This dissertation examines the causes and consequences of international “naming and shaming”: a ubiquitous tactic used by states and civil society to improve international human rights. When does international shaming lead to the improvement in human rights conditions, and when does it backfire, resulting in the worsening of human rights practices or a backlash against international norms? Instead of understanding transnational norms as emanating from some monolithic “international community,” I propose that we gain better analytic insight by considering the ways in which norms are embodied in particular actors and identities, promoted and contested between specific states in relational terms.
Starting from this approach, I apply insights from sociology, social psychology, and criminology to develop a theory of international “defiance,” or the increase in norm offending behavior caused by a proud, shameless reaction against a sanctioning agent. As detailed in Chapter 2, defiance unfolds through domestic and international logics that incentivize elites to violate international norms for political gain. Anticipating these political effects, regimes often provoke and manipulate shaming for strategic purposes. In the long-term, defiance can attach oppositional norms to collective identity, transforming domestic and international normative orders. I argue that international pressure is more likely to provoke defiance under three conditions: (1) the target has weak social ties with the shamer (e.g. economic, political, or ideological); (2) the shamer lacks credibility due to bias or inaccuracy; and (3) the shame is stigmatizing, denigrating the actor instead of the behavior.
Existing empirical studies on “naming and shaming” tend to focus exclusively on the country being shamed, obscuring the relational dynamics at the core of the shaming process. My empirical work, in contrast, explores these relationships head-on. In Chapter 3, I evaluate the role of social ties (the first condition driving defiance) in both the causes and consequences of interstate shaming using novel data from the Universal Periodic Review, a process conducted by the United Nations wherein states “peer review” one another’s human rights practices. I show that not only is shaming driven by the relationship between sender and target, but states will accept or defy shaming based on this relationship, regardless of the norm in question. In other words, when it comes to human rights shaming, the critic matters just as much as the criticism.
Chapter 4 shines the spotlight on the shamer, exposing the political biases that shape human rights reporting. I argue that if human rights reporting is stigmatizing, it can risk defiance and backlash. How can one measure and compare stigma in media portrayals in a systematic way? I propose a solution using new data on U.S. news coverage of global women’s rights, 1980-2014 along with novel computational text analysis tools. Chapter 4 presents evidence suggesting that American media stigmatizes Muslims in their coverage of women’s rights abroad by propagating the stereotype that Muslims are uniquely or particularly discriminatory against women.
While I cannot address the impact of such coverage writ large, I follow up on one particular story that captured widespread media attention in 2010-11: the “Save Sakineh” campaign, which involved a massive, global shaming operation directed at Iran for sentencing a woman to stoning for adultery of 2010-11. Chapters 5 and 6 conduct an in-depth qualitative study of the case, leveraging in-depth interviews and extensive archival research to trace the micro-politics of defiance. I illustrate the role of social ties, credibility, and stigma in the development of the campaign, as well as the co-constitutive relationship between Western shaming and Iranian defiance. Chapter 7 concludes by sketching some additional implications of my argument, directions for future research, and policy recommendations.