Professor Uno!

April 18, 2014

More good news: Mayumi Uno has joined the faculty at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan.  

Mayumi recently finished her dissertation had just started on the job market.  Mayumi is one of the very few people to get a job right away, from her very first interview.  That is an impressive accomplishment in a competitive job market!

Congratulations Mayumi!

Professor Shorette!

January 14, 2014

More good news:  Kristen Shorette will be joining SUNY Stony Brook next year as an assistant professor of sociology!

Kristen recently finished up her PhD here at UCI, having written a terrific dissertation on the global emergence of Fair Trade markets.  Stony Brook has had strength in global/transnational sociology for a long time.  Kristen, will find herself right at home there.

Kristen’s interview brought back some memories:  I actually had my very first job interview at Stony Brook, long ago.  I was very nervous, and didn’t get the job… but I nevertheless enjoyed the visit.  I got to meet people like Jackie Smith, Said Arjomand, Dianne Barthel, etc.  Since then, Stony Brook has continued to hire really smart global people like Tim Moran, Kiyo Tsutsui (now at Michigan), John Shandra, etc.  The Stony Brook department is a great fit for Kristen (and vice versa).

Congratulations Kristen!

Congratulations Shawn Wick

December 27, 2013

Belated congratulations to Shawn Wick, who successfully defended his dissertation earlier this fall!

The dissertation is titled “Missionaries of Modernization and Managers of Myth:  Organizational Legitimacy in the Field of International Development.”  The project takes the Peace Corp as a site to examine how development organizations describe themselves and craft narratives to maintain organizational legitimacy in the eyes of external constituencies as well as members of the organization.

The title gives hints at what drew Shawn to this project.  A Peace Corp volunteer prior to entering graduate school, Shawn was struck by the religious-like fervor common to many people and organizations in the development community.  This basic insight — that development is a culturally-infused domain — set the stage for his analysis of organizational narratives and the basis for the Peace Corp’s legitimacy.  Shawn finds that the original narrative developed at the Peace Corp’s inception has really stuck with the organization, and shaped how it has adapted to new political pressures in path dependent ways.

The dissertation is a great read.  Shawn is a terrific writer, and really conveys the feel of the milieu that the Peace Corp was operating in over the decades.

The Ron Aminzade and I were co-advisors, and Ann Hironaka and David Chapman were also on the committee.

I think all my University of Minnesota dissertation committees are wrapped up.  It has been great to see all the terrific students coming out of Minnesota… and to participate in some small way.  The grad program is really impressive (not to mention the faculty!).

Shawn is an assistant professor at Central College in Iowa… and now a PhD!  Congratulations, Shawn!

Polity vs society, the blog

November 20, 2013

Yes, I wanted to call the blog “”, but that name was already taken.  (I was annoyed to see that the person doesn’t use the blog… but still hogs the name.  Grrr.)

But, isn’t bad… and besides, retro is in, right?  If everyone switches to “world society theory”, the blog will be hip.

I brought up the question of “world polity theory” vs. “world society theory” as an issue of labeling.  In a nutshell, they refer to the same theoretical tradition within sociology.

But, there is also a substantive issue here.  A polity is not the same as a society.  Polity refers more narrowly to a formal political system and its associated authority structures.  Society encompasses much more than the polity, and many definitions stress elements that are outside of the formal political sphere, such as private association or even shared culture.

This raises several important questions for world society scholars:

  • Are global social phenomena best characterized as a polity?  Or a society?  Both?
  • Can one make a distinction between the world polity versus a broader world society?  Can they be measured independently?  One obvious contrast would be between intergovernmental structures (IGOs and treaties) and “global civil society” or INGOs.
  • Has the structure of the world society changed over time?  Is there more of a world society now, compared to just an interstate system?

I’ve thought about this a fair bit, heavily influenced by Ron Jepperson’s outstanding work on polity types.  For instance, Anglo-American dominance seems very obviously associated with the expansion of associational or “societal” activity in the international realm.  One could imagine a counterfactual world of French hegemony, where you wouldn’t find so many INGOs or other “societal” elements — it would be closer to a pure inter-state system.

