Constructing World Culture

International Non-Governmental Organizations Since 1875

John Boli and George M. Thomas, eds.

Excerpt from Introduction

Structure of the Book

Unlike most edited volumes, all of the chapters in this book work from a common theoretical perspective and are closely related to one another. Some chapters explicitly evaluate empirical evidence that bears on the competing predictions of world-polity institutionalism in comparison with the other global perspectives (Boli et al., Chapter 2, on membership in global organizations; Frank et al., Chapter 3, on environmental INGOs; Finnemore, Chapter 6, on the Red Cross; Loya and Boli, Chapter 7, on standardization). Other chapters concentrate mainly on world-polity theory, treating other perspectives more implicitly or in less detail. All chapters elaborate and empirically assess the distinctive reasoning and implications of the world-polity perspective.

Part I provides an overview of the INGO population. Chapter 1 is of central importance, for much of its content is assumed but not explicated in other chapters. It provides an overview of the origins, development, and operations of the entire INGO population for the period 1875-1973, interpreted through the framework of world-polity institutionalism. We analyze INGOs as the primary organizational field in which world culture takes structural form, showing how INGOS help shape and define world culture as a distinct level of social reality. We also explore the substance and structure of world culture by a close analysis of the cultural principles by which INGOs are constructed and an examination of the distribution of INGOs across social sectors and over time.

Leaning heavily on Chapter 1, John Boli, Tom Loya, and Teresa Loftin examine participation in global organizations in Chapter 2, focusing mainly on INGOs but also comparing INGO membership structures to those of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Using several types of data regarding the countries in which members of INGOs reside, the chapter studies the distribution of memberships across types of countries (distinguished in terms of economic development, geographic region, dominant religion, degree of democratization, and other variables) and charts trends in membership distribution between 1960 and 1988. The analysis leads to reflections on the relative adequacy of functional, neo-realist, neo-liberal institutionalist, world-system, and world-polity institutionalist theories for understanding the reach of INGOs in this period of rapid world development.

The remainder of the book, with the exception of the concluding chapter, presents historical studies of distinct INGO sectors, most of them beginning with the origins of the sector in the nineteenth century and following its growth and intensification to the present. The chapters study both organizational expansion and substantive cultural content in their respective sectors, considering above all the role that INGOs play in developing and propagating world-cultural models, standards, discourse, and principles. The main target of INGO activity discussed in these chapters is the nation-state, which emerges from these analyses as a less dominant and self-directed actor than most scholars habitually assume. Another target is IGOs, which become both sites of intense INGO engagement and important factors affecting the INGO populations with which they interact. These chapters reflect exhaustive research into primary sources to identify the relevant INGO sub-populations and the key international conferences attended by INGO members. Many also involved laborious study of published documents about INGO operations and the voluminous proceedings and publications produced by international conferences. Some use advanced statistical analysis methods, particularly event-history analysis, but they are written to minimize technical details so they will be accessible to a general audience.

Part II contains four studies of what we call "social movement" sectors. These are arenas involving high visibility in the global public realm and the mobilization of large numbers of people on behalf of purposes and values that movement members believe to be inadequately realized in existing institutions. In Chapter 3, David Frank, Ann Hironaka, John Meyer, Evan Schofer, and Nancy Tuma identify global institutional factors leading to the formation and growth of INGOs concerned with humanity's relationship to the natural world. They document changes in depictions of the humanity-nature relationship over the past century and show how these changes are reflected in the growth of environmental organizations, including both organizations that seek to preserve or protect nature and organizations that help drive the process of rationalizing the humanity-nature nexus. Along the way they improve our understanding of the significance of the United Nations Environment Programme and the first UN Conference on the Environment in 1972 for the formation of state environmental protection agencies.

In Chapter 4, Nitza Berkovitch traces the growth, decline, and resurgence of the international women's movement. She shows how the goals of the women's movement changed as world-cultural conceptions of women changed, moving from a conception of women as distinct from men and requiring special protection and consideration to a fully egalitarian conception after World War II. Women's groups' efforts with respect to individual states, the International Labor Organization (formed immediately after World War I), and UN organizations are important elements of her analysis. Her chapter offers some surprises to those who think they have a good grasp of the history of women's movements over the past century.

Young Kim's Chapter 5 follows the fortunes of Esperanto. The most successful artificial language, Esperanto was developed to serve as a universal medium of communication that would improve global and international harmony. In this more purely cultural sector, Kim develops an explanation for long-term patterns of Esperanto INGO formation. His analysis fits especially nicely with arguments developed in Chapters 1 and 2 on the importance of initially universal and diffuse world-polity organizations and the later relative decline of such organizations in favor of more specific, differentiated, and limited transnational structures.

