Intellectual Identity Statement

“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.”

17 thoughts on “Intellectual Identity Statement

  1. These are all positive good first steps.

    The killer for PEWS is the annual conferences and the sessions at ASA.

    Every year the annual conference intentionally excludes over 90% of the membership.

    An extremely narrow theme is chosen.

    If you don’t fit the narrow theme – go home and stay home.

    Making 90% of your membership feel unwelcome every year is not a good way to build affection or core identification with your program.

    ASA panels can be a little more diverse – but as membership shrinks PEWS gets fewer and fewer of them.

    Until PEWS finds a way to give a larger percentage of the membership microphone time to present their scholarly work …

    People will go elsewhere to friendlier forums.

    1. The section leadership does not control the annual conference. It has its own organizational structure and the organizers may or may not be members of the section. This is one of the unique things about this section. Yes, it is a section of the American Sociological Association, but we are much broader than sociology and much broader than the US. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t find the themes to be narrow and I think that it’s a gross exaggeration to say that 90% of the membership are excluded.

      Do people really feel automatically excluded if the theme of a conference or the title of a session includes the words “world systems”? If so, I would suggest trying to submit something; it may not be as exclusive as you think.

      Suggest some other ways of giving members microphone time. For years, I have been reminding and urging members to submit proposals to ASA for thematic, regional spotlight or author meets critics sessions. That would be one way. I’m submitting one this year (for 2019); the deadline is Feb. 16. Has anyone else done it? And if they have done it and the proposals weren’t accepted it is not the fault of the section leadership.

      We co-sponsor mini-conferences on the day before or the day after ASA on a fairly regular basis. That’s another “microphone time opportunity. Tell us what else we could do.

  2. This draft identity statement is a solid starting point for re-thinking our identity, vision, and purpose. What is needed is a way or ways to distinguish PEWS more clearly from other sub-fields in Sociology — Environmental Sociology, Comparative Historical Sociology, etc.

    To do that I think that we should place front and central — and in the simplest terms — in our identity statement our work in developing news ways to study capital accumulation/capitalist development and the international system of nation-states — and the relationship between them.

    In the simplest but more direct terms, spell out what world-historical means and what a world-historical perspective does.

    Stating the work of PEWS as such is not to claim that all of our members do this — but that this relationship is the organizing framework of world systems analysis. And this framework and set of methodologies is what distinguishes world systems analysis within Sociology.

    But we also want to stress our cross-disciplinary (and interdisciplinary?) character. I think that there are at least two general ways to accomplish this —

    1. By positioning world systems analysis directly in conversation with political economy, including international political economy (and the political Marxist camp of international relations, and so on)

    2. By demonstrating how world systems analysis contributes to critical theory — as scholarship that seeks transformation, emancipation within historical capitalism. As scholarship that breaks down, problematizes, and provides alternatives to given social categories, terms of debates, etc.

    1. Great ideas! Do you have suggested language re: what world-historical means and what a world-historical perspective does? I know when I was talking with Amy and Matthew, that was what the sentence “This means understanding the dynamic relationship between “local” and “global” processes, whether historical or contemporary, as both patterned and historically contingent” was trying to get at. What’s a better or more useful/explicit way to write it?

  3. I agree that drafting a new identity statement is a great first step, and I thank the current leadership for putting forward these changes.
    I agree with Marion’s sentiment; we need to distinguish ourselves from other sections, but still be inclusive or diverse enough to include wide membership. I think that our “critical” approach to development/globalization research and theory is what makes us distinct.

  4. I would like to present some data to provide information about the PEWS and ASA’s membership over time. I hope these data will inform the discussion of the future of the section that has been started in the PEWS News and the proposed blog.
    The figure below shows the PEWS membership as percentage of the ASA membership since 1978. The figure also compares the PEWS section with the Sociology of Development and the Global and Transnational Sociology section membership trends.

    Figure 1: PEWS, Sociology of Development, and Global and Transnational Sociology section membership as percentage of ASA membership
    The PEWS membership shows a slow increase and became rather steady from the late 1980s with a slight increase after 2010 and a decrease in 2017. The recent founding of the Sociology of Development section and Global and Transnational Sociology sections show their popularity and rapid growth.
    The PEWS membership dropped in 2017, but there have been earlier drops of nearly the same size in 2009, 2001, and 1994. The growth and decline phases of the PEWS membership have followed similar ups and downs in ASA membership (see Figure 2) and are probably not much due to factors internal to the PEWS section.

    Figure 2: Percentage of PEWS and total ASA membership change since 1978
    It is possible that some of people who joined the Development and Global sections have dropped out of the PEWS section. Another cause of the drop in the PEWS membership count in 2017 could be the change of the ASA’s method of allowing gift memberships for students. The period for the sections to be able to do gift memberships was shortened in 2017.
    The overall trajectory of PEWS membership has been fairly stable, with downswings tracking similar downswings in overall ASA membership. The membership counts for the last forty years suggest that the decline of membership in 2017 does not look like a devastating crisis for the PEWS section. I hope these data will help promote a productive discussion, and I agree that we should make a strong effort to make the section more appealing to younger social scientists.

    Note: I would like to express my appreciation to Mark Fernando at the ASA home office for providing the data on section and ASA membership counts since the inception of the PEWS section. I am also thankful to Profs. Matthew Mahutga and Chris Chase-Dunn for their suggestions on an earlier draft. An Excel file with the membership counts and a longer discussion of the results are available at:
    http://irows.ucr.edu/hi/appendices/pewsmem/pewsmemtoc.htm

  5. I support Marion Dixon’s approach to clarifying the intellectual statement of PEWS. Foregrounding political economy and international political economy seems like a very good idea. I like the use of term world system, since it gives some clarity, though I don’t identify myself as a world-systems person and thus see myself as an interested, marginal supporter.