Last week Wade Cole mentioned that he had also thought about the issue a little.  Well, Wade appears to have a gift for understatement.  He sent along a paper, and it is clear that he has thought about the issue a lot!  Wade agreed to let me post the draft, which does a great job of clarifying the issues at hand:  Cole World Polity vs World Society.pdf

Wade provides an incredibly lucid discussion of the policy vs. society distinction, and sets out a research agenda to explore the issue further.  Be sure to check out his paper!

By the way:  These substantive issues do have implications for how to label the perspective.  I think all the research on global culture, INGOs, and the like, are suggestive of a world society, not only a world polity (inter-state system).  So, I prefer “world society theory” on substantive grounds.

I get asked:  What’s the difference between world polity theory and world society theory?

The short answer:  They refer to the same intellectual tradition.  The term “world polity” came first.  But, the term “world society” is a bit broader and arguably more apt, so some people have shifted over to it.

The long answer:  World society theory is fairly new, as sociological theories go.  The terminology is still evolving as the ideas develop and as people explore different imageries to convey the ideas.

World society theory is (or was) called many different things:  world polity theory, world culture theory, institutional theory, neo-institutionalism, the “Meyerian” perspective, the Meyer school, and the Stanford school.  Of course, institutionalism is another can of worms, because it can mean a lot of different things.

The term world polity was used in foundational works (e.g., Thomas et al 1987) and it pretty much stuck.  When people like Finnemore translated the ideas to political science, that’s the label they used.  

A subsequent foundational paper, the Meyer et al. 1997 AJS paper, shifted to a new language:  “World Society and the Nation State”

I was talking with John Meyer and Wade Cole last week, and asked about that change in language.  To briefly summarize:  In the 1970s and 1980s, John was struggling to think about the rapid spread of state policies and structures.  The process appeared to be both global (as opposed to processes operating within national societies) and also social/political (as opposed to part of the world economy).  So he invoked the idea of a world polity, to draw argue for something beyond national societies and the global economy.

Research over the 1980s and 1990s unpacked a range of social, cultural, and organizational processes operating at the world level:  lots of discourse and culture, all sorts of associational and professional activity, and tons of organizations (especially INGOs).  At that point, it seemed more natural to talk about a world society as opposed to the narrower idea of polity (political system).

I used “world polity” up through my dissertation and sometimes afterward.  So did lots of others.  The Drori et. al book, published in 2003, is titled Science in the Modern World Polity.  Why did I switch later on?  Mainly practical reasons:  the term “world polity” confuses a lot of people.  In a couple of instances, copyeditors couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and just changed it to “world policy”.  I’ve gotten lots of blank stares, especially when teaching.  The term “world society” conveys a tiny bit more.  Even if people don’t know the theory, the name gives them the gist of it… or something closer to it.

But, switching to “world society” comes with costs.  World polity theory has more name recognition, and many continue to publish using the label.  Who knows what will ultimately catch on?  Perhaps something else altogether!  And, in the meantime people keep asking me about the  difference between world polity and world society…

The global citation cluster

November 12, 2013

I enjoyed Neal Caren’s post on the citation “clusters” of sociology, which follows Kieran Healy’s analysis of philosophy.  Neal took a bunch of articles from 2011 and 2012, and identified references that appeared together.  These form the basis for a cluster analysis.  (Sure, citation measures have all sorts of biases and problems… but it is still fun to look at them!)

One of the clusters is basically cross-national research.  I’ve cut & pasted the list of papers below.  Some off-the-cuff observations:

