The topic of ‘global sociology’ has been invoked as a key theme in several international conferences and events, such as the World Congresses of the International Sociological Association (ISA) in 2010 and in 2014, as well as the 2016 ISA Forum. Many journals of the ISA have also provided much space for the debate (see Kislenko, 2021 for an overview). The analysis in this article seeks to transcend the mostly internal disciplinary debates by developing a critical assessment of the competing research agendas, as well as the broader notion of global sociology as such. Footnote 1

For clarity, a distinction is made between sociology as a field of study or movement of ideas (whose origins can be traced into varied eras and contexts) and its institutionalised presence as an academic discipline taught in universities. When referring to the latter, Sociology is capitalised in the text, while when referring to the former, the word “sociology” is not capitalised. It is acknowledged from the outset that sociology emerged within diverse social and cultural contexts (Patel, 2009); and the inclusion of hitherto excluded or marginalised perspectives is an important task for the discipline’s future and continuing relevance. But the situation is different when it comes to Sociology as an academic discipline.

In the following pages, the discussion is organised into three parts. The first part consists of an outline of the intellectual arc from internationalising Sociology to the invocation of global sociology. The discussion turns to the institutionalisation of globalisation within Sociology, which consists of global modernisation and the related inter-disciplinary field of Global Studies. The discussion critically examines whether this scholarship cluster offers sufficiently convincing answers to the criticisms raised by the South. Next, the focus shifts to postcolonial sociology, a relatively recent research programme that claims to revamp academic Sociology’s mainstream. The article scrutinises the intertwining of the terms “postcolonial” and “global” in postcolonial discourse. Postcolonial perspectives add valuable insights and significantly reconfigure sociological agendas. But they are not free of internal contradictions; and these inhibit the intellectual construction of a coherent general research programme applicable to all academic Sociology. In conclusion, both scholarship clusters are shown as unsuccessful in resolving current challenges. Alternative conceptualisations of the broader problematic are proposed.

From internationalisation to global sociology

The traditional scholarly viewpoint used to be that the discipline of Sociology came into existence because of intellectual self-reflection on the processes of Western European modernity and of Western (e.g. transatlantic) civilisation. To put it crudely, Sociology is the so-called ‘science of modernity’ (for a brief description and critique of scientism in Sociology, see SP Turner, 2012b). Originally, Sociology’s object was derived from the 19th-century modernising societies of Western Europe, to which the post-Civil War modernising US was added. Still, at the same time, multiple additional efforts were undertaken to teach and formulate sociological ideas in non-Western societies, inclusive of Japan, China, and Latin-American countries (for an overview, see Dufoix, 2022, also Go, 2016, Ch.1).

What does it mean for Sociology to be “global”? This issue is far from settled. But it would be naïve to interpret it as merely a matter of expanding the discipline’s geographical reach. In this respect, it is necessary to contrast the ‘globalisation of sociology’ to the ‘sociology of globalisation.’ This article concerns the former and not the latter. In fact, in analyses that come under the label of Sociology of Globalisation (for example, see Martell, 2017; Sassen, 2007), the structures of knowledge that have been historically developed within the West are extended to the rest of the globe. Their universal validity is unquestioned. But this discussion problematizes the intellectual trajectories involved when moving from the ‘globalisation of sociology’ to Global Sociology.

The initial steps towards the internationalisation of sociology can be traced back to the foundation of the International Institute of Sociology (IIS). It was created in 1894 by René Worms after the launching of the Revue internationale de sociologie. The Institute, though, held individual (and not national) memberships and eventually became disorganised due to the two World Wars. It was after 1945, with the cooperation of UNESCO, that steps were taken, leading to the creation of the International Sociological Association (1949). The new association entailed national memberships (for a brief history, see Platt, 1998). Thus, it paved the road for a post-World War II ‘globalisation of sociology,’ whereby Sociology became institutionalised within a growing international context (for detailed descriptions of national cases, see Genov, 2022). As Sociology became institutionalised in several countries, the idea of a ‘global’ Sociology was slowly introduced into discourse: Moore (1966) noted the discipline’s expansion to different parts of the world but observed that society was still defined in terms of national units or cultures, especially since data were mostly aggregated at the national level (Moore, 1966, pp. 479–480). Moore suggested considering the world a single system (an argument developed further by Parsons, 1971).

