Talk:World-systems theory

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Unusable format[edit]

Guys...! This article is rather long and messy. I think what happened is, everyone was only working on the part touching his personal interests.

I haven't even bothered to read all, but I think it's fair to say, the article talks about at least 4 different and sometimes mutually exclusive theories (and more can be created any time). So it's obvious to me, those main theories should get main articles (copy and paste, linked from this article here), this page should get trimmed down to a usable size and the first paragraph should name the different approaches at least.

Anyone in (dis-)agreement with me?Hirsch.im.wald (talk) 10:52, 21 December 2009 (UTC)

Literature[edit]

Shannon, Thomas R. "An intorduction to the World-System Perspective." Westview Press 1996. Bouldar, Colorado.

So, Alvin Y. "Social Change and Development: Modernization, Dependency, and World-System Theories." Sage Publications, Inc. 1990. Newbery Park, California.

World-Systems Theory?[edit]

The entry "world-systems theory" is a gross error. Wallerstein has written more than one article on why world-systems analysis is not a "theory" (singular) nor is "theory" (i.e. nomothetic abstraction). Ironically the writer of the current entry, to which I've made only a minor edit to replace the term "theory" with "analysis," even refers to one of Wallerstein's works titled, World-Systems Analysis. I don't know how to do it yet, but the entry should be changed to World-Systems Analysis, and an explanation as to why it's not theory ought to be included. Better yet, just buy Wallerstein's Introduction to World-Systems Analysis.

Elson E. Boles Saginaw Valley State University


I have to disagree with this decision. Wallerstein notwithstanding, most of us actually practicing in the world-systems world refer to it as "world-systems theory" or WST. Whether or not it is a theory, it is called world-systems theory. I won't unilaterally make the edit, however.

Salvatore Babones The University of Sydney (Secretary of the Political Economy of the World-System section of the ASA) —Preceding unsigned comment added by 121.210.169.195 (talk) 06:35, 27 June 2008 (UTC)


I also disagree with this decision. Although calling it World Systems Theory might be controversial, I'm afraid that there are many texts that refer to World Systems Theory. As an encyclopedia, it would be more helpful to have an entry at World Systems Theory and then mention that in more specialized literature "analysis" is preferred and/or a description of the controversy. Even more specialized reference sources such as the Oxford University Press Dictionary of the Social Sciences have an entry for World Systems Theory. I suggest World Systems Theory is a much more helpful starting point for those with no domain knowledge. I mention that many texts include the phrase World Systems Theory not to suggest that it somehow makes the phrase "correct" but instead to point out that many readers might encounter it and turn to wikipedia for a general explanation of it. Rabourn (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 03:34, 14 May 2009 (UTC).

World-Systems Theory?[edit]

Oops. I meant it should be changed FROM "World-Systems Theory TO "World-Systems Analysis." Elson

It may even be World-system analysis. See also Talk:World_System_Theory

--Henri 19:04, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

Capitalized - why?[edit]

Any objections to moving this article to world system theory? As for theory vs. analysis, I'd leave it to sb familar with his theories to make the appopriate changes and move the article (be bold and so fix it...). You may need to register first, Elson.--Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus Talk 22:03, 25 April 2006 (UTC)

Is there a clear definition of what it is in this article? If so, I can't find it.128.239.147.95 16:15, 4 May 2006 (UTC)

just make the changes Elson - seems you have the necessary knowledge... --Boszko2 16:34, 6 July 2006 (UTC)
I strongly oppose leaving this entry as "world-systems theory" precisely because -- as practitioners argue, including the founder Immanuel Wallerstei -- it isn't a theory but a paradigm within which there are different theories. Elson 12-18-06
I support renaming but be aware there is already a page World-systems analysis which redirects here. There are also quite a few pages that link to World-systems theory, so the whole thing will take a bit of sorting out to get it properly tidied up. Good luck! Kahuzi 12:05, 19 December 2006 (UTC)

moved from history of international trade, Intangible 18:11, 7 October 2006 (UTC)[edit]

Marc Bloc once wrote: Il n'y a pas d'histoire de l'Europe, il y a une histoire du monde! (There is no history of Europe, there is a history of the world.) World-system theory was introduced during the 1970s by historians like Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi, Andre Gunder Frank as opposition to classic historical and economical views. Main goal of World-system theory is to show that one cannot limit history and especially economic history to arbitrary units like modern nation-states, empires like Byzantine Empire or even units like Western Europe instead we must look at world-systems which are historically formed and interconnected units.

