Bill Robinson, 2/18
I read the “intellectual identity statement” and here are my own thoughts: I was concerned that the two key defining features of our section – political-economy and world-systems analysis – are actually not even mentioned in the statement. As it reads now it would seem the section is abandoning any specificity to world-systems analysis and to political-economy – yet these are the very raison d’etre of the section and what distinguishes it from Transnational and Global as well as comparative sociology sections. I understand the need to attract more members, especially from the younger generation of scholars, but at the expense of the core identity of the section?
Tom Reifer, 2/18
On the identity statement, I very much agree with Bill; there ought to be some mention of world-systems analysis and political-economy; otherwise, what’s the rationale for the section? I have long felt that there was an important need to deal with issues of race, class, gender and nation in the section more; but I don’t believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Sam Cohn, 2/18
Bill Robinson makes a cogent question that touches the essence of the current debate about the future of PEWS.
I believe both the mission statement as currently rewritten AND Bill Robinson both offer approaches with a great deal of merit.
I want to clarify and praise the merits of both approaches in the hope that a technical solution that allows for the strong points of both to be combined.
1) The Case for the Official Rewritten Mission Statement
The most largest and most robust sections of ASA are those which have a dependent variable but no particular commitment to an independent variable.
Social Psychology. Criminology. Population.
These sections have bullet-proof insurance against changes in intellectual style and changes in preferred methodologies and theory.
If it were to turn out that astrological sign is the key variable that predicts personality, criminal behavior and fertility, with massive empirical support and sound theories to embrace these new findings, all three of the sections could embrace the new astrologers and keep on rolling without the slightest pause.
This is in contrast to the vulnerability of sections that “bet the house” on one theory.
The Rational Choice section is not doing well given the waning of interest in that approach.
Had Global and Comparative Sociology gone all in on the “world culture” approach of its founders – it would probably be in deep trouble today.
In sociology theories evolve with massive transformations every twenty years.
A section in principle needs to be designed to accomodate new frameworks.
Following this logic, the most robust section ASA could have would be a section called “Macrosociology”.
2) The Case for Bill Robinson’s Protest
PEWS has historically defied the logic of argument 1) with dramatic and consistent success.
It has been around now for close to fifty years
And has survived many intellectual transformations in macrosociology.
NO OTHER SECTION IN ASA MACROSOCIOLOGY HAS SUCH A PROVEN TRACK RECORD OF GENERATING NEW INNOVATIVE AND IMPORTANT WORK IN MACRO
CONSISTENTLY REINVENTING ITSELF EVERY DECADE.
Success is a hard thing to argue with.
Returning to World Systems Foundations and returning to a commitment to innovative Neo-Marxism has been the key to what has made PEWS great.
PEWS has other issues over and above the mission statement.
Many of these are addressed in the “new strategy for growth” and are addressed well.
In my own opinion, as Sam Cohn, just speaking as one guy, the number one problem PEWS has had has been closed single topic annual conferences and closed single topic sessions at ASA.
Unless a new scholar is doing EXACTLY what work is being asked for in the call for papers, they are totally excluded.
This excludes a lot of people doing new and innovative work , much of which is legitimately world-systemic in nature.
Having the “next great scholar” always going to some other section in the early stages of their careers, means that other section and not PEWS commands their life-long loyalty.
This is a big deal.
Open sessions and general panels that are open to innovative work of all kinds are great for bringing new talent into the door.
The Mission Statement does need to be made more inclusive.
PEWS participation opportunities need to be opened up.
I suspect the participation opportunities will have a bigger impact
But I think it is not hard to take the very strong currently rewritten mission statement, (and I mean that about being very strong), and add a modest nudge in the direction of the support of world systems theory.
Ultimately, it depends on the human beings associated with the section.
If we as individuals decide to be flexible, be welcoming do outreach, and give young scholars microphone time, PEWS will grow.
If we as individuals decide to be rigid, ration opportunities, make our activities highly exclusionary and silence young scholars for being off-topic,
PEWS will shrink.
People’s willingness to encourage and include young scholars,
And make targeted one on one outreach to people who should be brought into the section — This will be the critical factor that makes the difference here.
Eric Mielants, 2/18
As the sociologist organizing the 2018 Annual PEWS conference in CT, I agree 100% with the statements made by Sam Cohn and Bill Robinson.
Other than a mission statement modification to be more inclusive, we also need careful planning of our future annual PEWS conferences: regional variation, topical variation, interdisciplinary variation (it need not be a sociologist’s exclusive domain) and a good mix of PhD students as well as tenure track and tenured scholars at said conferences. We need to schedule some of these well ahead of time.
Case in point: who will organize the 2019 PEWS conference and where? It’s something that should be resolved soon so it can be announced at the April 2018 conference in CT. Without commitments to host our own annual conferences (beyond ASA panels), the interest in our section may also decrease.
Saskia Sassen, 2/18
i agree with Bill and with TReifer….
WE might want to expand the range , how to put it, of geographic
borderings –it is not only national states, but also the rise of strong
bordered geographies inside the geography of a sovereign country… not
sure i explain myself (it is a subject i am very interested in
John Bellamy Foster, 2/18
My response to the intellectual identity statement is the same as Bill Robinson’s. It is an odd statement, which might be summed up by saying PEWS IS to be distinguished from sociology as a whole only by its greater emphasis on the global and historical, i.e., it is simply global and historical sociology, along numerous dimensions. Nearly everything that has distinguished PEWS historically in terms of political economy and world-systems analysis is missing. I was particularly struck by the reference to “power relations within and between societies” because it almost seems to preclude the world-system as a level of analysis.
It is important for PEWs to be welcoming to diverse perspectives, old and new, that will extend is core reach. The references to “class, race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship, etc.” and to the environment are thus important. But building the power and range of PEWS’s analysis, and emphasizing the breadth of its commitments, should not mean abandoning what made PEWS—and continues to make it today—a revolutionary contribution to sociology on a world scale, derived from its paradigm-shaking focus on the political economy of world systems as its core. Otherwise its name should be changed simply to Global Sociology, in which case it will become simply another amorphous competitor among an increasingly diffuse and undifferentiated set of sections.
Elson Boles, 2/18
I agree with the critiques of my colleagues of the statement (below). It and some responses make one wonder if world-systems analysis is understood.
For one, it’s not a “theory” (not one person’s theory); it’s a perspective of analysis. We critique the modern social sciences (though we’re housed in one), not least of all, the idea that countries are “societies.” We argue that the units of analysis of “society” are indeed historical, but we DO NOT contend, that the “processes” (as claimed in the statement) are necessarily “global.” None of the societies in the past were even close to global in scale, only ours, though yes, there were relevant global developments, e.g. the spread of humankind. Unfortunately we’re called “world-systems” analysis, but it could just as well be called “historical societies” or “world-systems and mini-systems” or even more precisely, “bands, tribes, chiefdoms, agrarian states (world-systems), and world-economies (world-systems). I acknowledge that this taxonomy is not fixed and immutable. Indeed, we should acknowledge that even the aspects of the societies we study, including what we call “political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological processes” and “class, race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, etc.” are themselves historical products of the world-system that we live in and that we use to resist its inequalities. This is not a theory, it’s a perspective or approach to critical analysis. Reference is needed to this fact, and how we differ from the social sciences on the units of analysis, with GREAT care given to how the word “societies” is used. But the last two sentences are spot on.
“The Section on Political Economy of The World-System (PEWS) seeks to understand political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological processes as fundamentally entwined and constituted by their global and historical context. This means understanding the dynamic relationship between “local” and “global” processes, whether historical or contemporary, as both patterned and historically contingent. A strength of PEWS research is its diverse epistemological, theoretical, and methodological approaches to understanding how inequalities of various kinds (e.g. class, race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, etc.) and at various levels are shaped by power relations within and between societies. The section seeks to facilitate communication, expand networks, and provide a forum for intellectual exchange and debate among kindred sociologists, scholars, and teachers. We welcome members with wide-ranging substantive interests in world historical perspectives, and are strongly committed to promoting a diverse membership.”
Tom Reifer, 2/18
Saskia makes an excellent point with which I
very much agree; Wally Goldfrank used to speak
of layers within layers; today, perhaps even more
so, borders within borders; including invisible borders.
