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Norms and Social Hierarchies: Understanding International Policy Diffusion “From Below”

  • Ann E. Towns (a1)

This article aims to rethink the operation of norms in international policy diffusion. Norms do not simply standardize state behaviors, as is conventionally argued; norms also draw on and set up hierarchical social orders among states. Through a conceptual rethinking we gain a better understanding of where—among which states—new policies may first emerge: social hierarchies create incentives for new policies to develop at the margins of international society so that policies may diffuse “from below.” We also get a better grasp of how policy advocates frame the appropriateness or benefits of a new state practice: they must frame policy demands in terms of the international standing and rank of the targeted state. This article's empirical aspiration is to use these insights to help account for the international policy diffusion of legal sex quotas, a policy to increase the level of female legislators that developed first among “developing” states rather than among the so-called core of international society. By pointing to the link between norms and social hierarchy, the article helps account for policy diffusion “from below.”

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