Tag: Agenda-Setting

New Research on Issue Selection in Global Policy Networks

At long last, the journal article version* of the research my team conducted on the human security network is published (complete with color-coded tag clouds and network graphs)! International Organization has very kindly agreed to temporary un-gate the article until May 30, so check out the TUG.pdf here!

tag cloudMy co-authors Sirin Duygulu, Alexander Montgomery, Anna Rapp and I analyze focus group data to explore how elites in global policy networks make judgments on which issues are worthy of their organizations’ attention.

We find practitioners pay lip-service to a confluence of factors corresponding in predictable ways to various streams in the scholarly literature, but we also find that factors within the network are especially important:

Through a series of focus groups with human security practitioners, we examined how powerful organizations at the center of advocacy networks select issues for attention. Participants emphasized five sets of factors: entrepreneur attributes, adopter attributes, the broader political context, issue attributes, and intranetwork relations. However, the last two were much more consistently invoked by practitioners in their evaluations of specific candidate issues. Scholars of global agenda setting should pay particular attention to how intranetwork relations structure gatekeeper preferences within transnational advocacy spaces because these help constitute perceptions of issues’ and actors’ attributes in networks.

*White paper version here. Book version with longer discussion of network theory, exciting illustrative case studies and many more color graphs is out from Cornell in June. Continue reading


A Network Explanation for the Rise of Global Social Issues

I am delighted to report that as of last Friday at 7:02pm I have completed final revisions on my latest book manuscript. This culminates a project on issue neglect that started with my observations about children born of war, emerged as a theory of “agenda-vetting,” and involved a detailed NSF-funded study of the rise and fall of issues in the human security network. It also includes detailed case studies on several norm-building campaigns I’ve been following since 2007: the campaign to make amends to civilians harmed in legitimate battle operations, the campaign to ban infant male circumcision, and the campaign to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.

I am told by the editor at Cornell University Press it should hopefully be on the shelves in time for next year’s ISA conference. For readers who have long followed my work on this project, which coincided with the start of my blogging career, I offer below the fold the first few paragraphs of the book as a sneak preview. Continue reading


The State of Human Security

Eleven years ago today, the human security threat on many policy-makers’ minds was attacks against civilians by transnational terror networks. So it’s a good moment to reflect on the state of human security today – both the issue agenda in this network and the global burden of other human security problems, and particularly the gap between the threats people face and the issues that get global policy attention.

This week I’m attending the Cluster Munitions Convention Third Meeting of States Parties (3MSP) in Oslo, and I was invited to speak on “neglected human security issues” at a seminar for Youth Delegates organized by the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid. As I often do, I delivered my remarks with accompanying video, so here is the YouTube version (minus throat-clearing) for those interested. More updates from the 3MSP conference will arrive presently.


Hanging Out on the Theory-Practice-Policy Divide

In Spring of 2006, I was nearing the end of data collection on my investigation into the human rights of children born of rape and exploitation in conflict zones, and I presented my preliminary findings on the topic atUniversity of Pittsburgh’s Research in International Politics (RIP) monthly brown-bag. In such circles, heavily dominated by empirical approaches, one does not present normative theory (that is, value-laden arguments about how the world should look) or policy-oriented sets of recommendations about particular problems. Rather, one identifies empirical puzzles about the world and then goes
about solving them by applying or modifying existing theories. Theories, in this sense, are lenses said to explain and predict major patterns in world affairs. 

Therefore, I had organized this particular paper not as a problem-focused human rights argument about children born of war, but rather as an empirical study on “issue non-emergence” within advocacy networks. I presented the subject of “children born of war” as a negative case and demonstrated why, from the perspective of agenda-setting theory, this might be considered an interesting puzzle. The case, I argued, showed that we needed a different understanding of the obstacles to issue emergence. This was the working paper version of a longer book project exploring why children born of war rape had received so little attention from advocacy organizations aiming to protect war-affected children. 

My colleagues provided a variety of suggestions on the theory, the methods, and the structure of the argument. But one piece of advice particularly sticks out in my mind. “You’d better stop talking to international organizations about this issue until you publish,” said one senior faculty member. “Otherwise, before you know it, you will no longer have a puzzle to explain, because these children will be on the agenda.”  

