Immanuel Wallerstein was one of the most influential social theorists of recent decades. His approach to world history, which he called the “world-system perspective,” had a wide and deep impact throughout the social sciences and humanities.
Wallerstein was born in New York City on September 28, 1930. He earned his B.A. (1951), M.A. (1954), and Ph.D. (1959) at Columbia University, where he taught until 1971. Columbia housed outstanding intellectuals such as Karl Polanyi, Lionel Trilling, Richard Hofstadter and C. Wright Mills. Wallerstein’s intellectual development reached from New York City to Paris, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. While in Paris he became familiar with the work of the Annales School, a legacy of Fernand Braudel. He also worked with Georges Balandier, sociologist, anthropologist and ethnologist who focused on African colonialism. Though there have been many other contributors, Immanuel Wallerstein was the major founder of the world-system perspective. His outstanding work as a historical sociologist and a public intellectual demonstrate that social theory is not only for academics. His work is being carried on in several institutional contexts by younger generations of world-system scholars and global justice activists. The struggle continues.