Norms in international relations

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This course on the notion of norm will allow us to come back to constructivism, discuss fundamental issues and see how, starting from this approach, it is possible to build social reality. Standards make it possible to build a normative framework. In Finnemore and Sikkink's International norm dynamics and political change, standards would be in nature and some would become international standards.

We will come back to the constructivist tradition with various articulations of agreement to say that the social world is built being the fruit of interactions, but that does not mean that they have the same conception of this world. According to constructivists, interactions are a game.

Key issues and concepts[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Why study norms?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

If we have to think about the need to know why there is a type of approach advocated, these approaches seek to understand why actors act under certain conditions and what will influence States to act. A good way to approach the theory of international relations and how these theories are organized among themselves is that there is often an implicit with action logics.

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In 2002 in Public-Private Partnerships: Effective and Legitimate Tools of International Governance, Risse asked himself what are the rationales for action by which we can explain and interpret the actions of agents. Risse identifies two logics of actions plus another resulting from them:

  • logic of consequences: it is a logic of the type of rational choice.
  • logic of adequacy: actors will not necessarily act according to their interests taken in a consequentialist way, i.e. which are the national interests. The logic of adequacy posits that sometimes actors will act "against their interests" because they act according to their identity. The preferences of these actors do not reflect a rational choice, but simply by saying "I am such or such and such, so my preference is this". This logic makes it possible to analyse behaviours and decisions related to national identity.
  • logic of the argument: once you get into the logic of identities, the logic of arguments and say that as we are in a social interaction, what the other does may have an impact on who we are.

Thus, it is possible to distinguish between ideal and material factors. Material factors are linked to the materiality of the world such as human nature, natural resources, geography, production forces, but also forces of destruction. The ideal factors are not related to material factors, but to norms, they are rules, institutions such as sovereignty, which is a series of norms and rules that have become the idea of sovereignty, identities and practices.

The consequentialist logic[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The actions of the agents reflect a rational choice among a variety of possibilities, this logic is therefore an instrumental rationality. We are in the field of rationality, but the problem is that we know what is meant by "rationality". This dimension is often identified by realistic and liberal tradition. This idea of rational choice must be understood in relation to a multiplicity of options. During the Cuban crisis, Americans have a range of options with different costs and consequences, but the choice will be made in line with an objective defined by a policy. The fundamental mistake of the United States in Iraq was the inability to understand that the country did not want an American presence and that its resources were not in line with the scale of the action.

With the prisoner's dilemma have in a rationality where agents reflect on the consequences of their action vis-à-vis the action of others. It is the ability to act in a way that satisfies their interest, but takes into account the actions of others.

The logic of adequacy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We are not talking about irrationality, but that the way in which actors act can be nourished by different forms of rationality. This means that we look at the world in a different way than purely instrumental. The actions of agents are a reflection of the adequacy that agents perceive between their actions and norms, social identities, rules. This logic is therefore part of a normative rationality.

At the end of the First World War, there was a strong reaction from combatants, populations and governments on the use of chemical weapons. There is a dimension of how to wage war creating a certain identity of what a civilized state is.

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Why will states comply with standards for the non-use of chemical and biological weapons? Chemical weapons are easy to produce, but with random effectiveness, but were little used in the Second World War on the Eastern Front because these actors have a certain identity of who they are.

If American bombers attack the United States, two logics of action are in tension: there will be 20 million dead people or 150 million. In classical realism, for Morgenthau, when you are a political agent, you will do bad things because you have to do it, but you have to choose the solution that causes the least harm. The best moral solution is to avoid the worst, but to cause harm.

What is a norm?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

For Finnemore in Constructing Norms of International Intervention, a standard is a "shared expectation by a community of agents for appropriate behaviour". This explains the change in the interests and preferences of the State and its action when a rationalist explanation does not allow it. A standard is there because even when there is a violation of that standard, it is referred to.

A preference is the reflection of an interest that reflects an identity. If we want to understand an interest, we must understand how a state is conceived. Nehru India is a state that wants to change the forms of oppression in the world and that is why it has supported colonial emancipation.

Behind the scenes is the idea of the formation, maintenance and transformation of collective identities based on the principle that an identity is always the product of one relationship to another. International interactions can have an effect on how we think of ourselves internally.

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From a critical point of view, a standard is to standardize and create a standard that will make those who do not participate "abnormal". This raises the question of who benefits from the standard and creates a form of normality and normative criteria. In Japan's context in the Russo-Japanese War, normality was the great Western powers that set the standard. To be a power, you had to respect certain rules and be civilized.

There are different types of norms:

  • regulatory: for example, the WTO publishes standards that regulate behaviour.
  • constitutive: a standard can give rise to the emergence of an identity. In Europe, we cannot think of the modern state without thinking of the idea of sovereignty. The emergence of a specific entity can only be understood if it is understood that certain standards provide the opportunity to do so.
  • evaluative/prescriptive: what should be done/should be done? this refers to a moral and ethical dimension.

