The Politics of Networks: Interests, Power, and Human Rights Norms
41 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2007
Date Written: May 12, 2007
Despite considerable interest in political networks, especially transnational advocacy networks (TANs), political scientists have imported few insights from network theory into their studies. His essay aims to begin an exchange between network theorists and political scientists by addressing two related questions. How can network theory inform the study of international relations, particularly in the examination of TANs? Conversely, what problems arise in political phenomena that can enrich network theory? We make two general arguments focusing on the process of norm emergence in networks based on the history of global human rights norms and the formation of Amnesty International. First, political power can be an emergent property of networks, found most likely in scale-free structures. That is, central (or more connected) nodes can influence a network directly or indirectly and thereby shape the ends towards which the nodes collectively move. Second, norms are also emergent properties of networks. In the earliest stages of change, many norms compete for acceptance and many potential networks built on different norms or combinations of norms exist but are not yet activated. We argue that the network which eventually emerges is not a function of the inherent "goodness" of one set of norms over another, since the quality of any norm is difficult to judge prior to its manifestation in a network of shared adherents. Rather, at least in the case of human rights, the crystallization of the observed network from the range of possible alternatives preceded the widespread acceptance of the norm and occurred as a result of a central node that exercised agenda-setting power by controlling the flow of information in the network.
Keywords: power, networks, human rights, norms
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