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Significance of the World System Concept

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Section of Report of a Preliminary Investigation of the Possibility of Using Computer Data Processing Methods (1968): a summary of the various parts of this report, and details of its contents (with links to the various parts), are provided separately

Confusion created by use of 'international'
Horizontal and vertical relationships
Characteristics of organizations
Lack of coordination in studies of aspects of the world system
Attempts at a coordinated approach
Need for "balanced emphasis"
Classification system
Comment on the classification system
-- Importance of blurring between categories
-- Mixed organizations
-- Different meanings of local organization in different societies
-- Multi-level membership
-- Informal organizations, meetings, agreements, information systems
-- Relationship between formal and informal organizations
Points arising from the classification
-- Importance of sub-national links
-- International not necessarily best
-- One type of organization not necessarily best
Features not considered
Conclusion on classification scheme
Relationships between different types of organizations
-- Importance of the individual
-- Organization functions
-- Comment on the relationship between functions


It is difficult to locate descriptions of the emerging world society. Verry few disciplines consider it useful to do so.  It is not useful employ the concepts of past Utopians.  It is more relevant to use such concepts as the following:

"The world society includes a bewildering variety of sub-systems increasingly locked together in conflict cooperation relationships. The world policy is characterized by polycentric conflict, intersecting co.itions, continuing outbreaks of localized violence, many possibilities of escalation, and spreading capacities for nuclear destruction. The political instrumentalities of conflict resolution and regional and world integration operate as in nations, states and cities in an atmosphere of pressure and power politics, behind-the-scene lobbying, rotten borough representation, moralistic double-talk, deception and self-deception. The world culture, on the one hand, tends to submerge national characteristics and values in a homogenizing flood of material goods and international styles. On the other hand, it includes vast value differences and sharp value conflicts.  Like Megalopolis, the world society is a territorial entity without a government.  It is an all-inclusive complex macro-system with remarkably complicated and unpredictable although increasingly structured mechanisms of mutual adjustment."  (Gross, B., Al,p. 359)

This conceptualization emphasizes the dynamic nature of the system. It does not attempt to classify the features of the system. These features include government agencies, international federations, business enterprises, local associations, etc. (see Exhibit 1a, 1b, 1c and 1d). These bodies and related structures must be described in some detail before the dynamic relationships suggested by the above conceptualization can usefully explored without giving undue importance to particular organizations. This section provides a descriptive classification of the majorgroups of organizations involved.  In the next section, the relationship between these groups is briefly mentioned.

Confusion Created by Use of 'International'

The major difficulty in understanding the many types of sructures and interrelationships within the world system is the   considerable complexity of individuals, groups and formal organizations. In order to stress this complexity, the term 'world system' has been used. The meaning of 'system' is explained in Exhibit la.  'World' is used to avoid some of the current confusion arising from the wide use of 'international' in different contexts.  'International' is a political science concept which emphasizes the division of the world into states. Current use of 'international' tends to be associated with a number of traditional political sciences concepts and assumptions dating from the nineteenth century (for complete list, see Scott, A., A3). These include:

The disadvantage of the emphasis on international as meaning interstate, is that it leads people into "the elementary error of identiing the state with the whole hierarchy of social institutions" (Laski, H.J.,A6, p. 29).

Although unintentionally, this has swung thewhole political science research emphasis onto intergovernmental organizations, whilst effectively ignoring other possible interactions between nations and their citizens (for an exception to this see Smoker, P.,A7).

The traditional attitude has taken for granted that only nation-states could be significant actors upon the international scene. Nothing in the established outlook prepares its adherents for the emergence of new types of organization and none of the accepted categories or processes can adequately explain their emergence (Scott, A., A3. p. 4).

The impermeable nation-state is now penetrated by the activities international organizations.  It is frequently penetrated by the activities of other nation-states.  In fact, though not in theory, a great many nation-states are now highly porous. Nations today are not sovereign, in the meaningful sense of that term, are not selfcontained, and are not impermeable.  This statement is true for all nations but is startlingly apparent in the case of the newer nations which need assistance almost from the moment of birth.  (Scott, A. A3, p.19).

Horizontal and Vertical Relationships

The points above stress some of the new meanings to be attached to international relations between nations. They can be described as horizontal relationships. The above points do not stress vertical relationships which also exist. "An international defined to include a variety of actors, from individuals to nations to international organizations of both the governmental and non-governmental kinds".  (Smoker, P., A7,p. 61) Here an individual is considered only in terms of his role at the international level. His role, and that of organizations at the local or national, regional level, is not explicitly considered to have repercussions within the 'international' system.