Fernand Braudel[edit]

One of the precursors and an early application of this theory can be found in Fernand Braudel's La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen a l'époque de Philippe II which originally appeared in 1949 where he thinks of the Mediterranean as a center around which an economy-world formed. Later in Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Centuries (1979) Braudel claims that there are long term cycles in capitalist economy which developed in Europe in 12th century. Cities and later nation-states follow each other subsequently as centers of these cycles. Venice in 13th to 15th century (1250-1510), Antwerpen in 16th (1500-1569), Amsterdam in 16th to 18th (1570-1733), London and England in 18th and 19th (1733-1896). The other source is Dependency theory first developed in the 1950s by Raul Prebisch.

Imannuel Wallerstein[edit]

Wallerstein locates the origin of the modern world-system in 16th century Western Europe and defines: "A world-system is a social system, one that has boundaries, structures, member groups, rules of legitimation, and coherence. Its life is made up of the conflicting forces which hold it together by tension and tear it apart as each group seeks eternally to remold it to its advantage. It has the characteristics of an organism, in that it has a life-span over which its characteristics change in some respects and remain stable in others. One can define its structures as being at different times strong or weak in terms of the internal logic of its functioning."

Andre Gunder Frank[edit]

Andre Gunder Frank goes even further and claims that there is really only one world system which includes Asia, Europe and Africa and claims that we can trace ongoing trade in this system in the last 5000 years. The center of this system has always been in Asia. Europe only prospered when Asian economy was in its contracting phase of long-term economic cycle and Europe had access to virtually free silver and gold from the Americas. There was no European miracle, Europe simply had geographical advantage in discovery of Americas. This contracting phase is now coming to an end and the center is moving back to Asia.

World system theory links[edit]

Merger now having been performed[edit]

(Franz weber) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Franz weber (talkcontribs) 12:44, 25 February 2008 (UTC)

POV-check-section on Second section[edit]

Mainly the last para. of this section, e.g. "...We agree with Arrighi ... Following Arrighi, we postulate that...". Not clear if this is quoting Kalecki or what? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Helvetius (talkcontribs) 11:55, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

Literature[edit]

The literature-"selection" is far too detailed. It should be reduced to the BEST 5-10 books and structured into primary literature (e.g. Wallerstein) and secundary literature about the theory. Maybe the German version could be an example, though the secondary literature part is not complete yet. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 87.176.166.156 (talk) 09:03, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

David Lempert's 'contribution' should be removed from this page. It was undoubtedly added by Lempert himself, whose own obviously self=authored wikipedia page shows him to be a consummate self-promoter, and not much of a genuine scholar, by the standards required in Wikipedia. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 116.84.159.80 (talk) 07:39, 28 December 2008 (UTC)

Possible Original Research or Synthesis[edit]

The text under "Wallerstein's formulation of the world-system approach" appears to be an essay on the subject. It is interesting but makes a few grosse claims: "Human history is progressive and inevitably so." It lacks references, and the formatting is also confusing; I am not sure when a quote begins or ends. Fijnlijn (talk) 11:44, 14 January 2009 (UTC)

I don't think that this section is ORish; it does seem to (claims to...) describe Wallenstein's views. Rather, its problem is same as most of the article - it lacks citations. Thus I think that we don't need the OR template; the current article-wide template about lack of citations seems to cover it. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 12:38, 5 July 2010 (UTC)

Name: theory, analysis, approach...?[edit]

According to Google Books search:

  • "World-systems theory" -> 19,5k hits
  • "World-systems analysis" - 8k hits
  • "World-systems approach" -> 2,5k hits

Thus I'd suggest to move this article back to "world-systems theory"; I don't believe that the 2008 move to "world-systems approach" was ever discussed. Thoughts? --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 11:52, 5 July 2010 (UTC)

Rewrite[edit]

This article was (still is...) in need of a major copyedit and rewrite. Part of that will include removal of some mostly irrelevant or OR-ish sections. I will move such sections here - perhaps somebody can rescue them later. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 12:35, 5 July 2010 (UTC)

1) I am removing a very long quote on dependency theory. First, such a long quotations is against our policy (WP:QUOTATIONS); second, it seems to concern dependency theory only - and not thee world-systems theory.

