In this paper, I use a phenomenon of resistance to a global norm as a catalyst to critically re-examine the cognitive frames underpinning the use of the concept of socialization in international relations. My critique, which adds to the now growing critique of constructivism's neglect of the role of power in the international system, is threefold. First, socialization tends to be apprehended as a bettering of the socializee, because of an implicit teleological assumption of change as progress. Second, the concept tends to frame out the perspective of the socializee. Third and relatedly, it infantilizes the socializee. I use the international politics of whaling to illustrate the practical and conceptual effects of this infantilization of the socializee and specifically the ways it curtails both policymaking and scholarly research. The purpose of my efforts here are not to discount the usefulness of “socialization” in understanding norm dynamics but to caution against these three particular forms of silencing effected by the epistemological apparatus that has taken shape around it.
Norms, it would seem, are good things. They oil the workings of international cooperation and sustain peace in the anarchic international political system. Understanding how norms works is thus an important aspect of both the theory and practice of International Relations (IR). With regard to the latter, norms are an important tool in the policymaker's toolkit. A fine diplomat is one who, understanding how norms work, knows how to engage her interlocutors upon them. To understand norms is to understand whether states can or will change their behavior toward increased concerted collective action on key issues of global concern, such as climate change or whaling. With regard to the former, norms have been a defining concern of “conventional constructivism” (Hopf 1998; Katzenstein, Keohane, and Krasner 1998; Wiener 2009). As part of the battery of conceptual tools developed to appraise their workings, the concept of socialization has been centrally mobilized to understand how international actors do change their behavior and adopt collective policies, by taking on the norms they contain.
Socialization, however, also establishes a distinct set of frames upon the study of norms. The purpose of this article is to critically re-examine these cognitive frames. I return to socialization's conceptual origins in sociology and identify ways in which its adoption in IR may have actually foreshortened our appraisal of some of the dynamics underpinning the workings of norms. My argument is that such adoption has spawned an epistemological apparatus that ends up silencing those whom one might call reluctant socializees, that is, actors of the international system who more or less actively reject certain norms. It belongs to larger critique of conventional constructivism's neglect of the dynamics of power in the international system, a core theme of this forum. The international politics of whaling presents a case of norm resistance. After over three decades of efforts to spread the global anti-whaling norm across the globe, whaling has not merely continued but actually increased on the ground. In line with a Foucauldian analytics of power, this phenomenon of norm resistance provides here the catalyst to reveal the other face of socialization, the face of the socializee. Whaling is especially salient to drawing out the epistemological frames underpinning the study of norm in that it is, first, one of the oldest success stories of global norm diffusion and presents three decades of scholarship where it has been studied through the socialization lenses. It also presents, second, a case of policy gridlock, where the international cooperation around the management of whale stocks has today been ground to a halt by the socializee's persistent rejection of the dominant anti-whaling norm. Whaling is thus useful for examining the juncture between scholarship and policymaking. What whaling illustrates is how an epistemological shortcoming (in the study of norm dynamics) doubles up as a policy deadlock, insofar as the lenses through which we look at the world shape our ability to devise policies to change it. Diplomats who attempt to socialize other states by trying to persuade them to adopt what they consider to be norms of appropriate behavior can, when uncritically donning what I would call the happy socialization lenses, remain blinkered to their efforts being received as an imposition—and ultimately rejected. With the effect that they fail to realize that their own attempts at persuasion can end up in fact defeating, not just the norm they sought to uphold, but the prospects of cooperation, around whales but also around other significant global issues.
My critique of the ways socialization has been mobilized in IR to appraise norm dynamics is three-pronged, with each yielding a particular form of silencing or epistemological erasure. First, it carries with it a unilinear, liberal understanding of progress that is highly problematic in that, in concealing its own normative origins, it purports to cast as universal what is always necessarily a localized and historically specific set of values. Second, it frames out the voice of the socializee not least by, third, infantilizing it. I will develop these lines of critique successively, after first contextualizing how the concept was adopted by conventional constructivism to articulate the relationships between norms, identities, and change.
