Immanuel Wallerstein: A Personal Tribute by Habibul Haque Khondker

IMG_6617I first saw (but did not dare to talk) Immanuel Wallerstein at the World Sociology Congress in New Delhi in 1986. That’s like more than three decades ago. I was sitting in a hotel lobby with my PhD supervisor John Markoff, who wrote a review of Wallerstein’s The Modern World System (vol 1). Markoff pointed Wallerstein to me. I have known Wallerstein’s name by reputation and read some of his works in the late 1970s while doing my Master at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada where my thesis supervisor Don Whyte was a follower of Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank. Wallerstein’s The Modern World System Vol 1. was published in 1974. Carleton, like many other Universities in North America in the late 70s, was dominated by the Dependency paradigm of Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, Furtado, Cardoso and others. In my Master’s thesis I used aspects of the World System Theories. In the mid-1970s, Wallerstein was teaching at McGill after his tour of duty in West Africa and a teaching stint at Columbia University. Immanuel Wallerstein was not an arm-chair sociologist. He liked to be in the thick of things. During the days of students’ unrest in the late 1960s he was at Columbia University as a junior faculty member supporting the students’ activism. After earning his PhD from Columbia University in 1959, Wallerstein went to Africa to understand the impact of colonialism in Africa. His research output was a book on Ghana and Ivory Coast. Starting as an Africanist and having familiarized himself with deep historical research in the vein of his intellectual guru, Fernand Braudel, Wallerstein developed the world systems framework by building on the Dependency framework and recharging it with a critical reading of Marx. Wallerstein was bold in his observations. While Soviet Union was an avowed socialist state, he refused to accept the possibility of a socialist system within the entrenched world capitalist system. In his world-centric framework, dominated by the logic of capitalism, the existence of other systems was not possible. His prognosis was not short-term, he argued that since capitalism is a historical system, it will decline in the long term, as all historical systems met their demise. But when? He was not sure. And what would replace capitalist system, here too he was not sure that it would be socialism, one possibility is a system yet to be named.

In his world system framework, rather than looking at the nation states, he analyzed the world system as made up of three distinct zones: the core (the developed North), the semi-periphery (in-between, transitional countries) and the periphery, the Global South. The functioning of the world system sometimes creates opportunities for the countries to change their position. Countries once core, for example, Portugal in the 16th century, became semi-periphery, and semi-peripheral countries too can become core in course of time. This flexibility in the world system analysis was deemed more empirically valid. Yet, his analysis was deeply political economic with little space for culture for which he was criticized. Wallerstein brought historical sociology at the center stage earning the respect of professional historians for his scholarly historical analyses. He added a new dimension to the study of social change, rescuing it from ahistorical model building. He established a distinction between Marxism, a political dogma and Marxist scholarship as a critical intellectual weapon. He chose the latter and became its vociferous spokesperson.

I had a conversation with him at the Montreal World Sociology Congress in 1998. Earlier I corresponded with him from time to time. When I asked for his permission to translate some of his popular writings in Bengali, he gave me a hug saying “sure, you have my permission”. To my question, what a young sociologist must do, he said: “read widely and learn languages”. Wallerstein’s magnum opus The Modern World System (in four volumes) has literally thousands of references and footnotes in all major European languages! During my sabbatical leave at Cornell University, in 2002 I also included Binghamton University where he headed the Fernand Braudel Center where I was given an office. I would drive to Binghamton once a week from Cornell to meet him and attend the weekly seminar. His historical knowledge was astounding. I mentioned to him that I wrote a paper in 1987 titled: The World According to Wallerstein, he immediately asked for a copy. I contacted National University of Singapore’s Sociology, my home base at that time, to mail a copy to him. In fact, he sent me several of his papers (published and unpublished) when I was writing that paper in Singapore, which was published as a Working Paper. Wallerstein’s contributions were not limited to historical sociology, he wrote important papers on global politics and international relations. His fortnightly commentaries were incisive and reflected his deep understanding of the global processes. In one of my conversations on the Middle East politics in late 2002, I asked him if Saddam Hussein steps down, will the US invade Iraq? To which, he replied: “Even if Saddam commits suicide on live TV, the US would still invade”. Barely a couple of months later, using the pretext of “weapons of mass destruction” the US forces marched into Iraq as bombs rained in illuminating the sky of Baghdad.

I met him again in Durban at the World Sociology Congress in 2006 where he teamed up in a panel with Samir Amin and Giovanni Arrighi where I asked the panel, almost in exasperation, what should be the position of an unrepentant Marxist scholar in a neo-liberal world where socialism is disappearing or, at best, moribund. The gist of their answer is not to give up hope in the struggle of the working people.

My last meeting with Wallerstein was in Yokohama, Japan in 2014 at the World Sociology Congress, where we chatted for a while and posed for a photograph (snapped by a Japanese sociologist). Wallerstein was once the President of the International Sociological Association where he started a trend of writing a Presidential letter to fellow sociologists. His work on the rise, spread, and possible demise of the capitalist world systems will remain an inspiration to the scholars in historical social sciences. Wallerstein was conscious of the limitations of the “really existing” social sciences living in splendid isolation. He proposed an uni-disciplinary approach that he called historical social science. Had there been a Nobel prize in sociology, he would have been a laureate. A scholar extraordinaire, a public intellectual, and a humane person, Wallerstein will be sorely missed by his colleagues, friends, and students. He was the teacher of an entire generation, a paradigm-builder and an optimist.

