Dr. Lir Wang, PhD!!!

Lir (Cheng-Tong) Wang successfully defended her dissertation, entitled “Forces There and Here: Global and Local Influence on Divorce and Child Marriage.”  The project came together very nicely, and the defense went extremely well.  Congratulations Lir!

Lir’s dissertation uses the world society perspective to study family formation globally, focusing on the decline of child marriage and the rise of divorce.  Scholars such as Arland Thornton have long recognized that Western-style family structures have become increasingly normative around the world, buoyed by Western scholarship (e.g., modernization theorists of the 1960s and 1970s) and international organizations, which characterize the Western nuclear family as the ideal family form.  Lir develops explores and fleshes out the overlap between Thornton’s “developmental idealism” and world society theory… to the profit of both perspectives.

Lir argues that cultural understandings of the individual and marriage — increasingly institutionalized in human rights treaties and international organizations — legitimate divorce and recast child marriage as a human rights violation.  Marriage historically varied a lot around the world, but marital decisions were often the province of the family or clan (e.g., arranged marriages) and served collective purposes.  However, with the rise of new norms regarding individual autonomy, human rights, and women’s rights, the concept of marriage changes.

In a nutshell, marriage gets re-written around new global scripts that cast marriage as a contract between sovereign individuals who have extensive human rights.  Historically common practices like child marriage get re-cast as gross human rights violations.  And, marriage comes to be seen as an individual choice (rather than, say, a sacred religious bond) and thus one that people should be able to enter or exit as a matter of free will.

Lir also develops a very interesting idea:  That world society can have strong effects even in the absence of specific global norms or codified proclamations.  For instance:  while international treaties specifically decry child marriage, there is no equivalent strong global norm supporting the right to divorce.  Lir draws on the legal concept of the penumbra… even if there is no specific norm about divorce, new scripts about divorce emerge from the “penumbras” of world society.  If treaties confer human rights, gender equality, etc, then the right to divorce is essentially implied.  In other words, global norms regarding human rights and gender equality “spill over” and alter patterns of divorce, despite the fact that divorce isn’t directly addressed in treaties or UN discourses.

The empirical project is very impressive.  Lir did tremendous work assembling data on child marriage and divorce from UN sources and the Demographic and Health Surveys, yielding statistical analyses that are far more ambitious than prior work.  For instance, Lir develops panel models of divorce for a large sample of countries, whereas previous cross-national analyses are mainly cross-sectional and have small samples.

Lir uses both cross-national and multilevel models to explore the global forces that shape child marriage and divorce.  She consistently finds that countries most exposed to contemporary global cultural norms have less child marriage and more divorce.  Lir measures global cultural pressures in several ways, including national ratification of treaties like CEDAW, as well as the presence of INGOs or Women’s INGOs in a country.

Like Louisa Roberts, who also defended recently, Lir is an example of new scholarship exploring the effects of world society on individuals.  The perspective started out as a theory of state policy diffusion, but a growing body of evidence shows that global culture is remaking organizations and individuals… not just nation-states.  Great job Lir!

Louisa Roberts, PhD!

Congratulations to Louisa Roberts, who successfully defended her dissertation at Ohio State University this week:  “The Globalization of the Acceptance of Homosexuality:  Mass Opinion and National Policy”

The committee included Ryan King (the chair) and Hollie Brehm, two of the outstanding graduates of the Minnesota sociology department.  I met Louisa at ASA, and ended up getting added to her committee along the way.

The dissertation uses data from the World Values Survey to explore shifting values toward homosexuality around the world.  Louisa argues that world society sustains strong noms that are having a powerful impact, reshaping attitudes and also propelling pro-LGBT legislation such as laws permitting same-sex marriage.

Among the project’s many contributions:

1) First, the dissertation does a really nice job of describing and exploring the trends in attitudes toward homosexuality, overall and by region.  One comes away with a powerful sense of the dramatic global change that has occurred.  With the recent resurgence of anti-LGBT movements and legislation in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and some former soviet states, it is easy to forget the very large increases in tolerance throughout most of the world.  Sociologists are always quick to point out continuing injustices, and rightly so, but one must not lose sight of the tremendous social change that has occurred.  The change is massive, and cries out for explanation.  And, the dissertation does not disappoint in terms of developing a strong answer.

