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Open Access Publications from the University of California

World-systems in the Biogeosphere:Three Thousand Years of Urbanization, Empire Formation and Climate Change


Abstract: World-systems are human interaction networks that display oscillations of expansion and contraction, with occasional large expansions that bring formerly separate regional systems into systemic intercourse with one another. These waves of expansion, now called globalization, have, in the last two centuries, created a single integrated intercontinental political economy in which all national societies are strongly linked. This paper investigates the “pulsations” of regional interaction networks (world-systems) in Afroeurasia over the past 3000 years. The purpose is to determine the causes of a fascinating synchrony that emerged between East Asia and the distant West Asian/Mediterranean region, but did not involve the intermediate South Asian region. The hypothesized causes of this synchrony are climate change, epidemics, trade cycles, and the incursions of Central Asian steppe nomads. This paper formulates a strategy of data gathering, system modeling, and hypothesis testing that can allow us to discover which of these causes were the most important in producing synchrony as the Afroeurasian world-system came into being. To be presented at the conference on “Nature, Raw Materials and Political Economy” held in honor of Stephen Bunker’s contribution to political ecology, Madison, November 2, 2002. Thanks to Tom Hall for helpful comments. V. 10-30-02, (7707 words) This paper is available on the web at

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