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Finnemore and Sikkink: International norm dynamics and political change

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Finnemore and Sikkink. 1998. International norm dynamics and political change. International Organization 52 (autumn): 887-917.



THE LIFE CYCLE OF A NORM (see table on pg 898):

  1. "Norm emergence." Norm entrepreneurs arise (randomly) with a conviction that something must be changed. These norms use existing organizations and norms as a platform from which to proselytize (e.g. UN declarations), framing their issue to reach a broader audience. In Stage 1, then, states adopt norms for domestic political reasons. If enough states adopt the new norm, a "tipping point" is reached, and we move to stage 2.
  2. "Norm cascade." In stage 2, states adopt norms in response to international pressure--even if there is no domestic coalition pressing for adoption of the norm. They do this to enhance domestic legitimacy [comment: seems to imply domestic demand], conformity [b/c leaders don't want to stick out], and esteem needs [because being shamed as non-conformists by the int'l community makes them feel bad]. We need more psychological research to consider how this works [apparently].
  3. "Norm internalization." Over time, we internalize these norms. Professionals press for codification and universal adherance. Eventually, conformity becomes so natural that we cease to even notice the presence of a norm.
  1. "Legitimacy": affects timing. States may adopt norms if their domestic legitimacy wavers. [I like Moravcsik's argument better: if your power wavers, you adopt norms that perpetuate your ideology.]
  2. "Prominence": norms held by prominent states (e.g. powerful states, war victors) are likely to be adopted (e.g. liberalism, capitalism post cold-war).
  3. "Intrinsic qualities": some intrinsic qualities of a norm may make it more likely to be adopted (but the authors advise caution on this line of argument). Essentially, we're all slowly becoming hippies. We value universalism; individualism; voluntaristic authority; rational progress; and world citizenship. Keck and Sikkink make an argument that norms about bodily harm against vulnerable groups and legal equality of opportunity will be more appealing cross-nationally.
  4. "Adjacency": If the norm is like an existing norm, or somehow derivable from it.
  5. "World time": A depression or shock can lead states to look for new norms; the end of a war can lead states to adopt the victor's norms.



Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Finnemore, Martha (author)Sikkink, Kathryn (author)International RelationsConstructivismStrategiesRational ChoiceNormsDomestic Politics and International Relations

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