Socialization: Norms, Identity, and the Study of Change in International Politics
In this section, I briefly locate socialization within the conceptual framework of conventional constructivism, ahead of critically re-examining its underlying logics. Socialization hooks together identity, norms, and the appraisal of change in international politics. Ushering the concept of identity into the study of international politics in the late 1980s and, from there, emphasizing the multiple ways in which identities are socially constructed rather than innate or given was the founding achievement of constructivism. Identity served to deepen the rationalist understanding of interests by casting the focus upon how these interests are formed, that is, by drawing out how they relate to their identities. Identity has since remained a key concern across both “conventional” and “critical” strands of constructivism that began to take shape in the late 1990s (see Hopf 1998; Katzenstein et al. 1998; or Wiener 2009 for extensive developments). From there, norms became a defining focal point of conventional constructivism's empirical research agenda (Katzenstein 1996; Finnemore and Sikkink 2001). Critical constructivists for their part pursued their inquiries instead into the social construction of intersubjectively shared meanings, either by targeting the key signifiers of international politics such as “national interests” (Weldes 1996) or “sovereignty” (Weber 1993), or by focussing more broadly on the discourses where these meanings are negotiated and partially fixed (Doty 1996; Campbell 1998; Hansen 2006; Epstein 2008, 2010).
Within this broader focus on norms and identity, socialization added a mechanism for conceiving how these identities changed. A state adopts a new norm, often carried across the international system by a small group of dedicated “norm-entrepreneurs” (Keck and Sikkink 1998), because of the way it has come to shape their identities, rather than because of any economic payoffs associated with being seen to be observing it. The end of whaling in the West (Nadelmann 1990; Peterson 1992; Stoett 1997) or of slavery (Keck and Sikkink 1998), for example, was brought about by these states having been successfully socialized into the anti-slavery and anti-whaling norms, respectively. Socialization is thus successful once these states have reached a “tipping point” (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998; Bailey 2008) where consideration of any economic benefits that might have accrued from pursuing these practices is overweighted by the sense that doing so would run contrary to how they see themselves. This is the point where these socializees have fully internalized these norms as constitutive of their identities and therefore of their interests as well.
An Implicit Liberal Normative Teleology: Bettering the Socializee
A first flaw to the use of socialization in conventional constructivism is its inherent normative teleological design. Socialization was mobilized to analyze changing identities. Yet surprising for what is now an extensive body of empirical work is the enduring paucity of study of “bad” norms. Change, in analyses of socialization, appears to be generally for the better; they rarely feature a change that is negative or even neutral.2 Although conventional constructivists have recognized this research bias toward “progressive norms” (Finnemore and Sikkink 2001:403), its rationale has been left unexamined. In fact, in an initial stock-taking exercise, a decade into the empirical research on norms Finnemore and Sikkink (2001:403) somewhat hastily closed down this line of critique just after acknowledging it, retorting that “constructivists have been quick to point out that there is no necessary reason for this orientation.” Yet the empirics speak loudly here. Indeed, for a historically minded approach concerned with the social construction of the international system an approach, moreover, that is explicitly empirical (the study of concrete norms), the history of colonization stands out as a crying omission, given the latter's decisive role in constructing the contemporary state system. As David Blaney and Naeem Inayatullah's piece in this forum draws out, the processes of European states imitating and emulating one another in the acquisition of territorial possessions is replete with instances where actors’ behaviors have been changed in the “wrong” direction, with enduring effects upon the possibilities of building postcolonial states apt at playing by the rules of the international system and indeed adopting its norms. Thus there is, I suggest, a necessary reason, of the logical kind, to this persistent lack of focus upon “bad” norms two decades on, which is to be found in the cognitive frames underpinning the concept itself.