It is important to note that the very word ‘globalisation’ was initially mentioned within the context of the Cold War between East and West (Modelski, 1968). Eventually, ‘globalisation’ slowly entered academic debate. While Levitt’s (1983) classic article about the globalisation of markets is conventionally credited as the major reference point in the literature, Robertson’s (1983) first publication on globality appeared in the same year. The perception that globalisation, as a concept, originated in economics and later on transferred into the social sciences is not entirely correct (see Roudometof, 2016, pp. 6–9). Instead, ideas about globality and globalisation initially emerged in the context of the sociology of religion and debates about the seemingly unexpected rise of Iran’s Islamic fundamentalism in the late 1970s. In Sociology, the term was introduced by Robertson (1983).

The 1989–1990 collapse of the Soviet Bloc accelerated its use. While in the late 1980s, publications on globalisation appeared at a rate of three per year, by 1996, the Library of Congress registered a total of 200 books and 213 articles dealing with globalisation (Busch, 2000, p. 23). According to the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, by 1990, only 15 articles included the word “globalisation” (in its British or US spelling), but by 1998 this figure had risen to over 1000, and by 2003 it had more than doubled to 2909. After communism’s collapse, the quest for Global Sociology became a major focus of attention for the members of the ISA—and it is specifically flagged as a major preoccupation in the statements made by past presidents Margaret Archer (1991), Immanuel Wallerstein (1995), Alberto Martinelli (2003) and Sani Hanafi (2020). The necessity of the ISA President to address the issue has become almost an intellectual ritual for the incumbent (see, for example, Pleyers, 2023, for the current ISA President’s statement).

Among all these statements, perhaps the most relevant to the current enquiry is the one by Archer (1991). In her call for ‘sociology for One World’, she stressed the need to integrate analyses of diversity in the world into a common framework, based on the universality of human reasoning. Archer argues that “if we accept the ontological status of One World, which globalisation is making smaller, the only epistemological basis for One Discipline lies in the unicity of human nature itself” (1991, p. 144). Archer’s statement reflects the realisation that non-Western alterity must be included in the sociological tradition to successfully accomplish the goal of universalising the discipline. The international sociological community has been exceptionally concerned with this matter. This stance reflects broader shifts both in the academic environment and the “real world”. Up until the end of World War II, the discipline of Sociology was institutionalised with limited success. France and the US are the two main success stories. Institutionalisation has been affected by historical particularities: in France, for example, Durkheim contributed greatly to Sociology’s acceptance; while in contrast, in Germany, the status of the discipline was greatly impacted by the mass emigration of Jewish intellectuals forced to flee the Nazi regime in the interwar era. The discipline’s growth has been uneven (Patel, 2009). It is also fair to say that, during the first half of the 20th century, the discipline of Sociology was seen as concerned with modern societies. It was left up to the discipline of Anthropology to examine pre-modern, ‘primitive’, or colonial societies.

Alongside ISA’s foundation (1949), decolonisation raised the question of Sociology’s relevance for the newly independent countries. During the Cold War era, modernisation was weaponized in the East vs. West battle over Third World countries. For its advocates, modernity was achievable for all countries willing to undergo pro-Western modernisation—if this meant an alignment with the West and against the East. Global modernisation in this regard might be considered the forefather of globalisation, as Roland Robertson notes in the following autobiographical statement:

Modernisation is not just about … the modernisation of the world. So if it is clumsy to call it ‘modernisation of the whole world’, so what should I call it?’ So I called it ‘globalisation’ (Robertson, 2014, p. 447).

After communism’s collapse ‘global modernity’ became a fashionable label (see, for example, Featherstone, 1990; Featherstone et al., 1995; King, 1990). Global modernisation involved an important twist in the conventional approaches vis-a-vis modernisation (overview in So, 1990). While conventional modernisation theories focused on the modernisation of national societies, global modernisation raised the issue of cross-national or transnational trends. This problematic was initially introduced and subsequently popularised under the terms ‘world polity’ or ‘world society theory’ (WST). This perspective emerged in the 1970s and remains in circulation and undergoing refinement to this day (see Meyer, 2010b for a summary). Initially pioneered by a group of researchers and students of the Stanford-based sociologist J.W. Meyer, the ‘Stanford School’ (as it is informally known) has operated as a collective that has sought to explain global modernisation. The master process consists of the actors’ willing duplication of organisational models made globally available. That leads to what is referred to as “institutional isomorphism”, that is, the uniformity of organisational models across the globe regardless of each country’s individual specificities (for an expose, see Meyer, 2010a). While not necessarily Eurocentric, in practice, cross-cultural influences typically flow from the West to the rest. But for WST, the world or global culture (Boli and Thomas, 1999; Lechner and Boli, 2005) that is thus created is not merely derivative of the West. On the contrary, the theory allows for a multitude of outcomes, inclusive of indigenisation of models, diffusion of cultural practices, selective appropriation of models, and adaptation.

