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August 2018: Human Rights Norms and German Citizenship Reform

Our August 2018 newsletter features the Spring 2018 issue of Social Research on "Changing Social Norms" and explores articles from past issues that also address this theme. In their article, "Rights, Norms, and Politics: The Case of German Citizenship Reform" (Vol. 77, No. 1, Spring 2010), James D. Ingram and Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos discuss how various international normative pressures influenced the early 1990’s German debate on the meaning of citizenship, eventually shifting “the language of German citizenship policy away from a highly legalistic and state-based discourse to one that accented rights, equality, and fairness.”

"No less than their sociologist colleagues, the group of constructivist international relations scholars that developed this account was convinced that human rights norms represented an important new force in world politics. They differed, however, in seeking the political mechanisms behind their diffusion, which were typically absent from the transnationalists' accounts."

"There is considerable evidence that transnational norms played an important role in the process leading to German citizenship reform: the story simply cannot be told without according an important role to external normative factors. Yet this role did not involve the sort of “hard” international law typically invoked in studies of human rights diffusion, nor did it revolve around direct pressure from outside agencies. Instead, international normative pressures worked in subtler, more indirect ways easily missed by methodologies geared toward uncovering explicit linkages between discrete dependent and independent variables."

"When we turn to consider the influence of international human rights norms on German citizenship politics in the 1980s and 1990s, then, we should not expect to see norms announced by international authorities above and absorbed by political actors below…Rather, global human rights norms served as a set of moral and rhetorical tools actors could use within national politics to build political movements, press claims, and try to shift the terms of political debate. In this case, norms are most usefully understood not so much on the legal model of binding rules or on the psychological or religious model of principles or sets of values, but as political resources.”

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