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Lost boomerangs, the rebound effect and transnational advocacy networks: a discursive approach to norm diffusion

  • Maria Martin de Almagro (a1)

This article aims to show the added value of studying transnational advocacy networks through a discursive approach in order to better understand the outcomes of norm diffusion in postconflict contexts. I argue that constructivist approaches to norm diffusion fall short as an explanation of norm adoption because they assume an automatic process of norm propagation through socialisation mechanisms. The first goal of the article is then to discuss how the internal dynamics of discourse negotiation in transnational advocacy networks impact the diffusion and implementation of international norms. The second goal is to propose the concept of the rebound effect and to explore the conditions under which it takes place. Through data collected during extended fieldwork, the article examines a prominent case, namely the transnational campaign for the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security in Burundi and Liberia. I ask why and how the campaign was understood as a success in Liberia and as a failure in Burundi. I argue that there is another way of looking at these cases in less dichotomised ways. Crucially, my findings demonstrate how in both cases a very particular discourse on gender security is (re)produced through power relations between local and transnational activists limiting the type of policies that are advocated for and depoliticising the grassroots.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence to: Maria Martin de Almagro, University of Cambridge and Vesalius College. Author’s email:; website:
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1 The UN NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security is a consortium of 14 international NGOs with headquarters in New York whose mission is to conduct policy analysis, monitoring, and advocacy for the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.

2 Keck and Sikkink define norms as ‘shared ideas, expectations and beliefs about appropriate behaviour’ and they are ‘what gives the world structure, order and stability’. Keck, Margaret and Sikkink, Kathryn, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998), p. 894 .

3 WPSAC, ‘Creating a Transnational People’s Plan for UNSCR1325’, available at: {//} accessed 27 June 2014.

4 Reeves, Audrey, ‘Feminist knowledge and emerging govermentality in UN peacekeeping’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 14:3 (2012), pp. 348369 ; McRobbie, Angela, The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change (Los Angeles and London: Sage Publications, 2009).

5 Fieldwork notes, Monrovia, Liberia, August 2013.

6 Fieldwork notes, Bujumbura, Burundi, April 2013. Interview (a): INGO international staff member, Bujumbura, Burundi, 10 December 2012; Interview (b): ex-project manager for a national women organisation, Bujumbura, Burundi, 12 June 2012; Interview (c): staff member at UNWOMEN, Bujumbura, Burundi, 20 June 2012.

7 UNIFEM, ‘Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections between Presence and Influence’ (New York: UNIFEM, 7 August 2010).

8 Haas, Peter, Knowledge, Power, and International Policy Coordination (Columbia, CA: University of California Press, 1997).

9 Finnemore, Martha, National Interests in International Society (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).

10 Transnational advocacy networks comprise ‘relevant actors working internationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services’. Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders. These include international and domestic NGOs, social movements, international organisations, national governments, and individuals.

11 True, Jacqui and Mintrom, Michael, ‘Transnational networks and policy diffusion: the case of gender mainstreaming’, International Studies Quarterly, 45:1 (2001), pp. 2757 .

12 Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders, p. 12; della Porta, Donatella and Tarrow, Sidney (eds), Transnational Protest and Global Activism (London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005).

13 Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders, p. 8.

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17 Krook and True, ‘Rethinking the life cycles of international norms’.

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22 Bucher, ‘Acting abstractions’, p. 748.

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27 Ryan and Basini explain how many of the provisions contained in UNSCR1325 were already being implemented in Liberia and Sierra Leone before being named as such. Ryan, Caitlin and Basini, Helen, ‘UNSC Resolution 1325 national action plans in Liberia and Sierra Leone: an analysis of gendered power relations in hybrid peacebuilding’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 11:2 (2017), pp. 186206 .

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32 Cortell and Davis, ‘When norms clash’.

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34 Acharya, ‘How ideas spread’; Acharya, Amitav, ‘Norm subsidiarity and regional orders: Sovereignty, regionalism, and rule-making in the Third World’, International Studies Quarterly, 55 (2011), pp. 95123 .

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36 Noutcheva, Gergana, ‘Fake, partial and imposed compliance: the limits of the EU’s normative power in the Western Balkans’, Journal of European Public Policy, 16:7 (2009), pp. 10651084 .

37 Goodman, Ryan and Jinks, Derek, ‘Incomplete internalization and compliance with human rights law’, European Journal of International Law, 19:4 (2008), pp. 725748 .

38 Wiener, Antje, ‘Contested compliance: Interventions on the normative structure of world politics’, European Journal of International Relations, 10:2 (2004), pp. 189234 .

39 Ginty, Roger Mac, International Peacebuilding and Local Resistance: Hybrid Forms of Peace (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

40 Kratochwil, , ‘Rules’, Norms and Decisions; Mervyn Frost, Ethics in International Relations: A Constitutive Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Davis, James, Terms of Inquiry: On the Theory and Practice of Political Science (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2005).

41 Wiener, Antje, ‘Enacting meaning-in-use: qualitative research on norms and international relations’, Review of International Studies, 35:1 (2009), pp. 175193 .

42 Bucher, ‘Acting abstractions’, p. 742.

43 Niemann, Holger and Schillinger, Henrik, ‘Contestation “all the way down”? The grammar of contestation in norm research’, Review of International Studies, First View (2017), pp. 121 .

44 Zwingel, ‘How do norms travel?’, p. 122.

45 Epstein, Charlotte, ‘Who speaks? Discourse, the subject and the study of identity in international politics’, European Journal of International Relations, 17:2 (2011), p. 334 .

46 Betts, Alexander and Orchard, Phil, ‘Conclusions: Norms and the politics of implementation’, in Alexander Betts and Phil Orchard (eds), Implementation and World Politics: How International Norms Change Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

47 Irvine, Jill, ‘Leveraging change’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 15:1 (2012), pp. 2038 .

48 Sunstein, Cass, ‘Social norms and social roles’, Columbia Law Review, 9:4 (1996), pp. 903968 ; Katzenstein, Peter, The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); Finnemore and Sikkink, ‘International norm dynamics and political change’.

49 Renner, Judith, Discourse, Normative Change and the Quest for Reconciliation in Global Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013).

50 Finnemore and Sikkink, ‘International norm dynamics and political change’, pp. 903–04.

51 Guillaume, Xavier, ‘Unveiling the “international”: Process, identity and alterity’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 35:3 (2007), pp. 741759 ; Onuf, Nicholas, World of our Making (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1989).

52 Epstein, Charlotte, ‘Stop telling us how to behave: Socialization or infantilization?’, International Studies Perspectives, 13 (2012), pp. 135145 .

53 Hertel, Shareen, Unexpected Power: Conflict and Change among Transnational Activists (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006).

54 Elkins, Zachary and Simmons, Beth, ‘On waves, clusters, and diffusion: a conceptual framework’, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 598:1 (2005), pp. 3351 .

55 Klotz and Lynch, Strategies for Research, p. 92.

56 Ayoub, Phillip, When States Come Out: Europe’s Sexual Minorities and the Politics of Visibility (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

57 Ayoub, Phillip, ‘Contested norms in new-adopter states: International determinants of LGBT rights legislation’, European Journal of International Relations, 21:2 (2015), pp. 293322 .

58 Hertel, Unexpected Power.

59 Krook and True, ‘Rethinking the life cycles of international norms’, p. 104.

60 Finnemore and Sikkink, ‘International norm dynamics and political change’, p. 916.

61 Bucher, ‘Acting abstractions’, p. 755.

62 Epstein, Charlotte, ‘Constructivism or the eternal return of universals in International Relations: Why returning to language is vital to prolonging the owl’s flight’, European Journal of International Relations, 19:3 (2013), p. 501 .

63 Engelkamp, Stephan and Glaab, Katharina, ‘Writing norms: Constructivist norm research and the politics of ambiguity’, Alternatives, 40:34 (2015), pp. 201218 ; Epstein, The Power of Words in International Relations; Hansen, Lene, Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War (London: Routledge, 2006); Shepherd, Laura, Gender, Violence and Security: Discourse as Practice (London: Zed, 2008).

