The Semiperipheral States in the Twenty-first Century: Measuring the Structural Position of Regional Powers and Secondary Regional States

Publication Date01 Jan 2020
AuthorDaniel Morales Ruvalcaba
DOI10.1177/0020881719880769
SubjectResearch Articles
The Semiperipheral
States in the
Twenty-first Century:
Measuring the
Structural Position
of Regional Powers
and Secondary
Regional States
Daniel Morales Ruvalcaba1
Abstract
The notion of semiperiphery refers to specific, delimited, observable and geo-
graphically referenced spaces: the semiperipheries fulfil a complex structural
function and are not common in the world system. In this way, what countries
have transited through these ascending/descending mobilities and now make up
the semiperiphery? This article not only presents an extensive theoretical review
of the concept of semiperiphery but also demonstrates the coexistence of two
groups of states in the semiperiphery: the first, the high or strong, semiperiph-
ery, is composed of the so-called regional powers; the second, the low or weak,
semiperiphery, is made up of a group that has been little studied so far and that
can be named as secondary regional states. Due to an increase in their material
and immaterial capacities, the regional powers entered into a dynamic of rise in
the first decade of the twenty-first century and, with this, they strengthened their
position in the international structure; secondary regional states did not stand
out due to their emergence, but they significantly increased their semi-material
capacities, which places them on the path of development. However, none of the
cases have overcome their situation and semiperipheral nature.
Keywords
World system, semiperiphery, regional powers, secondary regional states, national
power
Research Article
1 Centre for Latin American Studies, School of International Studies, Sun Yat-sen University, China.
Corresponding author:
Daniel Morales Ruvalcaba, Center for Latin American Studies, School of International Studies, 10th F/L,
Administration Building, Sun Yat-sen University, Tangjia 519082, Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, China.
E-mail: morales@mail.sysu.edu.cn
International Studies
57(1) 20–50, 2020
2020 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/0020881719880769
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Morales Ruvalcaba 21
Introduction
When Carlos Aguirre questioned Immanuel Wallerstein about the authorship of
the core–semiperiphery–periphery model, the American professor acknowl-
edged that the terms core and periphery—as they have been used in the world-
systems approach—were created by Raúl Prebisch; on the other hand, regarding
the concept of semiperiphery, Immanuel Wallerstein said ‘I think it was I who
invented it. Above all, because I found it difficult to explain things without
talking about this intermediate level, without using this new term’ (Aguirre,
2003, p. 210).
Indeed, the characteristics and roles of the semiperiphery in the world system
were primarily exposed by Immanuel Wallerstein in some essays and, later, devel-
oped more rigorously in his work The Modern World-system (Wallerstein, 1974,
1976, 2011a, 2011b). This enterprise has been complemented, debated and fed
back by other authors who have endowed the notion of semiperiphery with a
much broader theoretical scope than originally planned (Arrighi & Drangel, 1986;
Chase-Dunn, 1988; Frank, 1979; Terlouw, 2001, 2002).
The semiperiphery could be seen simply as a concept full of indeterminacy and
ambiguity. But this is not the case, since the semiperiphery is not a residual cate-
gory but a concept that is essential to cover the empty dichotomy existing in the
core–periphery model. Immanuel Wallerstein defines the semiperipheral areas as
‘collection points of vital skills that are often politically unpopular. These middle
areas (like middle groups in an empire) partially deflect the political pressures
which groups primarily located in peripheral areas might otherwise direct against
core-states’ (Wallerstein, 2011a, pp. 349–350). Thus, being the most dynamic area
of transit, interconnection and flow in the world system, the semiperiphery is
determined and influenced by core processes in the same way that it is affected
and intervened by peripheral processes.
Although in the semiperiphery there is a relatively small number of states,
it is fundamental to point out that there is a hierarchy within this area and,
therefore, a subtle differentiation between countries, but that it is essential to
know to better understand the functioning of the international system and its
transformations.
The objective of this article is to demonstrate the coexistence of two groups of
states in the semiperiphery: the first group, the high or strong semiperiphery, is
composed of the so-called regional powers; the second group, the low or weak
semiperiphery, is made up of a group that has been little studied so far and that can
be named as secondary regional states. In this way, in the first part of this work,
the theoretical characteristics of semiperipheral states will be exposed and ana-
lyzed, with special support of the world-systems approach; in the second, the
semiperipheral states will be studied empirically and, through the implementation
of the World Power Index (WPI), the two categories of semiperipheral states men-
tioned above will be distinguished, which will then allow the analysis and obser-
vation of their roles in the international system.

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