Section Announcements: Special issue of the Journal of World-Systems Research, focused on biography and history and Summer School on China Studies, with the theme “Gender and Women in China’s Transitional Society.”

(1) JWSR Special Issue on World-System Biographies

Edited by Kevan Harris & Brendan McQuade


C. Wright Mills boiled the social sciences down to one sentence: “They are attempts to help us understand biography and history, and the connections between the two in a variety of social structures” (1959: 31-2).  Judging by the nonfiction shelves, biography as form is mostly associated with histories of “great men” unchained by their surroundings and destined for either eminence or infamy: presidents, CEOs, dictators, cultural icons, dissidents.  Yet the use of biographical methods, as well as prosopography (group biography), has produced some of the field-defining works of 20th century social science.  Think of Charles Beard on the economic interests of the U.S. founding fathers, Pitrim Sorokin on the social mobility of families before and after the Russian revolution, Robert Merton on the Protestant orientation of English scientists, CLR James on Caribbean cricketers during British decolonization, Daniel Bertaux on networks of artisanal breadmakers in Paris, or Jeffrey Paige on the elite dynasties of Central American coffee production.  These works conceptually and empirically cut the Gordian knot of the agency/structure divide.  This method should be distinguished from the more common approach of history “from below” which takes as its target the elitist hagiographies of great men but can lack the theoretical scaffolding which Mills championed for a critical and emancipatory social science.  In The Sociological Imagination, Mills is quite explicit: “No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey” (6). 


To this end, this special issue develops the method of world-system biography.  If there is a single critique of world-systems analysis which has stuck over the past three decades, though unfairly, it is the charge of reductionism.  In experiences with young scholars in U.S.-based graduate programs in sociology, history, or politics, we have observed that world-systems analysis is mentioned in the same timbre as a Lincoln Town Car: impressive a few decades ago but irrelevant today.  The critics protest that a world-systems approach flattens social action to an economic logic, and “assum[es] that individuals would act in a manner consistent with what we today call economic rationality” (Denemark & Thomas 1988: 53).  These “non-debates” do a bit of flattening to world-systems analysis themselves, but the question of the individual remains unaddressed.  Despite the “cultural turn” in world-systems analysis, projects such as “the coloniality of power” associated with Anibal Quijano or Richard Lee’s world-historical sociology of knowledge do not directly deal with the dilemma of individual practice and social structure.  The innovative research on the role of household production by Joan Smith and Immanuel Wallerstein broadly deals with the hidden micro-structures of capitalist reproduction but does not trace out the path of single families through time and space.  It is for this reason our special issue is relevant for the Journal of World-Systems Research.  As Robert Caro, who spent his entire life writing the biographies of two people – Lyndon Johnson and Robert Moses – put it, “I came to see that I wasn’t really interested in writing a biography to tell the story of a famous man.  I realized that what I wanted to do was to use biography as a means of illuminating the great forces that shape the times” (1999).


Georgi Derluguian originally formulated this approach in Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World-System Biography (2005).  Derluguian’s work emerged via an accidental encounter between a student of Immanuel Wallerstein and a Kabardino-Balkarian sociologist-turned-warlord with an affinity for Pierre Bourdieu.  Derluguian was not simply being coy with his title.  He aimed to show how “comprehensive interpretation of specific micro-interactions necessarily requires articulating their relational position within macro-contexts; but by the same token, an account of global trends will have no force or substance unless its observations and analyses are rooted in empirical situations” (2005: 10).  In the book, Derluguian used the figure of Yuri Shanibov to tell the story of Soviet modernization.  Shanibov’s biography seems exceptional.  A dissident intellectual who waited out the Brezhnev years, he eventually adopted the once prohibited language of nationalism and re-emerged in the 1990s as Musa Shanib, the leader of Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the North Caucasus.  Yet Derluguian’s approach sets the biographical arc of Shanibov in relief with the shared experiences produced by the Soviet developmental state: the children of Stalin-era rapid growth became the Sovietsoixante-huitards who demonstrated the limits of Khrushchev’s reforms and then outlived the USSR to face the uncertain opportunity and chaos of the post-socialist era.