2) The project joins people like Liz Boyle, Markus Hadler, Jennifer Givens, and Lir Wang in exploring how world society affects individuals.  Originally, world society theory focused almost exclusively on state policy adoption… but it is increasingly clear that world society penetrates down into national societies and affects people.  This branch of the world society literature is in its infancy, and Louisa’s dissertation adds to the literature in a big way.

3) The first empirical chapter shows that world society (measures by INGOs) affects attitudes.  But, then in a very nice touch, Louisa shows that the liberal attitudes accelerate state policy adoption of LGBT-friendly policies, such as same-sex marriage laws.  So, states are “squeezed” from above (by world society pressures) and from below (by citizens, whose attitudes are shaped by world society).  I think this is an increasingly common dynamic — sort of a top-down world society version of Keck and Sikkink’s “boomerang”.  One place this is discussed is in a 2016 Social Forces article by Wes Longhofer, David Frank, Natasha Miric, and myself… though I think others have played with variants of this idea.  Anyhow, Louisa shows the process very well.

In Fall Louisa will be starting her new job as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Dakota.  Congratulations on that, too!!!

Julia Lerch is coming to UCI

Wonderful news:  Julia Lerch has just accepted an offer to join UCI as an Assistant Professor of Sociology!

Julia is a new PhD from Stanford who does fascinating work on international education issues.  Her dissertation examines the rise of “emergency education” as an issue in world society.  As education increasingly comes to be seen as an essential human right, efforts to address humanitarian crises (e.g., refugees) increasingly seek to provide children with education, in addition to food/housing/medical treatment, etc.  Julia’s dissertation is a deep multi-method analysis of the origins and spread of this new phenomenon.  The case provides a wonderful opportunity to unpack the evolving cultural understandings of education (and society) in world culture.

Julia’s position come from a cluster hire connected to Professor Carrol Connor in the School of Education focused on educational interventions (broadly defined).  It is hard to think of an intervention more important than providing education to those that are getting none at all, due to humanitarian crises.  Sociology is fortunate to be the beneficiary of this cluster hire.

Julia will make a tremendous addition to our world society group, bringing deep expertise in comparative education, international development, and world society theory.  Julia has been centrally involved in the Stanford comparative textbook project, working on papers with John Meyer, Chiqui Ramirez, Tricia Bromley, and Christine Wotipka.  And, if I remember her CV correctly, Julia has also collaborated with Garnett Russell and Lizzie Buckner.  That’s a pretty good group to be working with…

This is great news for Julia, and great news for UCI sociology!


Rethinking War

The big news in our household is that Ann’s newest book is out!


Tokens of Power: Rethinking War, by Ann Hironaka, (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Amazon link.

This is Ann’s biggest book by far in terms of scope and ambition.  It started as an effort to explore how world society shapes international competition and warmaking, but it evolved over time into a full-fledged critique of the dominant understandings of war in military history and international relations.

The book is too big to easily summarize, but I’ll try to provide a taste of it.  The conventional view in military history and classic international relations sees war as a domain of strategic action, in which states compete in order to survive.  Such analyses tend to focus on leaders and their strategies, the concrete resources they fight over, and the evolving technologies that determine the course and conduct of war.

Ann undercuts these seemingly iron-clad determinisms by focusing on the incredible ambiguity and complexity of warmaking.  In fact, the combatants, goals, and strategies are ever-changing, and in most cases leaders are perpetually caught flat-footed.  The history of war is filled with monumental disasters, of powerful countries making epic misjudgments and bankrupting or destroying themselves in pursuit of technologies and resources (“tokens of power”) that often proved worthless in the end.

Theoretically, the book draws together strands of John Meyer’s world society theory with Jim March’s insights about the challenges of learning and rational action in a complex and ambiguous world.  War may be a miasma of infinite complexity, but states are under pressure to prepare for it anyway.  And, where ambiguity dominates, dynamics of social construction fill in the gaps in military plans.  Military theorists construct arbitrary interpretations of prior wars, which diffuse across world society and inform subsequent generations of military planning.

Ultimately, Ann argues that interstate competition tends to devolve toward “one-upmanship”.  While the actual world is complex, the social hierarchy of Great Powers is crystal clear.  The complex goal of obtaining “security” devolves into efforts to climb above others in the status hierarchy, usually to the detriment of all involved.