64 Foucault, Michael, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), p. 119 .

65 Hansen, Security as Practice.

66 Cook, Sam, ‘The “woman‐in‐conflict” at the UN Security Council: a subject of practice’, International Affairs, 92:2 (2016), p. 355 .

67 Richter, Melvin and Richter, Michaela, ‘Introduction: Translation of Reinhart Koselleck’s “Krise” in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 343356 .

68 Shepherd, Gender, Violence and Security, pp. 20–3.

69 Laclau, Ernesto and Mouffe, Chantal, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985).

70 Benford, Robert, ‘Master frame’, in David Snow, Donatella della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam (eds), The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

71 Howard, David, Norval, Aletta, and Stavrakakis, Yannis, Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, Hegemonies and Social Change (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 4 .

72 Bucher, ‘Acting abstractions’, p. 750.

73 Krook and True, ‘Rethinking the life cycles of international norms’.

74 Epstein, The Power of Words in International Relations.

75 Zehfuss, Constructivism in International Relations, p. 92.

76 Checkel, ‘International institutions and socialization in Europe’, pp. 801–26.

77 Hansen, Security as Practice; Shepherd, Gender, Violence and Security; Shepherd, Laura, ‘Gendering security’, in J. Peter Burgess (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of New Security Studies (London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 7280 .

78 Catherine Eschle, ‘Gender and the subject of (anti)nuclear politics: Revisiting women’s campaigning against the bomb’, International Studies Quarterly, 57:4 (2013), pp. 713–24.

79 Jarvis, Lee, Times of Terror: Discourse, Temporality and the War on Terror (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Weldes, Jutta, ‘Constructing national interests’, European Journal of International Relations, 2:3 (1996), pp. 275318 .

80 Griffin, Penny, Gendering the World Bank: Neoliberalism and the Gendered Foundations of Global Governance (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Shepherd, Gender, Violence and Security.

81 Debrix, François, Tabloid Terror: War, Culture and Geopolitics (London: Routledge, 2008).

82 Shepherd, Laura, ‘Constructing civil society: Gender, power and legitimacy in United Nations peacebuilding discourse’, European Journal of International Relations, 21:4 (2015), p. 890 .

83 Shapiro, Michael, Studies in Transdisciplinary Method: After the Aesthetic Turn (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 85 .

84 Shepherd, Gender, Violence and Security.

85 Several interviewees – INGOs staff and local NGOs staff – noted this fact.

86 Hansen, Security as Practice, pp. 19–21.

87 Shepherd, Laura, ‘“To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”: the US, UN, and the violence of security’, Review of International Studies, 34:2 (2008), p. 294 .

88 Ibid.

89 McLeod, Laura, ‘Configurations of post-conflict: Impacts of representations of conflict and post-conflict upon the (political) translations of gender security within UNSCR 1325’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 13:4 (2011), p. 595 .

90 Shepherd, ‘Gendering security’, p. 76.

91 I found inspiration for this approach on previous similar work conducted by McLeod, ‘Configurations of post-conflict’ and Eschle, ‘Gender and the subject of (anti)nuclear politics’.

92 Hudson, Heidi, ‘A double-edged sword of peace? Reflections on the tension between representation and protection in gendering liberal peacebuilding’, International Peacekeeping, 19:4 (2012), pp. 443460 .

93 Interview (a).

94 Interview (b).

95 Government of Burundi, Plan d’Action National pour la mise en oeuvre de la Résolution 1325 (2011), available at: {} accessed 14 April 2017; Government of Liberia, The Liberian National Action Plan for the Implementation of United Nations Resolution 1325 (2009), available at:} accessed 14 April 2017.

96 Interview (c).

97 Hudson, Heidi, ‘Doing security as though humans matter: a feminist perspective on gender and the politics of human security’, Security Dialogue, 36:2, pp. 155174 .