Each type of organization exists and interacts at the international level, but each of these types has to have supporting members at the national level.  Support at the national level requires support at the local level and finally support by the individual as the basic unit of human organization.

The 'world system' therefore includes both the international system and the complex grouping of organizations which exist within and make up each national system. The national-system, can also be viewed at different levels regional, state, county and local subsystems. This complexity is important to correct understanding. It is almost completely obscured by a sweeping focus on the 'international' system.

The term 'system' is used, rather than organization or society, to stress that information on all aspects of an organization and its associated features is coordinated. A general systems model attempts to integrate concepts from all disciplines relevant to an understanding of a complex social system, (see Exhibit la)

Characteristics of Organizations

The organizations forming part of the world system can be grouped by combinations of various characteristics. These include:  purpose, legal status (governmental or non-governmental; corporate or noncorporate), membership (who and on what basis), methods of operation (manual; academic; computerized; etc.), size, continuity of activity (irregular meetings; round the clock operations). The first three are usually found in the formal charter of the organization (Gross, B. A5.p. 198).

Informal organizations, treaties and information systems are other important features of the world system. They are complementary to the above organizations. They are described in detail below.

Lack of Coordination in Studies of Aspects of the World System

Confronted with the maze of formal organizations, each discipline has been forced to define and concentrate on particular groups or forms of interaction. There have been very few attempts at relating research on the organizations so defined across discipline boundaries (Scott, A., A3, P. 8).

In some cases tradition is against any form of overview. Treaties, for example, are the essential precondition for the existence of many intereweramental organizations. From the orthodox legal point of view, however, tradition is against a world-view of treaties. Treaties as a class carry no meaning or message so that the totality of all the world's treaties is a meaningless concept in international law (Rohn, P., A8).

In the case of international organizations in general, one author makes the content that "The growth and development of organisational theory and its concomitant research growth have not been paralleled by a similar growth in either research or understanding of the total spectrum of international organizations. This has been in part due to the basic assumptions and orientations of the scholars working in this field.... The result has been a disparate set of developments with little attempt at an overview of the totality of international interaction taking place today, and with only preliminary attempt to link this with general organizational theory.....It seems evident therefore, that there is a great need for systematizing, classifying, and empirical testing of propositions related to the total field of international interaction." (Rosenberg, A., A9,p. 721-3;  for related complaints, see Smoker, P.,AlC,p. 638; Miles, E.A11 ;  Codding, Jr., G.A..A12).

Unfortunately, this writer then goes on to produce an extremely interesting preliminary taxonomy of international organizations without attempting to blend this into a classification of organizations at other geographical levels.

The situation is made clear in Exhibit 1b, which indicates that different disciplines have dealt mainly with particular features of organizations, or with particular types of organizations, or with organizations at different geographical levels. Exhibit 1c shows, as a specific example, the results of a detailed survey in the field of organization administration. Note that the Exhibit does not indicate whether the organizations are international, national or local.  It is probably correct to assume that it mainly refers to U.S. national and local organizations. The Exhibit shows how little comparative work has been done as a basis for relating different types of organization.

Attempts at a Coordinated Approach

The first step in obtaining a clear picture of this complexity must be a descriptive one which attempts to reconcile definitions used by different disciplines. One attempt at this has been made using systems analysis by A.M. Scott (A3 ).  This concentrates on developing methods of relating observations on nationalism, loyalty, ideology, capabilities, statecraft, collaboration, conflict, escalation, deterence, negotiation, decisionrig, communication, community, formation, etc.  It is primarily coned with all influences on the international system although it mentions the advantage of the method in overcoming the separation between domestic affairs and international politics. The author's examples do not distinguish clearly between all the many types of organization.

A more general attempt is being made by B.M. Gross, a political scientist and an expert in organization administration theory. He has developed an introductory view of the variety of social systems which can be displayed as a table relating individuals, groups, formal organizations (associations, enterprises, government agencies) and territorial extities (governments, areas) at the local, regional, national and international level (see Exhibit 1d).  Some features of this table have been used in a descriptive classification below.

This author has however concentrated his efforts on systemsmodels at the national level. Much of this work is applicable to the world system, as many of his comments indicate (Gross, B.M., A4).

Unfortunately, the work of Scott and Gross has not yet been developed into a descriptive classification of the component structures of the world system as a whole with an equal emphasis on the horizontal features and vertical features. Horizontally, this should include the major types of organization (government, business, other). Vertically, this should inelude the different geographical levels (international, national, regional, local). These categories have been selected because they are most commonly used in practical decision-making. The theoretical organization model categories are not used for this purpose.