Two things struck me about this comment. First was the suggestion that in researching the non-emergence of “children born of war,” I might in fact be engaged in a form of issue entrepreneurship that could alter the research findings. Second was the suggestion that the idea that more attention to this population should have been less preferable to me (or anyone) than the ability to advance my career by publishing an interesting paper. In this essay, I grapple with those two problematiques as a way of thinking about what we aim for when we choose political science as a vocation, and to what extent our answers to that question are implicated in the social constructions we study.

Thus begins my reflection essay in this month’s issue of Perspectives on Politics. This piece began as the concluding chapter of the my book on human rights agenda-setting, but I was asked to remove it by the Columbia University Press editor as the price of publication. The essay reflects on that maneuver and its meaning in the context of a wider set of ruminations about academic norms, scholarly inquiry and the ways we interface with and affect the world we study.  We do this both through our practices as scholars and through our many every-day interactions with the public, practitioners and policy-makers on the research frontier, but this dialectic is masked by our professional norms. I hope that’s starting to change.

This set of ruminations from my professional journey along theory-data-practitioner-policy-public-sphere continuum remains very relevant to my new book project. These days, I think of what I learned on the Bosnia project constantly as I navigate semi-structured interviews and informal conversations with human security elites in the areas of civilian protection, children’s health, and arms control. I hope that in my new manuscript I can find a way to acknowledge my embeddedness within these communities of practice as a methodological choice in a way that nonetheless passes academic peer review.

Along those lines, Stephen Walt reminds us in an new important essay that hanging out on the divide between academe and the real world is necessary, yet full of pitfalls. He proposes a menu of strategies by which academic institutions can incentivize an ethical, reflexive and transparent approach that encourages such bridge-building. But he also insists we must acknowledge and render transparent the academic and political significance of such interactions between scholars and practitioners, policymakers and the public. If we can find a way to do that without unhelpfully blurring the line between academe and the ‘rest’ perhaps we can rescue the discipline from what he calls the “cult of irrelevance.”

To do it, we need to rethink how we train and socialize students, reward our junior colleagues, and report on our consulting relationships, as Walt points out. But in my view we also need to change our publishing norms to include and honor scholarly reflections on one’s journey through one’s subject matter as a staple component of analytical presentations.


Visualizing the Correlates of Global Issue Creation

My big work-related task this month is to pull together my focus group findings into something approximating a theoretically relevant conference paper. I like to start with visualizations.

This chart is derived from a code scheme we developed to categorize human security practitioners’ responses in focus groups to the question: what factors facilitate or inhibit the emergence of new issues on global policy agenda? Answers fell into five broad buckets, and this is an overview of the contents of the various buckets and how they relate to one another and to the extent literature on advocacy networks. Of most interest to my project is the highly central yet largely under-theorized category “network effects.”

Reactions on either the chart, the theoretical argument embodied here, or the data very welcome.

Also, a bleg: do any readers know of user-friendly visualization software to make a graph like this interactive? I’d like viewers to be able to move their pointer over a code-name and see the code definition, and over a code bucket and see a frequency distribution of associated codes.


What I Learned At Nerd Camp

I spent last week at an ICPSR workshop on network analysis methods in Bloomington, Indiana, and while I wouldn’t say I’m exactly an expert now on network analysis, I did learn to do a few interesting things with my human security data.

For example, below is a visual representation of the “human security issue agenda” as represented by 88 websites of organizations in the “human security network” circa May 2008. I identified the organizations in that network through a hyperlink analysis using the tool Issuecrawler, and then we downloaded their mission-statements and “issue lists” and tagged each document with as many different “issues” as we could find in the text data. When two issues occur in the same document, I consider that a “tie” between two “issues.” So on the map, links between issues represent co-occurences in the text.

