World System Theory: Meaning, Theories and Overview

The World System theory was proposed by Immanuel Wallenstein. He showed the origin of stratification on a global level.

world system theory meaning and examples

He made the representation of countries according to the division of labor. According to this theory, countries were divided into four types.

  1. Core Nations
  2. Semi-Periphery Nations
  3. Periphery Nations
  4. Others

Core Nations are those countries which have high skills and high economy and much richer than other countries. For example, Britain, France, Germany, and Holland come under this category.

Semi-Periphery Nations are those countries which does not account for much higher skills, instead, it was dependent on core nations. They were sluggish regarding trade growth. Some of the examples are the countries around Mediterranean.

Periphery Nation is those countries which were even lesser in development comparing to above categories. Their status as a function of time i.e. they can gain or lose their authority over the function of time. India and some parts of Africa came under this category.


Many countries like Southern Africa and Asia were running out of the list of dominance. They were solemnly tied under the spell of capitalism which acted as the hindrance to their growth. Africa was colonized by Britishers and it took them a long period to free themselves. This also added to development at a much slower pace.


This theory firstly emerged at the time of 1970’s but nowadays it has developed as a major topic for the division of countries regarding capital, skill, raw materials and labor quality.

Before World system theory, three theories were present viz. Annales School, Marxist Tradition, and Dependency Theory.


Fernand Braudel worked for the formation of Annales School in which there were mainly books of many authors which keenly studied many terms like geography, economy, and anthropology. This theory studied a country’s historical and geographical aspect to study world’s condition and position of every country at a global place.


Marx studied the conflict between people of different countries for wages hour and payments. It showed the struggles of labors due to the class system and inherently inferred that capitalism is just an exploitation process. Afterwards, a neo-Marxist theory came into the picture. Neo-Marxist was extending Marx ideation through business meetings. Sociologists like Herbert Marcuse also discovered branches of Neo-Marxism. But afterward, World system theory was significantly affected by Dependence Theory.


Raul Prebisch was the man who invented Dependence Theory. He said that the resources and labor are taken from poor countries to the core industries on the basis of power. The core industries enjoyed most of the wealth while the poor countries get poorer. Wallerstein opposed the traditional dependency theory and the concept that core industries are exploiting poor countries. He came up with the World system theory where he divided countries as core, semi-periphery and periphery countries.

Another sociologist Robinson criticized World System Theory because it was nation-oriented and neglected the global level of development. Robert Brenner also was in favor of Robinson and stated that this theory was not dealing with class-level small scale industries

Also Read: Sociology of Development

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I am Prerna Jha, pursuing mechanical engineering from KIIT, Odisha, But I Love to Read and Write Sociology Related Concepts and Theories. I have done schooling from MVM School, Bilaspur. I have interest in writing love stories or any specific genre. I pursue a great interest in quilting. Right now I am an aspiring writer who writes for various pages. I have participated in many social events. I am a social animal who likes to have maximum participation in any fest.