Matthew Mahutga, 2/18
This is an incredibly valuable conversation that will have more impact of it takes place in the forum we created for this purpose.
Please post your comments to the blog. Go here http://www.asapews.org/blog/. You can post to any particular part of the proposal by clicking through on the links at the top. Or you can post to the main page. Either way, just scroll down to the bottom and add your comments.
Exactly the kind of discussion we hoped to initiate!
John Talbot, 2/18
I second everything that Matthew wrote. This is exactly the kind of discussion we are hoping to generate. But on the blog, not on the listserv.
However, now that it is out on the listserv, as a sociologist, I can fairly confidently predict that most of the people who read this email exchange will not go to the blog.
So, I want to say 2 things briefly: First, as I wrote on the blog:
“When the Council drafted this statement, we decided to intentionally leave it vague and “bare bones.” A number of us had ideas about what else should be included in the statement, but rather than spend a lot of time debating it in the Council, we decided to throw it open to the membership. Several comments above have suggested what seem to me to be two essential criteria for an identity statement: 1) we have to distinguish ourselves from other sections, and 2) we have to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. Those two criteria pull us in opposite directions and I think we have to balance the two.”
It is not that we have any intention (at least I don’t) of discarding “political economy of the world system”. We purposely left it out because that set of words seems to provoke a highly negative reaction among some people who are apparently dissatisfied with the section. The way Sam expressed it is, I think, typical: “the number one problem PEWS has had has been closed single topic annual conferences and closed single topic sessions at ASA. Unless a new scholar is doing EXACTLY what work is being asked for in the call for papers, they are totally excluded.”
I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS. I have been thinking about this for a long time. Someone please explain it to me. I have read every call for papers for the annual conference for the last twenty plus years, and I have never had the feeling that it was a one-topic conference. Conferences always have titles and themes. It seems to me that the organizers go out of their way to make it as broad as possible. The only plausible explanation that I can come up with is that the title of the conference always contains the words “world system,” and that that causes some people to think that they are automatically excluded because their work doesn’t cite Wallerstein. And that explanation is also based in part on the fact that most people who are dissatisfied with the section seem to think that changing its name is all we need to do to fix the problem.
Please tell me what I’m missing. BUT ON THE BLOG, NOT ON THE LISTSERV.
Dave Smith, 2/18
I haven’t chimed in in any way on this yet (I’ve been EXTREMELY busy:
doing both the role of IJCS editor and UCI Sociology Grad Director the
past couple months).
But I must stay: I completely agree with Bill on this one! There are some
things in the proposal that may be useful and helpful. But the
“intellectual identity statement” seems (deliberately?) designed to BLUR
the PEWS identity! Why would anyone think that making our section a
“catch all” like global/transnational or the development section make the
PEWS section more “attractive”?! It seems to me that our “selling point”
should be that we can offer something distinctive. Indeed, I would even
worry that this effort to “water down” the PEWS identity will cost us
members and prompt some people to quit the section (and, indeed, I have
personally heard from more than one individual who is very very
disappointed with this!).
I am sure that the folks who wrote this up did NOT intend this to drive
people away or to make PEWS LESS competitive with other ASA sections. But
I fear that is exactly what the likely result might be…
Lauren Langman, 2/18
Another two cents worth. After David chimed in I decided I should too especially after David and I edited a book coming out of the San Francisco meeting when we had the ad hoc session on Thomas Picketty– it just came out as a Brill edition– too expensive now but wait a year and it’ll be out as a Haymarket paperback. Bill, Chris, and Saskia have chapters in the book and so you know that political economy is essential for understanding the current world.
More to the point with David, and surely Bill and Saskia , What does make PEWS distinctive is that it does have a more or less clear value orientation, an emancipator y critique of domination and expolitatation rooted in the Marx’s critique of capital and further developed by so many of the people in the section. I was one of the founding members of the global and transnational section, indeed I was on the initial board and while many of the members do good research, as has been noted, that kind of “value neutral” approach is typical of most ASA tsection hat stops short of the basic critique of the various aspects of a world system of neo liberal capitalism and its transnational class..
This point was already clear to me as a young graduate student living in Mexico, before globalization was widely used by Roland, but seeing firsthand the destruction of the Mexican ejidos communities as technologically advanced agribusiness moved from corn to the export of tomatoes, strawberries, watermelons, avocados etc. for the American market. Imported corn from the USA was cheaper than domestic.
As the system grew, we can see how one of the consequences of this adversity with the growth of the Zapatista movement which Bill R can discuss better than I– but I can note, that we see in Chiapas the kind of community with a border within a border that Saskia talks about– as well as the expulsions.
As those folks who know me are well aware, I don’t do political economy as such, but all of my research and writings on identity, social movements, hegemony etc. are rooted in the critique of political economy and that is why I have always felt comfortable in Pews and would worry if that tradition was attenuated. This is especially the case today when we see the various crises of neo liberal capital engendering various anti-systemic movements on the right as well is the left and IHMO, those of us who try to be scholar activists, need an academic place and Pews is one those places.
Wilma Dunaway, 2/18
It doesn’t matter where this discussion occurs, so long as it happens. Frankly, I have been following the Council’s blog, and it is increasingly clear that the section membership is ignoring it, perhaps as a form of protest to its content and/or its confusing navigation? Since the blog is not working, the Listserv is the only sensible approach to keep the membership abreast of what is unfolding.
I agree with the concerns raised by Sassen, Robinson, Smith, and Reifer. It makes no sense to silence the world-systems legacy of PEWS in favor of a bland, catch all intellectual mission statement that tries to mask what has always made PEWS unique within ASA. Perhaps the Council should have done a bit more research by looking at the identities of the ASA sections that attract the largest memberships. Every one of the ASA sections with the largest memberships (aging, race, gender, etc.) has two very distinct identity groundings. First, they narrowly focus on the United States. Second, their mission statements are sharply distinct, and they are highly politicized. While some Council members seem to be claiming they “didn”t intend” to silence world-systems analysis, that is exactly what will result from this drastic change to the section’s mission statement, and that drastic change is likely to be permanent.
Just so everyone is clear. The section bylaws now offer the following mission statement: “The Section on Political Economy of the World-System will be concerned with pursuing the study of world-systems over long periods of time, and to the understanding of the difference such a point of departure makes for the integrated analysis of the political economy and its social bases.” If accepted, the Council’s revised mission statement will delete that unique legacy. Once that wording change occurs, there will be no reference to world-systems analysis in the section’s bylaws, or on its website, thereby exorcising the section’s historical legacy. This revised mission statement asks us to throw away the section’s legacy and never again to acknowledge the founding and nurturing of PEWS by some of the world’s most famous sociologists, including Immanuel Wallerstein, Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi and Chris Chase-Dunn. While that is bad enough, we are being asked to replace that historical legacy with a bland, deradicalized “sociology of everything” that lacks the kind of CENTER that characterizes ASA sections.
Moreover, what sense does it make to throw away this section’s pivotal historical legacy in the face of worsening world crises?
Sam Cohn, 2/18
i put my response to your question on the blog.
it is a fair question
and i tried to give it a fair response.
i think wilma is going to carry the day on where this debate occurs.
working with the blog was a real nuisance,
while the listserve is a fast efficient and effective way of communicating with the session.
i think it is also clear from the arguments being made on the listserve
“which way the votes are running”.
Ho-fung Hung, 2/19
I agree with the spirit of the intellectual identity statement that we need to broaden our appeal. But by distancing ourselves from the great legacies on which our works are grounded could blur our identity further vis-à-vis dev soc and global/transnational soc sections etc.
“World system” is in our section name (unless you want to change that too) so I don’t think reiterating “world-system analysis” in the statement would add much. We and other folks might not have a consensual understanding of what “world-system analysis” is except that people usually just associate it with a few big names and grad programs. In such case people who are not from those programs or have not worked under those names might find uninviting.
In light of all these, I have a concrete proposal: rather than reinstating “world system analysis”, could we say something like:
“we undertake critical studies of global capitalism and other historical social systems in a long-term, large scale perspectives”
Here I would see “critical” and “capitalism” as the keywords, as I don’t think any other sections at the ASA would take the “critique of capitalism” seriously like we do. As such, we are highlighting our legacies and lineages in a more subtle, non-sectarian way.