When we talk about standards, we are talking about different things. These three types of norms are normative constraints on behaviour, forms of legitimization of action such as, for example, just war and forms of authority with the concept of "good governance" as a development concept by some States that establish a standard of governance.

The Constructivist tradition in International Relations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

One of the essences of constructivism is the intersubjective dimension. Constructivism is not linked to a tradition of political philosophy as are realistic, liberal or critical traditions, it is an ontological perspective of how the world is conceived and an epistemological perspective of how to approach the world informing the way in which we should study international relations.

Barkin in his article The Tragedy of Realism: Morality, Power, and IR Theory[9], will justify constructivism by realism, because this does not mean that constructivism does not have more specific positions in relation to the world around us. For Barkin the world is not realistic as such, but through the logics he faces, the resultant will make realism make it possible to understand this world, but constructivism presupposes what could be different.

The "Leviathan" - The symbol of the modern state after Hobbes, here after an engraving by Gustave Doré (1865) - in Schmitt's eyes, destroyed by pluralism and indirect powers.

For Adler, who is one of the most influential constructivists, in Seizing the Middle Ground : Constructivism in World Politics[10],

it is a "social theory on which constructivist theories of international politics are based - for example, on war, cooperation and the international community". People like Fillemore and Sikking have a liberal vision of the world.

In Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics[11], Wendt questions anarchy for which the logic of anarchy is not a constant, it is the result of a normative context, itself a reflection of the practices of States. To understand how States perceive their actions, it is necessary to understand that States are in interaction.

In relation to symbolic interaction, Wendt will talk about three archetypal forms of anarchy:

  • Hobbesian anarchy: Leviathan's absence will create a situation of potential conflict and others cannot be trusted in his interactions. The other is an absolute danger.
  • Lockaean anarchy: instead of being enemies in interactions, actors are rivals. We're not just going to try to destroy the other one.
  • Kantian anarchy: it is a situation where it is difficult to think that France and Germany will go to war, but it is always a situation of anarchy.

These archetypal forms can coexist within the same international system. For constructivists, the type of anarchy will depend on the forms of interaction between states, especially since this situation is evolving.

The constitution of meaning and social reality[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

For Guzzini in A Reconstruction of Constructivism in International Relations, constructivism focuses on the "social construction of meaning (including knowledge), and[on] the construction of social reality". For Adler, "Constructivism is a perspective for which the way in which the material world shapes and is shaped by human actions and interactions depends on the normative dynamics and epistemic interpretations of this material world.

The most fundamental aspect of international relations is the nature and structure of the distribution of ideas or knowledge. Identities, norms, rules, institutions are reflections of the nature or structure of this distribution. The effects of material factors are "secondary" insofar as they only take on their meaning according to the social actors.

Key conceptual issues[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The material world[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The material world has no meaning in itself and for itself, materiality gives meaning. As an object of knowledge, the material world is not independent of our interpretations and use of language. These are not subjective perspectives on the material and social world. Russia may perceive itself as a great power, but it can only be so if others perceive it as an intersubjective power.

There is no perfect correlation between the objects of our knowledge and these objects "in reality", there is a mediatization of language. All facts are ultimately social and all social facts result from the interactions between actors and structures in their mutual constitution.

The social world is the result of the practices and understandings of the actors, and therefore, the social world is:

  • dynamic.
  • quota: production of a normative dimension.
  • ideal as well as material.

The social construction of knowledge and the construction of social reality are of importance to norms, identities and institutions. To understand the mechanisms by which certain structures emerge in international relations, constructivism is better adapted with an attachment to "science". In Constructing a New Orthodoxy? Wendt's's' Social Theory of International Politics' and the Constructivist Challenge, Kratochwil criticized constructivism leading to a new orthodoxy that is a sophistication not necessarily different from the liberal and realistic ones raising the question of stato-centrism and power relations.

Critical perspectives[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

A number of authors such as Barnett, Sikkink, Price, Finnemore have a central position in the American academic community. They all come from the University of Minnesota with the same thesis supervisor, Professor Raymond Duvall. These authors have a liberal vision of international relations. Constructivism is not a paradigm, but the idea that the social world is built. We must analyze the constructivist discourse.

Reminder[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The importance of normative structures highlights that norms influence the way people behave and have a role in identities in the constitution of interests and actions of actors. The mutual constitution of agents and structures raises questions about where power lies.