The 1989–1990 collapse of communism contributed heavily to the acceptance of the contours of global modernisation and the broad acceptance of globalisation. By the late 1990s, two scholarly associations were formed in the US and UK, each claiming the label of ‘Global Studies’. At the University of California-Santa Barbara, Global Studies was introduced as an undergraduate major for the first time. Later, several additional Global Studies programmes were created, albeit at the postgraduate level. The above intellectual and institutional trends contributed to the growth and legitimisation of Global Studies (for an overview, Roudometof, 2012).

Global Studies has gained support and legitimacy in academia as a new hybrid field capable of transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries (for overviews of the state of the art, see Juergensmeyer and Anheier, 2012; Juergensmeyer et al., 2018; see also Steger and James, 2019). In their introduction to the field, Steger and Wahlrab (2016) refer to the “Four Pillars of Global Studies”: globalisation, transdisciplinarity, space and time, and critical thinking. However, other textbooks on the same topic (for example, McCormick, 2021) offer far more conventional accounts that are aligned with traditional academic foci. That is far from accidental, as in several cases, academic programmes explicitly focus on Global and International Studies, a well-known subfield within Political Science. In such a case, though, Sociology is subordinated to Political Science.

Taken together as a single scholarship cluster, Global Studies, WST, and global modernity theories have been understood (and criticised for serving) as expressions of the Global North (see Bhambra, 2007; Connell, 2007; for further discussion, see Roudometof, 2020). From the view of the periphery, instead, the call is to ‘provincialise’ Europe instead of having it occupy the central stage in humanity’s history (Chakrabarty, 2000). To grasp the meaning of the actual juxtaposition between North and South, though, it is necessary to go beyond the original meaning the term ‘South’ used to have. The ‘South’ was a term that was introduced in the 1970s in international policy-making discourse to refer to societies that were, up until that point in time, referred to as ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘less developed’. This terminology was widely seen as suggesting an inferior status vis-à-vis the ‘developed’ societies of the West.

As Kislenko (2022, pp. 77–130) writes, early formulations of the debate about global sociology took place between 1982 and 2006. In that period, most discussions were fuelled by the indigenisation of Sociology thesis, developed in the 1970s by Nigerian sociologist Akinsola Akiwowo (1986, 1999). This early debate challenged traditional Western-centred conceptions about modernisation. As Kislenko notes, in the context of that debate, the issue of particularism versus universalism was originally raised with respect to the contents of sociological knowledge. By stressing the importance of local context, this problematic became entwined with discussions about Sociology and sociological knowledge. In her overview of the emergence of the post-colonial problematic, Patel (2021) notes that indigenous sociologies proposed novel perspectives, theories, and concepts. Indigenous sociologies gave themselves an alternate epistemic voice to displace the power of the Global North and its language of “universal” sociology. Still, as Therborn (2021) argues, it is important to distinguish between indigenisation and de-Westernisation. Therborn argues that the former is, in fact, a mere supplementary project, while the latter is a much more promising avenue for knowledge production. De-Westernisation, in this regard, should translate into an opening of global horizons, whereby pluralism and the search for new avenues of enquiry can facilitate the development of social–scientific knowledge.

From the perspective of scholars from former colonies or those who identify with these regions, De-Westernisation is of particular importance. Sociological knowledge itself should not be an intellectual construction of former colonial powers (who thus exercise an ‘intellectual hegemony’ over former colonial subjects); instead, it should confront social realities as seen from the perspective of the formerly colonised subjects. Hence, the extent to which sociological knowledge itself is universal has become a matter of critical importance. To the extent that the discipline of Sociology is founded on the limited, imperfect knowledge that is derived from the historical trajectories of modern Western societies or if the discipline represents a discourse of knowledge that serves the (often imperial, geopolitical, or capitalist) interests of the West, then it obviously lacks universal validity and its claims to knowledge lack legitimacy. The conventional critique levelled against Global Studies, WST, and some work on global sociology is based on this line of thinking. Its potency is revealed when even major figures within the field of Global Studies (for example, Steger, 2021) affirm that it is necessary for globalisation scholarship to engage in a more fruitful dialogue with postcolonial perspectives.

