World culture in the world polity: A century of international non-governmental organization

John Boli, George Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

577 Scopus citations


We analyze the growth of international non-governmental organizations between 1875 and 1973 using a data set on almost 6,000 organizations. Although these organizations are highly interconnected with the expanding state system and world economy, as reflections of and contributors to world culture they have helped construct a world polity that cannot be reduced to networks of economic and political interaction. Our analysis of the structure and aims of these organizations identifies the principles of universalism, individualism, voluntaristic authority, rational progress, and world citizenship as central elements of world culture. We also describe the structure of world culture by studying the distribution of these organizations across major social sectors, highlighting the centrality of rationalizing scientific, technical, economic, and infrastructural organizations that go largely unnoticed. Finally, we review sectoral historical studies showing how these organizations shape world culture and influence states and intergovernmental organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-190
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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