Paul Prew. 2/19
As one who is known to ignore the rules, I have two contributions:
1) I think Hiroko Inoue’s blog post seems to undermine the motive for the sweeping changes proposed. There does not appear to be a catastrophic exodus from PEWS.
2) As someone who left the section, I left the section not because of some perceived narrow focus on the legacy of world-systems, but because I saw the tide changing to an amorphous, atheoretical, ambiguously global approach. Shit, if I wanted a broad catch-all section, I would join global section. It is the antagonism to world-systems that drove me away.
Based on Sam Cohn’s comments, it seems as though the problem is not the mission of the section but how you craft your panels. There are a number of ways to broaden access to panels and welcome folks to the section. Panels can focus on specifically PEWS related problematics, but they could be limited to historic anniversaries, etc. Other panels could be more broadly titled and include descriptions that are open to various approaches. The roundtables should be inclusive by definition. I am not sure how people are being pushed aside in the sessions. As small sections (Marxist, PEWS, etc.), we have few panels, so there are limited numbers of folks who can present. One alternative is to try to sponsor a panel based on the theme of the conference. It has to be done early, but it may offer an extra panel to include more presenters.
I agree with Wilma’s contributions. I think the challenge you should be tasking yourself with is to introduce people to the promise of world-systems to understand the current global crises, not trying to figure out how to water down the section so much that it leaves little theoretical coherence to understand anything.
If you can see fit to put this silliness behind you, I will rejoin the section.
Paul Gellert, 2/19
I want to share a few thoughts. I am posting this to both the list serve and blog so apologies for x-posting for those who read both 🙂
First, according to the beautifully presented data from Hiroko Inoue there is no membership crisis! We have decent membership with occasional fluctuations. Currently we are in a down cycle (“correction”?). On the other hand, John Talbot wrote in PEWS News a while back that _regular_ members are declining in number with the gap being made up by students, usually gift memberships …So the picture is mixed. What is certain is that there IS some “section envy” by PEWS looking at Sociology of Development and Global Transnational which have had rapid growth to size greater than PEWS as Hiroko’s graph shows.
There is a real and important discussion about the identity and future of PEWS. Kicked off by Bill Robinson’s message to the list, a number of senior PEWS scholars have now in a variety of ways shared their view in defense of PE and/or WS turfs (not everyone wants both). I agree these are important for our self-definition and also for recognizing our history. However, I also agree with several of the blog postings (that John Talbot summed up) that there is a tension between two goals:
1) to distinguish ourselves from other sections, and
2) to be as inclusive and diverse as possible
John tried to prompt the blog with a request for key phrases for the intellectual statement. (By the way, I worry a bit that there is some “shooting of the messenger” in folks responding to John, rather than Council, as if it is only he who is interested in a conversation about how to rejuvenate PEWS.) I disagree with Ho-Fung Hung that it is somehow redundant to include the key terms in the intellectual statement (but not in his desire to be non-sectarian). Would a section on race, gender, crime, family, migration, etc. ever suggest not including those terms in its statement? Of course not.
But I understand that some people have been put off over the years by the aura of the section and its founders. I think the risk of a perspective like world-systems is that it turns off those who feel that they do not “fit” sufficiently into the perspective or are anxious that they are insufficiently or imperfectly “devoted” to the world system perspective for their research to fit or to be of interest to other members. Paul Prew’s statement and David Smith’s allusion to others who would leave the section if it is “watered down” just re-invigorates this sense that one must be a part or go….I think THAT is why Sam has at least twice now joined this discussion to claim that PEWS is exclusionary. I think Sam is wrong on the specifics of this point — the conference calls and panel calls are not exclusionary — but clearly he is not alone in these FEELINGS. Also, repeated mistaken descriptions have a way of taking on a life of their own, i.e. the social construction of a reality with real effects. Therefore, I would beseech Sam to stop repeating this idea because it constructs and reinforces the negative reality he complains against and focus on what makes people feel excluded or included.
Interestingly, the belief that PEWS is exclusionary is belied internally by the voices that have now chimed in. I frankly was surprised when I opened my email and Bill Robinson, Saskia Sassen, and John Bellamy Foster all chimed in to recommend that PEWS stick with political economy and world-system. As opposed to, say, Wilma Dunaway or Thomas Reifer, for example, I think of the scholarship of each of the former group as being distinct from world-systems analysis, some more than others, some more directly critical than others and some ignoring or not citing the world-systems “classics”. Yet, each of them clearly values the world-systems perspective. So, I think we need and are getting a lot from this discussion. (Thanks Council!)
In my view, there IS a difference between PEWS and other sections because PEWS starts from a _perspective_. (Sam is partially right here but takes the “theory” side of the world-systems theory or perspective debate.) That perspective — and some of the individuals who respond to contributions that are not centrally within world-systems as somehow lesser, ill-informed, or inappropriate — turns some people away. The only other sections of ASA that at a quick prima facie look have a perspective are the Marxist section, Rationality section and perhaps Human Rights. I think Wilma is right to remind us that in reality every section of the ASA, including the largest like race, gender and aging, is political in some way. However, she is mistaken to say that other sections are comparable in _being_ perspectives. Looking at the ASA section page, here are their banal, positivistic mission statements:
Sex and gender: The purpose of the Section on Sex and Gender is to encourage research and curriculum development on the organized patterns of gendered social relations and sexuality. The Section examines face-to-face interaction, political processes, culture and mass media, the medical, judicial, and educational systems.
Race, Gender and Class: The purpose of the Section on Race, Gender, and Class is to support research, teaching and practice that examines the interactive effects of race, gender, and class phenomena, and a curriculum which underscores the centrality of race, gender, and class in society and in sociological analysis.
Aging: Sociology of Aging and the Life Course provides an analytical framework for understanding the interplay between human lives and changing social structures. Its mission is to examine the interdependence between (a) aging over the life course as a social process and (b) societies and groups as stratified by age, with succession of cohorts as the link connecting the two. This special field of age draws on sociology as a whole and contributes to it through reformulation of traditional emphases on process and change, on the multiple interdependent levels of the system, and on the multidimensionality of sociological concerns as they touch on related aspects of other disciplines. The field is concerned with both basic sociological research on age and its implications for public policy and professional practice.
PEWS does have a perspective and a language of shared terms, a set of key texts and shared knowledge. That can be intimidating or off-putting to some newcomers (even if all sub-disciplines have their terms) and even some who are longer in tooth. I know I felt that in the past. Consider also Johanna Bockman’s statement: “I don’t identify myself as a world-systems person and thus see myself as an interested, marginal supporter.” I think the key is to retain the section’s core or center while getting across that PEWS wants the participation of “marginal suppoters” and is open to engagement with other scholars
To keep things open yet centered and building off what others have said, I suggest including the following key phrases in a new mission statement:
- PEWS is animated by the world-system perspective and encompasses research on all parts of the globe
- PEWS scholars study multiple scales of political economy from the individual and biographical to the global and everything in between
- PEWS scholars consider history important even to the study of the present
- PEWS is open to and encouraging of new ideas, research and debate from the full diversity of sociologists and other scholars in the US and the world
I see a 2 pronged approach emerging of (a) reflecting on and re-evaluating who we are and (b) making our ideas and section appealing to a wider audience or tent. The former is what we are doing. The latter requires intentional, regular effort to address real and perceived exclusions. Some of the rest of the Council’s ideas and blog discussion are good food for thought there. Finally, given our shared sentiment that the current period needs more critical scholarship like PEWS scholars have been providing for decades now, let’s create new buzz around the section with a new description for a “new PEWS” or “PEWS 2.0”
Sam Cohn, 2/19
The discussion on the direction of PEWS thus far has been really
Highly sensible points have been made on each side.
There has been substantial disagreement over the question of whether PEWS
Some of this disagreement seems to come from different perspectives about
what it would mean to be exclusionary.
* Are PEWS members clique-ish confining their conversation to only a select
set of pre-known associates?
They are some of the friendliest and warmest people in ASA.
* Is PEWS hostile to people with no ideas?
PEWS reinvents itself intellectually frequently.
* However, consider the following data.
The 2017 PEWS Conference was about migration.
If you were not working on migration, you could not present.
Denis O’Hearn was the chair of the host department and the host of the
He does not work on migration.
