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Stigma Management in International Relations: Transgressive Identities, Norms, and Order in International Society

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 January 2014

Rebecca Adler-Nissen*
Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen. E-mail:
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This article develops a theoretical approach to stigma in international relations and resituates conventional approaches to the study of norms and international order. Correcting the general understanding that common values and norms are the building blocks of social order, this article claims that international society is in part constructed through the stigmatization of “transgressive” and norm-violating states and their ways of coping with stigma. Drawing on Erving Goffman, this article shows that states are not passive objects of socialization, but active agents. Stigmatized states cope strategically with their stigma and may, in some cases, challenge and even transform a dominant moral discourse. A typology of stigma management strategies is presented: stigma recognition (illustrated by Germany); stigma rejection (illustrated by Austria); and finally counter-stigmatization (illustrated by Cuba). Because of the lack of agreement on what constitutes normal state behavior, attempts to impose stigma may even have the opposite effect—the stigmatizers become the transgressive. A focus on stigma opens up new avenues for research on norms, identities, and international order.

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Copyright © The IO Foundation 2014 

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