The progressive norms bias has a double ideological grounding in, on the one hand, liberal, Hegelian conceptions of history and, on the other, in the classic ideal of progress harbored by positivism's founding fathers, notably Auguste Comte; both of which are harnessed into a universalizing teleology. Thus the unidirectionality that surfaces in analyses of socialization as expressed in the persistent case selection bias is brought by the unacknowledged underlying liberal ideology. It is not, as I will show below, inherent to the concept itself. But it sets important blinkers to the study of change in international politics. This in a sense merely rehearses the classic critique leveled at conventional constructivism by critical constructivism for its reluctance to acknowledge its own normative location as part of the analysis itself, and thus its complicity in reproducing the very structures it purports merely to be studying. As Hopf (1998:185) puts it in a classic statement of the differences between the two strands, “conventional constructivism does not accept critical theory's ideas about its own role in producing change.”
In the studies of norms through socialization, the line is thus rapidly blurred between the “is” and the “ought” and the descriptive blends into the prescriptive.3 Whaling offers a case in point, where the scholarly assessment of the anti-whaling norm's progression around the globe is over-layered with the sense that this is a desirable outcome—that, in other words, the norm's progression constitutes progress (see notably Scarff 1977; M’Gonigle 1980; Birnie 1985; Nadelmann 1990; Peterson 1992; Caron 1995; Stoett 1997; Mitchell 1998). To the extent that even more recent efforts to re-assess the norm's progression remain trapped in these unidirectional and normatively laden cognitive frames, as we will see in the next section. As the first success story of global environmental activism, whaling constitutes one area where norm-entrepreneurs decisively altered the course of global policymaking. Here the scholar, the norm-entrepreneur, and indeed the state representative are often one and the same person (Epstein 2005, 2008). Whaling thus presents a case where the line is especially thin between scholars and activist practitioners who bring their values to their scholarship.4 Conversely, however, the cognitive frames developed to analyze the norm's dynamics are also more or less wittingly mobilized toward the activist's normative goal.
Back to the Drawing Board: Berger and Luckmann on Socialization
Returning to socialization's conceptual origins in sociology is useful for further separating out this unidirectionality from the logic inherent to the concept itself and for locating it in the assumptions underpinning its adoption in IR. I refer here to the early conceptualization in Berger and Luckmann's (1967),The Social Construction of Reality, a linchpin to the constructionist turn across the social sciences at large. There the analysis of socialization was deployed as part of a broader effort to unpack the processes underpinning the construction of the social world and the epistemological frames through which we know it. It is noteworthy that in this founding text identity is not the main concern, but rather how knowledge of and the ability to function in the social world is initially acquired and subsequently reproduced by the social actors. Social institutions, including norms, are born of the dialectical interplay between three processes, “externalization,”“objectivation,” and “internationalization.” Schematically, human beings enter into habitualized interactions with one another and their environment out of “anthropological necessity” (Berger and Luckmann 1967:70). Even the proverbial individual on an island will repeat the same gestures as every morning he [sic] resumes his attempt to build a canoe out of matchsticks (Berger and Luckmann, 1967,71).5 As they are repeated, these habitualized interactions between A and B become externalized. They establish a pattern for future interactions between these two actors. This is the first moment of creation of a social norm. They then become increasingly “objectivated” as an increasing number of other humans start to imitate A and B when interacting with one another (Berger and Luckmann 1967:78–79). This is the point at which institutions are born. These objective social structures are subsequently internalized as norms by A and B's children. “Socialization” refers specifically to the last moment of this dialectical process, internationalization. It captures the early dynamics by which the individual internalizes a norm and thereby becomes a fully fledged social actor who in turn will perpetuate the whole process of social construction (but not necessarily the same norms).
Berger and Luckmann's analysis underscores the profound contingency of the dynamics underpinning social construction. That a particular social norm took the shape that it did was only because of a highly contingent series of habitualized interactions that were progressively sedimented at a particular time in a particular place. This is owed to this particular historical context rather than to any internal ethical necessity of the norm or indeed to the absolute worth of its content; let alone to its universalizabilty. The original template for the analysis of norms dynamics, in other words, remained much more sensitive to changes in any direction, good or bad. Yet in IR, a reductionist focus on socialization alone has tended to obliterate the first two moments of the dialectical process of social construction, externalization, and objectivation. One important consequence is that the contingency and localness of the norm's origins has faded out of sight. Historically, the striking feature with regard to whaling is that the current norm regulating interactions around whales is exactly the opposite of that which existed half a century ago, where killing whales was considered normal around the globe. Whether this constitutes progress depends of course on where one stands on the globe. Hence the usefulness of whaling for drawing the contingency and historical relativity of international norms.