98 Interview (d): a legal affairs staff at national women association in Bujumbura, Burundi, 12 December 2012.

99 Interview (f): a project manager of a national women organisation in Bujumbura, Burundi, 8 April 2013.

100 Interview (g): activist from grassroots group, Cibitoke province, Burundi, 9 April 2013.

101 Ibid.

102 Interview (f): a project manager of a national women organisation in Bujumbura, Burundi, 8 April 2013.

103 Carstensen, Martin, ‘Conceptualising ideational novelty: a relational approach, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 17:2 (2015), pp. 284297 .

104 Pleyers, Geoffrey, Alter-Globalization: Becoming Actors in a Global Age (Cambridge: Polity, 2010).

105 Ibid., p. 185.

106 Ibid., p. 191.

107 Pratt, Nicola and Richter-Devroe, Sophie, ‘Critically examining UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 13:4 (2011), p. 498 .

108 Kazoviyo, Gertrude and Gahungu, Pélagie, The Issue of Inheritance for Women in Burundi (Bujumbura: FRIDE and Ligue ITEKA, 2011).

109 International Crisis Group, Les terres de la discorde (I): la réforme foncière au Burundi, Rapport Afrique n. 213 (2014), p. 7.

110 Association des Femmes Juristes du Burundi et Association des Juristes Catholiques du Burundi, Impact du vide juridique observé en matière des successions, des régimes matrimoniaux et des libéralités, 2012, Final report RML, p. 42.

111 For a detailed account on women’s collective action on land inheritance in Burundi, see Saiget, Marie, ‘(De-)Politicising women’s collective action: International actors and land inheritance in post-war Burundi’, Review of African Political Economy, 43:149 (2016), pp. 365381 .

112 Interview (c).

113 Burundi National Action Plan (2009).

114 Interview (f).

115 Interview (h): woman activist, ex-staff member of an international NGO Burundi desk office, Bujumbura, 12 April 2012.

116 Interview (d).

117 Interview (d).

118 Interview (f).

119 Duncanson, Claire, Gender and Peacebuilding (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2016), p. 138 .

120 Moran, Mary and Pitcher, Anne, ‘The “basket case” and the “poster child”: Explaining the end of civil conflicts in Liberia and Mozambique’, Third World Quarterly, 25:3 (2004), p. 504 .

121 Debusscher, Petra and de Almagro, Maria Martin, ‘Post-conflict women’s movements in turmoil: the challenges of success in Liberia in the 2005-aftermath’, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 54:2 (2016), pp. 293316 .

122 For more information on the Peace Huts, see UNIFEM, ‘Women Building Peace and Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict-Affected Contexts: A Review of Community-Based Approaches’, (October 2007), available at: {}.

123 Interview (i): staff member of a women’s community based radio station in Monrovia, Liberia, 1 September 2013.

124 UNWOMEN, Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace (New York: UN, 2015), p. 204 .

125 This data was presented by the Liberian Minister of Gender at the time, Julia Duncan Cassell, at the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women: ‘The Empowerment of Rural Women and their Role in Poverty and Hunger Eradication, Development Challenges and the Way Forward’, available at: {} accessed 9 August 2014.

126 Shepherd, Laura, ‘Sex, security and superhero(in)es: From 1325 to 1820 and beyond’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 13:4 (2011), pp. 504521 .

127 Interview (j): local staff from the local branch of an International NGO in Monrovia, Liberia, 8 August 2013.

128 Fuest, Veronika, ‘Contested inclusions: Pitfalls of NGO peace-building activities in Liberia’, Africa Spectrum (2010), pp. 333 .

129 WANEP and WIPNET, Women’s National Agenda for Peace, Security and Development. Adopted on 30 March 2006, presented to the Government of the Republic of Liberia (Monrovia: Women in Peacebuilding Network, 2006).

130 Interview (k): staff member and lawyer of a women professional association in Liberia, Monrovia, 6 August 2016.

131 Pratt, and Richter-Devroe, , cited in Soumita Basu, ‘The Global South writes 1325 (too)’, International Political Science Review, 37:3 (2016), pp. 362374 .

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