World polity theory (also referred to as world society theory, global Neo-institutionalism, and the "Stanford school" of global analysis) was developed mainly as an analytical frame for interpreting global relations, structures, and practices. It was developed partly in response to the application of world systems theory. The theory views the world system as a social system with a cultural framework called world polity, which encompasses and influences the actors, such as nations, international organizations, and individuals under it. In other words, according to John Boli and George M. Thomas, "the world polity is constituted by distinct culture - a set of fundamental principles and models, mainly ontological and cognitive in character, defining the nature and purposes of social actors and action." The World polity theory views the primary component of the world society as "world polity", which provides a set of cultural norms or directions in which the actors of the world society follow in dealing with problems and general procedures. In contrast to other theories such as neo-realism or liberalism, the theory considers other actors such as the states and institutions to be under the influence of global norms. Although it closely resembles constructivism, world polity theory is to be distinguished from it because "world-polity theorists have been far more resolute in taking the "cultural plunge" than their constructivism counterparts". In other words, world polity theory puts more of an emphasis on homogenization than the other. Through globalization, world polity and culture trigger the formation of enactable cultures and organizations while in return cultures and organizations elaborate the world society further.
Beginning in the 1970s with its initiation by John W. Meyer of Stanford University, world polity analysis initially revolved around examining inter-state relations. Simultaneously in the 1970s and also in the 1980s, a significant amount of work was done on international education environment. However, in the 1980s and 1990s due to the noticeable influence of globalization on world culture, the direction of the study shifted towards analyzing the transnational social movement that may amount to a global polity while at the same time attempting to better understand how global polity ideas are implemented through global actors.
Through a series of empirical studies, Meyer and others observed that new states organize themselves in a significantly similar manner despite their differing needs and background to give strength to their explanation that there is a set norm of forming a new state under the bigger umbrella of world polity.
Other instances suggest a definite presence of world polity:
Critics point to the fact that world polity theory assumes a rather flawless and smooth transfer of norms of world polity to the global actors, which might not always be really plausible. Also, its tendency to focus on the homogenizing effect brings criticisms. World culture theory differs in this aspect from world polity theory because it recognizes that actors find their own identities in relation to the greater global cultural norm instead of simply following what is suggested by the world polity.