Framing Out the Socializee
A second concern with regard to the application of “socialization” to IR also relates to the concept's directionality. It is linked to the broader question of the translatability of concepts developed at the individual level to the study of collective entities at the international level and to what I have called elsewhere IR's fallacy of composition, that is, a tendency to assume that what works for individuals in the appraisal of identity works for states as well (Epstein 2011). In the study of social dynamics, “socialization” was coined to capture a movement that runs in one direction: from the socializer to the socializee. Noteworthy here is that Berger and Luckmann's original model for the socializee is the child, the implications of which I will explore extensively in the next section. My point here is that these lenses inherently frame out the socializee. This, I contend, is not only problematic in terms of research ethos but it actually foreshortens the concept's explanatory reach. Jennifer Bailey's (2008) analysis of the international politics of whaling, for example, which presents a rare attempt in the scholarship on whaling to restore the perspective of the whaler and thus offers a sound example of scholarly sensitivity as to one's own normative situatedness, also illustrates how the concept itself curtails otherwise laudable efforts in that direction. My argument is that these epistemological limits carry over into the policy arena upon which, effaced theoretically, the socializee's perspective becomes even harder to bring to bear. I consider these conceptual and empirical levels here in turn.
In a classic conventional constructivist approach, Bailey deploys the “norms lifecycle” framework developed by Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) to gauge the degree to which the relevant actors have been successfully socialized into the anti-whaling norm since the adoption of the 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling. Yet, her application of the framework also illustrates the difficulty of fully reintegrating the socializee's perspective while seeking to dwell within it. Bailey (2008) rightly identifies the resistance to the anti-whaling movement as the empirically significant phenomenon marking the last three decades of whaling politics. However, appraised under the prism of socialization, its significance can only be as “a case of failed norm change,” to paraphrase Bailey's title, and efforts to restore the socializee's perspective reduced to identifying alternative “protonorms” held up by the whalers against the anti-whaling socialization efforts (Bailey 2008:314). The pro-whalers have developed not merely “protonorms” but more fundamentally a broad array of fully fledged pro-whaling identities that draw in complex and variegated ways upon local whaling histories (see Epstein 2003, 2008 for extensive developments). What is missing here to gauge the significance of such developments is the concept of identity, that is, where constructivism cast the focus in the first place. Only by understanding that what is at stake in the rejection of the anti-whaling norm is indeed nothing less than the defense of political identities can one make sense of the persistence of whaling despite three decades of international criticism and at great material and reputational costs (in the cases of Japan or Iceland, for example, see Epstein 2008 for an extensive development).
What I take issue here is not so much Bailey's analysis but rather the logic of a concept which, I argue, inherently impedes the possibility of fully restoring the perspective of the socializee, insofar as the latter can only ever be apprehended on the receiving end of the socialization process. And yet the cost of not doing so is to reduce the agency of the socializee to mere resistance, that is to say, to a reaction, rather than a fully fledged, autonomous capacity for agency bound up with particular identities.
Empirically, these epistemological blinkers help account for the failure of anti-whaling diplomats to successfully engage their whaling interlocutors, in that they explain the latter's difficulty to gauge how they are perceived by those they seek to engage with. These blinkers make sense of the type of patronizing anti-whaling diplomacy that has been a persistent trait of exchanges at the International Whaling Commission's annual meetings (see Epstein 2008). There, the same cognitive frames blocking out the perspective of the socializees appear to be donned by policymakers. Here is an example of a diplomatic exchange on the floor of the 1989 meeting where an anti-whaling country (Australia) attempts to socialize a whaling country (Japan) by inviting it to behave “like” itself and, by extension, the society of like-minded, self-respecting anti-whaling states:
Australia referred to its own experience following the closure of its last whaling station and reported that some unemployment has resulted. Subsequently new “whale watching” activities have developed in some parts of the country. Australia also noted that interest in non-consumptive uses of cetaceans were beginning to develop in Japan as exemplified by “Whaleland” in Ayukawa.
