The world society/polity theory emerged from the theoretical tradition of neo-institutionalism and specifically from the work of John W. Meyer and colleagues. The theory brings a genuinely sociological approach to the study of globalization and argues that the global sphere is characterized by a set of distinct cultural norms which affect social reality. Its central concept – rationalization – originates in Weber’s work and refers to the idea that the world society follows a cultural and institutional dynamic characterized by, to use Jepperson’s words, (a) “continuing efforts to systematize social life around cultural schemes that explicitly differentiate and then seek to link social means and social ends” and (b) “efforts to reconstruct all social organization – including eventually the national society itself, constructed as an actor – as means for the pursuit of collective purposes, these purposes themselves subject to increasing simplification and systematization”(1). The global educational expansion, the institutionalization of science and the professions as cultural authorities and the empowerment of individuals are here all conceived of as parts of the broader processes of accelerated cultural and natural rationalization and sine quibus non of progress and justice in modern times.
The origin of the world society theory can be traced back to the 1970s and scholars' efforts to explain similarities across different contexts which could not have been explained by then dominant functionalist approaches. Over the years, the theoretical tradition has expanded, primarily through a growing body of empirical evidence, spanning societal sectors and national contexts. But - it does not remain unchallenged.
The aim of this course is to unpack the world society theory and its research programme, learn about its premises, concepts and the empirical work behind, as well as to critically asses its uses and limitations.
(1) Jepperson, R. L. (2002). Political Modernities: Disentangling Two Underlying Dimensions of Institutional Differentiation. Sociological Theory, 20(1), 61–85. p. 63.