Latin American economist Osvaldo Sunkel, one of the founders of dependency theory:

2) Sentences that seem irrelevant to the subject:

  • History is the study of events (the idiographic approach) and social science discovers universal rules of human/social behavior (the nomothetic approach).

3) One very theoretical quote, followed by an unreferenced paragraph:

Wallerstein writes that:

It argues that the optimal method is to pursue analysis within systemic frameworks, long enough in time and large enough in space to contain governing 'logics' which 'determine' the largest part of sequential reality, while simultaneously recognizing and taking into account that these systemic frameworks have beginnings and ends and are therefore not to be conceived of as 'eternal' phenomena. Modern countries or 'states' are societies, or there is a society underlying each state. World-systems analysis argues that modern states have never been societies, but are the political units of modern society's interstate system and economy.

4) This entire section seems substandard, and goes off to discuss a minor aspect of the theory. It could make a good subarticle, after an expert takes a look at it...

=== The question of cycles ===

World systems theory has become part and parcel of the debate in major international peer-reviewed journals in the social sciences. For one, the entire notion of business cycles fascinates the profession. Without question, the notion of business cycles and war cycles dominates the debate about the time-series trajectory of the world system.

A rough schematic drawing showing the "World Economy" over time according to the Kondratiev theory

Although many contemporary economists don't consider the ideas of Nikolai Kondratiev on long term swings in economic activity relevant [1], several major figures of economics of the 20th Century, among them Economic Nobel Prizewinners, were deeply impressed by Nicolai Kondratiev's research, which forms the starting point of the world systems theory notion of long cycles. Among them were not just Joseph Alois Schumpeter and also in a way Simon Kuznets, but Ragnar Frisch; Gottfried Haberler; Alvin Hansen; Walt Rostow; and Jan Tinbergen. The revival of Kondratiev research in the 1960s and beyond is linked to the simulation efforts of Jay Forrester at the MIT in the context of his world modeling for the Club of Rome. IIASA developed a highly sophisticated debate on the issue, centered mainly on the works of the physicist Cesare Marchetti and the Portuguese systems scientist Tessaleno Devezas. Devezas' research is particularly noteworthy here, because it combines sociological insights into values and generations with the mathematics of cyclical swings in economics and demography. Forrester reproduced a 50-year pattern for the US-economy, based on his System Dynamics National Model (NM-model) which is based on 15 sectors. Marchetti moved the debate away from price series to physical quantities, including production and energy consumption. Unfortunately, as sophisticated and statistically satisfying as this IIASA debate might sound, it has been rather overlooked by both the mostly Marxist and world system supporters of Kondratiev waves and by their economist detractors.

Early on, the United States Central Intelligence Agency commissioned a research paper by Ehud Levy-Pascal in the 1970s on Kondratiev cycles, and it was published in 1976.[citation needed] The Swiss world system sociologist Volker Bornschier also carried out quantitative sociological surveys of Kondratiev type of waves. In addition, a decisive breakthrough in the entire debate was the M.S. dissertation by Joshua Goldstein at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under supervision of Hayward Alker.[2] NATO's interest in the entire question has an obvious background - long cycle theory allows long-term predictions that are important for military and political contingency planning. Finally, Russia rehabilitated Kondratiev's reputation and now devotes a state research institute to scientific investigation in his memory.