Need for Balanced Emphasis

The reasons for which it is important to stress the need for a balanced emphasis on all types of organizations at all levels within the world system are the following:

Discussion of the international system as though it were identical with the world system means that problems arising in sub-systems of the world system can only be studied indirectly in terms of their effects on the international system, not at their point of origin, as brought out by a comprehensive classification system.

Classification System

A classification system is required with the following properties:

A preliminary descriptive attempt at producing such a system has been made in Exhibits 2 and 2a.  Notes explaining each category are provided in Exhibit 3. Exhibit 2 attempts to relate the principal behavioural science breakdown (formal, informal; voluntary, ascription) to the working definition breakdown (governmental, non-governmental), the national tax legislation breakdown (profit, non-profit). These categories are then matched against organizations in evidence at various cut-off points, chosen on the basis of current usage (international organisation of international organisations, international organization, international regional organization, bilateral international organization, national organization with international activities, national organization of national organizations, national organization, national regional organization, local organization).

Where possible, estimates of numbers of each type of organization have been supplied within the Notes in Exhibit 3. Exhibit 3 also contains comments on the overlap between terms in current use together with detailed definitions where these are available.

Exhibit 2a is a more detailed development of part of Exhibit 2.  It attempts to relate the terms used to describe specific groups of organizations within a nation in terms of the breakdown in Exhibit 2.  Given more space, Exhibit 2a could have been combined with Exhibit 2.

Comment on the Classification System

1.  Importance of Blurring Between Categories

The Notes in Exhibit 3 bring out the confusion of definitions which has developed with regard to use of such terms as international, regional, governmental and profit even within the American literature from which most of the references were taken. Aside from this confusion, however, the Notes do tend to show that even when these terms are used more precisely, there is a graduation in the organizations within a given category from one extreme to another. This is a point which is very rarely stressed. This comes out particularly clearly in the question of governmental control of organizations.  This could be interpreted as starting with the cases where an organization is merely 'registered' in some way with a government agency through to cases where the organization is completely integrated into the government apparatus. There is also a graduation in the geographical levels which the organization represents. Neighbourhood and community organizations (i.e. 'local') blend gradually into two-county and larger groupings (e.g. 'Northern', 'Eastern' multi-state organizations in the U.S.A., i.e.'regional').  Interacting organizations are not all represented at all levels, nor is interaction necessarily ruled by some geographical criterion.  Interaction between organizations in the international system and organizations within the national system may be via a wide variety of bodies which exist within the national system.

2. Mixed Organizations

Another important feature is the many different types of 'mixed' organizations which group representatives of private and governmental organizations. These are in the middle of the continuam running from government organizations at one extreme to private organizations at the other. They include non-governmental organizations with official governmental delegates as members, business and nongovernmental consultative organizations and business-governmental consultative organizations. These organizations are normally ignored in classification schemes.

3. Different Meanings of Local Organization in Different Societies

There is an important graduation from developing to industrialized countries in the types of organization which are employed.  In a highly industrialized Western country, local associations and local governmental bodies may have written rules of procedure. In a developing country, the organizations which perform the equivalent functions may be far looser in construction blending into informal organizations.  In agricultural or pastoral societies the basic family unit is the 'extended family'.  In the most primitive societies, the family may be the only significant organization, with large groups composed of clusters of extended families. With the growth of social development, other organizations come into being (governments, armies, churches, trading groups). But families remain the dominant control units in such organizations for a considerable time. (Gross, B.M., A4, p.54-5)

This point is important for bodies concerned with the formation of national organizations from local organizations, and their collaboration with other national organizations.

4. Multi-Level Membership

A feature of the world system not brought out clearly by the classification system is the question of multi-level membership. This is illustrated by Exhibit 7. An organization at any given geographical level may group organizations which are themselves members of other organizations. A particular national organization may therefore be a member of a number of other national or international organizations (ascending vertical relationship), interact with other national organizations of comparable geographical representation (horizontal relationship), and have members from different geographical levels which are themselves members of other national or international organizations (descending vertical relationship). As Exhibit 7 shows, this complexity may exist at any geographical level. (For a taxonomy of international organizations which incorporates multilevel membership and divides organizations according to their field of interest, see Rosenberg, A., A9).

5. Informal Organizations, Meetings, Agreements, Information Systems

The classification system was made as broad as possible in order to incorporate other significant features of the world system, namely meetings and agreements, which have both been previously suggested as significant in this context.  Informal organizations were included since they complement formal organizations in organization theory. Information systems were included to cover aspects of interaction between parts of the world system which are not supervised directly by any given organization. All these features are intimately related to the formal organizations on which attention is normally centred.

