Since World War II, nation-states around the world have adopted surprisingly similar norms and values, particularly around themes of universalism, global citizenship, individualism, scientific progress, and voluntary rational authority. The world society (or world polity) approach explains this global congruence as a result of the growing influence of international, professional non-governmental and intra-governmental organizations applying pressure on nation-states to conform to universal ideals of citizenship. Organizations, such as the United Nations, have institutionalized cultural norms and values on a global scale. Despite significance internal differences in values, beliefs, and organizational structures, nation-states seeking status and legitimacy in the global arena quickly adopt these norms, whether they have the infrastructure to support them or not. The result is a high level of consistency in a variety of social institutions, including governmental, educational, and economic structures around the world. However, when nation-states do not have the capacity or the will to fully comply with the intent of the values in the world society, they may not put those values into practice. The result is formal adoption of recommendations from international, professional organizations without implementation, oversight, or regulation of those recommendations. The decoupling of formal adoption and compliance creates complications for citizens of the nation-state and concern by the international organizations.

The pressure to adopt international norms and the inability or unwillingness to comply contribute to social problems in the world society. A social problem is an undesirable condition that affects a significant segment of the population, which people believe should be corrected. In most cases, a social problem is defined within a particular society – individuals within that society indicate which conditions are problematic for that society as a whole. From the world society perspective, social problems reflect conditions within a society that violate norms or values of the world society, particularly by infringing on the rights of individuals.


Values of the World Society

  • Universal: The values of the world society purport to be universal. That is, the principles should apply across nation-states (Boli & Thomas, 1997). In some ways, this is contrary to principles that are culturally relative, where the values of one culture are not applicable in another culture. The cultural relativism frame sees value in differences within cultures and argues that cultural patterns that violate the mores or values of some other culture are legitimate within particular cultural bounds. In a globally connected world, however, cultural practices that are not applicable to all cultures are problematic and generate concern. The universal values of the world society reflect an interest in international peace and security and on the rights of individuals to achieve economic, social, and cultural equality. Therefore, social conditions that are not universally applicable are likely to be seen as social problems.


  • Individualism: In this way, the world society values highlight individualism (Frank, Meyer, & Miyahara, 1995). While the world society perspective emphasizes the globally interconnected and interdependent relationships among individuals and nation-states, this perspective acknowledges the importance of organizational and governmental structures to facilitate opportunities for individuals to experience fundamental freedoms, moderated by the need to maintain international peace and to sustain the physical and natural world for future generations. Social conditions that violate the rights of individuals to participate in economic, social, and cultural practices are likely to be seen as social problems in need of resolution.


  • Global Citizenship: The values of the world society emphasize principles of good global citizenship (Boli, 2014). Global citizenship is participation in a global society that seeks fair and equal treatment for individuals all over the world, no matter their national citizenship status. Global citizenship is problematic term, particularly when thinking of the rights and responsibilities of nation-states. However, in a globally connected world, the actions of nation-states and their citizens affect other nation-states. Given the global connected and interconnectedness of individuals and nation-states, global citizenship encourages nation-states to consider the local, national, and international consequences of their actions. While the world society acknowledges the rights and responsibility of national sovereignty, that sovereignty is mediated by the globally interdependent expectations of the international community. Ameliorating social conditions which cross cultural boundaries or interfere with the ability for individuals and nation-states to engage in productive, mutually beneficial interactions is part of the expectations for global citizenship.


  • Rational Authority: This relationship between national sovereignty and the pressures of the world society relate to the value of voluntary, rational authority (Meyer, Boli, Thomas, & Ramirez, 1997). Rational authority is a legitimate form of authority based on established, consistent rules for social interaction, embodied in law. So, while the world society applies pressure on nation-states to comply with global cultural values, it is the responsibility of nation-states to enact legislation that reflects equal treatment of their citizens and responsible engagement with other nation-states and with international nongovernmental organizations. This element suggests that social conditions created by charismatic or illegitimate authority structures are likely to be seen as social problems.


  • Scientific Progress: To determine which values and norms are promoted over others, international organizations rely on scientific evidence and scientific progress. Science has come to dominate debates about appropriate interaction in the world society thanks to the ways science has become institutionalized as a cultural authority (Drori, Meyer, Ramirez, & Schofer, 2003). Scientific evidence is used to determine which social conditions are seen as social problems that need to be addressed and the most appropriate or effective way to ameliorate those social problems.





Boli, J. (2014). Rights and rules: Constituting world citizens. In C. L. McNeely (Ed.), Public rights, public rules: Constituting citizens in the world polity and national policy (pp. 371-395). New York: Routledge.

Boli, J., & Thomas, G. M. (1997). World culture in the world polity: A century of international non-governmental organization. American Sociological Review, 62(2), 171-190.

Drori, G., Meyer, J. W., Ramirez, F. O., & Schofer, E. (2003). Science in the modern world polity: Institutionalization and globalization. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Frank, D. J., Meyer, J. W., & Miyahara, D. (1995). The individualist polity and the prevalence of professionalized psychology: A cross-national study. American Sociological Review, 60(3), 360-377. doi:10.2307/2096419

Meyer, J. W., Boli, J., Thomas, G. M., & Ramirez, F. O. (1997). World society and the nation‐state. American Journal of Sociology, 103(1), 144-181.



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