In Chapter 6, Martha Finnemore studies one of the earliest and most successful of the global human rights movements, the International Committee of the Red Cross. Her concern is limited to the first phase of ICRC work, when its few but highly energetic members overcame tremendous odds to induce states to adopt humanitarian rules of war in the first of the Geneva Conventions. Finnemore shows that functional and interest-related explanations have trouble explaining this development, while a world-cultural argument accords quite well with the way events unfolded.

The chapters in Part III deal with sectors that involve technical, socio-economic, and scientific organization of the world polity. The sectors discussed in this portion of the book lie close to the core of world culture and involve much less controversy than those in Part I. They therefore are not well known and rarely receive much notice in the public realm. Chapter 7, by Tom Loya and John Boli, studies technical standardization, tracing the origins and growth of the two central INGOs in this sector, the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Through an analysis of the structure, operations, and memberships of these bodies, the authors show that standardization is a realm of essentially pure rationalization in which, contrary to state-centric and world-system theories, the power differentials of states and corporations have rather limited opportunity to influence outcomes. Their portrait of this extraordinarily comprehensive sector indicates that the technical homogenization process is already thoroughly global and highly institutionalized, even though it depends primarily on voluntary compliance with technical standards.

In their study of population policy, Debbie Barrett and David Frank (Chapter 8) study the shift from the nineteenth-century view of population growth as a vital component of national power to the strong post-war consensus that population control is necessary for economic development. The chapter shows that INGO conferences and discourse were crucial to this conceptual shift and eventually helped lead states to make population-control policy a standard part of their approach to societal management. Of particular importance here was the conceptual linkage that emerged between population control and national well-being, for earlier exhortations favoring population control for the general improvement of human welfare had been ineffective in evoking state action.

Chapter 9, by Colette Chabbott, surveys the field of development organizations in the post-war era. Chabbott describes the processes whereby development aid and advising became a transnational enterprise conducted by a burgeoning industry of INGOs closely tied to states and intergovernmental bodies. She identifies several phase shifts in the prevailing approach to development, from comprehensive planning and industrialization in the 1950s to sustainable development in the 1990s, and documents the expanding role of international and national non-governmental organizations with each successive phase. In the process, she also shows how world-cultural images of the nature and role of the state in less developed countries have changed as part of the evolution of development discourse and organization.

Chapter 10, by Evan Schofer, studies the organization of science in professonal associations. Schofer works with two sub-populations in this sector, strictly science-oriented INGOs and socially-oriented science INGOs. Science-oriented bodies arose first, as science became a rationalized and professionalized arena, but socially-oriented bodies have expanded rapidly in recent decades as science has been integrated into modern models of national development. Schofer then shows that scientific INGOs are especially important to scientists in peripheral countries and have helped motivate states to engage in science policy in many countries.

Finally, in the Conclusion, John Boli reviews the detailed investigations in Parts II and III as part of his analysis of a central theoretical problem raised by the sectoral studies: How can INGOs exercise any sort of influence or authority in the world polity, given that they are resource-poor and lack coercive enforcement capabilities? Boli expands arguments in the first two chapters about the cultural properties and assumptions, deeply and widely embedded in world culture, that account for INGO authority and effectiveness. Building from the cultural foundation of the collectively-defined sovereign individual, INGOs draw on a wide range of legitimations for their authority: the legitimated structures and procedures by which they operate, the leigitmated purposes they pursue, and the cultural authority embodied in their members in terms of educational credentials, professional standing, moral charisma, and so on. With respect to IGOs, Boli shows that a somewhat different logic accounts for their authority because they have sovereign states as members, though there is a good deal of overlap with INGO authority legitimations because IGOs, too, operate in a world in which legal-rational authority remains decentralized. In his analysis of three forms of INGO authority -- autonomous, collateral, and penetrative -- he argues that INGOs, IGOs, and states are engaged in complex processes of global governance involving a good deal of collaboration and mutual legitimation, though in many domains INGOs operate largely outside the formal authority structures overseen by states.

All of these chapters develop theoretical reasoning about world political and cultural processes that operate through global and international organizations. Their theoretical claims are supported by detailed empirical studies that bring wide-ranging systematic evidence to bear on issues of world-polity organization, world-cultural content, the dialectical relationships between global structures and national and local actors, and specific processes linking the global with the local. We offer the book as a decided advance in world-polity institutional analysis and look forward to lively debate about its claims and findings.


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ISBN: 0804734216 (hardcover)

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Copyright 1999, John Boli and George M. Thomas