He could not present at his own conference.
* This year’s conference is about Long Cycles.
I would guess fewer than 15% of PEWS members work on long cycles.
If you don’t work on that, you can’t present.
* Thematic conferences are defended because they provide intellectual
coherence to the conference.
This is a legitimate and reasonable argument.
However, pre-planned thematic conferences have the unintended consequence
that anyone working on a dependent variable which is not the dependent variable de jour has no place to present.
* PEWS does have space for innovative work to be sure.
To take the aforementioned case of Denis O’Hearn, PEWS conspicuously recognized his work on autonomous rebels by giving him a
* However, being able to present one’s work is a key component of being
welcomed by a session.
More broadly themed conferences that allow for material to be presented on a broad range of dependent variables would resolve the conference problem nicely.
And this would help expose younger scholars to the broad-minded, flexible and non-doctrinaire more senior scholars
That are the heart and soul of PEWS.
Sam Cohn, 2/19
The previous email had meant to say
“Is Pews hostile to people with NEW ideas?
Due to a typo, the email reads
“Is Pews hostile to people with NO ideas?
None of us are thrilled about people with no ideas.
Fortunately, Pews is filled with people with great ideas.
Val Moghadam, 2/19
May I send in my two cents’ worth before a final decision is made about where or how comments can be offered? I happen to be a PEWS member whose own research agenda is actually rather broad but I have been a loyal PEWS member precisely because of the uniqueness of the framework and its (uncanny?) capacity for historical and contemporary explanations. I absolutely agree with Wilma and Bill and others who have urged that the mission statement not change to mimic others. The proposed new Intellectual Identity Statement strikes me as bland and familiar (once again, class, race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, etc. etc. – I note that class is in the laundry list – plus the reference to “diverse membership”). Our section’s distinctive political economy approach has to be front and center. At the same time, I understand Sam’s concern regarding the annual conferences. We may both be mistaken, but I too have felt unable at times to apply to attend the annual conferences because of the seemingly exclusive themes on which I do not work. Perhaps the call for proposals can make it clearer that other themes or topics may be considered as well? What I do agree with completely is a better division of labor and distribution of tasks and responsibilities within the section, which might help some of us contribute more. I look forward to the discussion in August.
Jackie Smith 2/19
As editor of our Journal of World-Systems Research (http://jwsr.pitt.edu/), I believe it appropriate for me to weigh in here in support of Val’s and others’ sentiments. We have a strong track record for critical research on world-systems, and we should not see this as a liability. It is critically important at this time in particular that we provide a space for critical historical reflection on capitalism and world-systems.
I wish to remind folks as well that the section does not just offer ASA sessions and an annual mini-conference on a specialized theme. We have a very strong and growing journal that has been expanding its international visibility. Section members can participate in the journal in a variety of ways–as contributors, reviewers, copy-editors, and outreach supporters. JWSR has been an important outlet for junior scholars: I believe we have published at least one paper by a doctoral student or new PhD in every single issue since I’ve been editor. I know that our reviewers have been exceptionally helpful in offering thoughtful and constructive reviews of submissions, and many young scholars have told me how helpful they have found this feedback. Participating in the section via the journal provides yet another avenue to both see the wealth of ideas this framework generates, and it also enables PEWS members to contribute to shaping our field of inquiry. I could go on, but from the perspective of our journal, this section is strong and growing in ways that bode well for our future.
Eric Mielants, 2/19
To follow up, I don’t think diluting our PEWS identity is the best strategy forward. Can’t imagine Paul Prew is the only one upset by this. For example, it is my impression that PE sociologists like Jeffrey Kentor (correct me if I’m wrong) have turned to other sections precisely because there was not enough political economy in some annual PEWS conferences with themes like ‘race / gender in the world system’, ‘migration in the world system’ etc. This illustrates we need to walk a fine line between being exclusionary and sectarian on the one hand (identity) and turn our attention to important topics in the world system that can benefit from a world system / political economy approach on the other hand.
Regarding topical annual conferences, if you are going to organize one, yes you need to choose a topic to create some coherence but attempt to open it up as much as possible. While the main theme of this year’s PEWS is cycles, as Sam points out, just look at the subthemes included in the call for papers:
1) cycles and social movements
2) cycles and political trends
3) cycles and commodity chains
4) cycles and migration
5) cycles and the web of life / ecology
I think that gives enough flexibility to social scientists doing research on a wide variety of topics that they can approach from a PE or WSA angle (does not have to be identical ; we had more submissions than we could accept and some academics that will present will do IPE but have never attended at PEWS section before, which I think is good for cross pollination). In defense of last year’s PEWS in Texas, I recall Denis O’Hearn also opened it up to people writing on race/racism, so it did not just reach out to sociologists writing on migration only. We need to be open minded and pragmatic but at the same time ‘hold the tiller firm’ when it comes down to our own scholarly identity. This applies also to our colleagues running the JWSR and who evaluate submissions for publication in it…
my 5 cents.
Amy Quark, 2/19
As other Council members have said, thank you for this vigorous conversation. Please do keep the comments coming! The specific wording suggestions are particularly useful, as are the thoughts on how to structure conferences in ways that may be more inclusive.
I think it might be productive if I could provide a bit of background on the Council’s discussions. I feel confident in saying that no one currently on council is trying to deny, erase or move away from the Section’s legacy. To the contrary, the Council discussed the issue of changing the section’s name, which had come up through the survey, and decided that was not the direction to go. Rather, we decided that our main focus should be to reinvigorate PEWS by offering more ways to draw attention to PEWS members’ contributions (ie. awards) and by fostering more participation (ie. the governance changes). It would be great to get more feedback on these dimensions. In the process, we did decide to rewrite the intellectual identity statement. This is in part because the existing statements on the website in particular seemed quite vague (we are not sure of the history of this website language; we are also working on establishing a stronger institutional memory from one leadership team to the next). As others on Council have mentioned, we decided to present a fairly bare-bones statement to encourage the type of discussion we are now having, which I think is proving to be productive.
For your reference, pasted below are the current descriptions of PEWS in the bylaws and on the website. The Council felt that none of these existing statements provided a particularly strong description of the section (and certainly not one we were trying to dilute). I think they probably reflect others’ past efforts to manage the continued tension of maintaining the unique contribution of PEWS while reaching out to be inclusive of a broad range of scholars. Please do continue to suggest wording that would better represent our collective research.
One final note—I do think it is exclusionary and highly problematic to suggest that themes like ‘race / gender in the world system’ and ‘migration in the world system’ have somehow strayed from what PEWS should be. These topics represent pressing global issues that require world-historical analysis and the use of political economic explanations to bolster understandings of intersecting forms of oppression. These topics are central to the study of world-systems over long periods of time, and they are major strands in existing PEWS research, as demonstrated by the research published in JWSR.
From the bylaws:
“The Section on Political Economy of The World-System will be concerned with pursuing the study of world-systems over long periods of time, and to the understanding of the difference such a point of departure makes for the integrated analysis of the political economy and its social bases.”
From the website:
“The PEWS is a unique section of the American Sociological Association. The core interests of those in the section are to explain the production and reproduction of asymmetric power relations and macro and micro-level inequalities in their world-historical context.”
From the website:
“PEWS is a unique section in the American Sociological Association. The Section’s emphasis is on the relationship between local and global social, economic, and political processes, whether of historical or contemporary significance. Some research topics investigated by PEWS sociologists include:
• Third World development
• Global restructuring of production in manufacturing, service, and agricultural sectors
• Household dynamics and survival strategies, including gender, race, and class issues
• Global environmental problems
• Local political and cultural resistance
• New social movements
• Global expansion
• Incorporation of new areas and new peoples
• Global networks
• Prehistoric and premodern world-systems
• Urban patterns on a global scale
• Relations between formal and informal labor markets
• Transnational corporations
• State formation and state system dynamics
• Socialist states in the world economy”
Jim Fenelon, 2/19
Thank you for maintaining this discussion / debate in an open arena for ideas and perspectives.
Yes, we need to keep a focus on World Systems (with or without the hyphen) with a Political Economy focus, and thus PEWS.
