The Relevance of The Categories Used by Immanuel Wallerstein in World-Systems Analysis

World-systems cannot be described as a theory but rather a social analysis and a change developed that is used to understand the world’s dynamics. Before the 21st century, there was already a concept of the theoretical importance of globalization which received a lot of opposition from the great scholars of that time, one of them being Immanuel Wallerstein. In his journal titled World System Analysis, Wallerstein proposed three major categories which can be used to classify the world economy (Wallerstein, 2000, p. 347). This essay will use those three categories to better explain the economic inequalities experienced in the world today.

The Core

The core covers northwestern Europe and it is this region which benefited the most. If given a political perspective, the states in this region had a well-developed governance structure with strong mercenary armies. That gave them powers over the local bourgeoisie and control international commerce (Skocpol, 1977, p. 1075). In the process, they accumulated surplus wealth for themselves. With the increasing population growth in the rural, landlessness emerged and the residents offered cheap labor in the farms and manufacturing industries. As the rich farmers expanded their agricultural activities with the improved farm technology, they forced the peasant farmers to flee to the urban areas where they also provided cheap labor. This concept resulted in the economic class in these areas.

The Periphery

This is a region on the outer end of the scale. It comprises of the countries or regions which lacked proper governance and they became subjects to other more developed states. They were producers and the core relied heavily on them for raw materials and also for labor. The core and the periphery had unequal trade relationship where the core exploited their partners and in the process got surplus wealth. This is what Wallerstein termed unequal exchange of surplus from semi-proletarian regions in the periphery to the more developed core (Goldfrank, 2000, p. 172). Eastern Europe and Latin America exhibited the characteristics of the periphery. This region was invaded by the citizens from the core, destroyed their political structure and implemented weak bureaucracies. Some of the local farmers of Hispanic origin became aristocratic and were used to enslave the natives and African slaves to provide cheap raw materials which boosted the capitalist world economy. As a result, these areas remained in poverty and are still subjects.

The Semi-Periphery

This region acts as a buffer between the two extremes (Skocpol, 1977, p. 1081). According to the argument tabled by Immanuel Wallerstein, this region was exploited by the core but not to the same extent as the periphery. The region majorly consisted of the declining phase of the core and the rising phase of the periphery. Portugal and Spain exhibited these characteristics during the time of the study. Economically, the region had limited international banking services and limited production of high-quality and expensive products. They never dominated the international trade unlike the chore, hence failed to accumulate surplus wealth. These regions still act as buffers to bridge the link between the rich and the poor.


In the above discussed categories, Immanuel Wallerstein explained unequal economic development using capitalism approach. However, there are more factors which attributed to uneven world development than just the capitalism as he depicted. Such factors as cultural factors, ethnic conflict and corruption are not put into consideration. There are also a number of ways of exploiting and oppressing people which include tyrannical religious regimes. Additionally, some countries such as Bhutan and South America have not been affected by the global capitalism. As a result, Wallerstein ideas of Core, Semi-Periphery, and Periphery still remains unclear and that implies that his theory is difficult to implement.


Goldfrank, L. (2000). Paradigm Regained? The Rules of Wallerstein’s World-

System Method. Journal of World-Systems Research. Vol. 6. N. 2 pp. 150-195

Skocpol, T. (1977). Wallerstein’s World Capitalist System: A Theoretical and

Historical Critique. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 82. N. 5. pp. 1075-1090.

Wallerstein, I. (1974). The modern World System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the

Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.

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