The book produced a suggestive but preliminary via media for overcoming the agency/structure dilemma — the opposition between idiographic and nomothetic approaches to knowledge production.  To this end, Derluguian drew on world-systems analysis to examine the structural contradictions of semi-peripheral modernization, Charles Tilly’s “alternative political science” to rethink the obfuscating labels of regime type for the USSR, and Bourdieu’s field theory to approach the structured embeddedness and historical constraints observable within individual practice.  Objects of study, Derluguian wrote, “should be situated in their extended environments and analyzed by locating them within pulsating and slowly evolving webs of relations” (12).


This special issue of JWSR explores and expands world-system biography as a methodological approach in the field of world-systems analysis.  We are looking for articles will deepen the lines of inquiry launched by Derluguian with a series of case studies that lay out “webs of relations” for a variety of world-historical individuals, whether marginalized or empowered, that acted as a carrier and producer of change. In this endeavor, we hope to demonstrate that world-systems analysis contains unique and useful theoretical and conceptual tools that young scholars can fruitfully apply in their own research – a 21st century social science.



We ask all interested contributors to send make note of the following timetable

-Article proposal due (500 words): April 1, 2014.

-Proposal notification: April 15, 2014.

-Full article draft due: May 31, 2014.

-Peer review results: November 1, 2014.

-Final revised article due: January 31, 2015.

-Notification of final acceptance: February 15, 2015.

-Anticipated Publication: January 2015.


Journal of World-Systems Research is the official publication of the Political Economy of the World-System section of the American Sociology Association. It is open-access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the study historical and relational study of the diverse and deep-seated global processes and movements that transform our lives and shape the world. For more information see:



Kevan Harris (Ph.D., Sociology, Johns Hopkins University ’12) is a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies.  He is the author of articles inMobilization and International Journal of Middle East Studies, as well as forthcoming book chapters in volumes published by Stanford University Press, Columbia/Hurst, NYU Press, and SUNY Press.  Email:


Brendan McQuade is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at SUNY Binghamton.  He is the author of articles in The American Journal of Cultural Sociology and Critical Sociology, as well as an edited volume chapter published by Carolina Academic Press.




(2) The Fifth International Summer School on China Studies





Beginning in 2010, the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Modern China Studies of Nanjing University have successfully organized four International Summer Schools on China Studies (2010-2014), co-hosted by prestigious institutions worldwide, including the China Studies Centre of the University of Sydney, the Harvard-Yenching Institute, the National Institute of Chinese Studies of the University of Leeds, the Worldwide Universities Network and the Department of History of Nanjing University. Between 2010 and 2014, the summer school has attracted over 120 doctoral and postgraduate students from various prestigious universities, such as Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Oxford University, Cambridge University, University of Leeds, The University of Sydney, Leiden University, Nagoya University, Seoul National University, Beijing University, Tsinghua University, Nanjing University, Fudan University and National Taiwan University.

Based on the success of previous Summer Schools, the Center for Modern China Studies of Nanjing University, the China Studies Centre of the University of Sydney, and the Department of History of Nanjing University have agreed to sponsor the Fifth (2014) International Summer School on China Studies.




To spotlight the international implications of Chinese experiences against the background of globalization;

To provide worldwide young scholars who engage in China studies with an opportunity to understand China;

To share academic wisdom with outstanding researchers and to be enlightened by criticisms from the younger generation;

To initiate worldwide communication and cooperation among institutes for China Studies;

To advance international studies of China and to promote their intellectual accumulation.




Interaction among professors, government officials and students to build a platform for communication, analysis and understanding of Chinese society;

Integration of indigenous perspectives and international horizons, which will be characterized by opinions about Chinese issues from both Chinese and international scholars;

Pluralism in class composition, which will be reflected by students’ national, ethnic, regional and gender varieties,leading toeffective communications between different cultures;

Classroom activities complemented by field research, which will facilitate theoretical understandings as well as empirical appreciations of both urban and rural China.




China Studies Center, The University of Sydney

Center for Modern China Studies, Nanjing University

Department of History, Nanjing University 


ØTheme of the Year


The summer school will choose different themes for different years, according to the evolution of Chinese society and the development in China studies. Based on the chosen themes, five to eight professors from both China and other countries will be appointed for lectures. Meanwhile, fieldworks will be organized based on the themes. For the previous four summer schools, the themes include: “International Implications of Chinese Experiences” (2010), “Rural China: Problems and Developments” (2010), “Changing Urbanity in China” (2010), “Social Stratification and Citizenship: Mobility, Migration, and the Modern Middle Class” (2011), “Social Sciences Approaches to Chinese Everyday Life since 1978: Family, Education, Religion and Consumption” (2012), and “Non-Government Organization, Market and State” (2013).

