Immanuel Wallerstein, Sociologist With Global View, Dies at 88


The picture Dr. Wallerstein saw was not complimentary to the West, or to capitalism.

“I had the gut feeling in the 1950s,” he wrote in “The Essential Wallerstein” (2000), “that the most important thing that was happening in the 20th-century world was the struggle to overcome the control by the Western world of the rest of the world.”

World-systems analysis, as he called his approach, occupied only a modest part of his wide-ranging scholarship, which also included numerous other books, among them “Unthinking Social Science” (1991), “After Liberalism” (1995), “The Decline of American Power” (2003), “The Uncertainties of Knowledge” (2004) and “The End of the World as We Know It: Social Science for the 21st Century” (1999).

He was also fully engaged with the times, writing on current events throughout his career and sometimes being directly involved in them. In 1968, as a professor at Columbia University, he was part of a faculty committee that sought to mediate the student uprising there. In 2014 he delivered a lecture to more than 1,000 students in Iran, where his writings have been widely read because of his criticism of capitalism and his view that the United States is on a downward trajectory.

An activist thread ran through his career and his writings.

“I have argued that world-systems analysis is not a theory but a protest against neglected issues and deceptive epistemologies,” he wrote.

“It is an intellectual task,” he continued, “that is and has to be a political task as well, because — I insist — the search for the true and the search for the good is but a single quest.”

Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein was born on Sept. 28, 1930, in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx. His father, Lazar, was trained as a rabbi and became a physician; his mother, Sara (Günsberg) Wallerstein, was an artist.

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