Lessons from Population Ecology for World-Systems Analyses of Long-Distance Synchrony

Thomas Hall, Peter Turchin
The World System and the Earth System January 4, 2007 PDF


In this chapter we have several objectives. First, we observe that processes within world-systems are often characterized by cycles or waves: chiefdoms cycle, empires rise and fall, and the modern state system undergoes a "power cycle" or "hegemonic sequence." Furthermore, all world-systems "pulsate," that is, expand rapidly, then more slowly, or even contract (Chase-Dunn & Hall 1997). Because spatial waves of expansion/contraction occur across all types of world-systems, such pulsations cannot be rooted in a specific mode of production or mode of accumulation. Rather, these cycles are themselves evidence that polities and world-systems are dynamical systems with various feedback loops. Second, we want to explore the issue of spatial influences and how they interact with various social factors in world-systemic processes, especially the synchronization of cycles across great distances. Third, we suggest some potential empirical tests of these models, and propose that, whether or not these models work, the exploration of them will deepen our understanding of social evolutionary processes. Fourth, we argue that this is not an exercise in reductionism, nor is it an attempt to remove actors from the system model. Rather, it helps clarify how structures change, how they constrain behaviors, and conversely, how behaviors can act on those evolutionary processes.
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