As you can see, lots of organizations do lots of issues, so when you first look at the graph the ties are so many it’s just a big mess. But if you drop out half the ties, you end up only with the most densely connected issues, and then it starts to look pretty interesting:

What’s interesting is that the issues cluster based on how often they co-occur a lot: some issues cluster together more than others. You notice that the human security network is really made of a few separate issue clusters – a cluster around peace or conflict-prevention and resolution; one around conflict mitigation or humanitarian affairs; one around repressive or violent practices (what human security specialists like to call the “freedom from fear” agenda) and another dealing more with economic and social rights, which is adjacent to a cluster dealing with development and poverty reduction, and another dealing with environmental security and health, both of which connect to weapons issues which connect to the security sector / arms controls organizations, which connect again to the “peace and security”/conflict prevention folks.

Lots of people have written abstractly about what “human security” means, but as far as I know this mine is the first analysis that actually maps the term empirically. If you add in a few more of the links (using a “cut-point” of .40 instead of .50 for example) you can see these clusters emerge in somewhat sharper relief, but also see them beginning to connect together.

You’ll notice that these clusters are linked to each other to a greater or lesser extent. For example, there are a lot of connections between “human rights” and “humanitarian affairs” and relatively fewer connections between the “arms control” cluster and the “economic and social rights” cluster. There’s also a distinction between issues associated with “arms control” and those associated with “disarmament” – because everyone knows the arms control folks are manly realists and the disarmament folks are peace-loving hippie feminists.

Finally, there are some interesting cases where an issue doesn’t show up where you might imagine it would in the network. “Depleted uranium weapons,” for example, is mentioned in connection with health and the environment (and is most closely associated with “disease” issues like cancer) but is not on the agenda of organizations concerned with limiting the use of weapons in warfare (like landmines and chemical weapons). “Sovereignty,” interestingly, is most often mentioned not as a counterpoint to military intervention in humanitarian crises (as the literature would suggest) but in regards to natural resource disputes (or, shown here, “minerals”).

What does it all mean? For my project, I’m interested in what gets on the agenda and what doesn’t, and so how agenda space is carved up within a network is a really interesting piece of that question.


Human Rights Watch: Between Two Worlds

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein lit a fire under human rights activists yesterday with his NYTimes op-ed yesterday, criticizing the organization for its focus on Israel rather than more autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

His argument is really about organizational mandate and issue selection: faced with the need to select among the many abuses competing for intention, how should a group like Human Rights Watch prioritize its activity? Bernstein argues it should focus on closed societies, not open ones:

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.

That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by drawing attention to dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and those in the Soviet gulag — and the millions in China’s laogai, or labor camps.

Human Rights Watch issued a rebuttal yesterday:

Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving scrutiny… “Open” societies and democracies commit human rights abuses, too, and Human Rights Watch has an important role to play in documenting those abuses and pressing for their end.

To some extent this debate hinges on a tricky distinction between human rights law and humanitarian law. Human rights law governs what a state may do to its own people; since the movement has typically focused on civil and political rights, it makes sense to pay greater attention to non-democracies whose very governing structures violate the rules, than flinging barbs at violations on the margins of already free, democratic societies.

But humanitarian law governs what a state may do to the enemy in time of war, and it is humanitarian law that is relevant to the reporting on Israel that Bernstein is primarily addressing, as well as much reporting on the US. With respect to IHL, this distinction (if valid at all) breaks apart entirely, as the openness of domestic institutions has little bearing on the record of countries in war: militaries of democracies are no less likely to abuse noncombatants in time of war. In fact, Alexander Downes has found they may be more likely to do so.

In short, whatever the merits of Bernstein’s argument with respect to human rights (further picked apart by Michael Yglesias) it pretty much falls apart completely for IHL.

I think the tension Bernstein points to highlights HRW’s tenuous position at the interstices of two separate networks – human rights and humanitarian law. As Stacie Goddard points out in a recent study, betweenness of this type positions an actor to play a useful brokering role in international society, contributing to the development of new norms and ideas, and also increasing one’s influence within and between networks. However this latest PR snafu also highlights the disadvantages of being caught between two worlds with two different standards for human security agenda-setting.