Much can grow out of that, as is pointed out in this post, in that Migration was opened to race/racism, (how could it not be?), gender is a primary focus of the world systems as Wilma has so often pointed out and published on, and so other foci can be seen and appreciated as Additional to the PEWS conferences and ASA section on this so-called president’s day with the current office holder and the party that has kissed his ring in such dire need of critical analysis on the global and systemic levels.
Mara Fridell, 2/19
Thank you, Bill and John, for contributing your valuable time, and your trenchant and principled response.
I think that this is a democratic exchange forum, so I would like to respectfully respond. As Bill and John point out, an option the council can pursue in its commitment to a reflexive relationship with the section membership is inserting brief language (in the brief identity statement) about the World-systems political-economic research tradition as a fecund, foundational, pneumatic force in this section–and its daughter sections throughout the ASA.
This approach could be simple, straight-forward, and would maintain a discursive bridge that allows us to honor and champion the important work luminaries like Dr. Robinson have been contributing today, and leave space for the future elaboration (under more auspicious historical circumstances that we help build) of not only a network of World-systems daughter agendas, but also the World-systems research orientation.
As well, a discursive bridge in the identity statement will allow the section to build itself upon a firm foundation: confidently affirming social scientific knowledge community, accumulation, and advancement across changing social context, so that we can include a more democratic constituency in that great collective project.
Witnessing the skilled, committed, thoughtful work my council colleagues have been bringing to this scholarly-community renewal project, I am confident that we share a commitment to build upon strength.
Jenn Bair, 2/19
First off, I am excited we are having this important and overdue conversation. Thanks to John, Matt, Amy and the rest of Council for initiating it. I realize that this dialogue is now happening on the section listserv rather than blog, but there are valuable contributions on the blog as well, so please check those out.
I agree with the general sentiment expressed by many already: It isn’t in the interest of PEWS to try to somehow compete with other sections by downplaying our commitment to a world-systems perspective. I belong to and am active in other sections–some similar in size to PEWS (e.g. labor and labor movements) and some bigger (e.g. global and transnational). I value my memberships in those sections, but PEWS feels like an intellectual home in a way those others don’t. Much of this has to do, I think, with the history of the section and its size (the very fact that it is closer to 400 than 600, let alone 1,000). But I suspect that the main reason PEWS feels like home is my (admittedly vague and amorphous) sense that its members share a general orientation towards sociological inquiry that is distinctive from that found elsewhere. What we are debating now seems to be what the precise content of this distinctive orientation is. Does it mean adopting the world-system as the unit of analysis? Committing to a critical perspective on capitalism? Analyzing social change in terms of the longue durée? At the risk of appearing to evade this central question, I’d like to suggest that this dialogue is, itself, precisely what makes PEWS, well, PEWS: I honestly cannot fathom any other section listserv having this kind of reflection on what constitutes their collective enterprise.
Many people have suggested possible language for describing the type of scholarship that I think we want to foster: something like macro-historical analysis that accommodates multiple scales of political economy and is attentive to world-systemic dynamics. I would like to echo Jackie Smith in suggesting that there is value in reflecting on our section’s journal, JWSR, as perhaps the most concrete manifestation of the scholarship that is being done under the sign of world-systems. I think that when you look at JWSR, you see that there is a core set of commitments and interests reflected in the work published there, even though there is no litmus test in terms of whether something is sufficiently “world-systems.” I would like to add (and this may be a question on which there is disagreement, in which case we should discuss it further in August) that I certainly understand the scope of world-systems scholarship to encompass work that centers questions around race, gender, class, empire and migration.
Sam has raised a concern, echoed by some others, about the annual conference. The gist of the critique is that the thematic focus of the conference is narrow, and that many PEWS members won’t have an opportunity to present if there isn’t a match between the theme and their own work. I’m not sure how widespread this concern is, but I agree that it’s important that the PEWS annuals not feel cliquish or exclusionary. However, it seems like this is something that could be relatively easily addressed by ensuring either more broadly defined themes, or simply by allowing for “open sessions” within the existing structure. These are the kinds of concrete actions, more than any tweaks to the section’s mission statement, that will signal our desire to cultivate a community that balances analytic and substantive coherence with openness and diversity. I’d like to see us think more about what we can do to achieve this goal (assuming it is a shared objective), but I believe we can pursue it and still accommodate a range of views about how to do/define the political economy of the world-system. Speaking for myself, if we are to refine the section’s description, I’d like to see language that reaffirms our commitment to a world-systems perspective, but simultaneously invites scholars to participate, through their own work, in elaborating what that perspective is, thereby charting the frontiers of world-systems scholarship.
I look forward to continuing this exchange!
Chris Chase-Dunn, 2/19
I am very glad to see all the thoughtful comments and suggestions about our
section. I agree with those who have said that it would be dumb to throw
the baby out with the bath, but I also agree that things could be done to
make the section more attractive to younger scholars. Jen Bair says that
the annual spring meeting could broaden its focus. Perhaps it is also time
to think about a more inclusive process for planning it, though this should
be done carefully. In practice it has not been a responsibility of the
section. Rather Immanuel Wallerstein himself solicits proposals and decides
between competing ones. This process has worked well and we should thank
Immanuel for doing this since 1977. He may be willing to continue doing it,
but perhaps it is time for the PEWS Section to take on the responsibility
of organizing the annual spring conference. A spring conference committee
could solicit proposals and decide amongst them and could help organizers
with the job of bringing off a successful conference. This is more work,
and the decision to do it should not be taken lightly. Is Immanuel ready
to pass the torch?
Does the section want take the torch? These are things that we should
Tom Reifer, 2/19
Just a quick follow up to Chris’s
comments. When I made my initial
comments, it was not to imply that
there was no need for change, rather
that wild swing aren’t perhaps the best.
I’ll give you an example. Years ago, I made
a suggestion that we have a session on race,
class and gender in the world-system, to which
the response by various folks that when these
things are done, class is left out.
I think that we eventually did have such a session,
but it did not reflect the diversity of the topical area and
was thus a missed opportunity.
I also though we could have used the occasion of
Bernard Magubane, author of The Political Economy
of Race & Class in South Africa, as an opportunity
for a session in his honor.
What I’m trying to say is that I find an intersectional approach
which confronts the most serious issues of power and inequality
in the US and the global system – especially along
lines of race, class, gender, nation and citizenship,
not to mention the global crisis of refugees, migrants and
displaced persons, is something of urgent concern –
and that I think the scholar-activist tradition, and world-systems
analysis as an intellectual social movement, and a vibrant one
at that, and one speaking to the public realm and sphere, is
one of our greatest assets. To do this, however, will require
reclaiming the best of our traditions, and responding to he
most powerful existing work, which is something that remains
So honoring our best traditions and moving forward at
the same time; analyzing and trying to understanding the world,
and transforming it and saving it from self-destruction remain
fundamental questions confronting all of us!
To paraphrase and borrow from Immanuel,
(Annales) world-systems as resistance and transformation!
John Talbot, 2/19
This is a fascinating proposal. It is tempting to reply immediately that the section is willing to take the torch (especially since I’m off the Council in August!). However, we need to practical. How much does the conference cost? We are a low-budget operation, and ASA makes it difficult for us to raise money from outside ASA. Also, what about the publication agreement that apparently exists with Routledge? If the section takes over the conference, does that agreement continue? Do we want to go back to forcing authors to sign away copyright to their work? I’m sure there are more questions, but those come to mind immediately.
Jenn Bair, 2/19
I don’t want to speak for Chris, but my interpretation of his suggestion regarding the spring conferences was that Council could consider assuming responsibility at some point for the process of soliciting proposals from potential conference organizers. The Sociology of Development section has a model that might be instructive here. A call is sent out soliciting proposals from potential conference organizers. The section Council then evaluates the applications received, which include details such as proposed theme, basic infrastructure for hosting, potential funding resources, etc. In reality, I don’t think there are many proposals to adjudicate among because hosting a section conference requires serious institutional support (the section doesn’t fund the conference). However, the process of soliciting proposals publicly from the membership at large makes the process more inclusive and transparent. My impression is that once the conference is awarded to a particular institution, the Council’s attitude is pretty hands-off. Matt Sanderson, the remarkably capable Secretary-Treasurer of the Development section who has been closely involved with this process, is also a member of PEWS, and can provide much more info on this than I can. I simply wanted to note that having the Council play a role in the process of soliciting proposals (which seems quite feasible) wouldn’t necessarily mean that Council would take over the work of organizing and funding the annuals or the associated publication (which strikes me as infeasible).
