World Society, World-Polity Theory, and International Relations

John Boli, Selina Gallo-Cruz and Matt Mathias

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies

Published in print January 2011 |
Published online January 2018 | e-ISBN: 9780190846626 | DOI:

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World-polity theory is a widely used sociological perspective for the analysis of world culture, organization, and change. Also known as world-society theory, global neo-institutionalism, and the “Stanford school” of global analysis, world-polity theory is largely compatible with the globalization perspective associated with Roland Robertson and the cultural analysis approach of anthropologists Ulf Hannerz and Arjun Appadurai. Proponents of world-polity theory argue that rationality, purposes, and interests are profoundly cultural constructs bound up in an over-arching canopy (or underlying foundation) that endows actors with properties, identity, meaning, interests, and guides to action. The theory also recognizes the key role played by international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) in the formation, codification, and propagation of world culture. The intellectual foundations of world-polity theory can be traced to the work of its founder, John W. Meyer, as well as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Erving Goffman. Two institutional domains of world society that have generated the most attention in world-polity theory are the responsible and responsive state, and the sacred and empowered individual. A variety of criticisms have emerged regarding world-polity theory, such as the alleged failure of world-polity research to address issues of inequality and stratification more directly. Among other issues, future research should focus on elucidating the ontological structure and normative order of global culture, as well as the historical origins, growth, and development of world culture, transnational organization, and global actor models over the longue durée (the past millennium or so).

Keywords: world culture; world-polity theory; globalization, rationality; international nongovernmental organizations; John W. Meyer; Émile Durkheim; world society; responsible state; sacred individual

Article.  14924 words. 

Subjects: Political Institutions

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