Immanuel Wallerstein passed away 28 days shy of his 89th birthday on August 31, 2019. As a global public intellectual, he started writing his commentaries in 1998 and wanted to continue until it reaches the 500th issue, which was published on July 1 2019. In that issue, he wrote: “No one lives forever.” Wallerstein titled the last issue: “This is the end; this is the beginning”. For those whose sociological imaginations were rekindled by his contribution must carry on the torch of knowledge for the emancipation of humanity.

 

Ready to read: our 2019-1 Newsletter is out now!

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this issue!

Nesletter 1-2019

Our new Rc09 Newsletter issue N° 01-2019 is out and you can  find it here: READ NEWSLETTER

Together we collected 30 pages of relevant and current content from the RC09 members to the community interested in research on social transformations and sociology of development.

In this edition, you will find the following:

  • New RC09 initiative
  • Mini-symposium report
  • Member publications
  • Conference reports
  • Upcoming events
  • RC09 sessions at he ISA Forum 2020 in Brazil
  • Announcements

We hope you find interesting and useful information for your work.

Help us sharing the newsletter with your colleagues that might be interested.

Also, remember to follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page.

Send us your contributions for the Newsletter!

Send your newsletter items to rc09editors@gmail.com by May 17, 2019. 

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This Newsletter is a platform to publicize your research and training efforts, to share what you are doing and/or what you have done. These will allow us to create a worldwide network that connects scholars interested in social transformations and sociology of development towards leading to new research opportunities and collaborations.

Please send us abstracts of your new publications, grants, and upcoming conferences. We also encourage you to write a book review or short essay on the topic relevant to RC09 field and also send us your interviews with scholars in your research area. We also welcome academic poster or infographics.

This is a great oportunity to show and share!

#ShareKnowledge #AroundTheWorld

Ready for Brazil 2020?

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In the city of Porto Alegre (Brazil), the IV ISA Forum of Sociology will take place on July 14-18, 2020.

This Forum has the goal to address the discussions and projects around the interconnections and possible solutions over four pressing issues: Democracy, Environment, Inequalities and Intersectionality.

We invite all RC09 scholars to submit session proposals until March 15, 2019, in order to participate in the sessions organized by our committee. Read more in the following link: https://rc09socialtransformations.org/upcoming-events/

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RC09_ISA

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RC09 Newsletter – autumn/winter 2018

Take a look at the latest version of RC09 NewslRC09 newsletter_2018(2)_FRONT_PAGEetter (autumn/winter edition), prepared by our Editor Ilona Wysmułek!

In this edition, you will find the following:

  • Book review, by Jennifer Y.J. Hsu
  • Member publications
  • Special issues
  • New projects
  • Grants and awards
  • Conference reports
  • Announcements

Many thanks to our members who submitted their work for this issue, it wouldn’t be possible without your participation!

 

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RC09_ISA

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Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

 

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We are happy to announce that we have launched our Twitter and Facebook accounts!

In order to maintain closer contact with members of RC09 and scholars interested in social transformations and sociology of development around the world, we are in the social media world!

Our “presence” in social media will help us to reach more people and communicate better about upcoming events and other activities related to the committee and ISA, as well as to engage people in the reflection about pressing issues on the topics of RC09 interest.

Click “Follow” and “Like” to keep you posted about activities, events and opportunities related to social transformations and sociology of development!

 

Elected: RC09 Board 2018-2022

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The RC09 Executive Board 2018-2022 has been elected!
We congratulate Habibul Khondker and Ulrike Schuerkens who continue to be the RC09 Co-Presidents! Rc09 also has a new Secretary/Treasurer Brian Dill and a larger team of website and newsletter editors – Ilona Wysmulek, Almendra Orbegoso, and Devparna N. Roy – honored and excited to serve the RC09 community of scholars! The newly elected board members are Samuel Cohn, Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Tamara Heran Cubillos, Hasan Mahmud, Dieter Neubert and Victor Roudometof.
Looking forward to a fruitful and exciting 4-year period filled with new activities!
Read more about the RC09 Executive Board, its members or join the network.

RC09 Newsletter – spring/summer 2018

RC09 newsletter - spring 2018
We are pleased to publish our Spring/Summer 2018 Newsletter, prepared by the RC09 newsletter editor Zophia Edwards.
This edition contains:
– Remarks from the RC09 Co-Presidents
– Recent RC09 Member Publications
– Book Review
– RC09 Members’ Ongoing Projects and other news
We especially thank our members who contributed to this edition.

Final Program for the ISA Congress 2018 in Toronto – ONLINE

We are pleased to share with you the online program for the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology, which will be held in Toronto, Canada this summer – July 15-21, 2018! You can browse the Program by day, by groups and by person index or you may search for particular presentations by typing key words, an author’s name, or the title. Here is the direct link to the scheduling details of the RC09 sessions and oral presentations.

RC09 sessions – ISA World Congress of Sociology – Online Program

Please note that the RC09 Business meeting will be held on Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:30-19:20. Location: 104D (MTCC NORTH BUILDING).

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Learn More about the RC09 Members

As the Toronto 2018 ISA Congress is approaching, you may want to learn more about its participants. In our last Newsletter issue, we have added a new section – the information about the current research projects and grants of the RC09 members. You can also find references (and sometimes full texts) of the recently published and forthcoming RC09 member publications on this website or in our RC09 Newsletter issues. For the curious ones, we encourage you to see (or remind yourself) the results of a very interesting initiative – the RC09 members’ survey 2016 – prepared by Josh Dubrow. The main goal of this survey is to understand the research interests of RC09 members, their daily life of scholars and attitudes toward the role of ISA RC09 in their lives.

The call for content for the next issue of our Newsletter will be announced soon. Stay tuned!