by Michael Burawoy, former President of the ISA, 2010-2014, and Chair of the Award Committee
The Opening Ceremony of the Yokohama World Congress of Sociology featured the ISA’s new and only association-wide award, the Award for Excellence in Sociological Research and Practice. The award was widely advertised to encourage the broadest possible nominations from ISA members. From among a number of impressive candidates, the seven-person committee drawn from the ISA Executive Committee chose Immanuel Wallerstein as the first recipient.
The award committee received a remarkable set of supporting documents testifying that among living sociologists no one has exercised more influence on the social sciences than Immanuel Wallerstein. His contributions to social science go well beyond producing a 50-year series of exceptional award-winning books and articles too numerous to count. Indeed, he is one of those very rare scholars whose work has been paradigm shifting.
Having started out in the 1960s analyzing colonialism and national liberation struggles in Africa, he turned to the broadest possible intellectual project, the analysis of the emergence and subsequent dynamics of the “modern world-system,” carefully grounding his theoretical enterprise in deep and detailed historical scholarship. Beginning in 1974 with the first volume of his Modern World-System (of which three further volumes appeared in 1980, 1989 and 2011) his approach revitalized sociology as a comparative historical enterprise, bringing it back to classic concerns with long-term social change. His world-systems framework continues to be a thriving area of social science, attracting some of its best minds.
As he rewrote the history of the world he came to reflect and analyze the peculiar provincialism of Western Social Science, not least its segmentation into artificial disciplines. His view on the reconstruction of the social sciences came to be widely known with the acclaimed publication of Open the Social Sciences, the 1995 report of the Gulbenkian Commission that he chaired. Since then he has been the author of many volumes on the history and future of the social sciences.
Wallerstein is not just an intellectual giant. He has also been a genuine servant of sociology as a global discipline, traveling tirelessly around the world and serving in a multitude of organizational roles. As President of the International Sociological Association (1994-98), he created a receptive space in the global arena for scholars from all over the world but particularly from the Global South, from Latin America, from Africa, from Asia and from the Middle East. He cultivated and inspired a new generation of leaders of the ISA and of world sociology. The committee considered there to be no more worthy first recipient of the Award for Excellence in Research and Practice of Sociology than Professor Immanuel Wallerstein.