How Ideas Spread: Whose Norms Matter? Norm Localization and Institutional Change in Asian Regionalism
Questions about norm diffusion in world politics are not simply about whether and how ideas matter, but also which and whose ideas matter. Constructivist scholarship on norms tends to focus on “hard” cases of moral transformation in which “good” global norms prevail over the “bad” local beliefs and practices. But many local beliefs are themselves part of a legitimate normative order, which conditions the acceptance of foreign norms. Going beyond an existential notion of congruence, this article proposes a dynamic explanation of norm diffusion that describes how local agents reconstruct foreign norms to ensure the norms fit with the agents' cognitive priors and identities. Congruence building thus becomes key to acceptance. Localization, not wholesale acceptance or rejection, settles most cases of normative contestation. Comparing the impact of two transnational norms on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), this article shows that the variation in the norms' acceptance, indicated by the changes they produced in the goals and institutional apparatuses of the regional group, could be explained by the differential ability of local agents to reconstruct the norms to ensure a better fit with prior local norms, and the potential of the localized norm to enhance the appeal of some of their prior beliefs and institutions.I thank Peter Katzenstein, Jack Snyder, Chris Reus-Smit, Brian Job, Paul Evans, Iain Johnston, David Capie, Helen Nesadurai, Jeffrey Checkel, Kwa Chong Guan, Khong Yuen Foong, Anthony Milner, John Hobson, Etel Solingen, Michael Barnett, Richard Price, Martha Finnemore, and Frank Schimmelfennig for their comments on various earlier drafts of the article. This article is a revised version of a draft prepared for the American Political Science Association annual convention, San Francisco, 29 August–2 September 2001. Seminars on the article were offered at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, in April 2001; the Modern Asia Seminar Series at Harvard University's Asia Center, in May 2001; the Department of International Relations, Australian National University, in September 2001; and the Institute of International Relations, University of British Columbia, in April 2002. I thank these institutions for their lively seminars offering invaluable feedback. I gratefully acknowledge valuable research assistance provided by Tan Ban Seng, Deborah Lee, and Karyn Wang at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. I am also grateful to Harvard University Asia Centre and the Kennedy School's Asia Pacific Policy Program for fellowships to facilitate my research during 2000–2001.