Institutional Theory and World Society
Much modern social theory depicts society as made up of autonomous and purposive individual and organized actors. In reaction, the new institutional theories build arguments about the wider social conditions supporting stable systems of such agentic actors. Phenomenological versions, which are especially relevant to analyses of modern integrating but stateless world society, treat actor identities as themselves constructed in the wider and now global cultural context. These ideas call attention to the modern collective construction of expansive models of actors, the rapid diffusion and adoption of elaborated models of actor agency and rights, the consequently decoupled character of actor identities and activities in the modern system, and the extraordinary mobilizing potential built into the elaborated models of individual and organizational actors in world society and into the inconsistencies between these models and activity. Implications for the character of the modern organizational system and organized society are discussed.
John W. Meyer is Professor of Sociology, emeritus, at Stanford. He is also associated with Stanford's Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. He has contributed to organizational theory, comparative education, and the sociology of education, developing lines of thought now called sociological institutional theory. Since the late 1970s, he has done empirical research, and published many papers, on the impact of global society on national states and societies (some papers are collected in Weltkultur: Wie die westlichen Prinzipien die Welt durchdringen, Suhrkamp, 2005; a more extensive set is in G. Kruecken and G. Drori, eds.: World Society: The Writings of John W. Meyer, Oxford 2009). Recently, he completed a collaborative study of worldwide science and its impact on national societies (Drori, et al., Science in the Modern World Polity, Stanford, 2003). A more recent collaborative project, on the impact of globalization on organizational structures is also published (Drori et al., eds., Globalization and Organization, Oxford 2006). He now studies the rise and impact of the world human rights regime, world curricula of mass and higher education, and the global expansion of higher education.