Transnational Human Rights Networks

Publication Date01 May 2009
AuthorMin Tang
Date01 May 2009
Transnational Human Rights Networks
Min Tang
Purdue University
‘Transnationalhuman r ights networks’has become a hot research topic for international human rights studies in recent
years. It mainly documents and theorizes the transnationalization or internationalization of human rights norms and
practices during the last several decades. It began as a distinctive field of research scholarship and has grown to
challenge the traditional approaches to international studies.This review introduces the major tenets of this field and,
without downplaying their contribution to international studies, it also tries to point out several problems in the
conceptualization, theorization and methodology of the current studies on human rights networks. This critical
analysis is followed by some suggestions for future studies.
The Research Subject
The Concept
The network conception of human rights practice in international studies was first
formulated by Margaret Sikkink (1993) and Kathryn Keck and Sikkink (1998), and further
developed by Thomas Risse et al. (1999) and Sanjeev Khagram et al. (2002). A popularly
cited definition is given in Keck and Sikkink’s (1998) seminal work Activists beyond Borders:
Transnational advocacy network includes those relevant actors working inter-
nationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common
discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services ... Activists in net-
works try not only to influence policy outcomes, but to transform the ter ms and
nature of the debate (p. 2).
Several attributes of a network constitute the core of the network conception represented
by Keck and Sikkink (1998).The first is the centrality of values. The network actors are
motivated and brought together by shared values or principled ideas that are embodied in
international human rights laws (Florini and Simmons, 2000, p. 7;Keck and Sikkink, 1998,
p. 2; Sikkink, 1993, p. 412). Their work in turn revolves around these ideas or values: to
diffuse progressive ideas,to help institutionalize values into the political process and to bring
governmental practice into accordance with the established norms (Keck and Sikkink,
1998, p. 8). Second, a network is composed of various types of actor, e.g. international
and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local social movements, private
foundations, churches, media, intellectuals and even parts of governmental apparatus and
politicians. Among these actors, international and domestic NGOs play the central role
(Burgerman, 2001, p. 10; Sikkink, 1993, p. 416; Keck and Sikkink, 1998, p. 92). The third
characteristic is coordination and cooperation among actors. Actors in a network exchange
information, resources,services and personnel. Their relationship is said to be voluntary and
© 2009The Author.Jour nal compilation © 2009 Political StudiesAssociation

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