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How activists use benchmarks: Reformist and revolutionary benchmarks for global economic justice


Non-governmental organisations use benchmarks as a form of symbolic violence to place political pressure on firms, states, and international organisations. The development of benchmarks requires three elements: (1) salience, that the community of concern is aware of the issue and views it as important; (2) will, that activists and issue entrepreneurs will carry the message forward; and (3) expertise, that benchmarks created can be defended as accurate representations of what is happening on the issue of concern. We contrast two types of benchmarking cycles where salience, will, and expertise are put to the test. The first is a reformist benchmarking cycle where organisations defer to experts to create a benchmark that conforms with the broader system of politico-economic norms. The second is a revolutionary benchmarking cycle driven by expert-activists that seek to contest strong vested interests and challenge established politico-economic norms. Differentiating these cycles provides insights into how activists work through organisations and with expert networks, as well as how campaigns on complex economic issues can be mounted and sustained.

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We thank André Broome, Jacob Hasselbalch, Joel Quirk, Katharine Teague, and the reviewers and editors of the RIS for their generous feedback on earlier drafts of this article.

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
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