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!!!

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.

Polity vs society, the blog

Yes, I wanted to call the blog “worldsociety.wordpress.com”, 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, worldpolity.wordpress.com isn’t bad… and besides, retro is in, right?  If everyone switches to “world society theory”, the blog will be hip.

Polity vs society, the substantive issue

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.

World polity or world society?

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

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

INGO memberships: raw or cooked?

I’ve been hanging out at Stanford, which is great fun.  One question that came up recently is “how to best measure INGO memberships?”  I’ve been dealing with INGO data for a long time and I have opinions…

First, some background:  John Boli and George Thomas were the first to recognize that International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) are a core infrastructure of world society.  The discourses and activities of INGOs are a key embodiment of an emergent global culture, and INGO play an important role in the spread of that culture.  Their book “Constructing World Culture:  International Non-Governmental Organizations Since 1875” makes this point very vividly.

These days, country memberships in International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) have been accepted as the standard way to measure national embeddedness in world society.  Countries tied to lots of INGOs are most exposed to global culture, and are fastest to adopt a whole host of policy innovations — new environmental laws, fashionable human rights commitments, and so on.

But, how should one actually operationalize INGO memberships in quantitative analyses?  Suppose citizens of a country are members of 1,500 different INGOs.  Should one use the raw counts?  The natural log of counts?  Memberships per capita?  Or something else?

I usually use the natural log of the INGO membership count.

As a practical matter, raw counts are hugely skewed (except in some cases — for instance analyses focusing on certain particular regions).  Logged INGO memberships are less skewed, and therefore work much better in regression-type models.  Also, one can make a substantive argument:  going from 100 to 200 INGO memberships has a bigger substantive effect than going from 1,100 to 1,200.  The natural log transformation helps take this into account (despite being a somewhat arbitrary correction).

Sometimes people suggest that INGO memberships be standardized by population.  Shouldn’t you correct for the size of the population?  Big countries can have more memberships… and besides, don’t you need lots of memberships to influence the culture of a large country?

These arguments are plausible, but ultimately I’m not sold.  First, the INGO membership variable from the Yearbook of International Association counts organizations that are tied to a country, not individual memberships.  An organization is counted as tied to a country if one or more citizen is a member.  That may not be ideal, but that’s the measure we’re stuck with.  So, if all 1.3 billion citizens of China joined Greenpeace, it would still count as one INGO tie.  Second, most diffusion studies focus on state policy, rather than individual attitudes or activities.  Many INGOs function as advocacy groups of various sorts — and don’t need to be connected to each and every citizen to influence policy diffusion.  Finally, I’ve looked at the actual result of standardizing INGOs by population.  Often it produces a very odd distribution.  Tiny island nations appear to be at the “center” of world society.  (Again, this could vary for different types of INGOs or if you focused on a particular region.)

In short, I’d recommend using logged INGO memberships as a default approach.  I can imagine situations where raw INGO counts or INGO membership per capita could be justifiable… but be sure to check the actual distribution before plowing ahead.

Those are my 2 cents.  If people have other views on this, I’m interested to hear them.

Of course, I’m only talking about count-based measures of INGOs, which are easiest to get.  Pam Paxton, Melanie Hughes, Jason Beckfield, and others, have been working on network-based measures of INGO ties.  That opens up a whole other range of options…