Foundations, Foreign Policy and NGOs

This issue of International Studies Quarterly contains an interesting article about the effect of donors on both the agenda and strategies of human rights NGOs. Here’s the abstract:

“Focusing on the flow of funding to human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), we begin in this article to broach one of the least studied issues pertaining to transnational regimes—namely, their material underpinnings. Through an analysis of the patterns of donor funding to human rights NGOs, we underscore the triangulation between states, donors, and rights NGOs, whereby states have an impact on donor preferences, which, in turn, influences the agenda of human rights NGOs and their modes of operation, and these, in their turn, help shape the kind of NGO criticism voiced against the state. By emphasizing the important and frequently missing link of donors, we thus complicate the discussion concerning the impact human rights networks have on state policies and practices, showing how rights NGOs simultaneously weaken and strengthen the state. Accordingly, our examination of the political economy of human rights adds a new dimension to the literature analyzing how the state both reconfigures and is reconfigured by transnational regimes.

Reading the article made me happy because I now have a good, current overview to assign to my students next time I teach the “Global Agenda-Setting” class. This semester we focused on NGOs, the UN, the media, celebrities and network politics, but we ran out of time to dig more deeply into other impacts on the agenda-setting process, such as epistemic communities and private donors. Then, when my students briefed an NGO in Washington this past weekend on what they had learned and how it could help the practiotioners’ work, it became clear to me that I had not prepared them to answer a question that was of utmost concern to this organization: how to pitch its issue in such a way as to attract funding (rather than to attract members of a coalition).

So as I read, I was wondering what insights my students might have incorporated into their strategy document had we studied the political economy of NGO fundng more closely this semester. At least one insight stands out: even private donors seem constrained by the socio-political climate within their particular country. If a campaign is aligned with US foreign policy discourse, it will be more successful at securing funding from American foundations (as well as from US government donor agencies) than if it is pursuing goals at odds with US foreign policy. It might therefore logically follow that if a campaign is focused on changing or challenging US practice, it’s a good idea to seek funding from entities outside the US.

Since the authors’ analysis focuses just on funding to Israeli human rights organizations, though, it leaves this question open in my mind. They support this general claim both with their own data (US donors tend to support organizations that protect Israeli citizens, while European donors support NGOs who protected Palestinians) and by citing literature showing that both the US government and private US donors like Ford Foundation privilege civil and political rights over social and economic rights. But does this mean that US-based donors never support campaigns that challenge the US more directly? I don’t actually know what the answer is, but I would want to see a wider range of evidence across many thematic cases. I think that evidence to disconfirm this notion would be US-based private donor funding for campaigns that the US opposed, like for the International Criminal Court or the cluster munitions treaty. I wonder if readers of this blog are familiar with the political economy of these campaigns and have answers, or other thoughts about how to study this question more closely.


Celebrities: Blowback or Blow-off?

Among the insights of New Yorker’s analysis of Obama’s campaign” is this interesting discussion of “celebrity blowback”:

“In July… a McCain ad compared Obama to Paris Hilton. What seemed to outsiders like a trivial, even ridiculous attack had an enormous impact inside Obama’s headquarters.

The campaign kept Obama away from celebrities as much as possible. A Hollywood fund-raiser with Barbra Streisand became a source of deep anxiety and torturous discussions. In Denver, celebrities who in past Presidential campaigns would have had major speaking roles were shielded from public view. “We spent hours trying to celebrity-down the Democratic National Convention,” the aide said.”

Interesting, since so much scholarship has recently trumpeted the importance and special legitimacy of celebrities on the public policy process, global diplomcay, and transnational advocacy campaigns. Dan Drezner’s article in TNI last November was optimistic about the role of such players, if not falling for the idea that they do it for pure altruism. Andrew Cooper’s recent book Celebrity Diplomacy paints a similarly rosy view of these actors. The journal Global Governance recently ran a forum on celebrity diplomacy with contributions by Cooper, Heribert Dieter and Rajiv Kumar.

If celebrities indeed have both special power and increasingly legitimacy in the policy process, why wouldn’t Obama’s handlers assume this metaphor might help rather than hurt him? Their reaction might be the best indicator that the credibility of celebrities in policy is overrated.

