Accessibility statement

World‎ Systems / Systems of the World

Organiser: Claire Westall, English and Related Literature 


Our world is often conceptualised and examined via large, complex and interconnected systems, many of which are global in scale – whether these are the development of capitalist modernity; mechanisms for trade and monetary exchange; mutating political structures; or ecological/environmental transformations. This research strand seeks to establish an interdisciplinary research group that will investigate World Systems/Systems of the World (WSSW) from a number of comparative and integrated methodological perspectives, bringing together interested parties in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences – at York and beyond. It will explore intersecting and/or competing methodologies used within and across disciplinary boundaries to theorise, explain and challenge complex and complicated systems, including systems that are global in scale and consequence.

Here ‘World Systems’ derives from the work of Immanuel Wallerstein, the sociological and socio-historical intellectual who tracks, explores and seeks to explain capitalist modernity from its development in the sixteenth century onwards. Wallerstein began his career by working on post-independence affairs in Africa, influenced by dependency theory, and since the 1970s has become a crucial critical commentator on the development, expansion, and form of capitalist modernity. His primary areas of expertise are: the historical development of the modern world-system; the contemporary capitalist world-economy; and structures and systems of knowledge. His key publications in these areas have been published and republished across the last three decades and include: The Modern World-System (4 vols.); The Decline of American Power; After Liberalism; Utopistics, or Historical Choices for the Twenty-first Century; and Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth-Century Paradigms. He is also a prominent socio-cultural and economic commentator, and has recently published pieces on the US defeat in Iraq and the importance of the Occupy Wall Street Protest.

Several key points of interest arise from Wallerstein’s work and legacy that draw attention to potential research links between literary and cultural world systems, systems theory and complexity studies:

  • A fundamental concern with the shift away from dependency theory to more complicated economic patterns/models/modes of analysis that still retain a recognition of uneven/unequal distribution across core, semi-peripheral and peripheral spaces and peoples.
  • A concern with the forms of socio-economic unevenness that can be physically mapped and theorised through understandings of place and space as offered by urban geographers and others.
    Connections between complicated and complex but map-able economic and cultural patterns that require a trans-disciplinary approach to the analysis of their heterogeneous parts.
    A need to develop a dialogue across literary-cultural and scientific modes of analysis that are concerned with complex and other systems.
  • A move towards large data sets, a theorisation of complex and multi-aspect world systems, and the means to link such thinking to cultural discussions of inequalities and their representations.

If ‘World Systems’ refers explicitly to thinking derived from Wallerstein’s legacy then ‘Systems of the World’ captures other types of systems and thinking about systems, including that which is linked to concerns with ecology, climate change, political patterns/changes, and transnational economic shifts.

WSSW wants to think about how we think about systems.

Events held

Postgraduate workshop and public lecture on postcolonial ecocriticism by Associate Professor Elizabeth DeLoughrey (UCLA)

Associate Professor Elizabeth DeLoughrey of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) joined us in York on 1st July 2014 for a postgraduate workshop and a public talk.

Resources of Resistance: Production, Consumption, Transformation

The Biennial Postcolonial Studies Association (PSA) Postgraduate and Early Career Conference held on 24 July 2014

Neoliberalism, Crisis and the World System

World System/Systems of the World began in June 2012 with Professor Wallerstein’s visit and guest lecture at York, and the World Systems Research Day that followed.

These 2012 events were co-organised with University of Warwick, University College Dublin and University of Middlesex.

For more information about Immanuel Wallerstein see:

For more information and academic articles and papers within world systems analysis see the Journal of World Systems Research.