Marilyn Grell-Brisk

Thèse de doctorat

Periphery-Semiperiphery in Motion

An exploration of the stratified world-economy 1965 – 2015

What happens to the structure of the world-system when China, with almost twenty percent of the world population, dramatically moves up in the world-economic hierarchy within the span of two decades? In a highly unequal system, what happens when it decides to heavily invest in one of the most economically depressed region of the world – Sub-Saharan Africa? There is a hierarchy in the world-economic system – top-middle-bottom or core-semiperiphery-periphery. Either way, those at the bottom are subordinated to those at the top. That is the nature of the world-economy. Therefore, where a country falls in the distribution of the world-economy is very important. In this thesis, global inequality is approached through the lens of global economic stratification. And, by global economic stratification we mean 1) to indicate where countries fit in the global economic hierarchy in relation to each other (for example, where does China fall in the hierarchy in relation to Angola, or India, or Ghana and vice versa and does that change over time); 2) the division of the global economic hierarchy into three economic zones of core, periphery and semi-periphery; 3) we determine whether or not structural changes in terms of the global economic hierarchy has occurred over time. In this study, the hierarchy is determined by each country’s population as a percentage of total world population, as a function of that country’s gross national income per capita (GNIPC).

The thesis examines how China’s upward mobility has affected not only the hierarchy of the world-economic structure but also, the effect this has had on other countries within the periphery. The thesis also explores the way in which countries adapt to the changing structure of the world-economy and how they reflect the more global and structural transformations in the world-system. The approach is a macro-comparative one with an emphasis on interactions within the modern capitalist world-system.

Initial findings are as follows:

  1. China’s movement into the middle stratum of the stratified world-economy has caused a shift away from the classic Wallersteinian trimodal distribution; and
  2. that this shift has created an unprecedented over-crowding effect in the semiperiphery. This is generating new systemic pressures that engender the spread of regional and multilateral organizations such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, the ASEAN Free Trade Area and Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. On the other hand, this systemic pressure can foster a more aggressive and confrontational core-semiperiphery-periphery relationship.
  3. that SSA as a region remained at the bottom of the stratified world-economy;
  4. but there were notable advances at the country level;
  5. that the upward movement of individual SSA countries within the hierarchy were in part, largely due to external factors such as engagement with China and political support from the Occident;
  6. availability and exploitation of natural resources worked considerably to the benefit of SSA countries.

The thesis attempts to change the direction of the discourse on the rise of China away from questions of hegemonic ascent to the impact of China’s advancement within the structural confines of the modern capitalist world-economy. Current research on global economic stratification have not focused on Sub-Saharan Africa so this is an attempt to rectify this gap in the literature. It also contributes to the growing discourse of China’s engagement with the African continent.

Collaborateur(s) et institut(s) associé(s) : Prof. Christian Suter, directeur de thèse, Institut de sociologie (UniNE)
Durée prévue :  2013 - 2017



Institut de sociologie
Faubourg de l'Hôpital 27
2000 Neuchâtel
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Courriel Marilyn Grell-Brisk

Intérêts de recherche

  • Theories of development;
  • World Systems Analysis (semiperipheral and peripheral state interactions, South-South relations);
  • Class Analysis (class formation, precarity);
  • Transnationalization;
  • Global Inequalities (stratification of the world-economy);
  • Economic History;
  • Comparative Historical Sociology