Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency

Bucher B (2014)
European Journal of International Relations 20(3): 742-765.

Journal Article | Published | English

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Abstract
Norm diffusion theorists have advanced our understanding of how 'norms emerge, spread and become internalized.' Although this literature and especially the norm life cycle model is based on a constructivist ontology that gives equal weight to agency and structure, one can make out 'a tendency in this literature to erase' agency from norm diffusion narratives. This article suggests that the 'invisibilization' of agency stems from two mutually reinforcing scholarly practices. For one, insufficient attention is paid to the metaphors describing norm propagation (diffusion, cascade, life cycle, etc.). These metaphors are frequently employed in ways that point to mechanistic and automatized processes of 'norm diffusion.' Secondly, norms are often placed in the subject position in sentences. Although uncontroversial in terms of syntax, this mode of writing leads to narrative structures in which norms function as agents. Rather than identifying actual actors, the norm diffusion literature suggests that norms emerge, norms diffuse, and norms cascade. These semantics create an 'illusion of agency' without accounting for the actual processes through which norms are articulated, propagated, contested, adapted, adopted, or rejected. Norm diffusion research subsequently comes to be closely associated with self-actionist modes of thinking, which focuses research on intrinsic qualities of norms, rather than on socially embedded agency and power relations central to processes of diffusing norms. Being more attentive to metaphors and syntax will be instrumental in moving the literature from a misplaced focus on norm diffusion to a focus on the underlying power relations of agential norm politics.
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Bucher B. Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency. European Journal of International Relations. 2014;20(3):742-765.
Bucher, B. (2014). Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency. European Journal of International Relations, 20(3), 742-765.
Bucher, B. (2014). Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency. European Journal of International Relations 20, 742-765.
Bucher, B., 2014. Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency. European Journal of International Relations, 20(3), p 742-765.
B. Bucher, “Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency”, European Journal of International Relations, vol. 20, 2014, pp. 742-765.
Bucher, B.: Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency. European Journal of International Relations. 20, 742-765 (2014).
Bucher, Bernd. “Acting Abstractions: Metaphors, narrative structures and the eclipse of agency”. European Journal of International Relations 20.3 (2014): 742-765.
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