Bhambra (2016, p. 962) offers the following concise and eloquent argument that quite explicitly exposes the theoretical shortcomings common to perspectives affiliated with the various streams of mainstream globalisation scholarship:

Sociology’s orientation to history has generally been based around an implicit consensus on the emergence of modernity and the related ‘rise of the West’, as well as around a stadial idea of progressive development and the privileging of Eurocentred histories in the construction of such an account. Social, political, and economic changes … are argued to have brought a new world into being, one that was marked by two forms of ‘rupture’. The first is a temporal rupture dividing a traditional rural past from a modern industrial present. The second is a spatial disjuncture that located change in Europe (later to be widened to the category of the West more generally) from the rest of the world. Taken together, key events associated with modernity are framed within a particular narrative of European history understood in narrowly bounded terms.

For Bhambra (2007, 2016), the “grand narrative” of Western modernity paints a hagiographic picture of the actual processes. It specifically fails to consider (and quite conveniently) excludes the connections between ‘Europe’ (i.e., Western Europe) or the ‘West’ (i.e., the transatlantic settler societies created through the appropriation of land from the indigenous population of these territories) and the rest of the world. When these connections are considered, the role of colonialism and enslavement in the ‘rise of the West’ is rendered painfully obvious. Indeed, over the post-World War II era, the role of this ‘Western bias’ in the formative narrative of European modernity has provided a popular genre of intellectual criticism. The critiques of Orientalism (Said, 1978; Young, 2016), Balkanism (Todorova, 1997), and racism (Gilroy, 1993; Hall, 1992) all converge into an argument about the instrumental role Western knowledge has played in aiding and projecting the West’s power over the globe.

To rectify these intellectual shortcomings, Giri (2018) suggests that it is necessary to perform a critical interrogation of modernist Sociology’s foundations. Sociology ought to partake in a truly planetary conversation about its objects of study (such as society or the individual). If such a conversation is inclusive of the hitherto marginalised perspectives of the ‘South’, it is conceivable to undo past biases, and Sociology can develop new social ontologies that would be able to grasp humanity as such (and not solely the Western subject).

Postcolonialism and global sociology

That the above problematic has great gravity for the international sociological community is plain to see. From the 1980s and throughout the 1990s and beyond, Connell (2018) writes, ’postcolonial’ emerged as the default destination for the societies placed under the ambiguous ‘Global South’ category. Global South might be defined as the countries that used to be placed in what was referred to as the ‘Third World’ (Woorlsey, 1984). In terms of naming specific regions, Connell (2018) mentions regions within sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean, the Arab world, Latin America, Australia, Canada and Ireland. However, the label has been extended further and even applied to parts of the US or territories under US control (for example, Puerto Rico). According to Connell, the legacy of coloniality is a set of binary oppositions that feature prominently within post-colonial cultures. These cultures oscillate between the binary oppositions of autonomy versus dependence, autochthony versus hybridity, resistance versus complicity and imitation versus originality. These binaries are but the consequence of colonial imposition that forces people to decide whether they adopt the coloniser’s model or whether they stand against it.

The wide popularisation of the ‘postcolonial’ label has further contributed to its appropriation and redeployment by non-Western powers (for example, China, Russia, and Turkey) as part of their intellectual arsenal. But it also raises the issue of whether the ‘postcolonial’ designation constitutes a meta-theoretical gaze that, in principle, can be applied universally or whether it reflects actual historical specificities, and hence it ought to be reserved exclusively for those regions that were indeed subjected to colonialism. The emergence of postcolonial and postmodernist discourses was originally a feature prominent within the humanities (see Mishra and Hodge, 1991). Its importation into the social sciences contributed to academic Sociology’s hostility vis-à-vis such perspectives, especially since they appear to directly doubt disciplinary knowledge.

