How to Influence States: Socialization and International Human Rights Law

56 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2004

See all articles by Ryan Goodman

Ryan Goodman

New York University School of Law

Derek Jinks

University of Texas School of Law


Regime design choices in international law turn on empirical claims about how states behave and under what conditions their behavior changes. We suggest that a central problem for human rights regimes is how best to socialize "bad actors" to incorporate globally legitimated models of state behavior and how to get "good actors" to do better. Substantial empirical evidence suggests three distinct mechanisms whereby states and institutions might influence the behavior of other states: coercion, persuasion, and acculturation. Several structural impediments preclude full institutionalization of coercion- and persuasion-based regimes in human rights law. Yet, inexplicably these models of social influence predominate in international legal studies. In this Article, we first describe in some detail the salient conceptual features of each mechanism of social influence. We then link each of the identified mechanisms to specific regime design characteristics - identifying several ways in which acculturation might occasion a rethinking of fundamental regime design problems in human rights law. Through a systematic evaluation of three design problems - conditional membership, precision of obligations, and enforcement methods - we elaborate an alternative way to conceive of regime design problems. We maintain that (1) acculturation is a conceptually distinct social process through which state behavior is influenced; and (2) the regime design recommendations issuing from this approach defy conventional wisdom in international human rights scholarship. This exercise not only recommends reexamination of policy debates in human rights law; it also provides a conceptual framework within which the costs and benefits of various design principles might be assessed. Our aim is to improve the understanding of how norms operate in international society with a view to improving the capacity of global and domestic institutions to harness the processes through which human rights cultures are built.

Keywords: International Law, Empirical Studies

Suggested Citation

Goodman, Ryan and Jinks, Derek, How to Influence States: Socialization and International Human Rights Law. Available at SSRN:

Ryan Goodman

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States


Derek Jinks (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
(512) 232-1265 (Phone)
(512) 471-6988 (Fax)


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