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Supranational Networks: States and Firms
Anthropology Faculty Publications
  • Alvin W. Wolfe
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The nation-state systems that seem to dominate the global landscape are not necessarily the

pinnacle of evolution. A conglomeration of interacting factors spelled doom for the traditional

colonialism of previous centuries while providing an ideal environment for multinational firms

operating above the level of nation-states to play an important role in the generation of a new

politico-socio-economic system better described by network models than by ordinary political

models. Previously existing units and subunits, in the course of adjustment and adaptation to

changing circumstances, change their relations with one another and are, sometimes, newly

integrated in a novel manner such that new units or subunits are recognizable.

It is puzzling that most scholars still see these changes as merely quantitative growth rather than

as a qualitatively new system at a supranational level of integration. Because human beings start

from concepts we already know, one really has to be strongly motivated to try to go beyond the

cognitive concepts one uses regularly to attempt to conceive of something different. In the

perspective of millions of years of evolution both states and business firms are relatively recent

emergents out of the processes of adaptation that generate all social formations. Both business

firms and nation states are kinds of corporations, and it is a mistake to deal separately with the

international network of states when it seems perfectly obvious that the supranational system

includes interacting states and corporations in a single complex network. Most countries are not

"natural" nation-states, but are corporations whose control over some territory is recognized by

some other states. States and companies should be treated similarly in analysis of the

supranational system and the best model for studying the supranational system is a network

model that begins with defining units and their relationships. In that mode, applying various

mathematical algorithms, one can find clusters and equivalence sets representing different levels

of organization in the network. At the same time as states are influencing firms, firms are busily

influencing states.


“Supranational Networks: States and Firms” is based upon a series of papers originally presented at the Sun Belt social Network Conference at Clearwater Beach, February,1987, and at the 86th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, in Chicago, November 20, 1987. Those papers were further updated and published in 2006 in the journal Peace and Conflict Studies (13(1):68-80).

Citation Information
Wolfe, Alvin W. "Supranational Networks: States and Firms." Peace and Conflict Studies 13.1 (2006): 68-80.