Since the turn of the 21st century, though, such hostility has been overcome and the project of Postcolonial Sociology has become a widely debated topic (Bhambra, 2016; Go, 2023; Munck, 2016; Rosa, 2014; Susen, 2020). Of relevance for understanding the relationship between the global and the postcolonial are Bhambra’s (2013) remarks. She emphasises that, just as in other disciplines,

perceptions about the globalised nature of the world in which we live are beginning to have an impact within sociology”. [The discipline of Sociology] has to engage … with recognition of the epistemological value and agency of the world beyond the West […] it is only by acknowledging the significance of the ‘colonial global’ in the constitution of sociology that it is possible to understand and address the necessarily postcolonial (and decolonial) present of ‘global sociology’ (Bhambra, 2013, pp. 295–296).

But acknowledgment of the significance of coloniality within the last five centuries runs the risk of ignoring historical contingency and homogenising non-Western alterity. Even a fellow traveller like Susen (2020, p. 55) concedes that it would “be erroneous to portray ‘the world beyond the West’ as a homogeneous, monolithic, or unified entity”. For postcolonial perspectives, then, the question of balancing between the competing claims of universalism and difference emerges as the central challenge.

In attempting to locate themselves epistemologically, postcolonial perspectives appear to face a ‘geography problem’. The issue is revealed in their internal fracture over the use of the terms ‘postcolonial’ versus ‘decolonial’. Different scholarly communities opt for different labels. The former term is conventionally associated with critically oriented scholars located in the North, while the latter term is linked to critically oriented scholars located in the Global South (Bhambra, 2016; Quijano, 2007; for an overview, see Pachón, 2023). Of course, this is a rough and imperfect generalisation but does point to a critical issue, namely the extent to which a particular ‘location’ serves as the bedrock of contemporary social critique (for further discussion on this issue, see Roudometof, Forthcoming).

The invocation of the South as a topos (and not as a physical locale) at times allows the inclusion of countries such as Australia that are by no means developing economies. But then, the Global South might no longer be defined in terms of socioeconomic disadvantage (as in the original North–South distinction popular in the 20th century). De Sousa Santos writes:

The global South is not a geographical concept, even though the great majority of its populations live in countries of the Southern hemisphere. The South is rather a metaphor for the human suffering caused by capitalism and colonialism on the global level, as well as for the resistance to overcoming or minimising such suffering. It is, therefore, an anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-imperialist South. It is a South that also exists in the geographic North (Europe and North America), in the form of excluded, silenced and marginalised populations, such as undocumented immigrants, the unemployed, ethnic or religious minorities, and victims of sexism, homophobia, racism and islamophobia. (2016, pp. 18–19)

For postcolonial advocates (such as Connell, 1997, 2007; Magubane, 2016), it is of critical significance that the discipline of Sociology faces up to its past complicity with colonialism (for a critique, see Reed, 2013). The nature and extent of such complicity are undeniable, and critics do have valid concerns when they point out the entanglement and complicity of academics with the West’s colonial past. What remains very much under dispute, though, is the issue of the proposed alternatives. For, efforts to construct an alternative paradigm run the risk of conflating issues relating to different classifications and critiques. In particular, the East–West dichotomy is transformed into a North–South dichotomy (for example, see Go, 2016).

But these two binary oppositions are quite distinct from each other. In the East–West binary, the issue concerns the construction of knowledge as a means for understanding non-Western alterity. The critique levelled in Said’s (1978) Orientalism suggests scepticism about the modes of knowledge derived from the West, inclusive of utilitarian, Marxist, and individualistic interpretations of human life. In terms of the stereotypes that are widely seen as having shaped Orientalism, though, it is fair to suggest that this is not an attribute that characterises the West exclusively (as shown by Buruma and Margalit, 2002).

In contrast to the issues that are legitimately raised in the context of critiquing the intellectual bias inherent in Western readings of modernity, the fundamental fault lines in the North–South binary relationship originate from critiques of global inequality and of the imperial or semi-colonial exploitation and dependency that has contributed to the South’s multiple deficits. In the post-World War II era, the emergence of this binary was intimately related to institutional and international attempts to publicise this gap and call for international public policy solutions. Southern theory explicitly conflates the fault lines between East/West and North/South, as evidenced by de Sousa Santos’ (2014) effort to offer epistemological coherence. Furthermore, as Rosa (2014) has insightfully noted, the use of the label ‘South’ appears circumstantial, with different notions of theory locked in a dispute over their legitimacy, in a geopolitical context where the South can and does talk back through active participation in international debates.

