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The myth of the local

How international organizations localize norms rhetorically

Abstract

Debates about the diffusion of international norms have increasingly focused on norm appropriation, highlighting the agency of local actors. The proliferation of international organizations in the Global South raises the question of whether and how they practice local norm appropriation. This article uses ethnographic methods to investigate the appropriation of development norms in an intergovernmental development organization located in Bangladesh. Established theories like localization and sociological institutionalism would expect local actors to allude to a global norm but not to adhere to it. On the contrary, this study finds that, while development organizations may allude to local development norms and dismiss UN-led initiatives as “Western,” their practices remain in line with global concepts such as the Millennium Development Goals and the Human Development Index. These actors perform to localize, but the rhetoric is not matched by their everyday practices. The local therefore functions as a myth.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This research was enabled by a travel grant from the Hans-Böckler-Foundation. I am indebted to my generous hosts at CIRDAP in Dhaka, especially Cecep Effendi. For comments on previous drafts, I would like to thank Mathias Albert, William Callison, Klaus Dingwerth, Johannes Haaf, Sophia Hornbacher-Schönleber, Shruti Lahiri, Peter Mayer, Densua Mumford, Martin Nonhoff, Klaus Schlichte, Elias Steinhilper, and Lisbeth Zimmermann as well as the participants of the IB-Nachwuchstagung 2014 in Tutzing, the MAIR colloquium in Bremen. Furthermore, I thank two anonymous reviewers and Eric Werker, the editor of this special issue.

  2. 2.

    The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

  3. 3.

    Note that Hahn (2008) describes appropriation as a competitive theory to localization. I define appropriation as an umbrella term with localization as a specific way of appropriating a norm.

  4. 4.

    For summaries, see Finnemore (1996) and Meyer (2010).

  5. 5.

    See Steinhilper (2015) for a study on norm diffusion from the Global South to the Global North, and Zimmermann (2016) for a detailed analysis of the interaction between domestic and international actors.

  6. 6.

    From the website: http://cirdap.org/about-us/objective-2/ (last accessed: 2014/07/03).

  7. 7.

    Title of a CIRDAP workshop held on 25–28 May 2013 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

  8. 8.

    The position of the Director General is temporally limited and rotates between the member countries.

  9. 9.

    The actors hardly problematize the fact that the situations in Iran and the Philippines might, for instance, also strongly differ.

  10. 10.

    Though this refers to the “basic needs” approach from 1990, for the sake of comparing it with the original figure. According to current indicators used by the UN system, the poverty rate will hit 20.7 %. See http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/01/24/poverty-reduction-in-vietnam-remarkable-progress-emerging-challenges (last access: 2014/02/13).

  11. 11.

    Karim, Tarmini, A. (2013). Inaugural Speech at the 28th regular meeting of the CIRDAP Technical Committee (TC-28), May 20, 2013 in Jakarta.

  12. 12.

    As Sri Lanka did on the TC-28 meeting in 2013.

  13. 13.

    By retrieving all statements that identify “aims,” “goals,” “targets,” or “necessities.”

  14. 14.

    By listing everything that “has to be done,” “should be done,” is “necessary,” “needed,” “required,” a “task” or “lacking.”

  15. 15.

    I refer to policy papers, laws, international and regional declarations, and treaties that are being referred to as frameworks for norms or commitments.

  16. 16.

    Patton (2001) defines this method as the selection of information-rich cases that intensely manifest the phenomena of interest.

  17. 17.

    The others do not take an identifiable stance in these discussions.

  18. 18.

    According to minutes of meetings from the last three years.

  19. 19.

    I thank one of the reviewers for this suggestion.

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Correspondence to Felix Anderl.

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Anderl, F. The myth of the local. Rev Int Organ 11, 197–218 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-016-9248-x

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Keywords

  • International Organizations
  • Norm Localization
  • Development
  • Regional Organizations
  • Ethnographic Methods