What does Immanuel Wallerstein have to do with the Hunger Games?

ImageKatniss Everdeen is a resident of District 12, the co-victor of the 74thHunger Games along with Peeta Mellark, best friend of Gale Hawthorne, a skilled hunter, and an epitome of sacrifice and courage. Lovers of young adult fiction series can easily relate with Katniss; it is not difficult to fall in love with her, anyway. But as students of political science, we can all the more relate to the Capitol and Districts dichotomy, sharp contrasts as to their socio-economic conditions, and all sorts of political repression experienced by the latter (the annual Hunger Games being one of them). So like beauty, there is more to the Hunger Games trilogy than meets the eye.

We could dismiss this masterpiece of Suzanne Collins as a work of fiction. Of course, it is. Or we could posit that her work is more than a work of fiction; if anything, this is resonant to what is happening presently. How could a popular fiction series be so relevant in the real world? It is therefore the intent of this article to analyze the Hunger Games trilogy under the lens of Immanuel Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory.

The World Systems Theory: In a nutshell

Immanuel Wallerstein is the first among political scientists who described the modern world system as essentially capitalist in nature. He argues that the world system is an independent network of states linked by economic and political competition. His theory provides a framework on how modernization catalyzed changes to the world system as it places all the regions of the world into four categories: the core, periphery, semi-periphery, and external areas. The core regionsare the affluent, highly industrialized areas which benefit most from the capitalist world system. They have robust economies, strong governments, and high standards of living – characteristics which guarantee them a fully-fledged control over the international economy and obtain benefits in their own favor.  The periphery zones, on the other hand, are those areas which have backward economies despite their abundance in natural resources. The core regions exploit the resources of the peripheries for their own benefit, export raw materials from them, and sell the manufactured goods in an unreasonable price. As the peripheries lag behind in terms of economic development, the core regions accumulate more economic wealth and power.

Aside from the core and periphery, there are semi-periphery zones (areas which are either core regions in demise or peripheries attempting to clinch a spot in the global economy) and external areas (areas which have managed to stay away from the world economy).

The destitution of the districts

Critics often identify Panem as a dystopian, post-nuclear version of the United States. We learn in the books that Panem is comprised of 12 districts autocratically governed by the Capitol under the leadership of President Coriolanus Snow. We also learn even in the cinematic adaptation of the series that each district has its own specialization. District 3 is skilled on electronics, District 4 on fishing, District 11 on agriculture, and District 12 on coal mining, among others. The districts provide the raw materials and other necessities for the consumption of Capitol citizens.

Katniss’ home district, District 12, is so poverty-torn that one has to engage to black market activities and illegal hunting in order to survive a day. On the contrary, the Capitol is so posh and lavish that one can have direct access to every possibly known luxury in life. If you have read the series or watched the movie adaptation, the irony is very evident. The Capitol, representing the core, exhibits rapid development while the districts, representing the peripheries, suffer from low levels of economic productivity. The Capitol is exposed to new technologies needed to facilitate development; the districts are ignorant to the intricacies of these innovations. We can say that the districts could have been better off if not for the Capitol which monopolizes the consumption of top quality goods and services solely for its advantage. The Capitol is reliant to the districts as its primary source of goods and services; the districts, however, are not reliant to the Capitol as they would rather depend in fate than in their own government. The Capitol controls the resource supply since it has the power and recourse to do so. The districts have nothing of that sort.

The experience of the districts reflects what the least developed countries of the real world go through. The phenomenon is dubbed as the “resource curse” where resource abundance goes indirectly proportional to growth and development. The more plenty the resources, the higher the likeliness of underdevelopment. This could be the case when resources are not enjoyed by the citizens and stakeholders but by the capitalist entities. From here comes the backwash effect where a region’s economic gain translates to another region’s economic loss. Such is the case between the Capitol and the districts where the former gains exclusively from the latter’s eventual loss. With the prosperity of the few comes the destitution of the many, as they say so.

Ours is a real world. Katniss only exists in book. Even Panem; the Capitol and the districts; Peeta, Haymitch, Rue, Finnick and all the characters that we have started to admire; the Games itself, the Gamekeepers, and its ultra-modern arena – all of them are just etched in paper. But as surreal as they might be, the broadly-minded reader can still be able to ascribe powerful analogies from the book in today’s world. The presence of the Capitol and its exercise of manipulative control over the districts are only two of them. The Hunger Games trilogy offers deep insights, surprisingly much deeper than teenage love and obsession for carnage. Immanuel Wallerstein’s relevance to the fictional Panem has remarkably brought the scrutiny of the Hunger Games trilogy into new perspective. So for now, it is up to the intelligent reader to ascertain these profound ideas.

 

*This article was published at ‘A Different View’, the official online blog of the International Association for Political Science Students (IAPSS), on 20 January 2014. To read the articles written by my colleagues, click this link: http://iapss.org/index.php/articles

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