Sunday, September 27, 2009

Interview with Roberto Patricio Korzeniewicz

I had the opportunity to speak with Professor Roberto Patricio Korzenieweicz, better known to us as Patricio. One thing I admire about Patricio is how he talks about student works as potential contributions, as opposed to publications. Of course, there is nothing wrong with choosing publish over peril, but his language reminds us that we have something to not only gain from, but contribute to, our intellectual communities at such an early stage in our careers.

Patricio came to the United States from Argentina at 17 years old. He completed his bachelors’ at the University of Santa Cruz where he majored in Sociology and Latin American Studies. He went on to complete his PhD at SUNY Binghamton—a university, which is known for its research strengths in political economy and World Systems Analysis.

Here, Patricio discusses World Systems Analysis, his new book Unveiling Inequality: A World-Historical Perspective and offers advice to graduate students.

How did you become interested in World Systems Analysis?

I guess I became interested during my undergraduate education. There were several faculty members at [University of California] Santa Cruz, who had at least general interest in the approach…

Binghamton was actually the only graduate program to which I had applied when I finished. I was specifically interested in going to a place where they emphasized this World Systems perspective.

To me it just seemed evident that it made the most sense to study stratification from a global perspective, which by now might be more evident, but it wasn’t so evident at the time I began my graduate studies in 1980…There was this idea of an advanced first world, a socialist second world, a third world…So the idea that you could study all of these countries as part of a whole, was relatively innovative.

What makes it an approach and not a theory?

Well, there are two reasons why. First, within a world systems approach, you have different types of perspectives. Second, a theory usually implies that you have a set of hypothesis that you can test in different cases in different situations. Whereas, when you’re focusing on the world system as a whole, you’re not dealing with different cases, you’re dealing with a single instance in the development of a world system. So, it’s hard to do a theory that will apply to different instances of this world system since there has historically been only one.

World Systems Analysis combines, or we can say transcends, different disciplinary methods and analysis, drawing from economics, history and geography, for example. Why did you choose sociology as opposed to another discipline?

Actually, when I started my undergraduate education, I was interested in psychology—that lasted for like one semester…

I think that it happened by chance, to some extent, that World Systems Analysis happened to be grounded in a sociology department at Binghamton. It could have been grounded in a history department and I would have been a historian. I was interested primarily in the approach and it just so happened that that approach was housed in a sociology department.

I think that it’s important to have a sense of what are the different points that different disciplines contend with—but, I think that when it comes to the analysis of the development of this world-system, these disciplinary boundaries breakdown. It sometimes becomes more productive to explore the overlaps and interstices between these disciplines than being concentrated on a single approach.

What contribution did you aim to make with Unveiling Inequality: A World Historical Perspective, which you wrote with Timothy Patrick Moran?

I think its returning to what is in a sense the most original contribution of a World-systems perspective—this emphasis on the idea that one should think of stratification, mobility and hierarchies and inequalities as being global processes. And, once you look at these as global processes as opposed to processes that occur within individual nations, it changes your perspective on what are the possibilities and constraints of different strategies of development, strategies of mobility, patterns of stratification and so forth…

On the other hand, I think a lot of people [who employ] a world-systems perspective have shifted to analyze changing patterns of hegemony and sort of international political relations. I think many people have left behind and, to some extent, forgotten, this particular argument that a world-systems perspective was making about patterns of stratification. What our book is trying to do is to provide a way for a world-systems perspective to critically re-engage with the issues of social stratification, mobility and inequality.

Finally, is there any advice you have for the graduate students? Anything you wish you had known when you were in our shoes?

[Laughs]…Well, what do I want to say here?...

Well, the obvious is that the job market has become difficult over time and that the level of professional productivity you have to show to get a job and have good chances has increased significantly. You need to be focused on how to do those things that are going to get you work…On the other hand, one has to balance that with the fact that, hopefully, one is involved in this work not just to get a job, but because one deeply enjoys this kind of work and this kind of inquiry, no?

This is one of the moments in life where you’re going to have the most time available to dedicate to critical inquiry, critical thinking and having discussions with fellow students and all that kind of stuff…I wouldn’t want to say push the boundaries of how long you can stay in a program, but the idea is that you make this as productive as you can for your own self-fulfillment. If that involves building up your own personal vita, that’s fine, but if you want to get more out of this experience, beyond that, you should pay attention to those goals too.

If you want to know more about Patricio, he’s connected, add him as a friend on facebook!

-Kathryn Buford

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