The "life cycle" of norms[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

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In The state and internationals relations, Hobson seeks to show how this constitution determines the preferences and interests of incoming states. It is a somewhat naturalistic approach, the actors act according to unconscious normative structures that reflect its actions. The interests of States reflect the dynamics of coconstitution and justify the idea of adequacy, i. e. that certain elements and facts cannot be interpreted according to the logic of consequence. In some circumstances, it is not sufficient to understand or explain a number of elements. With the constructivist approach, we enter into the idea of an international society. There is a shift, we are in a system where there is the structure of agents at the idea of forming a society. A system is a structure with a feedback system. This natural process leads us to society where there is something qualitative, but above all it is a place of obligation and cooperation referring to the idea of hierarchy.

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Where are the standards contractors? How do we move from an international standard to an internal standard, when does it arrive at the "tipping point"? Internationalization is how an internationally adopted standard becomes internalized in the domestic. An international standard for constructivists also has an influence on countries that are not at the source of this standard.

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Who are these different actors? In terms of actors, standards entrepreneurs are individual actors, but who can have a platform, it is not necessarily a State that will be at the origin of the standard. The cascade logic is the result of the ability to convince people that this standard is good and to be able to disseminate it. Internalisation is the institutionalisation of the standard.

The reasons are what leads these different actors to act with regard to this standard. For standard entrepreneurs there is altruism, empathy and ideal commitment it is a free commitment is not defined by who and in what context the standard is produced. The reasons that lead actors to disseminate the standard are based on legitimacy, reputation and esteem, the ability to disseminate the standard is not based on a capacity for power. Internationalization is the search for conformity to the standard as part of a natural process.

The mechanisms are of the order of persuasion. Dissemination is a process of socialization, institutionalization and demonstration.

In international norm dynamics and political change, Finnemore and Sikkink question what counts in a standard:

  • legitimization

States with internal tensions may adopt international standards not necessarily because they adhere to them, but in order to create international legitimacy. Adopting an international standard strengthens internal legitimacy.

  • prominence

Prominence is the desirability and success of some models such as the Western model: "the fact that Western standards are more readily disseminated internationally seems to correspond to this observation".

  • intrinsic characteristics of the norm

There are some intrinsic characteristics of standards that make people adopt them.

The nuclear non-proliferation norm[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Dans Nuclear Weapons and the Other in the Western Imagination, Gusterson analyse le discours occidental de non-prolifération :

  1. the possession of nuclear weapons by the major powers, and the fact that the so-called "Third World" countries do not possess them or should not possess them, is described as normal, natural and reasonable; the opposite is problematic. The fact that some have weapons and others do not is normal. The non-proliferation standard does not say that those who already own it should abandon it, but they should not have more.
  2. the security of nuclear powers is presented as the security of the whole world. The more nuclear weapons there are, the more dangerous it is, the more dangerous it is to think of the world.
  3. the link between the socio-economic deprivations of the so-called "Third World" countries, the forms of structural domination between North and South, and the issue of non-proliferation has been erased!
  4. the nuclear monopoly of the major powers is legitimized because there is a non-proliferation norm.
artiste: Hans Lindstrom

Gusterson is also interested in the normative articulation of the non-proliferation standard in this article:

  1. the "Third World" countries are too poor: only the major powers can have nuclear weapons because they are rich.
  2. nuclear deterrence will be unstable in the "third world": the game of nuclear deterrence because we need rational actors
  3. Third world" regimes do not have the technological maturity to possess nuclear weapons: argument of legitimacy.
  4. Third world" regimes do not have the political maturity to possess nuclear weapons.

According to this orientalist discourse, Iran cannot possess nuclear weapons and since Iran is not legitimate for this, measures must be taken. It's a discourse of normality. It is a discourse of normality and relative positioning.

Liberal bias and the absence of politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Two observations can be made.

  1. There is a Liberal bias that is not taken for granted. There is a global dominance of liberal principles of progress and rationality within the framework of a liberal global space. Liberal actors are located in a specific space. For Adamson in Global Liberalism Versus Political Islam: Competing Ideological Frameworks in International Politics, "it is a space populated by sovereign, equal and rational individuals engaged in a'search for truth' through argumentative processes and discursive interaction rather than coercion or force".
  2. There is an absence of a link between "individual agents" such as standard entrepreneurs and "global ideological structures". The discourse that liberal constructivism produces is an asociological discourse. It is almost a paradox. They have socializing tools, but these structures are neutral, they exist in a world that would be generic without influence. The relationship between liberal structures is the agents born into a political structure. Some forms of normalities are presented as the only possible and indisputable one. For the essence of politics is the ability to challenge and dialogue to achieve a common good.

For Adamson, this lack of connection "has led to a rather apolitical conception of'norm entrepreneurs' as essentially detached moral agents, acting through their individual consciousness, rather than actors deeply embedded in particular global ideological and geopolitical configurations".