The problem has been recognised by Go (2023) who rejects what he refers to as “geoepistemic essentialism”. By this term, Go means the ontological assumption that the world is divided into distinct essentialised geographical spaces—such as North and South, or West and ‘non-West’—and that these regions correspond directly to specific cultures and knowledge formations. Go argues against the thesis that moral worth should be granted uncritically to individuals coming from specific regions. But in so doing, Go unwillingly conflates the geographical location of knowledge producers with the significance of the relations that are part of the social world. Most importantly, if the labels do not matter at all, the very existence of postcolonialism as a coherent intellectual project must be reconsidered.

The final but perhaps most consequential criticism, though, concerns postcolonial Sociology’s appropriation of the notion of ‘global interconnectivity’. Susen writes that the “key premise underlying the plea for a global sociology” is living “in a global society—that is, in a society that is characterised by an increasing degree of interconnectedness at multiple levels” (2020, p. 55). For Susen (2020), interconnectivity becomes almost a synonym for incorporating postcolonial and anticolonial approaches to Sociology. This fusion between interconnectivity and colonial experience is empirically unsubstantiated; humans have lived connected lives for millennia, whereas colonialism (or, more accurately coloniality) pertains to the last five centuries. While the colonial experience is a facet or subset or an instance or a particular expression of global interconnectivity, the opposite is not the case.

The faces of Sociology: Global, local, glocal

Thus far, two main scholarship clusters have been surveyed in terms of the main ideas present within them. The first of these scholarship clusters consists of the research agendas of global modernisation and the related interdisciplinary area of Global Studies. This viewpoint basically accepts the universality of sociological knowledge and attempts to incorporate other regions and contexts. Still, non-Western alterity is not viewed in terms of culture-making capacities that shape meaning, epistemologies, and forms of knowledge. This projection of the paradigm of Western modernity onto the world demonstrates the inability to escape Western modernity’s grasp on Sociology.

In contrast, the second scholarship cluster comes from Postcolonial Sociology. Highly critical of the complicity of the classical sociological tradition in racism, colonialism, and empire-building, it places these processes at the centre of sociological enquiry. But reading interconnectedness (Susen, 2020) or ‘empire’ (Go, 2023) as nearly synonymous with colonialism reduces historical complexity to major yet historically specific formations (for an overview of sociological research on empires, see Steinmetz, 2014). The invocation of the South as a topos of the underprivileged or subaltern Other is a strategy that allows the fusion of different problematics (East/West, North/South) into a single programme—albeit without necessarily facing up to the internal contradictions between postcolonial and decolonial viewpoints.

In his overview of the debates on global sociology, Kislenko (2021) notes that the positions scholars take are often presented as political, if not ideological. Participants regularly claim to defend the only possible legitimate or ‘just’ stance. Their opponents are, at the same time, blamed for political partisanship and ideological myopia. This broad impression about sociologists is not only an issue that concerns the public or laypersons, as such impressions are present even within academia. For example, James H. Sweet, President of the American Historical Association, remarks that “If history was little more than short-term … identity politics defined by present concerns, wouldn’t students be better served by taking degrees in sociology, political science, or ethnic studies instead?” (Sweet, 2022). It is worth noting that while Sweet’s own statement created a backlash among US historians over race, colonialism, and slavery, his characterisation of Sociology as a discipline that cares about “short-term identity politics” has not been seriously challenged. This criticism is fairly like statements made by sociologists who echo concerns about surrender to ideological preconceptions that might foster intellectual sloppiness. Critics often consider such attitudes incongruent with the deeply cherished principle of research impartiality—a value central to the discipline since Weber (1949). For example, Mizruchi (2017) argues that this is the reason that Sociology has seen its reputation decline in the “real world”.

The invocation of Global Sociology as a scholarly objective fails to recognise that the ISA itself operates institutionally on a par with its local or national counterparts. In fact, the ISA’s Council of National Associations even hosts its own conferences.Footnote 2 Hence, the opposition between local and global might be more assumed than real. Turner’s (1990) commentary about the double-edged character of Sociology is worth recalling: Classical sociology sought a balance between a global outlook (aiming at generalisations for all humanity) and national concerns (which were addressed with a national audience in mind, as in Weber’s case in Germany or Durkheim’s in France). While the institutionalisation of Sociology across the globe has been an ongoing project since 1945, it is important to realise that differences persist regarding the extent of the discipline’s professionalisation and its acceptance in different national contexts. Even in the USA (as the above discussion shows), the extent to which Sociology is seen as inherently partisan remains a topic of debate. Therefore, it might seem preferable to question the basic premise of the two research programmes reviewed—specifically, the extent to which it is possible to construct a narrative centred around a single major concept (irrespective of whether that might be world culture, global modernisation, globalisation, or postcolonialism). Such efforts are predicated on the idea that the existence of a single grand solution to the entire problematic is possible and desirable.