Professors who taught at these Summer Schools were the most prestigious scholars among their fields. They includedEdward Friedman (Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA), ThomasP.Bernstein (Department of Political Science, Columbia University, USA), Dorothy J. Solinger (Political Science, School of Social Sciences, University of California, Irvine, USA), Mark Selden (Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program, Cornell University, USA),Martin Whyte (Department of Sociology, Harvard University,USA), Deborah Davis(Department of Sociology, Yale University,USA), Richard Madsen(Department of Sociology, University of California, San Diego, USA ),Robert Weller (Department of Anthropology, Boston University, USA), David Goodman(China Studies Center,Department of Government and International Relations , The University of Sydney, AU), Bettina Gransow (The Institute of Chinese Studies, School of East Asian Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, DE), Peilin Li (Vice director, Chinese Academy of Social Science, CN), Chunling Li (Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Science, CN), Zhenglai Deng (the late former director, Fudan Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences, CN), Liping Sun (Department of Sociology, Tsinghua University, CN), Ming Wang (Director of NGO Research Center, the School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University, CN), Lulu Li (Department of Sociology, Renmin University of China, CN), Yi Zhou (Department of Sociology, Fudan University, CN) and Mingxiu Jiang (Public Administration Department, Taiwan National Chengchi University, CN), etc. In 2014, we will also inviteprestigiousprofessors to teachin the summer school.


Theme of 2014 Summer School:

Gender and Women in China’s Transitional Society




The 2014 Summer School will span two weeks from June 23 to July 5, 2014. There will be three phases.

Phase one (June 23-27 & June 29-July 1): Seven or eight theme lectures.

Phase two (June 28): An international symposium on relevant themes, which our summer school enrollees are encouraged to attend.

Phase three (July 2 – July 5): Field visits and closing presentations of enrollees.


ØSite of the Event

The Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Centre for Chinese and American Studies


ØEligibility Criteria


The summer school is open to young teachers, doctoral students and outstanding postgraduates engaging in China studies from all over the world. There will be 30 enrollees. The applicant should (1) either be employed by an institution of higher education studying China-relevant social sciences and humanities, with a doctorate degree, and no more than 40 years old; or be studying in an institution of higher education aiming for a Ph.D. or master degree (provided that you stand out among other master students) of China-relevant social sciences and humanities such as economics, sociology, politics, history, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, communication and management and (2) have a good command of English and Chinese, be able to attend lectures and seminars given in both languages. Among the 40 students, 30 will be formally-registered and 10 will be visitors. While the former will be financed in transportation and accommodation, the latter will be responsible for their own expenses. For more details of the financial aid, please refer to “Nature of Award”.


ØFurther Information


1Information announcement

We will announce the information of 2014 International Summer School on China Studies through and Please pay attention to these two websites for the updated notice.

2. Nature of Award

The summer school is financed by the above-mentioned sponsors. The award for each enrollee consists of:

1) Round trip fare (please show us your air tickets, boarding cards or train tickets on enrollment. We will reimburse your travel expenditure before the conclusion of the summer school). The amount of reimbursement is as follows:

a) up to 500 US dollars for each enrollee from Europe, America and Australia;

b) up to 300 US dollars for each enrollee from Asian countries and regions (including Taiwan and Hong Kong);

c) up to 2,000 RMB yuan for each enrollee from Mainland China who will travel by air for a distance over 800 kilometers (one way); full reimbursement of the train ticket (economy) for each enrollee from Mainland China who will travel for no more than 800 kilometers.

2) Accommodations: June 22-July 5, 2014 in the Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Centre for Chinese and American Studies (twin room of the students’ dormitory);

3) Expenses of field visits, transportation;

4) Printed materials for the summer school and the symposium.

We are sorry to inform those who have been sponsored for any of the previous four summer schools, that due to our limited funding, you will not be financed for a second time. Nevertheless, you are welcome to apply to come as a visitor.

2. Time of Enrollment

June 22, 2013 (until 12:00 pm).

3. Place of Enrollment

The Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Centre for Chinese and American Studies at West Beijing Road, Nanjing, China

4. Contact Details


Tel. 86-25-89680953 (after the opening of the Spring Semester on Feb. 17);

Fax: 86-25-89680950

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