  • The core theme is cross-national research, but environment has become quite central.  I was a bit surprised.  Maybe it is because both world society and political economy scholars both think of the environment as a big issue.  Early on, Allan Schnaiberg (and others) directly linked environmental sociology to issues of political economy.  And, world society scholars care about the environment because it is a rapidly growing (and arguably unexpected) international regime.  By contrast, other classic world society topics, such as education and human rights, aren’t much on the radar of world system or political economy scholars.  I guess the environment is a bit of common substantive ground.
  • The foundational scholars are pretty much all there:  Wallerstein, Chase-Dunn, etc, and the world society crew, Boli, Meyer, Ramirez, Thomas.  But, with the exception of Wallerstein, the cites are newer work or reviews… for instance, the Meyer et al 1997 AJS and Boli & Thomas 1999, rather than the original 1987 “Institutional Structure.”  Likewise, we see Chase-Dunn and Grimes 1995, rather than the classic Global Formation.  I guess it makes sense.  The later syntheses are shorter and often more accessible.
  • Panel models are the common methodological glue:  Halaby 2004 and Wooldridge 2002.
  • As usual, Art Alderson shows up everywhere, along with his many terrific students and collaborators like David Brady, Jason Beckfield, etc.  Well deserved!
  • I’m visiting Stanford, and will be seeing John Meyer and Chiqui Ramirez later today.  They’ll be happy to hear that their 1997 AJS paper is at the top of the list.  They (along with John B. and George T.) put a ton of work into that paper…
  • It is great to see the next generation of global environmental sociologists showing up (Jorgensen, Clark, etc) along with the classics (York, Rosa, Dietz, Bunker, etc).
  • On a personal note, I’m glad the Schofer/Hironaka 2005 paper made it onto the list.  That paper had a rough time in the review process at several journals before finding a home.  I’ve always liked the paper a lot, so it is heartening that somebody is citing it.  In a nutshell, the paper argues that world society isn’t just a theory of policy diffusion or “myth and ceremony” without substance.  To the contrary, world society matters for the actual environment.


Excerpt from Neal’s post:

Keywords:  World, countries, economic, political, global, cross-national, international, development, levels, environmental

Name Centrality Count Keywords
Meyer J (1997) Am J Sociol 0.19 31 countries, world, models, global, international
Frank D (2000) Am Sociol Rev 0.13 19 world, global, cross-national, economic, organizations
York R (2003) Am Sociol Rev 0.10 18 environmental, environment, theoretical, theory, population
Schofer E (2005) Soc Forces 0.09 15 cross-national, world, countries, international, organizations
Alderson A (1999) Am Sociol Rev 0.09 13 countries, world, investment, inequality, economic
Wooldridge J (2002) Econometric Anal Cro 0.07 22 rates, countries, panel, many, increases
Beckfield J (2003) Am Sociol Rev 0.05 10 countries, organizations, global, international, theories
Kentor J (2003) Am Sociol Rev 0.04 9 countries, cross-national, economic, investment, trade
Bunker S (2005) Globalization Race R 0.04 10 international, environmental, theories, structural, sociology
Gereffi G (1994) Commodity Chains Glo 0.04 7 global, international, trade, economic, globalization
Halaby C (2004) Annu Rev Sociol 0.04 24 panel, economic, changes, longitudinal, period
Chasedunn C (1995) Annu Rev Sociol 0.03 6 trade, world, international, theoretical, labor
Molotch H (1976) Am J Sociol 0.03 12 political, development, economic, theory, urban
Brady D (2007) Stud Comp Int Dev 0.03 8 countries, inequality, development, global, modernization
Schrank A (2004) Soc Forces 0.03 5 world, economic, particular, trade, specifically
Beck T (2001) World Bank Econ Rev 0.02 7 countries, rights, abuse, human, often
Dietz T (2007) Front Ecol Environ 0.02 8 environmental, environment, global, theories, theory
Alderson A (2002) Am J Sociol 0.02 14 inequality, income, policy, countries, economic
Alderson A (2004) Am J Sociol 0.02 6 economic, global, world, countries, network
Wallerstein I (1974) Modern World System 0.02 11 global, sociological, overall, countries, empirical
Boli J (1999) Constructing World C 0.02 12 world, organizations, global, models, society
Clark B (2005) Theor Soc 0.02 8 environmental, ecological, understanding, theory, political
Jorgenson A (2009) Soc Probl 0.02 9 environmental, cross-national, environment, nations, emissions
Bair J (2001) World Dev 0.02 4 where, political, global, promote, labor
Schofer E (2005) Am Sociol Rev 0.02 12 countries, international, models, organizations, cross-national

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