Andreas Wimmer | American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 126, No. 6  | May 2021

How do cultural and organizational templates, such as the ideal of gender equality or neoliberal policies, spread around the globe, and what are the cumulative consequences of such processes? This article offers a multilevel theory of diffusion and local incorporation that overcomes some of the conceptual problems of existing answers to this question including those provided by world polity theory, global field theory, policy diffusion scholarship, and research on cultural globalization. The theory conceives the world as polycentric, divided into multiple, overlapping domains of bounded connectivity within which diffusion unfolds. These domains differ in their basic characteristics, such as their degrees of institutionalization, which determine which mechanisms of diffusion (such as coercion or imitation) will be at work and how widely and quickly templates will be initially adopted within them. Depending on the intrinsic properties of templates as well as the local configuration of power, a template may further spread among a population and eventually be incorporated into local cultural and organizational fabrics. Charting new territory of theoretical inquiry and future empirical exploration, the article highlights three cumulative and long-term consequences of diffusion: layered cultural and institutional complexity at the local level, polythetic areas of cultural and institutional similarity at the regional level, and a multichanneled network of diffusion at the global level.

Originally published by University of Chicago Press Journals. Read the full article here.