My graduate students have dug up some data suggesting an explanation. In my course on “Global Agenda-Setting” at University of Massachusetts, they have been tracing seven global campaigns that have taken place since the end of the Cold War, including the causal impact (if any) of celebrities. Thematic issues examined included HIV-AIDS, Disability Rights, Cluster Munitions, Child Soldiers, Trafficking, Conflict Diamonds, and Sexual Exploitation by UN Personnel. Overall, they found that while celebrities are all over many of these issues, in myriad ways, their influence on global agenda-setting tends to be minimal at best.

Here’s why: with the exception of issues where they are personally affected, celebrities generally don’t get involved in campaigns until they’re basically over. While one can’t infer too much from a few cases, and while the data here is limited by the exhaustiveness with which each student search for evidence of celebrity involvement, the seven cases they tracked suggest celebrities mostly endorse issues that already have a solid place on the policy agenda: it is rare for the glitterati to function as norm entrepreneurs or agenda-setters.

As the graph above demonstrates, celebrity involvement in the campaigns we studied typically post-dated the emergence of governance around a policy problem. For example, child soldiers began attracting celebrities not during the campaign of the late 1990s, but three years after the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed; celebrities gravitated toward conflict diamonds in 2005, two years after the Kimberly Process had been negotiated. The graph above shows a similar pattern across four of our seven cases; in one case, Sexual Exploitation by UN Personnel, celebrities have stayed aloof entirely.

The campaigns we looked at where celebrity involvement may have significantly affected political opportunity structure of an issue are HIV-AIDS and Disability Rights, where celebrities functioned as living exemplars of the issues, helping to reduce stigma and popularize the notion that AIDS or disability can happen to anyone. While the self-interested nature of celebrity activism around these issues undermines the idea that they were purely altruistic, it also increases the cache of celebrity voices in the agenda-setting process because they are speaking as claimants as well as champions. Celebrities also tend to get involved much earlier in the policy process on these sorts of issues, giving themselves a chance to have a real impact rather than simply bandwagoning on others’ efforts.

Some other insights / thoughts:

To look more closely celebrity activism, it needs to be disaggregated into different varieties in order to tease out the causal importance of each on different phases in the global policy cycle. Our class identified at least six ways in which celebrities may assist in drawing attention to issues:

1) Lobbying, where celebrities use their access to elites to press for specific policy changes. Examples are Bono’s lobbying Jesse Helms on Debt Relief, or Edward Zwieck’s engagement with the diamond industry on conflict diamonds.

2) Campaigning, where celebrities visibly associate themselves with or endorse specific causes. Patrick Stewart played this role when he kicked off Amnesty International’s campaign on Violence Against Women; Ben Affleck has done this for the issue of child soldiering through his public association with Save the Children’s Rewrite the Future campaign.

3) Spokesmodeling, where celebrities lend their faces to public interest advertisements, whether or not for money. Gwyneth Paltrow’s advertising for the “I Am Africa” campaign constitutes an example.

4) Resource Transfers, where celebrities function as donors. This includes establishing foundations, such as Elton John’s AIDS Foundation; conducting benefits, such as LiveAid; and personal donations to causes.

5) Artifacts, when celebrities use their creative energy on projects to draw attention to specific problems. This can be overt, such as the film Blood Diamond and Kanye West’s song “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” ; alternatively, artists can embed issue advocacy into unrelated entertainment media, as Daughtry did with the music video for its ballad What About Now?.

6) Personification, when celebrities serve as poster children for particular issues because of their personal relationship to the problem. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve did this for disability; Magic Johnson and Rock Hudson did it for HIV-AIDS; Emma Thompson personalized child soldiering when she adopted a former child soldier in 2003.

Second, different celebrities seem to be attracted to different types of activism, each of which has different costs, risks and effects. Leonardo diCaprio may be the celebrity most associated with conflict diamonds, but he has been relatively uninvolved in overt lobbying on the issue beyond interviews about the film itself.