Kondratiev downswings were always particularly severe in the Russian periphery of the world system, and the vicissitudes of reform and the re-centralization of government are closely linked to the Kondratiev cycle. The cyclical swings in the periphery are by far more pronounced than in the center and the depressions more severe. The level of inequality is historically higher in the periphery than in the center, but inequality also increases in the centers. Such comparisons clearly suggest three tendencies:

a) first, a faster growth in the peripheries during the beginning B-phase of the Kondratiev cycle
b) a more severe depression in the peripheries than in the center
c) a belated recovery in the periphery

The very logic of industrial processes and basic innovations, as well as the societal models, connected with them, would suggest building cyclical fluctuations into more general theories of development (Amin, 1997). Blast furnaces and other important components of the industrial process, too, have a certain life cycle, comparable with the Juglar cycle and Kuznets cycle, just as technical innovations are scattered in a non-random fashion along time, coinciding with the Kondratiev cycle (Bornschier, 1988 and 1995; for a very comprehensive summary Scandella, 1998). There are short term instabilities of 3 to 5 years duration (Kitchin cycles), 8–11 years duration (Juglar cycles), 18–22 years duration (Kuznets waves), and longer, 40-60 year Kondratiev waves. The following dating scheme, taken here from Tausch/Ghymers, 2006 could be suggested in the light of the Schumpeterian theory tradition (Scandella, 1998). Global capitalism since 1740 had the following Kuznets cycles (calculations based on the untransformed rates of global industrial production growth, 1740–2004), based on polynomial expressions of the sixth order:

1741-1756; R^2 = 23.5 %
1756-1774; R^2 = 36.1 %
1774-1793; R^2 = 34.8 %
1793-1812; R^2 = 39.7 %
1812-1832; R^2 = 16.4 %
1832-1862; R^2 = 25.7 %
1862-1885; R^2 = 36.3 %
1885-1908; R^2 = 56.2 %
1908-1932; R^2 = 44.2 %
1932-1958; R^2 = 19.1 %
1958-1975; R^2 = 60.9 %
1975-1992; R^2 = 75.8 %

The period between 1756 and 1832 is then the first Kondratiev cycle of the industrial age, the period between 1832 and 1885 as the second Kondratiev cycle, the period between 1885 and 1932 as the third Kondratiev cycle, and the period between 1932 and 1975 as the fourth Kondratiev cycle. Therefore, according to this logic, we are now in the fifth Kondratiev cycle of the industrial age; with one Kuznets cycle after the depression of the mid-1970s already well behind us, and the second Kuznets cycle since 1992 pointing in a downward direction.

For Volker Bornschier, there are the following phases in the K-cycle:

  • Upswing
  • Prosperity
  • Prosperity-recession
  • Crisis
  • Temporary recovery
  • Depression

Tests, provided by Tausch/Ghymers show that the Bornschier dating scheme much better corresponds to the structure of world production data than the alternative, proposed by Goldstein. This scheme is in line with the dating scheme proposed by Joshua Goldstein, Phil O'Hara, and Ernest Mandel, among many others.

The question of war cycles has received enormous international attention. Joshua Goldstein was led to the conclusion that the capitalist world systems tends continuously towards wars and violent conflicts. The international system is characterized according to him by

global war -> world hegemony of the dominant power -> de-legitimization of the international order -> de-concentration of the global system -> global war et cetera

The duration of these phases of the international order is approximately one Kondratieff cycle, so the unit of time of the international system can be symbolized by the expression 1K.

At a time of major shifts in world politics and economics, it is no wonder that systematic studies in the evolution of the international order have gained ground. Goldstein's quantitative approach (1988 ff.) concentrated on the major power confrontations as the `watershed' in international relations. Ample empirical evidence supports both Arrighi's and Goldstein's theories. Each world political cycle up to now corresponded to a `W'-pattern of untransformed annual battle fatalities from major power wars in thousands. The war cycle 1495-1648 is a polynomial expression of the 6th order; R^2 is 91.7%; 1649-1816 yields an R^2 of 33.6%; while a polynomial expression of the 6th order explains 50.1% of war intensity 1817-1945. The x-axis in our graph is the number of years after the end of the major power wars, i.e. 1648, 1816, and 1945. The same, deadly function explains 49.5% of annual battle fatalities in thousands from 1946 to 1975 (Tausch, 2007).