The quest for such a single grand solution or a new overreaching blueprint that can offer disciplinary unity is likely to persist in the foreseeable future. Still, given the fundamentally political nature of the intellectual divergences, it is entirely possible that such a quest might prove futile. Faced with such a possibility leads to Vandenberghe and Fuchs’ (2019) negative outlook regarding the future of the discipline. That is not an isolated instance: Even BS Turner (2012a), summarising his 42 years of professional experience, finds it difficult to be optimistic about modern Sociology and its future.

It is, therefore, reasonable to consider revising the nature of the desideratum. Instead of holding out for a single ‘grand solution’, it might be possible to suggest small yet decisive solutions. That is, scholarship could effectively adopt and apply selected key perspectives and insights that emerge out of the entire debate into sociological practice. For example, in the author’s own efforts to produce such a “historically informed” sociology—as Inglis’ (2014) calls it—these small solutions have been a preferred conceptual strategy. When writing a sociological history of nation-formation in the European part of the Ottoman Empire (Roudometof, 2024a), the explicit objective was to theorise the region’s historical path based on the historical trajectories of the nations that constituted the object of the study itself. While deeply entangled with those of Western and Central Europe, the historical trajectory of the nations of South-eastern Europe is quite different: unlike the West, there was no feudalism, no urban strata like the German burgers or the French bourgeois, and no geopolitical system of mutual politico-military antagonism as in Western Europe. Consequently, the overall approach has been to flesh out an interpretation based on their actual historical trajectories and to theorise based on their own historical experience. This strategy is the conceptual opposite of the global modernisation perspectives—that is, using a pre-existing perspective developed in the West and formulated on the theorisation of the Western historical path and then subsequently applying it to an entirely different social and cultural context.

Later work followed a different conceptual strategy to tackle the problematic of ‘global versus national/local’ and ‘universal versus specific’. This strategy echoes Holton’s (2007) “methodological glocalism”. By this term, Holton suggests anchoring the analysis of trends, historical trajectories, and paths within a glocal rather than a global knowledge framework. Glocal has become an accepted concept since its introduction by Roland Robertson (1995) in several academic fields (see Roudometof, 2021; Roudometof and Dessi, 2022), yielding clarity in the understanding of the problems set off by the global processes. Using this strategy accepts a fundamental objective of postcolonial criticism—namely, the acknowledgment that the narrative of Western modernity is highly biased and fails to incorporate alterity into its own accounts.

But while the universality of the conventional Western narrative has been come under scrutiny, the same does not necessarily apply to conceptual and methodological tools or to the entire sociological tradition as such. To do so is merely a lapse into cultural relativism. Arguing along similar lines, ISA’s past President Hanafi has highlighted the need for common, universal concepts:

There can be no science and no global understanding of our world without admitting the universality of certain concepts (social class, democracy, citizenship) and values (Human rights, gender equality) (Hanafi, 2020, p. 14).

This argument extends Chernillo’s (2017) insightful discussion on the basic premises of shared humanity. Thinking along these lines suggests that the sociological toolkit should be seen as an important and potentially useful resource to sociologists all over the world. It enables them to creatively combine, adapt, or develop a variety of sociological tools to newfound circumstances or to new or understudied sociocultural milieus. That can offer new avenues of creativity for social scientific work.

To apply these broad ideas to a historical sociology of Orthodox Christianity (Roudometof, 2014), the general conceptual strategy has been to disregard the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) as the conventional benchmark used for structuring the understanding between religion and society. In conventional approaches towards the study of religion, using the West’s historical trajectory as a foundation for theorising the historical trajectories of the non-Western world erases non-Western alterity but, most importantly, paints a highly distorted picture of other faiths—as these faiths are ‘measured’ against a theoretical yardstick created from Western history. In the past, this strategy has contributed to the proliferation of neo-Orientalist stereotypes of Orthodox Christianity.