Third, it’s possible to hypothesize that some of these strategies make a much bigger splash than others. Artifacts are useful for shaping public awareness, but generally come late in the policy chain and have minimal effect on agenda-setting and governance over global problems. Resource transfers no doubt provide much-needed capital for campaigns, but do they also serve as a means for celebrities to avoid greater involvement in issues or suggest to consumers that they can make a change simply by going shopping? Direct lobbying can matter in policy response, but imagine how celebrities could assist with the initial emergence of new issues by leveraging their unique access to elites much earlier in the agenda-setting process.


That went fast.

My month-long course on human rights has wrapped up, which means I’ll be able to get back to blogging about other things, like global norm development and enforcement, the laws of war, and the US election. OK, I’ll be able to get back to blogging, period.

A few concluding insights I developed from reading this set of books with some smart students are below the fold.

1) The cultural relativism argument really doesn’t hold water. Sally Engle Merry has shown that activists around the world are adopting human rights language and translating it into their own vernacular to suit their cultural context. The “culture” argument is a weapon of elites, not individuals. Also, she says, we should spend much more time studying the “culture” of the transnational human rights movement itself.

2) Large-N analyses of human rights performance like Todd Landman’s Protecting Human Rights or Emilie Hafner-Burton’s work are biased toward civil and political rights; they don’t incorporate measures of economic and social rights. This may affect the validity of their results, but it also exerts an unfortunate constitutive effect on global understandings of what human rights are.

3) It’s very hard to define what a “human rights issue” is. Too bad for my new project on issue emergence. The concept is used within the human rights literature to refer to things as specific as “dowry killings” or as broad as “women’s rights” (really an issue cluster, I think). And while doing field interviews this week at Human Rights Watch for my new book, I noticed practitioners often refer to countries, not abuses, as “issues.” Scholars of global civil society need better ways to operationalize their concepts – they should both make sense analytically and jive with practitioner understandings.

4) Lots of human rights claims are floating around in the primordial soup but are not recognized as human right problems at all by leaders in the human rights movement. For example, is infant male circumcision a bodily integrity rights violation? Some groups say yes, but HRW and Amnesty say no. Is there a human right to self defense? Gun advocates say yes; according to this article by David Kopel, the UN says hell no. Is it a violation of the prohibition on forced labor to conscript citizens to serve in the military? Some say yes. HRW says, only if you mistreat them or if they are children.

5) Despite that, none of the books we read, even Jutta Joachim’s book on agenda-setting, offered a good theory of how the human rights movement sets its own agenda. The literature remains focused on how civil society affects state agendas or enforces existing standards. But in my mind, there are some very interesting questions about how certain things get framed off the agenda, and why some issue entrepreneurs are more successful than others, and how human rights gatekeepers decide what matters.


CNN Suppresses Diversity, Polar Bears

Greetings, all. Though I think Daniel hoped my early posts would concern mass killing (or, perhaps, the conquest of the Alpha Quadrant), I couldn’t help but comment on CNN’s Republican YouTube debate for my inaugural post.

Mainly, I wonder how different the debate would have been if the 35 questions aired had been chosen based on YouTube page views and comments, rather than selected by the media elite to fit the issues the candidates were prepared to discuss.

Demographics, for example. Out of the 35 videos selected for the debate, I counted only 6 featuring women. Only 2 featured people of color. And the debate of the “family values” party features no questions from minors, although many of the nearly 5,000 entries were from youth.

Too, the subject matter seemed peculiarly out of touch with the concerns of many voters. Few questions about foreign policy (Darfur, anyone?). Nothing about climate change (maybe because kids were under-represented as stakeholders – ever since polar bears became the poster children for global warming I know mine have been up in arms). And not a word about how the candidates would differentiate themselves from the policies of the Bush Administration.

But then again, perhaps I assume too much about the total population of entries. Could the digital divide simply result in a massive over-representation of gun-toting white males among the population of those submitting YouTube videos?

A fascinating qualitative analysis could and should be done on the total dataset of video entries to measure the gap between the population of entries and the sample that was used tonight to represent “the public agenda.” The findings would have important implications for our assessment of the YouTube debates as a genuine populist shift in electoral politics, rather than an attempt of the media barons to co-opt the emerging power of Web 2.0.


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