From the norm to normality[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Naissance de la biopolitique, Foucault says that "disciplinary standardization consists in first setting a model [...] and the disciplinary standardization operation consists in trying to make people, gestures, acts conform to this model, the normal being precisely what is capable of conforming to this standard and the abnormal being what is not capable of conforming to it. In other words, what is fundamental and first in disciplinary standardization is not the normal and the abnormal, it is the norm.

The abnormal is someone who does not want and does not have the ability to become what he is either because he is unwilling or because he does not have the ability. This raises questions about the meaning of certain terms. In the assertion that the unemployed person threatens society, there is a discourse of security, because the first quality is to be a producing agent, if you do not produce you are useless to society. But we must ask ourselves who institutionalized this discourse.

The normative dimension is that visions are standards produced, but which are beginning to be disseminated elsewhere. The issue is that some things are presented as natural "self-evident".

From normality to international order[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Didier Fassin published La raison humanitaire in 2010, which presents humanitarian work as a Western social and political vision. If we look at the articulation of humanitarian aid, we understand that there is a sociodicea, that is, how the West manages to justify its moral superiority, but without it being articulated as such.

"Humanitarian reason, by instituting the equivalence of lives and the equivalence of suffering, allows us to believe again - against the daily evidence of the realities with which we are confronted - in this very concept of humanity which implies that all human beings are equal because they belong to a world. The humanitarian government thus has for us this redemptive power because by saving lives, it saves something from an idea of ourselves, and by alleviating suffering, it also lightens the burden of this unequal world order. »

The way the world is seen leads to a government that in the Foucault dimension is a "conduct of conduct". This extract is the transition from normality to international norm.

The challenge for Fassin is that it is not a question of taking humanitarian reason "as the best possible government or as an illusion that would mislead us", but of "making the global logic of humanitarian reason more intelligible". Humanitarian reason is a powerful social imaginary that gives meaning to practices.

The essential point is that when one begins to think about Western sociodicy and humanitarian reason, one realizes that it reflects a "political asymmetry":

  • Sociologically: "It is not the possible condescension of the carer that is at issue, nor the meaning of his act of helping, but the conditions of the social relationship between the two parties which, beyond any intention of the agents, make compassion a moral feeling without possible reciprocity".
  • politically: "it is not a question of criticizing compassion for the position of superiority it would imply, but because it always implies a relationship of inequality".

The first thing is the hierarchy of lives that is presented as a technical choice, but not a political one. It is a depoliticized speech. There is also a hierarchy of humanitarian actors, but also a statutory, contractual, financial and political hierarchy.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  • Adamson, F. B. (2005). Global Liberalism Versus Political Islam: Competing Ideological Frameworks in International Politics. Mershon International Studies Review, 7(4), 547–569.
  • Adler, E. (1997). Seizing the Middle Ground: Constructivism in World Politics.European Journal of International Relations, 3(3), 319–363.
  • Fassin, D. (2010). La raison humanitaire. Une histoire morale du temps présent. Paris:Gallimard/Seuil.
  • Foucault, M. (2004). Sécurité, territoire, population. Cours au Collège de France, 1977-1978.Paris: Gallimard/Seuil.
  • Finnemore, M. (1996) National Interests in International Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.!
  • Finnemore, M. and Sikkink, K. (1998). International norm dynamics and political change.International Organization, 52(4), 887–917.
  • Gusterson, H. (1999). “Nuclear Weapons and the Other in the Western Imagination.”Cultural Anthropology 14 (1): 111–143.
  • Guzzini, S. (2000). A reconstruction of constructivism in international relations.European Journal of International Relations, 6(2), 147–182.
  • Hobson, J. M. (2000). The State and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kratochwil, F. (2000). Constructing a new orthodoxy? Wendt's "Social Theory of International Politics" and the constructivist challenge. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 29(1), 73–101.
  • Risse, T. (2000). « ’Let’s Argue!’: Communicative Action in World Politics »,International Organization, 54(1): 1-39.
  • Wendt, A. (1999). Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. Page de Stephan Davidshofer sur
  2. Page personnelle de Stephan Davidshofer sur le site du Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  3. Compte Twitter de Stephan Davidshofer
  4. Page de Xavier Guillaume sur
  5. Page personnelle de Xavier Guillaume sur le site de l'Université de Édimbourg
  6. Page personnelle de Xavier Guillaume sur le site de Science Po Paris PSIA
  7. Page de Xavier Guillaume sur
  8. Page personnelle de Xavier Guillaume sur le site de l'Université de Groningen
  9. Barkin, J. Samuel. "The Tragedy of Realism: Morality, Power, and IR Theory." International Studies Review 6.3 (2004): 508-09.
  10. Adler, E. "Seizing the Middle Ground:: Constructivism in World Politics." European Journal of International Relations 3.3 (1997): 319-63.
  11. Wendt, Alexander. "Anarchy Is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics." International Organization 46.02 (1992): 391.