Wilma Dunaway, 2/19
Before everybody rushes to criticize so loudly how the annual
conferences are run, we all need to make sure we know what we are
talking about. Too much misinformation has been tossed around in
member comments, so clarification is in order. There is something very
unique about the annual PEWS Conferences that has not been mentioned,
and it is a factor that has been vital to the survival of these annual
conferences. PEWS does not fund or fully control these conferences,
and invited presenters are provided housing and food (something that
most conferences do not do). Conference funding comes from
universities that have their own local organizational committees and
often expect to integrate some of their own interests. When I convened
the conference at Virginia Tech in 2001, for example, it was Immanuel
Wallerstein’s name that sold the administration on providing funds
during a state budget crisis, and it was also the willingness of the
conference to integrate a few local campus activities. Unlike most
other conferences, there are NO fees charged to presenters, and
conference activities must be open/free to university faculty and
students at most schools. Chris and I have convened conferences around
broad topics that invited some of the largest numbers of presenters,
so we know first hand how much work is required– beginning with the
recruitment of administrative support and funding on one’s on campus.
Chris has also combined university and private foundation monies. We
both set the goal of having greater numbers of international
participants, and that requires additional planning beyond what is
normal for most conferences. The point: To invite a LOT of presenters
and to publish the kind of two-volume collections that Chris and I
have done, this current model requires a LOT of money and numerous
Now if you want to change the current approach, just be clear about
what will be lost if we are not careful. If we go to the more usual
conference model in which presenters pay fees and their own travel,
housing and food, PEWS conferences will no longer be accessible to the
numbers of international presenters that the current model makes
possible. Moreover, most universities at which I have attended these
conferences have billed the KEYNOTE ADDRESS as a student activity in
order to defray part of the expense of presenter housing and food.
Third, Wallerstein has personally kept alive the annual publication
contracts for these conferences, insuring that a reliable publication
venue is in place. In short, let’s not rush to oversimplify or to
throw out the past model which has served PEWS better than some
members think; let’s seek needed input from Immanuel and judge
carefully how to proceed. While some of you may not like hearing it,
these PEWS conferences would not have existed all these years with
university funding and a reliable publication venue if Immanuel had
not made the continuing efforts that he has. So let’s approach this
with a degree of grace and human decency that has not characterized
some of the careless uninformed comments that have been posted about
the annual conferences.
I would also like to point out the obvious: Addressing this kind of
issue does NOT require the acceptance of the Council’s revised mission
statement that excludes world-systems analysis.
Chris Chase-Dunn, 2/20
wilma is right that the spring conference has been funded by universities, saving students and the section money. and that
the conference book series has been brought out because immanuel has been able to negotiate valuable agreements with publishers, including routledge.
it is getting very hard to get publishers to print collections. so this is a valuable arrangement.
i dont agree that the spring conference themes have been narrow and that people have been excluded by an in-group. the conference topics have ranged widely and anyone who is able to put together a proposal that includes local funding has been able to put on a conference.
but the question now is whether or not it is a good time for the pews section to take up the duties of soliciting and getting proposals, choosing between competing ones, and scheduling future meetings.
it is not a broken system, but now might be a good time for a transition. this depends on Immanuel and whether or not the section is ready, able and willing to take these tasks and responsibilities on.
as to the revision of the section’s mission statement, that is a separate issue (as wilma said).
i dont think we should jettison our heritage unless we can replace it with a better one, and i dont see any great alternatives.
making it easier for those who are new to the section (or potential recruits) to understand the history and development of the world-system perspective would help make the section more attractive to younger scholars. that is an important goal that i support.
Matthew Mahutga, 2/20
I’ll follow my own advice and put this on the blog, but I just want to point out what seems like an emerging consensus/compromise.
First, one of the reasons why the council proposed changes to the governance structure of PEWS was to create more service opportunities for members. The idea was to get more people involved in the section and thus promote greater ownership. It seems like taking on the mantle of organizing the conference would be another way to accomplish this. The process as currently described sounds very much like what every other section does except that their membership (via their representatives) determines the theme of the conference by soliciting and then selecting proposals. I think we could and should consider this.
Second, a non-trivial segment of the membership feels like the proposed identity statement leaves out key elements of the intellectual lineage of PEWS. I would summarize them as political economy and some sense that one cannot understand the part without accounting for the whole (e.g. the world-system). I whole heartedly endorse this view, and believe the statement could be amended to include such language. But I also think we should figure out a way to draft inclusive language. Taking a step back, we’ve heard from Bill Robinson, who theorizes “the whole” (global capitalism) in terms of an epochal shift in capitalist development. This formulation was, at least initially, framed as competing with the world-systems perspective. We’ve also heard from scholars who, in my view, approach “the whole” empirically in a more (or even purely) historiographic way. There are also many of us who empirically approach the whole in a more structural and formal way by making use of techniques such as social network analysis and econometrics. I personally see this circumscribed diversity, whereby people approach the political economy of the whole in different ways, as a strength of the section and what distinguishes us from kindred sections. So I propose that we add language to ground the section in the political economy of the whole, but sufficiently catholic to allow for diversity in exactly how we do this.
Elson Boles, 2/20
Quick critical reply to Mahutga:
Your suggestions makes PEWS strictly about modern society (the modern world-system). As in my blog post, and in response to “opening up,” the broader claim of “world-systems analysis,” which ought to be the claim of PEWS, is the holistic study of historical social systems, not just the modern world-system (e.g. capitalism). If there is an inclusive direction to move in, it would be, in my view, to attract from other disciplines, not just other sociologists — more anthropologists and historians — and to put our critique of the modern social sciences in the forefront of our identity as a critical science.
Paul Prew, 2/20
At a PEWS conference a number of years ago, I was walking with Immanuel Wallerstein after attending a session on cities. I asked Wallerstein if the folks on the panel saw cities as a fractal image of the broader the world-system. He said, simply, they do not see cities in the same way I do. I am paraphrasing and not doing justice to his response, but it was not judgemental, but matter of fact. It was as though he was pointing out that there are different paths in world-system research. As an impressionable, young graduate student, I was quite struck by how, even with his stature in the field, he granted space to others. Now, in other venues, he may be more forceful in his assertions of what he views as world-systems analysis, but in this personal moment, he helped me understand that intellectual growth is about building on others’ work, and not simply establishing yourself by tearing others down. It is a lesson that took me a while, especially as a graduate student, to fully incorporate, but it is how I try to engage in my scholarly activity.
What is happening in PEWS does not come from that value of building. I want to be very clear. I smelled this trend to push world-systems out of PEWS at least two years ago. This is not about “exclusion.” The data simply does not support that folks feel excluded or that numbers are dropping as a result. “Exclusion” is merely a facade to gut the intellectual heart of the section. There is no need to mess with the mission statement.
I fully support suggestions that build on the strengths of PEWS to incorporate more people into the section. Writing world-system out of PEWS is not the way to accomplish greater participation.
Manuela Boatca, 2/20
This is a wonderful discussion and I enjoyed reading the passionate
arguments. I just wanted to point out that we only need to discuss
whether or not to have “political economy” and “world-systems” as part
of the mission statement if anyone seriously considers changing the
section’s name, which contains both terms already. Any potential new
members will feel drawn to (or put off by) the section name itself
before ever reading a mission statement, however well-packaged.
Taking up Eric’s point about organizing PEWS spring conferences, I’ll be
happy to host another one in Germany (after Berlin in 2015), as I had
always hoped it would not remain an exception to have the meeting in
Europe. It could now be Freiburg in 2019 if there are no other contenders.
Rob Clark, 2/20
I’ve enjoyed the conversation so far, and I see merit in the different viewpoints expressed. There are good reasons to pursue reform and good reasons to “hold the tiller firm,” and there are costs associated with going down either path.
At this point, I only wish to address the claim that there is no membership “crisis,” and that we are not facing a “catastrophic exodus” from our section. At PEWS, we like to classify things by whether or not they have reached a point of crisis. And we may look at the data that Hiroko presented, conclude that the sky is not falling, and be on our merry way. But this seems like a rather cavalier attitude to hold. Many of us in PEWS want better things for our section than to simply avoid crisis. We want PEWS to thrive. And it’s hard to argue that we are thriving right now.