Japan stated that although it does not oppose non-consumptive uses of whales under the Australian policy, it is felt encouragement of such policy should be confined in the 200 nautical mile zone of Australia
What makes this patronizing diplomacy possible in the first place is the anti-whaling discourse that creates the condition where it can be considered acceptable to address another sovereign state in this fashion as it is “for a good cause.” The rise to global prominence of this discourse, which I have extensively traced elsewhere (Epstein 2003, 2006, 2008), is what enabled Australia to behave thus with Japan, whereas with other, closely related policy areas, such as the regulation of tuna fishing, Australia is significantly more sparing of Japanese sovereign. What is noteworthy about this particular exchange, however, is that, 7 years after the adoption of the 1982 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling, it constitutes one of the first expressions by the Japanese of a pro-whaling discourse of resistance in the international discursive arena ordained and regulated by the anti-whaling norm. An additional subtext to this plea to follow its lead is that Australia's, and by extension all former-whaler-turned-whale-saver countries’, is the road of progress onto which Japan, and by extension all countries that still whale, has not yet quite made it to, which announces the third line of critique developed below. From the Japanese perspective, at stake here is the erasure of an ancient whaling past (traced back by anthropologists to the 16th century, see Epstein 2008), and of the specificity of Japanese whaling, for which categories by which whaling is managed today in the IWC today are ill-suited.6
Infantilizing the Socializee
This diplomatic exchange also illustrates the implicit infantilization of the socializee, my third and final line of critique. Australia's socialization efforts implicitly cast Japan in the position of the child in need of learning the norms of “good” whale-related behavior; the reference to amusement parks is revealing. By the same token, Japan's whaling past, and the way it chooses to relate to this past in positioning itself on this issue today, is simply delegitimized or even erased. Once again, the seeds of this erasure are contained in the concept itself or rather in its translation to the study of the international. The fallacy of composition, or tendency to extend to the international level without reworking concepts deployed to appraise individuals, becomes especially problematic when the archetype for the individual in that conceptual framework is the child.
It is noteworthy that Berger and Luckmann (1967) themselves are careful to warn against the pitfalls of hasty generalizations of these dynamics to already socialized individuals. They specify that internalization of new norms in adults, although “it exhibits, at least superficially, certain similarities with both primary and secondary socialization, is structurally identical with neither” (Berger and Luckmann 1967:131). Indeed, they further drive in the point in by distinguishing between analyses that focus on “the societal at large,” where the three moments of the dialectical process through which the social construction of reality occurs (externalization, objectivation, and internationalization) “are not to be thought of as occurring in a temporal sequence”; whereas in the life of the individual, however, there is a temporal sequence, in the course of which he [sic] is inducted into participation into the social dialectic (Berger and Luckmann 1967:129, emphasis in original).
One important consequence of extending this socialization model to actors of international politics, who are not only collective rather than individual actors, but more relevantly here, are also a priori socialized actors with fully fledged pre-existing identities, is the depoliticization of the concept of identity itself. Focussing on socialization leads to underestimating the political costs incurred in processes of identity change—or indeed downplaying the identity stakes altogether (as in Bailey 2008). This, I propose, is because the model of social actor it implicitly mobilizes is the child, a being with no past and no prior social identity. Only by assuming that the socializee, like the child, holds no prior legitimate identity, or whose identity is in need of being molded, can both the analyst and policymaker come to ignore the fundamental violence that inheres in the loss of one identity in order to acquire another. The new pro-whaling identities, although they are not reducible to them, are built on quite concrete losses (the loss of particular whaling practices)7 that are mobilized into new narratives about contemporary whaling identities.
How to Study Identity: Change or Loss?
