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.

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

Thanks to Jasmine Kerrissey, I’ve been learning about labor unions both in the US and comparatively.  Our paper on union membership and political participation (in the US) is finally out:

Union Membership and Political Participation in the United States

Kerrissey, Jasmine O. and Evan Schofer.  2013.  Union Membership and Political Participation in the United States.  Social Forces, doi: 10.1093/sf/sos187.

We are also working on the same issue cross-nationally…

Karen Robinson Defends

December 10, 2011

OK, still catching up on old news…  We’ve had a bunch of defenses at UCI, starting with Karen Robinson a few months ago.

Karen’s dissertation looks at the rise of choice in university curricula over the past century.  Classically, universities offered rigid “courses of study” — specific sequences of topics, from which students could not deviate.  Or, there were exam-based programs, again affording no options to students.

This, of course, has given way to a world where students choose among myriad elective courses, and even design their own majors to address their highly individualized interests and preferences.

Karen does a wonderful job of telling an intertwined story — that the rise of individualism writ large is bound up with celebration of individualism and choice in university curricula.  On one hand, the university is a fantastic site to interrogate the nature of modern individualism (she has some amazing qualitative material). On the other hand, Karen argues that the university, itself, is a primary locus for the institutionalization and promulgation of individualism in modern societies.  Obviously, this historical shift is related to the rise of students as consumers, but she resists a simple story that student “demand” drives the expansion of choice.  Rather, Karen compellingly argues that the imagery of demand is just one facet of a sweeping cultural shift toward greater individualism in society.

David Frank chaired the committee, and you can see his influence in the massive data collection that Karen undertook.  (David is rather zealous — some would say crazy — when it comes to data.)  She examined university course catalogs over an entire century, focusing mostly on American universities (including elite, land-grant, religious, and historically black universities and colleges).  She also has a comparative chapter that examines diverse cases across the world — and shows that the rise of individualism and choice in university curricula is a global phenomenon.

Congratulations, Karen!

You can get a flavor of the project from Karen’s solo-authored paper in Sociological Forum, which came out in the September issue:  “The Rise of Choice in the U.S. University and College: 1910–2005“.  Congrats on that, too!

Meyer Annual Review

November 28, 2011

John Meyer wrote a terrific review paper entitled “World Society, Institutional Theories, and the Actor.”  It can be downloaded here.

It is John’s most refined, clear statement about institutional theory to date.  A definite “must-read.”

The review draws a contrast between cultural/phenomenological institutionalisms — which treat actors as socially constructed — versus “realist” institutionalisms which tend not to.  In John’s imagery, one might think of individuals or organizations as “stage actors” (who enact scripts) as opposed to a more conventional social-scientific or economistic view of actors with a priori preferences.

As a student in the 1990s, I can remember wading through “Ontology and Rationalization in the Modern Western Cultural Account”.  I spent quite a long time puzzling through that sweeping, profound, and sometimes cryptic chapter.  Reading this new review, I can’t help but be amazed at how much John’s vision has grown and become more clear.  The core ideas were already there in the 1987 chapter, but there was much fleshing-out to be done.

An excerpt from the 2010 review:

The Modern Social Order

“Under the cultural and associational conditions outlined above, the outlines of modern society become clear.  The scriptwriting Others of the world prescribe agentic actorhood for individual persons.  And they prescribed very agentic actorhood for the organizations and nation-states built by these persons.  Actorhood means the enhanced standing of the entities involved and their empowered comprehension of the scientized and rationalized environment in which they are to act.” p. 9

I included this excerpt partly because it is impressive to have see anyone try to sum up the entire modern social system in a paragraph.  Also, it shows that John still has the ability to be simultaneously sweeping, profound, and cryptic.  :)

Wade sent me and Ann some of his recent work on human rights.  He’s got some great papers, including one coming out in the AJS.  More congrats to Wade!  He’s really on a roll!

Anyhow, the papers take on a really important issue:  the conditions under which global institutions actually have meaningful consequences, versus being loosely coupled.  It is a really important direction for world society research.  (Ann and I have a paper in Social Forces that looks at environmental outcomes… and are thinking about doing more research along these lines.)

The AJS paper is entitled “Human Rights as Myth and Ceremony?  Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Human Rights Treaties.”  The paper addresses recent work, including a widely cited AJS paper by Emilie Hafner-Burton and Kiyo Tsutsui, showing that treaty signing is negatively associated with subsequent practices.  The literature concludes that treaties are “just talk”, or that treaties only matter in highly specific contexts.

Wade’s paper improves on the literature in two ways:  1) He delves much more into the substance of the treaties, looking at specific amendments and optional provisions that nations might sign — which might affect specific kinds of human rights outcomes; and 2) He addresses the possibility that treaty signing itself may be endogenous, via an instrumental variables model.

The AJS paper shows that nations making stronger treaty commitments tend to improve on various measures of human rights.  So, HR treaties do matter after all, it seems…  Go world polity!

The second paper, “Decoupling Reconsidered: Accounting for the Implementation Gap in Human Rights Treaties” looks at the state-level factors associated with loose coupling.  The paper is really terrific and deserves a close read.  But, in a nutshell, stable regimes are more likely to successfully implement treaties.  This fits really well with Ann’s prior work on weak states…  which often commit huge atrocities in the context of extreme disorder or civil conflict.  In other words, loose coupling probably isn’t “strategic” window dressing, but rather reflects the very limited state capacities of many countries.

Wade is looking for feedback as he revises the paper, so check it out:  Wade Cole Decoupling Reconsidered.pdf  Actually, knowing him, you’d better hurry with comments… I’m sure it will be in print soon!  :)

Professor Bromley!

October 19, 2011

OK, not exactly the newest news item…  I’m doing some long overdue posting.

Tricia (Martin) Bromley landed a job at the University of Utah in the Political Science Department.  Congrats Tricia!

I visited once and really liked it there — the Rocky Mountains are a stone’s throw away.  More on Utah hires in a future posting…

Tricia continues to crank out terrific papers, including this paper with John and Chiqui on student-centeredness in the curriculum, which is forthcoming in Social Forces (congrats on that, too!):

Bromley et al_Stud Cent_Social Forces_FINAL110411

The paper takes on a big and really important issue:  the dramatic shift toward student centrism in education.  Schooling used to put authoritative knowledge at front-and-center… Shakespeare and Plato are important, students are not.  In contrast, modern pedagogy places the empowered student at the center of things.  Instead of learning Shakespeare, they should write their own poetry.  This is reflected very clearly in textbooks…

The paper does two great things:  First, it brings some really amazing cross-national data to bear on the issue.  The Stanford group has assembled a truly remarkable dataset on textbooks from around the world.  Not only does this allow systematic statistical analysis of the issue, but  the examples (scanned images) really drive the points home.

Second, the paper (along with others coming out of the project) shows how the curriculum  is a powerful site for exploring the culture of modernity — in this case, the nature of “individualism.”  There is less work on the foundational culture of modernity than one might expect.  You’d think that sociologists of culture would be all over this stuff, but there sometimes seems to be a tendency to shy away from the foundational aspects of modern culture (there are notable exceptions, for instance Zelizer’s “Pricing the Priceless Child”).  Anyhow, the article offers fresh insights into the culture of individualism — and the role of the curriculum in institutionalizing that culture.

Good luck getting settled in the new job!


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