Jan Hoff

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2011/2012
discipline Economics

Research project

The world-system theory from an epistemological point of view


The world-system theory is a scientific and interdisciplinary approach of analysis that primarily focuses on the historical development of the capitalist world economy. It can be defined as a macro theory with an universal claim of explication in relation to the economic, historical and political aspects of the capitalist world-system. Reconsidering the world-system theory in the light of the most recent developments of the world economy could not be done without regarding its epistemological dimension.


It is fair to state that the world-system theory cannot be reduced to one single school of thougt, but a whole complex field of differing theoretical approaches must be taken into consideration. The three most important examples are the respective theories of Immanuel Wallerstein, André Gunder Frank, and Giovanni Arrighi.


With respect to methodology, my research project rests on the differentiation of three levels. On the theoretico-historical level I focus on the development of the world-system analysis since the 1970s. The second level is concerned with an epistemological problematic. Here I question the role of the interdisciplinary world-system theory, in contrast to narrower, disciplinary perspectives, and in contrast to the so called area studies. In principle I agree to the opinion that the world-system theory in general offers a productive perspective as a macro analysis. On the third level I analyse the further development of the world-system theory in relation to the historical development of capitalism and the current world economy, in order to relate the recent theoretical developments to the changes the world economy has undergone in the last two decades. It is a leading hypothesis that Wallerstein’s “three-level-scheme” of the world economic hierarchy is not complex enough to reflect the economic reality properly. Especially Arrighi’s position has to be questioned critically. Here l refer to his opinion that the financial expansion of the USA should be regarded as the final phase of a coherent process within the capitalist world- system, and that a change of the leading position within the world-system is plausible for the next decades.



Jan Hoff was born in Engelskirchen, Germany, in 1980. He holds a Ph.D. from the the Freie Universität Berlin. He is currently a freelance researcher.

Selected publications


'Marx in Germany', in M.Musto (ed.), Marx for today, Routledge, London, 2012.


Global Marx. The development of the international reception of Marx since 1965, Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 2009.


'Wealth and value in classical political economy – a contribution to the history of economic theory from William Petty to David Ricardo', in I. Elbe and S. Ellmers (eds), Begründungskonstellationen der Moderne, Eigentum, Gesellschaftsvertrag, Staat, Münster, 2009, pp. 109-131.


Karl Marx and the „ricardian socialists“. A contribution to the history of political economy, of social philosophy, and of socialism, Reihe Hochschulschriften, vol. 72, Köln, 2008.


Das kapital neu lesen. beiträge zur radikalen philosophie, Westphälisches dampfboot, Münster, 2006.


Kritik der classischen politischen ekonomie, Köln, 2004.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline History of Science
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Linguistics
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Literature