The alternative conceptual strategy followed was to use Orthodox Christianity’s entire historical record in the long-term (long durée)—namely, from roughly 8oo AD (when Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor in the rising ‘West’) until the 20th century. The use of the long durée enables the recognition of key shifts in the relationship between religion and culture/societies that are otherwise obscured when a Western chronology is followed. Based on this long historical record, then, a framework of different blueprints or models emerges with patterns that come out of the historical experience of the Orthodox religious landscape. In this case, the historical record offers both the archive for the development of these blueprints as well as the terrain where these models become operative.

These models or forms of the religion-culture interface are conceived as glocal: a combination or fusion of indigenous or local input with globalised ideas about religiosity and its relationship to culture, society, and the state. Intercultural or cross-civilisational encounters modified and shaped the historical path of these models’ adoption onto different social formations (for example, the Roman, Romanov, and Ottoman Empires, as well as the nation-states that emerged in the region after the 19th century and the transnational communities of Orthodox immigrants in the New World) (for an overview of these models, see Roudometof, 2013). These elements are critically important, as they have methodological implications. They show that historically constitutive and evolving models are the result of neither internal parthenogenesis nor externally imposed imperialism. Instead, they are the outcome of the combination and the fusion between cross-cultural encounters and internal social processes (see Gluck and Tsing, 2009 and for a similar thesis, see Conrad, 2012 on the Enlightenment).

These examples highlight a conceptual strategy that offers no overnight ‘grand solution’. Instead, small solutions are developed with reference to specific sociocultural contexts under investigation. This strategy may not deliver breakthroughs overnight but does offer the possibility of cumulative knowledge emerging from diverse regions.


The intellectual project of a Global Sociology received extensive support on a par with the growth and institutionalisation of post-1949 ISA and the growth of the discipline across national contexts. While the project of Global Sociology is a result of the growing realisation of the significance of globalisation for sociology, it is nevertheless the case that it stands for more than a Sociology of Globalisation. Were that to be the case, the structures of knowledge would remain confined to the Western-centred paradigm of European (or, more accurately transatlantic) modernity, typically identified with the classical era (1880–1920) of sociological thought. This issue is widely understood among the international sociological community. But it is difficult to resolve because successful resolution requires Sociology to go beyond Western (or transatlantic) modernity and to do so not only in terms of sheer empirical content but also by reconsidering its theories and epistemology.

This article has attempted to offer a mini-survey and evaluation of the two main alternative scholarship clusters that tackle this conundrum. The first comes from the mainstream perspectives of global modernisation, inclusive of the inter-disciplinary area of Global Studies. In this research agenda, the universality of sociological knowledge is implicitly or explicitly acknowledged. The incorporation of other regions and contexts is then an issue of including geographical zones into the analysis. The non-Western world is not viewed as a social space that shapes meanings, epistemologies, and forms of knowledge. This scholarship cluster is exemplary of the tremendous impact of modernity on crafting Sociology as an academic discipline.

In contrast, the research agenda of Postcolonial Sociology illuminates the dark side of Western modernity. Overly critical of past disciplinary complicity with Western racism and colonialism, it considers these processes central for inter-societal connectivity. However, identifying interconnectedness with coloniality reduces historical complexity to a major yet singular historical formation—that of the post-1492 transatlantic context (and ignores the Indo-Pacific; see Robertson, 2013). The invocation of the South as a topos of the underprivileged or subaltern alterity is a strategy that fuses different binary oppositions (East/West, North/South) into a single scientific research programme—without addressing or negotiating existing internal contradictions.

Overall, then, Global Sociology remains a promise or, better, a project that focuses scholarly attention on an important objective—making Sociology relevant to humanity as such. It is entirely plausible that no research agenda might ever be capable of delivering a single grand solution (or a new master narrative) offering a sociological revelation that will instantly deliver global sociology. Thus, in this article’s final section, I have sought to articulate a different proposition—that sociology itself can be seen as involved in a continuous balancing act between the global and the local. Sociology is best seen as simultaneously being global, local and glocal. That is, the discipline itself simultaneously needs to be made locally relevant and globally meaningful. For such a task, small solutions might work better in negotiating this relationship; that is, elements of the broader problematic of the ‘global’ might be incrementally incorporated into the practice of sociological research. In the final section, the author’s own work has been used to offer some concrete examples of this approach.