Now, one of the most intriguing features of contemporary capitalism seems to be the fact that vigorous upswings need to be supported by a tightly organized new world political hegemonic order, while the strength of the downswings and the severity of the depressions always are a function of the waning world political order. All real major depressions in the world system were hegemonic transition phases, and all these major crises thus had the character of what the present author calls a "Tsunami wave" of world politics that each time was also connected with terrible social upheavals, depressions and the onsets of major power wars, like the great crash of the early 1340s, which marked the beginning of the Genoese age (Arrighi) or Portuguese and Genoese age (Modelski), the crash of the 1560s, which marked the beginning of the Dutch era, the depression of the 1750s and 1760s, which marked the beginning of the British era, and the Great Depression in the 1930s, which was the terminal crisis of British world capitalist dominance (Arrighi, 1995).

By re-analyzing latest conflict data (great power battle fatalities from all wars, Goldstein, 1988 and COW/PRIO, 2005, from 1945 to 2002 and as yet unpublished UNIDO data about the growth of world industrial production 1740 - 2004) it was shown in Tausch/Ghymers that the long Kuznets and Kondratiev swings and cycles of capitalist world development that play such an important role in the analysis of global war since 1945 have indeed not ended after the end of Communism, and that instability, and not stability, characterize the world economy, and that there is an indented "W" shaped pattern of global conflict since 1945 that did not end with the end of the Cold War. World hegemonies that characterize the workings of world capitalism arise and they end. As it is well known in world system research, especially from the works of Arrighi and Silver, there are signal crises of world capitalism (the usual Kondratiev depressions), and there are terminal crises of the world system, when hegemonies end. Peaceful transitions from one hegemony to the other are among the most intricate questions of peace research and peace policy of our time.

5) Another section moved from main, this seems to be again a discussion of too much detail for the general theory, and unreferenced, too

=== Regaining a Schumpeterian perspective ===

Authors like Joseph Alois Schumpeter, and later world system and dependency writers like Samir Amin, Volker Bornschier, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Raul Prebisch, and Osvaldo Sunkel were always aware of the crises, cyclical imbalances, regional shifts, and of the rise and decline of entire regions and even continents in the process of capitalist development.

Like many other development theorists of the first generation of development economists after the Second World War, whose stars began to rise long after Schumpeter in the post-war period, and who all greatly influenced "dependency theory" in the world periphery, like Kurt Mandelbaum, Paul Narcyz Rosenstein-Rodan, and Hans Wolfgang Singer, capitalism for Schumpeter never was a smooth equilibrium process, whose end result is crisis-free growth, full employment, environmental sustainability and an end to social exclusion.

Quantitative world systems debate has to mention the name of the Swiss sociologist Volker Bornschier, who throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond, has been a critical voice on the long-run detrimental effects of transnational penetration on the host countries in world capitalism, dynamizing the host countries of transnational foreign investment only in the short run, but leading towards inequality and stagnation in the long run, thus enormously enriching earlier work on dependency theories, pioneered by Peter Heintz and the Latin American "dependency theory school". His theoretical and empirical developments made "dependency theory" truly global and linked it up to the evolving world system school, and by his networking and collaboration –especially with Christopher Chase Dunn – firmly entrenched the "quantitative approach" in the world system school. His later work, related to the long cyclical fluctuations in the world economy, has shown that instability is also an overwhelming element in the historical evolution of capitalism, and that the world would need a new social contract similar in its encompassing nature to the one that shaped the world after the Great Depression in the 1930s. Bornschier put high hopes into the European Union as an alternative, more "social" pole in the world economy.

Ok I am done with early rewrite, although I still have more planned for this article. I will try to keep expanding it in the coming weeks and months... comments appreciated. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 20:40, 5 July 2010 (UTC)

6) this was moved from New Developements. While it is referenced, it seems to me that it is too detailed for this article, giving too much due weight to a few papers and views. The first sentence raises a red flag for me: "An important contribution to the study of the history of the World System..." - an important contribution according to whom? --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 19:10, 29 July 2010 (UTC)


An important contribution to the study of the history of the World System was produced by Christopher Chase-Dunn and Tom Hall who discovered a significant synchrony in the urban dynamics of the western and eastern parts of Afroeurasia starting from the 1st millennium BCE (Chase-Dunn, C., and T. Hall. Rise and Demise: Comparing World-Systems. Boulder, Colorado.: Westview Press, 1997). The possible mechanisms of this synchrony were analyzed by Peter Turchin and Tom Hall (Turchin, Peter and Thomas D. Hall. 2003. Spatial Synchrony among and within World-Systems: Insights from Theoretical Ecology. Journal of World-Systems Research 9:37-66).

