Most academics and students study international relations because they want to make the world a better place. Of course, understanding and explanation require methodological and theoretical rigor but most of us, ultimately, hope that our research and ideas are somehow relevant. We study war and peace because we ultimately want less of the former and more of the latter. We study international norms, for example, because we believe that the laws and principles developed by international society can make a difference to human rights, humanitarian response, or development outcomes.
Yet sometimes—just occasionally—there is a disjuncture between the abstract level at which theories of world politics are developed, and the people to whom they ultimately relate. A significant proportion of scholarship on international institutions in particular is focused on the “global” level—looking at what exists in Geneva or New York or emerges through the work that takes place in multilateral forums, international treaty bodies, or at the headquarters of international organizations. What work on international institutions, in general, and on international norms, in particular, has largely failed to do is to explore whether and how those structures actually make a difference in practice.
This book represents an attempt to close that analytical gap. It tries to make sense of what happens to international norms after they have emerged at the international level and states have signed and ratified them; to dig a little further down into the micro-level politics of international norms. It explores how the same international norms sometimes translate in radically different ways at national and local levels, or within particular organizations, and how this process can have profound effects on people’s lives. It tries to understand what happens to international norms at implementation. How do they change and adapt? What explains variation in practice? Which actors and structures matter for shaping whether implementation actually takes place, and on whose terms?
The idea for this edited volume emerged from an initial conversation at the annual convention of the International Studies Association (ISA) in New Orleans in 2010. Attending a panel on the institutionalization of norms, featuring Neta Crawford, Michael Barnett, Peter Walker, and Thomas Weiss, we asked the panelists a set of questions relating to how they would conceive the line between existing international relations accounts of normative institutionalization, and subsequent processes of implementation. There was recognition that international relations had no adequate or consistent answer to this question. This sparked a conversation between the editors about whether there (p.vi) is a missing analytical step—a “normative institutionalization–implementation gap”—that might be the basis of a research project.
Based on those conversations, and our own reflections on the two issue-areas that we know best, refugees and internally displaced persons, we decided to apply for an International Studies Association Venture Grant to support a workshop to be held at the subsequent ISA meeting in Montreal in 2011. This enabled us to draft the basis of our conceptual framework (now the Introduction to this volume) and pull together a group of scholars working on international norms in relation to a cross-section of different issue-areas with a broadly humanitarian or people-focused purpose. The scholars who attended that workshop helped us significantly to refine the framework and eventually became the contributors to this volume.
We owe a debt of gratitude to a number of people and institutions for helping us in the development of the book project. Above all, we wish to thank our contributors for their excellent work and for submitting and revising chapters in a timely way. We especially wish to acknowledge the role that conversations relating to a previous project, “Regimes as Practice, ” notably with Anna Schmidt, played in helping to develop some of our ideas relating to implementation. The ideas in the volume have also developed through a series of presentations and suggestions by colleagues, and we would like to thank among others Michael Barnett, Alex Bellamy, Stephen Bell, R. Charli Carpenter, Jeff Checkel, Tim Dunne, Jean-Francois Durieux, Martha Finnemore, Jim Hollifield, Andrew Hurrell, and Martin Weber.
Institutionally, we wish to first and foremost thank the International Studies Association for recognizing the value of this work and funding it with the venture grant. In so many ways this book carries a “made at ISA” label and illustrates the value of the Association. The MacArthur Foundation funded the research on which a significant part of Alex’s input is based. We also wish to acknowledge the ongoing support of our host institutions, the University of Oxford and the University of Queensland. We are grateful to Dominic Byatt at Oxford University Press for supporting this project from its inception. Finally, Phil would like to thank Victoria, as always, for her support and inspiration (and proof-reading) and Charlotte and Kate for putting up with Daddy’s work. Alex would like to thank Emily for reasons that go beyond excellent advice on the cover design.
Alex and Phil September 2013