PEWS Awards, 2002

PEWS Distinguished Book Award, 2002

The winner of the 2002 PEWS Distinguished Book Award is Denis O’Hearn’s The Atlantic Economy: Britain, the US and Ireland (Manchester University Press, 2001).

O’Hearn’s book poses two central questions: How do world-systemic processes including struggles over global hegemony and competitiveness affect the developmental choices of local actors; and under what conditions might local actors be able to break out of the limitations imposed on them by such global processes? In addressing these questions, O’Hearn carries out a detailed empirical analysis of successive Irish developmental strategies over the past five centuries. In the process he has produced an outstanding book that not only illuminates the Irish experience but also sheds new light on central debates within development studies and world systems analysis.

O’Hearn analyzes three major cycles of Irish industrialization, each characterized by a potential ‘switching point” in which Irish actors attempted to redirect the country’s development path towards one that would achieve core status. Each cycle, however, ended with Ireland’s resubordination and peripheralization within the Atlantic economy. The first major cycle examined by O’Hearn begins with an Irish attempt to compete in woolen manufactures in the seventeenth century and ends in the eighteenth century with England’s successful redirection of Irish development from a competitive to a complementary path emphasizing the production of linen and provisions for the British Navy. The second major cycle begins with Irish efforts to compete in the key core industry of the late-eighteenth century, cotton manufactures, and ends by the mid-nineteenth century in the redirection of Irish industries back towards activities that were not only peripheral but also supportive of British world-hegemonic strategies. O’Hearn’s third major cycle of Irish industrialization begins with southern Ireland’s attempt at import-substitution industrialization together with its disincorporation from British rule in the first half of the twentieth century followed by its reincorporation under US hegemony and dependent industrialization as a major export platform for US transnational corporations in the second half of the twentieth century.

O’Hearn argues that in each of the three periods a typical and repeated pattern of “problem solving” emerged between Ireland (as a peripheral region) and the hegemonic power, first Britain, then the United States. On a first level, O’Hearn argues that Ireland’s failure to move into the core was related to the fact that while the Irish attempted to replicate the leading power’s industrial success (in woolens, then cotton, and consumer durables) they were unable to become successful innovators in their own right. Using Schumpeter’s distinction between different types of innovation, O’Hearn claims that Irish industrialization was recurrently based on adaptive responses rather than creative responses, the latter being the crux of “core” economic processes.

On a second level, O’Hearn argues that this failure to become a center of innovation was in part an outcome of world-hegemonic strategies aimed at transforming Irish industries in a direction that was consistent with their global hegemonic projects. On a still deeper level, O’Hearn roots the success of these hegemonic strategies both in the path dependency created by Ireland’s incorporation as a peripheral region in the Atlantic economy and “deep hegemonic processes” directing the distribution of global wealth and power.These “deep processes” produced a recurrent pattern whereby Irish classes attempted to pursue core industrial activities when opportunities appeared, but were eventually unable to compete and moved back into agrarian production or subordinate industry.

While Ireland’s rapid growth in the 1990s has led many observers to claim that Ireland has successfully managed the latest “switching point” to full core status, O’Hearn’s longue durée analysis leads him to a more pessimistic conclusion. “The latest cycle of industrialization and industrial transformation in Ireland”, looks like “another, if different, form of peripheralization rather than a switching point from dependent peripheral development to full membership of the core of the Atlantic economy.”

O’Hearn’s analysis of the ways in which world-historical patterns and processes limit developmental opportunities at the local level, brings him to the conclusion that if development is to be possible for more than a handful of “lucky winners”, then fundamental change “must take place at the levels of Europe, of the Atlantic and global economies, and in the organization of whole commodity chains.” In the end, O’Hearn’s longue durée analysis of local strategies of development and their outcomes is an enlightening source of strategic insights for local actors as well as a major contribution to critical debates within world-systems and development studies.

PEWS Distinguished Article Award, 2002

The winner of the 2002 Political Economy of the World System’s Distinguished Article Award is: Jason Moore's “Environmental Crises and the Metabolic Rift in World-Historical Perspective”, which appeared in Organization and Environment in June 2000 (13:2: 123-157). This article combines strong empirical research with bold theorizing, in the best historical tradition of world-system theory. Drawing on a wide variety of historical sources, Moore convincingly argues that ecological crises have proceeded apace with capitalist world-system crises. Going back to the modern world-system’s sixteenth century origins, Moore shows how global capitalism not only transformed the world economy but its ecology as well. Drawing on Marx’s notion of the “metabolic rift” as developed by John Bellamy Foster, as well as Immanual Wallerstein’s account of the historic transition to capitalism, Moore shows how the “nutrient cycling” between country and city over the past half millennium has resulted in five “systemic cycles of agro-economic transformation” (his apt phrase), resulting in an ever-deepening metabolic rift between humans and the natural resources upon which they depend.

Case study empirical support for this argument is provided in a companion paper, “Sugar and the Expansion of the Early-Modern World-Economy,” published in Review in the same year (XXIII:3 2000: 409-433), where Moore advances the notion of the “commodity frontier” to argue that ecological degradation may indeed be “the primary force behind the cyclical geographical expansion of the modern world-economy” – a conclusion which, if correct, has significant implications for the future of the capitalist world-system, now that the entire planet has been brought into capitalism’s embrace. Indeed, he speculates, global ecological degradation may quickly put the breaks on future system expansion. Moore thus brings the environment back into world-system theory, by bringing nature back into the traditional trinity of capital, state, and labor.