The National Society As a World-Societal Model

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 9:00 AM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Tobias WERRON , Faculty of Sociology, University of Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany
Christian HILGERT , Faculty of Sociology, University of Bielefeld, Germany
The concepts of national ‘societies’ and of a single ‘world society’ are often presented as mutually exclusive alternatives. While sociological theorists take pride in having left national concepts of society behind, the latter still dominate the popular usage of the term. This paper transcends this impasse by taking a sociology-of-knowledge perspective, asking how globalization processes have contributed to the plausibility of these diverging connotations. Informed by world society theories (neoinstitutionalism, systems theory) and recent approaches to ‘banal nationalism’, we (1) analyze the sources of support that the idea of a national society has found on the global level since the mid-to-late 19th century. Here, we distinguish two trends: A trend towards the construction of nation-states as endogenously developing units (‘societies’) created by ‘rationalized others’ (John W. Meyer) such as international organizations, social scientists, economists, etc.; a trend towards the integration of national identities in global fields such as economy, mass media, arts, sports or tourism (‘the global banalization of the nation’). Both trends have fuelled the current association of national identities and state borders that is captured in the mainstream understanding of the term society. The second trend, however, also points to (2) the subordination of national identities to global fields, transcending the image of the nation-state as a spatial container of social processes and thus rendering the idea of a single world society more plausible. The analysis suggests that conceptual ambiguities of ‘society’ not only reflect differences between theoretical approaches or between an everyday and a scientific understanding of the term. Rather, these ambiguities indicate the complex interaction and mutual enforcement between two different social processes: global nation-building and the differentiation of global fields. Since the pattern of this interaction can be traced to the mid-to-late 19th century, we suggest studying it in a historical-sociological perspective.