6. Relationship between Formal and Informal Organizations

The inclusion of these other structures brings out, as is shown in the Notes a dynamic relationship between the various form   orga nization. This is illustrated in Exhibit 6. Informal organizations result in the assembly of information which can be used as the basis for a meeting or a project leading to the creation of a formal organization.or agreement. This can operate in the reverse direction. Formal organizations or agreements can instigate meetings leading to information affecting informal organizations.

In the world, system as in any organization, it is insufficient to consider only the formal relations between members.  Many informal contacts may modify formal relations.  The formal structure can even be considered as being the 'part of the iceberg that appears above water'. The formal lines of authority can never carry the entire burden of serving as channels of internal communication. They are therefore supplemented by an intricate network of informal communication channels (Gross, B., A5, pp. 239-240).

Formal organizations and agreements may exist but if the informal structures are in opposition to them, their operations will be less successful. For this reason, it is very important to consider the formal and informal features together. The world, system may therefore be considered as composed of formal interacting organizations interpenetrated and linked by agreements, informal organizations and information systems. The latter are either generated by the formal organizations or may give rise to them (King, C.W.,B20).

Before a movement can crystallize into a formal organization, it generally gives rise to such formal entities as articles clarifying the issue, books, seminars, symposia and other meetings at various geographical levels, resulting finally in a meeting at which a resolution is carried leading to the creation of a formal organization (or an agreement). This is not so clearly the case with business organizations since these tend to develop outwards from a given geographical base, absorbing or coming to agreement or merger with competitors in other areas or countries, as more fertile markets are detected.

Points arising from the Classification

1.  Importance of Sub-National Links

An important point is that stimulation of international integration by facilitating the formation of transnational formal links concentrates on only one part of the whole process.  It is generally acknowledged, but usually in a different context, that effective international contacts must bebased upon an effective supporting structure within the national system. Prom the discussion it is apparent that facilitation of any of the processes leading to the formation of organizations at any level effectively contribute toward international integration. It may in fact be the process of forming links within some subnational or informal system that is the critical factor in a given country or subject area. In which case, to concentrate attention on the formation of atransnational formal link, would not "be the most effective method of tackling the problem of facilitating international integration. This then leads to international programs in which national and subnational data is considered irrelevant. The whole process of progressive integration within the world system must be born in mind before selecting the critical links which need to be facilitated within a given field or geographical area, and the methods to be used.

2. International Not Necessarily Best

Another important point is the relationship between different forms of organization. A regular national meeting with international participation may eventually lead to the formation of an international organization and efforts could perhaps be made to encourage this procese. But within the world system as a whole, a national meeting of this kind may be sufficient for the present.  In other words, encouraging the formation of an international organization in this case may represent a waste of effort since it might not lead to greater effective integration at that particular time. The national meeting is internationally significant here, without fulfilling certain rigid criteria of internationally. For the same reasons, an existing natarnational organization may actually obstruct the for1Mable transnational or subnational links.

Organizations attempting to facilitate progressive integration within the world system need to develop the techniques and criteria to determine the points where the resources to encourage this process can best be applied under different conditions. Rigid criteria mask many of the important elements of the process.

3. One Type of Organization Not Necessarily Best

Finally, it is not the type of organization (government, enterprises, associations) which is critical to the effective performance of a given function or the maintenance of a particular link within the world system. Rigid criteria which prevent consideration of the part played by certain classes of organization do not lead to a clear understanding of the overall process or the best means of facilitating the integrative process.

Features not Considered

The classification scheme discussed only deals with the major structures within the world system.  It does not touch upon the control of different systems and subsystems.  The distribution of power and the control of the different parts of the world system has been emphasized in political science, where much stress is placed on the role of supranational organizations. The scheme does not touch upon the performance or effectiveness of the different subsystems. (For a recent review of progress towards the analysis of national and general social systems and their performance, see Gross, B.M.,A1) Finally, the scheme does not touch upon the degree of specialization of knowledge required within particular organizations in the performance of their functions (e.g. an international scientific organization may not represent the most integrated use of the discipline with which it is concerned). A completely different classification scheme could be produced to relate organizations using the same discipline and reflecting the division of disciplines into specialities and sub-specialities (for a recent review of progress towards the coordination and direction of activity in one discipline, see Dedijer, S., a14).

