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Information Networks in Premodern Hierarchical World-Systems


This paper is a historical sociological exploration into the viability of using world-systems theory to examine premodern societies. Looking at world-system theory from the anthropological aspect of interactive networks, I argue that the most important and controversial network is the information network, although political/economic methods of studying world-systems persist among researchers of world-systems. The model for the premodern world-system is different enough from the modern model that the question arises if world-systems is even a viable framework for studying the premodern period. The main contribution I make in this paper is the discussion of four "facts" ala Durkheim's "social facts" that when considered, inform us of the effectiveness of information flows throughout premodern world-systems, absent of modern speed of transportation and communications transmissions. Information flowed effectively through the premodern world-system via the steady and constant ability of people to navigate these systems by traditions of human resiliency and social cooperation that we still see in indigenous populations today. The human element in the study of world-systems is the key to understanding premodern world-systems. A failed information network meant failed systemness, but it did not necessarily mean the failure of social organization. That continued through traditions of human resiliency. Putting the human face on the world-system may be the way to save this theory as a viable tool for the study of society.

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