Beyond the Nation-State: Volume 18


Table of contents

(20 chapters)

The social sciences have tended to see the globalization of the last half-century mainly in economic terms. Nations and states, in this view, respond to expanded external interdependence in various ways, but remain central units of analysis. More recently, analyses have come to emphasize the political character of world society, with its greatly expanded sets of international organizations, but the participating entities in these structures tend to remain nations and states. The cultural side of globalization has been at the center of popular attention and lay discourse, not academic analysis. In fact, the academic literature stresses the current and future need for cultural change toward a more global cosmopolitanism in the face of current crises, rather than analyzing such change on the empirical ground (e.g., Beck, 2006). There is, thus, a sense that cultural changes in identity and perception are not globalizing enough to enable human society to effectively deal with interdependencies that have in fact become supranational and global. Even in rapidly integrating Europe the main thrust of the discussion and analysis is that persons and groups principally retain a national or subnational identity, and only secondarily come to full terms with their larger continental society (see Haller, 2008, or for a more ambivalent review, Fligstein, 2008). The conventional view is always that Europe is on the edge of failure, precisely because globalization of identity and culture has not caught up with increased economic interdependence.

What drives this diffusion process? One neo-institutional answer to this question is that new models of nationhood, organization, and social identity exist in the larger world environment (Meyer, 2009, p. 36ff). Because they are external, these “identities” and models can be adopted without huge costs and without necessarily entailing the reorganization of society or actors’ personalities. Thus the models of modern society can spread quickly because they are relatively easy to assume and because they have high legitimacy in the international environment. Conformity produces instrumental rewards as well. And it also signals to significant “other” nations and international bodies that a nation has accepted modernity and its responsibilities (see Boli & Thomas's discussion, 1999). Thus, foreign aid, loans, and credit may flow quickly to those developing countries that enact modern institutional structures like mass education and democratic elections.

Modern societies are built around the expansion of science and universities and the exposure of large numbers of the public to the curricula of higher education. In this sense they are relatively recent phenomena. Higher educational expansion itself has been a very recent phenomenon. Conventional wisdom held that higher education enrollments in the United States doubled every 20 years in a smooth progression (Price, 1963). New research has altered this picture dramatically. The 1960s ushered in a sea change in the expansion of higher educational enrollments in the United States – and in virtually every other society (Schofer & Meyer, 2005). The transition to mass higher education was abrupt. At the beginning of the 1960s about two million students were enrolled in U.S. higher education. Four decades later in the year 2000, this figure has risen to 14 million – a sevenfold increase (Schofer & Meyer, 2005, Fig. 5). Earlier developments, such as the G.I. Bill, show no comparable effects on enrollments to the massive changes that the 1960s brought in their wake.

As world society develops and nations become embedded in it, cultural patterns that began as properties of Western modernity diffuse to other areas. Individualism has long been noted as a unique feature of American nationalism (Arieli, 1964; Greene, 1993; Lipset, 1963, 1996). But both the spread of democracy and the declining legitimacy of dictatorship and racism after WW II opened the gates for forms of egalitarianism and individualism to spread transnationally (see Elliott & Lemert, 2006; Gaddis, 2005, p. 164ff). This chapter considers the consequences of this transformation.

Education is the main training grounds for citizenship. With the decline of military conscription, it has the mission of instilling a sense of national civic consciousness (see Janowitz's, 1983, critique; also Merle, 2010). But it also inculcates world cognitive perspectives as well. Hence, “global citizens” emerge. They carry much larger macro frames of reference that go beyond the nation-state. This change adds another layer of complexity to national identity.

As we saw in Chapter 3, there are two aspects of individualism and “personhood.” In the first instance, “personhood” gives individuals more options in negotiating their identities in society. But “individualism” also means that persons are also held individually liable for the achievement of societal goals. Displaying civic responsibility is after all part of the modern definition of proper citizens.

In this section I consider different models of nationhood, the diffusion of new multicultural models, and barriers to the spread of new models rooted in nations' pasts and the current fears of immigrants from the Middle East.

I have invoked the idea of “global citizen” as part of the change that the development of a world polity is producing. Earlier chapters described what many observers have noted: the declining charisma of the nation-state (Hobsbawn & Ranger, 1983; Mann, 1990; Meyer et al., 1997; Shils, 1958). One question this observation raises is what then happens to national citizenship? Does it weaken or disappear (see Janowitz, 1983)? Or is it transformed?

Given the evidence previously presented, it would be odd if the development of new kinds of polities did not result in demands for new standards of political leadership. The emerging global consensus against public corruption is one indication of changing standards (see Chapter 7). In addition to changing standards, the public has also started to look elsewhere than the political system for leaders. In the United States, for example, recent polls show that citizens are favoring the following kinds of people for national political office: businessmen, state governors, and those with no Washington experience or connections (Andrew Kohut, PEW Poll, PBS; June 2, 2011). This is also true in Europe. Habermas (2010) complains about the fact that citizens in Germany have disdain for professional politicians and are turning to amateurs for leadership. This development coincides with the growth of social movement politics across many regions of the world (Meyer & Tarrow, 1999). As we have seen, many citizens have more confidence in social movements than political parties, parliaments, civil services, and national justice systems. Not only are professional politicians often believed to be “out of touch” with members of society, but they are also seen as less attentive to them and out for themselves and interest groups they favor (Dalton, 2006; Chapter 7).

One of the factors that make the divination of public opinion compelling is the decline of party systems and the rise of “individuated politics” (Dalton, 2002a, 2002b, 2006). If individuals are now the major actors in politics and have volatile opinions, then finding out what opinions sectors of the public have, and attempting to shape them, becomes crucial. This circumstance makes the inspection and analysis of mass opinion compelling and significant (see Ginsberg, 1986; Ginsberg & Shefter, 1990; Herbst, 1993). It also makes “public opinion” a compelling abstraction and political force. Finding it and divining its meaning has spawned its own organizational structures and constituencies.

National media have always represented the views of prominent national corporate actors, whether they are governments or business groups. Thus, they present a public agenda that has a built-in point of view. For instance, in Britain the conservative tabloids of Murdoch's empire are generally anti-EU, pro-business, and in favor of free market policies. The columnist “Bagehot” (The Economist, September 11–17, 2010, p. 70) argues that British tabloids enjoy political power in several ways. First, “thanks to weak taboos about privacy, they wield the threat of personal exposure of politicians.” And second, “when they are not humiliating individuals, the tabloids shape political debate by the hammer of repetition. They tempt governments into policymaking by headline – a method that prizes speed, simplicity, and emotional satisfaction over sober analysis of costs and benefits.” The author concludes that years of hostile headlines about the EU have made sensible public debate impossible. The recent scandal enveloping the Murdoch media empire in Britain has exposed the extent of its media power.

From these findings, one speculation is that the emerging model of nationhood and citizenship described in this book and neo-institutional thinking (e.g., Meyer, 2009) is the one that is most likely to prevail. Alternative plausible models are hard to imagine. Democracy, equality, and human rights all currently have more plausibility than alternative institutions that are currently on the scene. Witness the current “revolutions” in the Middle East. This example also indicates that modern nations are not path dependent. In a globalized world, they are becoming more and more open as systems. Internal institutional constraints must now face global opportunities that are strongly backed by both their own citizens and other nations. This picture does not rule out conflict and competition between particular models and countries. Nor does it envisage placid transitions to democratic forms of governance and pluralistic societies. There are many contradictions within emerging global models of society and between them and the realities of many existing societies. But it does suggest that the reigning models empirically are those that neo-institutional theory has identified as forces constructing the modern world.

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Research in the Sociology of Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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