Let’s take a closer look at the last decade. The figure below shows actual membership size for PEWS from 2008 to 2017. Our membership dropped by 11.4% during this time. In Hiroko’s data, we don’t see a drop because the trend is normalized by total ASA membership, which declined by an even greater rate of 17.1% during this same period.
Also, during the past decade, three new sections were created that overlap to varying degrees with PEWS: Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility (IPM), Global and Transnational Sociology (GTS), and Sociology of Development (DEV). This fact alone is noteworthy. But, more than that, their membership sizes have all increased substantially. IPM has grown by 49.5%, GTS by 35.1%, and DEV by 42.0%. PEWS is losing its voice in a growing neighborhood. Smaller sections are not only allocated fewer sessions at ASA, but they also communicate on a smaller platform, receive less attention, and are less likely to attract the next generation of scholars.
Finally, I want to draw everyone’s attention to the composition of our section. It’s not only that PEWS is smaller (and perhaps shrinking), but that our section is relatively male-dominated. Take a quick look at the table below. In 2015, ASA membership was 53.3% female. IPM (57.2%), GTS (55.1%), and DEV (53.8%) were all slightly above that percentage and were all ranked at or above the mean. By contrast, PEWS was only 38.8% female, which placed us 44th out of 52 sections. Is this a “crisis”? I’ll avoid using that word. But, at the very least, I do think that all of this warrants our attention.
Matthew Mahutga, 2/20
These are interesting points that I had not considered. Another critical data point that is missing is the relative extent to which our membership numbers depend on last minute purchases of gift memberships for students. The last count I have (which is dated now) puts us at 44% student membership. Of course not all of these students are list minute purchases, but a big chunk of them were. I don’t have comparable figures for Global/Transnational or Development but last year’s historical juncture is telling. Last year, the ASA changed the deadline by which we could easily buy gift memberships from September to July. Neither Global/Transnational or Development experienced a membership dip with that change; in fact they experienced a year-on-year increase. We experienced a significant drop, which is consistent with a greater dependence on gifted memberships. So it’s possible that our membership numbers are inflated by the subsidies that more senior members (including myself) have been paying every year.
Wilma Dunaway, 2/20
Rob Clark draws our attention to another point that needs to be debated in
PEWS. Rather than just assuming that we know that PEWS is “thriving” if we
count numbers of members, should we not give far more consideration to
whether the section is thriving intellectually and/or as a spur to
activism? I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ATTENTION TO HOW WE REINVIGORATE THE SECTION
INTELLECTUALLY, AS WELL AS POLITICALLY. Unfortunately, that important
concern is absent from the Council’s plan.
Immanuel Wallerstein, 2/20
as you say i have been overseeing the spring meetings from the beginning.
i am willing to continue this for a while. but i’m not immortal, and
perhaps it is time to create a new way of doing this – if not this year,
then within a year or two. but before pews jumps into a new mode of
deciding on the annual meetings, you should know what it is i have been
doing. it is a much more elaborate task than some letter-writers seem to
think. so let me outline the steps.
1) soliciting proposals. i have always asked for any and all people to
offer to organize a session. there are and always have been relatively few
volunteers. this has become even more difficult in the last ten years
because of financial difficulties in our universities.
20 choosing an organizer. i always tried to do this at least two years in
advance. there were two main criteria. (a) can the organizer raise enough
money? these days it is at least $12,000. can this person put together a
set of co-sponsors at his/her univiersity to get this much? (b) the second
consideration is geography. i have always tried to move the conferences
around the u.s. and now the world. if this year it is being held in the
northeast, the next one should preferably be in the midwest or the west
coast or the south. this is not always possible.
3) the offer must include a theme. a theme is essential or there’s nothing
special about the conference and nothing that a publisher will want to
publish. I negotiate with the proposer about the wording of the theme,
insisting that it be of current political interest and with wording that is
attractive. but i also ask the organizer to propose four subthemes and
write a paragraph for each subtheme describing what is being emphasized.
this is precisely supposed to create space for most of our members to find
a slot. .
4) i also try to get a date that fits best university schedules. it is not
a good idea to have the conference when the host university is on vacation
or some other break. half the audiece always comes from the place where it
is held, and if one organizes it during the break, you lose that half. by
long experience we also needs to specify the days. conferences work best
if they start on a thursday evening with a keynoter (the proposer chooses
this person). friday shoulld ideally have three sessions, one in the
morning and two in the afternoon. a second plenary is sometimes added at
this point. then saturday morning is a fourth session and sometimes there
is a short closure. then people can catch a flight at reduced rates to get
5) when all this is assembled, we announce the meeting and solicit papers.
we annoumce is in as many lists as we can but first of all, of course, pews
members. the announcement needs to have a deadline. i normally recommend dec.
15. this allows thee organizer time to read all the proposals for papers
and see if he/she has enough or too many. if too many, we can have
duplicate sessions on friday. but remember duplicate sessions make each
one with very few attendees.
6) after the conference the work has just begun. the organizer nas to write
to every paper-giver whose work is to be included with (a) suggestions
about the content and (b) the rules. the eventual publisher wants a maximum
of 300 pages and a coherent package. 300 pages means there is room for12
papers of 25 pages. that’s not much. the 25 pages must include charts,
quotes, bibliography — everything.
7) the organizer then has to hector people to get them toi submit the
revised version of the right size by a given date. we have always said
that the four subthemes are not gospel. one may have had no relevantt
response. or another may be achieved by redrawing lines. or a paper that
was not given at all may be added.or sometimes the orgnizer can p0ut
together two whole volumes, each of the correct size and coherent content.
8) when finally the organizer has all this it is sent to me and i review
it for both coherence and observance oif the rules.
9) when i am done, i send it to routlefge. our arrangement is tht, since i
have done all this vetting, routledge will accept my recommendation and not
send it out for further vetting. at this point routledge works with the
organizer on technical matters and the book gets published.
ERGO, it would be a disaster if every year there were new people doing all
these things. historical memory is essential. i would suggest a committee
of five composed of the organizers of the past five eyars. that way there
is turnover but also contuinuity.. these five have been through all this
and can dral with it and like everything else in pews, we walk a middle
path between irrelevance and a cult structure. we emphasize both
political economy and the world-system. we achieve waht we have achieved
over the last 40 years or so – a notable repuattion and a series of
publications to boast about (have you alll moticed that in each volume one
lists all the previous ones. our publications are a library.
Warm wishes to all/Immanuel
Sam Cohn, 2/21
Immanuel Wallerstein’s advice on how to organize a conference is priceless.
I have had to organize a conference in a non-PEWS setting …
and everything Immanuel says about organizational realities is right on
As PEWS knows, I have long been an advocate of non-thematic conferences.
Immanuel is exactly right when he says that if you want a book to come out
of the conference, you need a theme.
In the current scholarly publishing environment, it is harder and harder to
get book contracts – and it is especially hard to get contracts for edited collections.
So by publishing logic – a theme would not only have to be intellectually
coherent, but it would need to have a compelling niche as a book that could actually sell.
However, is the point of section conferences to produce a book,
or to bring the section together and stimulate further intellectual
wilma talks cogently and well about the need to both stimulate innovative
scholarship and stimulate activity that could produce positive social change.
I think both of those goals are right on.
You also want the conference to build a sense of community.
A huge strength of PEWS is that many of the conferences DO build a sense of
Once you are in, there is a tremendous intellectual bonding that occurs at
PEWS conferences that is not nearly as strong in other sections.
A successful PEWS conference is an experience of intellectual, and moral
growth for the participants – along with a powerful affirmation.
I think that all three experiences are far more powerful and far more
useful than the benefit of producing a published scholarly volume,
No matter how good that book might ultimately turn out to be.
That said, Immanuel’s advice here is full of wisdom.
We would all be well advised to take it.