Conclusion on Classification Scheme

The many gray areas shown up by this classification scheme indicate that far more consideration should be given to the world system as a dynamic system, rather than an agglomeration of organizations and their activities.   Individual organizations crystallize out of anetwork of purely informal relationships wherever sufficient consensus develops as a result of meetings or other contacts. The organizations need to be considered as nodes of interaction within the world system. Overemphasis on the existing definitions tends to freeze the system in the terms of particular specialized categories, masking many important interrelationships. Many organizations and activities are ignored because they are exceptions or borderline cases in terms of particular categories.

Relationships Between Different Types of Organizations

In order to further clarify the relationships between organizations falling into different categories of the classification scheme, it is useful to show what function each of them performs within the world system. 'Function' is a term which can be used in a number of different ways. It would be possible to select out those functions which particular groups of organizations perform for the participating organizations and individuals. However, in order to show the relationship between different parts of the system, those functions which particular groups of organizations, as subsystems, perform for other parts of the system must be highlighted. This is clearly a very complex matter, so that to make the point clear, some simplification of the categories used in Exhibits 2 and 3 is necessary. It will be assumed that the world system is made up of government, business, other organizations, and informal organizations. Their functions will be described at the international, national and local level.

Each group of functions is performed by different types of organizations within the world system. Functions equivalent to these are integrated together within the basic unit of human organization, namely the individual. An approximate subdivision of an individual's functions is therefore included for comparison.

1. Importance of the Individual

The importance of the individual, even to those concerned with international organizations, is illustrated by the following quote. "For the general public, the world of community organization is a newspaper phenomenon - that is, something about which the newspaper generally prints articles but which has relatively little connection with their everyday life. The typical respondent was more concerned with the community problems amenable to political treatment than with those amenable to treatment through the voluntary organizations". (Rossi, P.H., A15,p. 71).

This shows that it is necessary for international organizations to concern themselves with individual participation in local organizations, otherwise the links between the respective national organizations will be of little significance. The quote deals with the individual and voluntary associations. The relationship of the individual to government and business organizations also need attention. This is illustrated by the current world-wide student debate (and its side effects). The debate is mainly concerned with the problems of the participation of the individual in society and his resentment of impersonal organizations.

2. Organization Functions

Completing such a study in detail would require an extensive investigation. All that has been provided here is a tentative indication of some of the characteristic functions of each type of organization. The functional breakdown is given in Exhibit 8. Many of the items included in the Exhibit were selected from the books listed in the bibliography (A and B).

In Exhibit 8, the functions each type of organization performs for the system of which it is a part are shown.  It is also possible, to make the situation clearer, to show the functions each type of organization performs for the other types. Exhibit 9 illustrates the different sets of functions that have to be dealt with for each organization.  These functions, or the relevance of each organization for the other, are listed in Exhibits 10. and 10b

These descriptive breakdowns pick out those functions which are directly relevant to achieving and maintaining the effective integrated functioning of any local system, a national system, the international system, or the world system as a whole. The dunctions discussed are limited to those performed by particular subsystems for the stability of the system as a whole (Exhibit 8) and those performed by other subsystems for one particular subsystem (Exhibit 9). No attempt has been made to discuss the functions performed for the member as a result of membership of organizations forming part of a particular subsystem.

3. Comment on the Relationship between Functions

The significance of these breakdowns is that the functions listed are very seldom juxtaposed to bring out their complementarity. This is very important because there is a long history of hostility between organizations concerned with different sets of functions, e.g. between government and business in the U.S.A. (Gross, A.,Al6,p. 34). Some non-profit organizations resent the competitive profit motive of business enterprises (Hilkert, R.N.,A17,p. 154). 

Many governmental officials consider NGO representatives as nuisance. It is only be recognition of the role that each fulfils that any stability can be given to relationships between different groups within the world system. The business community in the United States has been the first group to acknowledge the general importance of the other groups. For example: "Increasingly, executives of large corporations are coming to see that, if they are to keep their own company's sales and profits growing, and to operate in a healthy political and social environment, it is essential to work for the stability and development of the system as a whole" (Gross, A.,Al6,p. 39).

Once the hostility between the main types of organizations is reduced, an increasing interchange of ideas and techniques is possible. For example, the current debate on United States government agency efficiency is being stimulated by the business community. The programs to improve government methods have benefited considerably from the sophisticated management techniques developed by business.

A corresponding flow of ideas into the government sphere has not taken place in many other countries.  Nor have the management techniques been adapted to international non-governmental, nonprofit organization, for example. This is a consequence of considering different types of organizations under supposedly unrelated categories.  The manner in which these tend to be used, makes it difficult to suggest that the world system as a whole could be profitably considered as a management problem.  This approach is to some extent adopted in studies initiated by the United States military Establishment (see Kahn, H., A19). An August 1968 Unesco Conference also considered this point

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