The root of the problem lies, I suggest, in the way change is appraised with regard to identity. Conventional constructivism tends to approach identity change on one modality alone, that of change, rather than loss. This line of critique is a logical extension to the concept of socialization of what has now become a classic poststructuralist critique of the constructivist understanding of identities. Indeed, constructivism has been extensively taken to task for deploying a fixed, static conception of identities that remains ill-suited to capturing the openness, ambivalences, and indeed losses that inhere in the dynamics of identity formation and change (Zehfuss 2001; Hansen 2006; Epstein 2011). My point here is that the essentialization of identities and the infantilization of the socializee are in fact two sides of the same conceptual coin.
Schematically, in the conventional constructivist framework, the identities of social actors feature as fixed, given “essences” (Wendt 1999) that change when actors are socialized into new norms. Socialization, in this context, offered itself as the dynamic, empirical concept. However, what happens with that concept, because of its inherent logic, is that identities are not simply captured as succeeding one another along a long line of stable, fixed states, where past identities simply give way to new ones. Rather, these past identities are actively erased by the infantilization of the socializee; which the concept itself, because of it its inherent logics, paves the way for. The losses are thus neutralized and the concept depoliticized. One key feature of the anti-whaling discourse, for example, is the denial of Japan's past whaling nation, which is always discounted as a recent invention rather than a legitimate history and culture.8 This essentialized, fixed identity and the depoliticized conception of change logically imply one another.
Constructivism has been highly successful in broadening the analytical focus beyond rationalism and in developing tools for better appraising the behavior of the actors of international politics, particularly in their social dimensions. A cost of this success has been the uncritical entrenching of some of these tools, notably the concept of socialization, considered in this article. To do so, I returned to the concept as it was originally developed in sociology in order to understand where socialization, as it has been developed to analyze international politics, has fallen short of rendering the full range of dynamics at play for all the actors involved, specifically for the socializee. Because of the way it casts the focus on a movement that runs from the socializer to the socializee, socialization is not well equipped to capture the significance and costs to the socializee of its internalization of a new norm. These costs are expressed by the phenomenon of norm resistance, as exemplified by the international politics of whaling.
In this article, I thus focussed on norm resistance to develop a threefold critique of the constructivist deployment of socialization to analyze change in international politics. First, socialization has so far been difficult to shake from an implicit assumption, grounded in a teleological conception of change as progress, that norm internalization leads to an improvement of the socializee, because most norms that have been studied have been “good” norms. This liberal bias, I argue, blunts the scholarly sensitivities as to why norms can actually be rejected by the actors concerned, with repercussions in terms of both efficient policymaking and research. Second, because of the unilinear direction of the movement the concept was coined to capture, it has proven difficult to fully restore the perspective of the socializee within the framework it sets up. Third, because it was developed to analyze the dynamics of norm internalization in the child, it tends to effect and legitimize an infantilization of the socializee. The root of the problem, I have suggested, lies in the way in which identity change itself is apprehended in this framework. The analysis of identity change in terms of socialization vehicles with it a neutrality that is problematic, politically and conceptually. Insofar as changing identities involves loosing an identity to acquire another, this can bear out significant costs for the actors—even when such changes are willingly embraced. My concern is that such costs are obscured by an approach that appraises change a priori as a good thing, such that it crowds out the possibility of considering it as loss. Conceptually, there is an active erasure at work that is brought on by such a focus on change rather than loss, while centrally mobilizes the infantilization of the socializee. Politically, this legitimizes policymakers’ discounting of the socializee's past and treating it like a child or a blank page upon which all the “good” norms can be written.
Like the proverbial child, however, there is no need to throw away socialization with the bathwater. One of the reasons for unpacking the concept's original logics was to show how fruitful it remains for drawing out the historical relativity of the norms it sets the focus on, so long as the full dialectal movement of externalization, objectivation, and internalization/socialization is taken into account in the study of norms. One way to do this is to apprehend norms within the broader, historically specific, discourses within which they have developed, as I have shown elsewhere. Here, I have also suggested two avenues for a future research program that would significantly sharpen the concept of socialization: putting it to the test of “bad” norms, and considering colonial and postcolonial dynamics under its lenses.