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Stop Telling Us How to Behave: Socialization or Infantilization?


  • I would like to thank the participants of the University of Sydney workshop on “Norms Nomos Normalization: Interrogating the Use of Norms in International Relations” for their encouragements and very helpful comments on earlier versions of this draft as well as the journal’s editors and two anonymous reviewers.


Epstein, Charlotte. (2012) Stop Telling Us How to Behave: Socialization or Infantilization? International Studies Perspectives, doi: 10.1111/j.1528-3585.2012.00458.x
© 2012 International Studies Association

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.

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