The clash of interpretations: world-systems analysis and international relations theory

Chamsy el-Ojeili, Patrick Hayden

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter explores, and critically defends, one of the most ambitious human scientific theories, world-systems analysis (WSA), by setting it against major paradigms within the field of international relations (IR) theory. The chapter begins with an examination of the very different worlds of thought crucial to the formulation of WSA and realist and liberal paradigms, exploring core differences around units of analysis, structures and actors, power, key social dynamics and forces, and normative commitments. Setting out Wallerstein’s three-fold conceptualization of the world-system as encompassing the international division of labour, the interstate system, and the geoculture, the chapter then considers substantive debates around hegemony and polarity, conflict and warfare, and states and markets, which separate WSA and IR theory. Finally, in a section focussed on the challenges posed by more recent transformations in world politics, it brings WSA into conversation with the globalization literature and competing Marxian approaches. It contends that WSA continues to provide cogent, compelling challenges to the field of IR theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of economic imperialism
EditorsZac Cope, Immanuel Ness
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780197527092
ISBN (Print)9780197527085
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2022


  • World-systems theory
  • Immanuel Wallerstein
  • International relations theory
  • Imperialism
  • Globalization


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