MY IN THE ASIAN AGE by Andre Gunder Frank.

Discussion Questions

  1. If Turk's thesis on the need for integration of local and extralocal ties to capture resources explained the rape of devloping countries so logically for me, why didn't it make sense to Turk?

    I have no idea. He never explained it to me. BUT, consider that if one accepted his nice demographic thesis as establishing strong evidence for the rape of developing countries, I can think of some conservative circles that could have been unhappy with logical scientific explanations of rape.

  2. Would that mean that Turk was actively qand consciously denying a valid application of his own thesis?

    Consider what Andre Gunder Frank is saying now about the world system. If Europe didn't build a world around itself, and if Europe is now underdeveloping, then we need to rethink all our social theories on the importance of Europe and the West. If you're in Europe or the West, you might not come out as well if we shift our whole paradigmatic thinking on the world system. Same thing on the rape of Latin America. Easier to complain that we gave them everything; what more do they want. And then claim that they're incompetent because they don't get the same results we did when we were there. Oy! Not much fun to think about this stuff. The word complicity keeps cropping up in my mind.

  3. What makes it so hard to break through even when we use solid scientific evidence to illustrate our theories?

    Consider dominant discourse. Dominant discourse is what everybody KNOWS. Everybody KNOWS we didn't rape Latin America. But if there was a world system in which Europe wasn't dominant, then maybe other of our historical interpretations are wrong. Maybe we did rape Latin America.

  4. If Europe is underdeveloping today, would that affect our understanding of jobs that are going abroad, to say, India, for technology, to China, for industrial production, etc.

    Consider that we are told this is all part of our positioning our strong influence in the world system. What if we are underdeveloping? Where and how do we get to discuss this? In the mass media? I don't think so. Where, then?

  5. What does this concern over the origins and development of the world system matter to our system of law?

    Consider who writes the law. Those in positions of power and authority. If large masses of our people no longer have the power of stable work and work-related organizations, how will they have input into changing laws? By governance discourse? What skills are needed for governance discourse? Are we strengthening those skills in our current educational system? Consider that banked education (memorized facts and formulae) are not conducive to governance discourse in which innovative and deeply felt ideas must be expressed. Remember that voice demands learned skills for effective use against usurped authority, or any other power or authority for that matter.

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, May 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.