The term world cultures often refers to a heuristic plurality of several individual cultures that have or have had global influence. The term is similar to the concept of dominant or lead cultures and overlaps with the concepts of world religion and civilization. The elaboration and historical derivation of distinct cultural circles draws on Karl Jaspers's work on the origins and aims of history (800-200 BCE), Max Weber's work on world religions, Norbert Elias's notion of civilization as process, the discussion of the multiple modernities in the work of Shmuel Eisenstadt, and the shifts in the distinct value patterns among values as suggested by Ronald Inglehart.
Current approaches in globalization debates address divergence and convergence of cultures. Samuel Huntington's work on “the clash of civilizations” suggests a growing tension between these cultural circles and assumes disharmony between them. Thus cultural rather than political matters are seen to be future hot spots in global controversies. In contrast, opposing theoretical frameworks observe instead convergent outcomes of globalization processes and refer to a holistic view of world society. Sociologist Niklas Luhmann, for example, considers the existence of a world society as fact because of the possibility and accessibility of communication. As all societies communicate with each other, and increasingly so, they form one overarching society, even though some parts may be more integrated than others that are more marginal in terms of communication flows and patterns.
Another set of theories is based on the notion of a unique world culture, in a way, one world culture within many world cultures. This particular approach to world culture as an expanding expression of a particular world culture, known as world society theory, has been developed primarily by sociologist John W. Meyer, together with several fellow researchers. By applying insights of neo-institutional theory in sociology to global phenomena, Meyer observed that globalization processes seem to reveal isomorphic trends, especially considering the shape and the behavior of nation-states but also concerning specific organizational forms such as education and science or individual values like individualism. World culture becomes a meta-phenomenon composed mainly of Western, and especially Protestant, principles that has spread globally. The concept of culture within world society theory is broadly conceived, encompassing a heterogeneous set of institutionalized rules, models, and beliefs. World culture stresses the importance of formal structures and goals such as the belief in development and progress and highlights apparently universal principles such as human rights or rationalized science as well as organizational forms and patterns.
In a way, world culture is an advancement of Weber's theory of rationalization and bureaucratization, together with a particular implementation of standards. Examples of such cultural standards include school curricula, standard operating procedures in the field of technology, rules of military engagements, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and accounting rules in business. Thus, empirical studies based on the world society theory highlight the impact of international political actors (especially UN agencies, transnational corporations, and civil society actors like nongovernmental organizations) in fostering world culture and the associated and transported global legitimacy of those models. The term culture is used here because the values that support and legitimate some organizational forms and not others, and some social activities and not others, are in fact cultural values.
World society theory offers several advantages for researchers in the globalization context. Hypotheses on global development can be derived and empirically tested because the particular components can be deduced from the institutional perspective. Additionally, as world society theory provides a concrete base, subsequent case studies can trace historical changes and anomalies as well as allow for verification of expressions of world culture.
Yet there are also shortcomings when adopting the world society theory with its proclamation of a world culture. Meyer and colleagues acknowledge that the ongoing diffusion processes of global models often lead to different results in different contexts, for example, Islamic banking practices or vocational training. Others have noted that the mechanisms of institutionalizing world cultural elements do not always proceed as easily and peacefully as assumed. The neo-institutionalist view tends to overlook the elements of power and coercion in explaining the outcomes of the process. In other words, the world society approach is useful for explaining converging developments but not diverging ones, particularly when value conflicts are involved.
At present, no approach manages to explain all the complex features of cultural globalization. Jan Nederveen Pieterse suggests that there are three possible responses to cultural globalization: convergence, divergence, or hybridization. World society theory at least attempts to explain the origins of the convergence response, but not its outcomes. Nevertheless, for applied research, the theory constitutes a promising starting point. Its merit is to focus on and advocate cultural matters in globalization, even if the broad conception of culture, its impact, and change will have to be better clarified.
Americanization, Cosmopolitan Identity, Cosmopolitanism, Cultural Hybridity, Culture, Notions of, Globalization, Phenomenon of, Hegemonic Power, Identities, Traditional, Identities in Global Societies, Knowledge Production Systems, McDonaldization, McWorld, Opinion, World
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