    I also appreciate Hiroko Inoue’s data analysis, since we don’t want to necessarily assume that there is a crisis when the problem lies elsewhere.

    At the same time, I think that this rethinking of PEWS is a good idea.

  6. 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.

    I think that world systems (with or without the hyphen) is what makes us distinctive. It signals a broad perspective, in geographical scope, historical time, and transdisciplinarity. It doesn’t mean that you ever have to cite Wallerstein, or Hopkins, or Arrighi, or Gunder Frank, etc. in your work. It doesn’t mean that your work has to be macro-structural. It does mean, I think, that whatever kind of research you do, with whatever theoretical framework or methodological orientation, you have to do it with a perspective that in some way situates your research within a social system that has global scope and persistence over several centuries. Your research has to give us some insight into how that larger system works. And that system works at very micro levels of individual interaction as well as at more macro levels. I’ve worked at trying to make that statement as inclusive as possible. Maybe I’ve failed miserably. But I encourage you to try to read it to find how you fit into world systems research rather than to hunt for the one word in there that makes you feel marginalized and excluded. Some people seem to have an adverse reaction to those two words put together – world system – that I can’t understand. In my opinion, we’re not using those words to attack or criticize anyone. We are using them to try to name a perspective that sets us apart from the development and the global and transnational sections.

    I think that a lot could be added to the draft statement to signal the broad range of research that members do. For instance, “we study capitalism as a global system with a critical perspective.” By suggesting that addition, I do not mean to imply that everyone in the section does that, nor do I mean that someone who doesn’t do that is not welcome in the section. I think that many other members could come up with other such statements that would not include the kind of research that I do but would include the kinds of research done by many other section members. Let’s put together a series of such statements with the understanding that we are trying to build a big tent rather than make invidious distinctions between those who belong and those who don’t.

    1. This revised mission statement is an incredible insult to long-term women members of PEWS, like me, who have always pushed for greater diversity within the section and who have employed world-systems analysis in our research about gender, race, and ethnicity in cutting edge ways. Under the guise of “greater inclusivity,” the Council is proposing a revised mission statement that encompasses everybody EXCEPT those of us who have been members of PEWS for decades because of its groundings in world-systems analysis. While it claims to describe the research interests of PEWS members, this revision lists broad vague areas that carefully deny the existence of those of us who employ world-systems analysis in our research, teaching and activism. Bluntly put, this revised mission statement pushes those of us who are world-systems analysts to the back of the bus, or even closes the flap of John Talbot’s so-called “big tent” to us, in order to make room for vague new types of potential members who do not yet exist in the section, and probably never will!

      It makes no sense to silence the world-systems legacy of PEWS in favor of this 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 CENTERED, and they are highly politicized. This should help everyone understand that vaguely described, “value neutral” sections do not exist in the ASA. It should also help us to recall that PEWS is one of a very few ASA sections that is not narrowly constrained by a US bias.

      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.” The Council’s revised mission statement deletes that unique legacy. If 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, thereby diminishing the section’s capacity to attract new members (or to retain many if its current members who are excluded from this revised rhetoric).

      Moreover, it is short-sighted to rationalize the need to revise the PEWS mission statement around individual career building. On the one hand, ASA sections can do very little to build the careers of their members. While Sam Cohn refers to the need for greater individual microphone time in PEWS, let’s get serious. Not even the largest ASA sections create visibility for more than a handful of their members. If PEWS offers 4 paper sessions at an annual ASA meeting, it creates microphone time for a maximum of 20 people, about one-third of whom will NOT be PEWS members. Let me point out, however, that PEWS offers two outlets for career building that only a tiny number of ASA sections make available. PEWS offers publication opportunities through an ASA approved journal and through an annual conference that generates a published collection. On the other hand, PEWS (and every other ASA section) exists for reasons other than narrow personal career building. Members of the largest ASA sections join them to make strong political statements, and most of us joined PEWS for the same reason. Our interests are not represented in this revised mission statement. Nor can we make PEWS more competitive for members if we depoliticize it in a way that is not characteristic of ASA sections.

      What sense does it make to throw away this section’s pivotal historical legacy in the face of worsening world crises? In the face of Trumpism and other right-wing political movements around the world, why should we deradicalize ourselves, as this revised mission statement proposes?

  7. I am frankly surprised at this “intellectual identity statement.” PEWS is founded specifically on a world-systems perspective and is not for “diverse epistemological, theoretical, and methodological perspectives” even if there are different ways of doing world-systems research. I am also puzzled by the bandying about of “world-historical”: putting a hyphen between two words doesnt a concept make!

  8. 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 (on the listserve), 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 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.

  9. Bill Robinson made a comment on the listserv that I feel quite sympathetic toward. Our intellectual identity certain HAS been firmly rooted in political economy. I’m not a big fan of the world-system language because I think it has too much intellectual baggage at this point, but I remain motivated by the “global.” I wouldn’t be terribly interested in a section that was not explicitly rooted in global political economy–that’s the research I do and we’re the only section that is historically rooted in the approach.

  10. Friends,

    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:

    1. PEWS is animated by the world-system perspective and encompasses research on all parts of the globe
    2. PEWS scholars study multiple scales of political economy from the individual and biographical to the global and everything in between
    3. PEWS scholars consider history important even to the study of the present
    4. 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”

    Best,
    Paul

  11. 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.

  12. Hi, everyone.

    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.

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