Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Jonathan Berman Wanders Off Into Normative Space

I think the most fascinating thing I picked up from the readings was the concept of normative space. Although not real in any positive sense, normative space contains all of the beliefs, ideas, and norms that make up a given society's social world. Contained in normative space are all the standards of appropriate behavior, ideas, values, and beliefs produced by a society. However, normative space is not static, it is a highly contested space. Ideas and norms that conflict or differ from a society's current norms are constantly on the fringes of normative space and threaten to undermine those ideas that have ideational hegemony.

Looking back at the paragraph I just wrote normative space seems like a complicated concept, however, I believe it is quite simple. The consequence of normative space is that all new ideas and norms have to emerge in the context of current reigning ideas and norms that make up a society's social world.

But why is that important? Well, the answer is that those new ideas and norms that conform or play off themes of old norms and ideas will have the best chance of being picked up by the general public. Thus, themes like the US being "a shining city on a hill", values like freedom and liberty are universal, or the US is a haven against tyranny must be echoed by any politician who wants to get elected to higher office. Politicians must conform to these norms and make sure their policies fit with the values those norms promote or else they will be rejected by the electorate. Thus, fringe ideas like white superiority, marxism, militant animal rights, and militant environmentalism don't play well with the general public because they clash with society's current values.

That is why I believe that norm entrepreuners do their best when they put the new values they are promoting in terms of older values. These norm entrepreuners have the best shot at getting their ideas accepted because it reduces the amount of persuasion they need to do. Thus, for someone to convince Americans that something is right based on marxist values, they need to not only convince the public that the idea they have is right but also that marxist values are better than the ones they currently have. This a monumental task because it's almost taken for granted by society that marxist values are wrong. A norm entreprenuer can save themselves a tremendous effort by showing their new norms conform with old norms because it saves them the trouble of fighting additional, even more difficult, battles.


Blogger Johnny B. said...

NOTE TO SELF: This may make a good thesis project. Using the statistical approach, you could choose a time when norm entrepreneurs were trying to change societies views. (Like the civil rights movement...MLK, Malcom X, and another).

The effective norm entrepreneur should be the one who most finds a way to bundle his change with societies current norms.

6:08 PM  

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