The local politicization of global norms

[Translate to English:] Hand hält Globus

This project group investigates the circumstances under which standards that are subject to a global claim (e.g. human rights, sustainability, rule of law, accountability) are actually accepted. Because such norms initially ignore the respective context and thus demand a highly distant perspective, they have difficulties in obtaining plausibility with their addressees at all. An effectiveness of 'universalist' norms is typically mediated by local politicians; It is up to them whether such norms are successful at all, and to what extent they are only selectively adopted. These processes have so far hardly been investigated.

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In the investigation of such processes, we first concentrate on the role of protest movements: first, on movements of political or religious minorities in relatively weak states, which, partly because of their weakness and partly because of authoritarian compensation strategies, offer bad opportunities for realizing 'universalist' norms. (The case of South Asia is central to the project.) Furthermore, we look at a 'Western' case, in which the prospects for success of universalist norms also appear weak, namely, political mobilisations aimed at a stronger regulation of financial markets. In contrast, we consider cases where equivalent claims are presented by economic stakeholders as well as cases in which supreme judges, on their own initiative, also fall back on standards which do not belong to the national legal tradition.

In order to better explain the success and failure of such norms, the project utilizes underemployed sociological and ethnological concepts that conceive these forms of order formation from the microprocesses and uses qualitative research methods that correspond to these perspectives. We therefore reconstruct these processes from the level of local action. The guiding questions are: which local processes and which social forms of organization make certain types of generalizations plausible and others not and which mechanisms are at work that make norm-oriented questions in a given set of circumstances plausible or not.

The aim of the project is, on the one hand, to develop a new political and social theoretical basis which can explain such processes of politicization. To this end, we reconstruct theories about 'social practices' as well as new moral sociologies (Boltanski/Thévenot, J. Alexander, Joas) both of which are critically responsive to the problem of local evidence. Another important point to look at is the concept of a translation (race, fox) that transcends cultural and social boundaries, focuses on the step-by-step process of changing transmission, and does not contribute to the spread of such norms simply as a case of cultural homogenization. On this foundation, a uniform theoretical approach to the problem of local evidence is to be developed which helps to explain how 'global' norms can achieve local plausibility or not.

On the other hand, we tested this analytical strategy on several case studies that differed greatly from one another but in which the difficulties of a local politicization of 'universalist' norms always stood out.


By the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture