Rethinking the “World Polity” Perspective on Global Sodomy Law Reform

  • Neil CobbEmail author


Sociologist John W. Meyer’s neo-institutionalist “world polity” perspective has had considerable influence on scholarly interrogations of globalization, international relations, and transnational governance. Put simply, Meyer and his collaborators argue that modern nation states are embedded increasingly within dense webs of shared cultural meaning, grounded predominantly in “Western” values, norms, and standards such as international human rights, which script their behavior and have led to striking levels of isomorphism or homogeneity across otherwise highly differentiated country contexts. Recently, the world polity perspective has been used by other sociologists to analyze why so many states across all regions of the world have apparently moved so swiftly since the Second World War to liberalize their criminal laws against same-sex genital relations (so-called “sodomy laws”). This chapter reappraises the world polity perspective on global sodomy law reform. In doing so, it draws attention to long-standing criticisms that Meyer’s work, in its emphasis on convergence of global cultural values, underplays or ignores entirely the continuing role of conflict in world society, and the dynamics of power and resistance through which that conflict is resolved. In turn, the chapter uses four recent case studies to evaluate the relevance of world polity analysis to the social process of sodomy law reform given the particular regimes of conflict, power, and resistance, especially between global North and South, which it shows are also shaping this particular social process.


Sodomy laws Sexuality   Uganda United Nations Organization of Islamic Cooperation  Africa U.S. Christian Right World polity Meyer Wallerstein Global South Aid conditionality India  Naz Foundation Queer  



A version of this chapter was first presented as a seminar paper at Kent Law School, England, in May 2013. My thanks go to all those who attended the seminar for their invaluable comments and criticisms on that earlier draft, and especially Emilie Cloatre for organizing the event. Thanks also to Dana Peterson and Vanessa R. Panfil for their patience throughout the writing process, as well as their helpful advice and support. As ever all errors remain my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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