Modern applications of the theory have sought to incorporate the changing relations between the First World and the Second World with the collapse of the Soviet Union, describing attempts by the United States and Europe to "colonize" or "absorb" the Newly Indepenent States of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe into the New World Order. David Lempert's description of "Pepsi-stroika" builds on the "Coca-colonization" theme. Michael Burawoy has also focused on these transformations.

Looking at World Systems Theory (as distinct from world-systems analysis) from this perspective demonstrates similarity to the concept of the Oecumene, used by cultural historians like William McNeill. Historically World Systems Theory have been very useful as an antidote to the exceptionalism of Globalisation Theorists who argue that the current system is wholly without precedent in world history.[3]

Merge from Core-periphery[edit]

I've taken a closer look at the Core-periphery article, and it is - at this point - a totally unreferenced fork of the "Characteristics of the modern world-system" section of the world-systems theory article (it explains the terms core, periphery, etc.). I suggest we merge it here (or, merge the few small part that appear salvageable). I am not sure if we need a core-periphery article at all, as we have a relatively well developed articles on the concepts of core countries, semi-periphery countries and periphery countries. Thoughts? --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 15:26, 11 July 2010 (UTC)

there's also a dependency theory article that's pretty much the same. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.72.219.248 (talk) 18:32, 6 August 2011 (UTC)

Criticisms section seems very one-sided[edit]

This is by no means an area of expertise for me--I'm just refreshing my memory for a lecture I have to give, but I was pretty disappointed by the criticisms section. Drawing your information on the criticisms from the primary proponent of the theory, only citing his descriptions of the criticisms, and then highlighting a quotation from him rebutting the critics doesn't seem to provide a real presentation of the other arguments.

Like I said, not my field, but the article comes off as unbalanced because of this section.

Numenetics (talk) 22:38, 28 November 2010 (UTC)

Unidisciplinary[edit]

I thought you might like to know that Wallerstein does state in World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction that his approach is neither "multidisciplinary" nor "transdisciplinary". These concepts refer to a form of research that moves from discipline to discipline, unable to make up its mind whether it is sociology, history, economics, politics, etc. Such researchers tend to come across as leaving their field and they lose credibility when they migrate from sociology to politics or economics, etc. Wallerstein disagrees with that whole structure of the disciplines as separate narrow-minded domains, and uses the word "Unidisciplinary" for World-Systems Analysis and his own field of research. Unfortunately, this not a widely recognised word. The word Unidisciplinarity could be considered as the title of a whole new article on Wikipedia if anyone is willing to research further. Wallerstein considers all societies to be one, all economies to be one, and all disciplines to be one, with the idea of exclusion being erroneous. This article should reflect that. Earthprophet (talk) 20:37, 9 March 2011 (UTC)

In reference to Human Geography[edit]

In reference to Human Geography the term Core-Periphery Model has been used exchangeably with the term World System's Theory —Preceding unsigned comment added by 99.7.6.5 (talk) 01:36, 13 May 2011 (UTC)

theory or not?[edit]

According to the article, Wallerstein rejects the term "theory" attributed to his world-systems analysis/project ("Wallerstein's project is frequently misunderstood as world-systems "theory," a term that he consistently rejects")

but elsewhere in the article, the term theory is used ("The most well-known version of the world-systems approach has been developed by Immanuel Wallerstein, who is seen as one of the founders of the intellectual school of world-systems theory") —Preceding unsigned comment added by 24.84.68.252 (talk) 00:58, 14 January 2013 (UTC)

Well, apparently most scholars disagree with Wallerstein, and the term theory is widely used in this context. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 15:56, 14 January 2013 (UTC)