Denis O’Hearn, 2/21
Folks, I think Chris’s interventions are most important. He has pointed to the “elephant in the room,” which is that Immanuel Wallerstein has done remarkably valuable work not only to ensure that the Spring conference has run every year but also to ensure that its contents have been published in a book series that has been valuable to PEWS and beyond. But this has meant that the Spring PEWS conference is organized around themes that are not chosen by PEWS itself but in a negotiation between Immanuel and whoever can raise the money to run the conference. That said, I think past organizers have been very careful to organize the conference around a theme that is relevant for a particular reason but broad enough that PEWS people can participate in many ways. The point is not to be an “expert” on the theme but to use it as a way to explore how a world-systems approach could illuminate the theme in ways that other approaches have not.
Sam Cohn and others have thrown out some red herrings in this regard and I think they should be addressed. I agreed to take on last year’s conference because I was told that there was no one else to do it. There was a fear that the conference would simply collapse. As I was in a negotiation with my new employer about my contract, I was able to get funding for the conference, to keep it going. Chris is correct…the subject of the theme then became a negotiation between me (the only person available to organize the conference) and Immanuel. I was keen to find a theme that had strong relevance both to the world-system in the present conjuncture (and in past ones) and also to Texas, the host of the conference. Thus, migration. I think a quick look at the news and the world of tweets demonstrates that this is a crucial and hardly a narrow choice. We then organized sub-themes to encourage maximum participation.
Only one person who participated in the conference did so because they were an expert on migration: Rogelio Saenz. We invited him to participate because he is a leading expert on the current issues of migration to the US and its political-economic implications. In a way, we thought he might keep the non-experts honest. All other participants spoke from their own areas of expertise but addressed the broad theme of migration, including excellent plenaries by Jim Fenelon, Walden Bello, and Immanuel Wallerstein himself (none of whom are experts on migration). I decided not to present, NOT as Sam Cohn suggests because the theme excluded me but because I figured organizing the damn conference was enough work and I could benefit more by listening to others and joining in the discussions. I have actually been working (and awarded by PEWS) on the theme of exit from the world-system, and that clearly means migration, so I could have had something to say but simply chose not to. But my co-author, Andrej Grubacic, did present on the theme of exit.
Sam and others may have one valid point. I think the model of organizing a conference around a theme should be maintained, but there could also be open sessions as well. But this will come at a cost. First, the cost of the larger conference will be substantial and the host will not be able to provide as much support for transport, lodging, etc. as hosts have done in the past. Also, Immanuel’s model of a small conference around a given theme has the aim of producing a book that will add to the now extensive library of volumes on different themes from the perspective of the world-system. That could be lost. What MIGHT be gained is wider participation in the conference (this is not a given). What will be gained is a more transparent and representative role of the section in the framing and organization of the conference. But consider: there are not a lot of people waiting in line to host a PEWS conference and with the money and energy to do it, as may have been the case in previous years. As Chris says, maybe it is time for the section to think about these changes and about opening up the process by which the conference is planned and organized. But if the section decides to do so, people should know the risks and costs involved.
Meanwhile, folks should recognize and congratulate all of the people, including Immanuel Wallerstein, who have kept the conferences going over the years. It is a large and pretty thankless task, as some elements of the current discussion indicate.
Peter Grimes, 2/24/18
I’ve been following this discussion on the listserv (since digest #28), and
have just finished reading the blog entries above. I’m glad I did, because
much of what I was prepared to say has already been said by others on the
blog, sparing me from redundancy. I believe this debate over the “Mission
Statement” is helpful because it provides a forum for airing our differences
about where PEWS should go as the generations change.
I basically agree with Matthew’s 4 points/ideas: they replicate much of what
I would otherwise said. . I also agree EMPHATICALLY that PEWS should remain explicitly political, and critical of all inequalities both under current
neo-liberal global capitalism, and historically as long ago as information
allows. World-systems was addressing the issues of the newer sections before they emerged. Which leads to my final point: I also am genuinely alarmed by the lop-sided gender enrollment. If that lack of diversity is also
replicated in the distributions of age, ethnicity, and race then we
definitely have a problem. Which may be related to the growth of those new
sections. I am open to any suggestions. On final point of irony: W-S has
often researched cycles, yet no one has pointed out that the cyclical
downturns in ASA membership map neatly onto the downturns in the
Craig Calhoun, 2/24/18
I don’t want to add much to this constructive airing of different views on section identity and membership. My personal preference is that the section retain its current name and focus. As someone whose work is only partly identified with the political economy of the world-system, I have never felt excluded. And I have always known there are other ASA sections with other foci so that I didn’t have to expect just one to address all my interests.
One of the core points of world-system analysis is that ‘societies’ and nation-states do not exist independently of larger structures of relations. May I make an analogous point about ASA sections. We are having the current debate partly because over time the role of sections in the ASA has changed. Section membership is an important way in which opportunities to participate in the annual program are allocated. At the same time, costs of ASA membership have risen. In these and other ways, there is a political economy to the very small world-system of the ASA. The urge to dilute specificity of theme in order to be large is shaped by that political economy (as well as by a bean-counting, mass-mediated culture in which success is measured by popularity).
We can’t unilaterally undo the political economy of the ASA or escape the pressures it imposes. But in asking about the identity and focus of the section, I urge making clarity of intellectual purpose central. Likewise, in trying to achieve more balanced participation along gender (and other) lines, I would counsel focusing not simply on an ever-longer list of topics included, but more on the networks we form, the behavior we manifest, and the value of bringing our distinctive intellectual perspective to understanding and acting on structures of unequal power and resources.
Roslyn Bologh, 2/24/18
Regarding gender: As a female radical political economy person (both Marxist section and PEWS), and classical theory person, who wrote on pol econ and Weber (and his influence on Morgenthau who influenced Kissinger) from a feminist perspective, I remember making a poster asking Is Political Economy Only for Men? in hopes of attracting women students to a study group proposed by one male student and joined by other male students — and one woman who was working on her dissertation with me. The poster was unsuccessful. The issue transcends PEWS. The very terms political and economic have something about them that says “for men.” I think we need to do more recruiting into the “field” of pol econ analysis as part of recruiting for PEWs. (I do not know how many people this will reach as I am responding to the email exchanges.) Giving an impassioned talk this past semester to incoming doctoral students in soc about the critical significance of political economy to any sociological research interest has, I have been told, made an impact such that a good number of the students later identified their research interests to include political economy when none had at the beginning of the semester. My latest class grad course (before that impassioned speech) on pol econ and social change had more women than men, so maybe there is hope for change.
Jackie Smith, 2/25/18
I want to just add to this discussion the point that there is an assumption in many posts that vibrancy of world-systems analysis is reflected in ASA PEWS section memberships. This is not a good measurement of our section’s ‘membership.’ The section’s formal ASA membership is –as we have discussed- limited by the fact that we are a section of the ASA (and many PEWS folks are not US residents or sociologists) and our relatively high dues that are related to our sponsorship of an important political project– our open access journal-Journal of World-Systems Research. The fact that we produce a free journal that is accessible to anyone anywhere in the world who has a computer and can read English is exceptionally critical to keep in mind. In many ways our ‘membership’ (or maybe ‘constituency’) goes well beyond the ASA, if we consider membership to include those involved in some way with our journal (readers, reviewers, contributors, etc.).
Paywalls like ASA dues reproduce hierarchies. Our free journal helps overcome this problem, but it requires more consciousness in our section of the relationship of the journal to the section. If you haven’t looked at the recent content, we’ve had some really excellent papers in recent years advancing thinking about gender, racial, and colonial dimensions of the world-system, and I think this speaks more to the question of inclusivity than ASA section memberships does. I’ve been working also to find ways to reduce the journal’s dependence on member dues, but I need more help from PEWS members to help find creative ways to make JWSR more financially sustainable (I have ideas for how we can do this, I just lack time to do it given my other editorial work!).
Hopefully we can think about how to better integrate the journal into the section and to involve more section members in the work of the journal.
Chris Chase-Dunn, 2/26
thanks to ros for the reminder encourage our female students to populate
the male topics in social science. there has been some progress on this
but not enough.
i want to provide a couple of short essays on the world-systems perspective
and on immanuel wallerstein for those who are new to the section (see
below. when we are debating the value of a heritage it is a good idea to
know what it is. these essays only cover the surface but i am quite
willing to discuss the finer points or respond to critiques.
#112 Dmytro Khutkyy and Christopher Chase-Dunn “World-Systems”
#125 Thomas D. Hall, Christopher Chase-Dunn, and Hiroko Inoue “Wallerstein,