Debating IR

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

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Social Deconstrucion

Social (De)Construction by Matthew Hoffmann introduces the concept of the Norm Life Cycle and applies it to Yugoslavia.
The Norm Life Cycle consists of three stages: Emergence, cascade and internalization. During the Emergence phase, an entrepreneur tries to gain acceptance for a new idea. Once a critical mass has been achieved, ( ie enough people accept the idea) the norm enters the cascade phase, where a larger group begin to accept the norm. The final phase, internalization, occurs when the norm is broadly assumed. There are no recommendations for how an entrepreneur can be more successful at achieving the critical mass.

The application to Yugoslavia is somewhat problematic. Hoffmann claims that the Yugoslav identity failed to reach a critical mass, yet for a long time the state held together.

Hoffmann also points towards the "Quebec issue" as a case of fragmentation, which is inaccurate. Following the failure of the referendum (failure to achieve critical mass?), most people were ready to move on, however, the issue occasionally reappears in Canadian politics (say when the Liberals suffer a corruption scandal). At the same time, there is a Canadian norm, which is inclusive of a distinct Quebec identity. These ideas compete periodically with each other, in a way that could be described as cyclic, but not in the same manner as the Norm life cycle.

It also seems that when a nationalist norm is economic factors, for example, are mentioned by Hoffmann in the case of Yugoslavia. It seems to me that social constructivism as presented here may be putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps the nationalist norms are a way for elites to capitalize on events (or an already failing state) and not the cause of state failure.

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