Scholars in international relations have been moving in this direction to various degrees for some time.  Fearon pointed out that rational states would avoid (costly) wars, so warmaking must reflect systematic error and misperception.  And, IR theorists are more accepting of the idea that war involves tremendous uncertainty, that states follow “bandwagons”, and that states fight over intangible things like “reputation”.  And, constructivists like Wendt suggest that security, itself, is constructed.

Ann uses insights from sociology to link these emerging themes in IR theory, to create a more coherent overall account of the dynamics of warfare over the past few centuries.  Of course, I’m biased, but I think it is an incredibly important book.  Sociologists have largely given up the study of war, but I think this is unfortunate.  Sociological ideas are more relevant than ever as the field of IR itself seeks to move toward constructivist direction.

Ted Lieu is Awesome

OK, just wrapped up winter quarter, including my big undergraduate class on globalization, with 250 students.  The post-quarter decrease in student emails and meetings is a pleasant relief.

I hope to do some blogging again… starting with something rather off-topic.  One of my amazing friends from Stanford is in the news, in a very good way.  The Washington Post did a very nice write-up:

Ted Lieu is out-tweeting Trump, and it’s making him a political star

The article makes Ted sound like a saint… and I have to say, it is really true.  You’ll never come across a better person.  Nicer than nice.  Down to earth.  Smart.  Thoughtful.  More integrity than you can shake a stick at.  He’s like some caricature of the “good guy who went into politics to make the world a better place.”

Ted is truly mild mannered, so it is a bit of a surprise to see his brash tweets about Trump.  But, I think that says a lot about the current political environment.  Even mild mannered people (myself included) are shocked at the events of late.

I’ve never paid much attention to twitter, but this article motivated me to install the twitter app on my phone… so I can get a daily infusion of Ted’s tweets.  Thus far I have not been disappointed.  Go Ted!!!

Matt Pearce Earns His PhD!

More great news:  Matt Pearce successfully defended his dissertation, entitled “Macro – Macro Emergence: The Internet as a Cultural Institution.”  The project draws on world society theory to make sense of the rapid expansion of internet participation.

Over the course of several chapters, Matt builds the argument that the internet isn’t just a set  of wires that serve the growing global economy.  Rather, the internet is rooted in all sorts of social and discursive material, which are now institutionalized in world society:  everything from international standards and engineering documents to new discourses that characterize internet access as a human right.

Matt uses time-series and panel models to explore the growth of the internet over time. Some findings are consistent with the conventional world society literature — for instance, countries with strong ties to international NGOs tend to expand the internet more quickly.  But, Matt also pursues several new directions.

Of particular interest to me, Matt explores the role of universities in the growth of the internet.  It is well known that the internet originally grew out of computer connections between universities & scientific research institutions.  However, Matt shows that universities are hubs that support the spread of the internet to different countries.  The more we study universities, the more it seems like they are foundational to world society.  While universities are grounded within nations, they have transnational connections and orientations, and serve as receptor sites for global ideas and cultural forms.

The dissertation defense went really well.  Matt presented and defended his research with clarity and poise… and very much earned his new title.  Congratulations Dr. Matthew Pearce!

Dr. Natasha Miric, PhD

Another overdue news item:

Natasha Miric successfully defended her dissertation entitled “Letting Nature Take Its Course? An Analysis of Global Institutional Conflict around the Proliferation of National Parks.”  Congratulations Natasha!

The dissertation examines the worldwide growth of national parks.  Natasha coded the newest version of the IUCN dataset, which has high quality data on protected areas around the globe.

The core of the dissertation is a cross-national and longitudinal founding analysis.  Among other things, she observes a classic world society “INGO effect” whereby countries strongly connected to the international community tend to expand parks faster.

The project has a number other novel and interesting findings.  Natasha originally planned to contrast pro-environmental “world society” pressures with economic & neoliberal pressures deriving from foreign  trade, investment, and international development finance, which might plausibly impede pro-environmental activities such as park establishment.  However, countries that received World Bank development assistance actually protect land area more rapidly than countries receiving little or no assistance, ceteris paribus.  Likewise, FDI and trade are often positively associated with parks.  This was quite unexpected… and for a long time I was quite skeptical.  However, the findings are rather robust.  It seems that any form of international connectivity speeds the diffusion of parks.

The project also has many layers… for instance, Natasha digs down into the different levels of park “quality”, which the IUCN tracks.  And, she uses fuzzy set QCA to explore whether some distinctive combinations of factors are necessary to generate lots of parks (or the converse).  Altogether, an impressive project!