Theme: The Politics of International Diffusion: Regional and Global Dimensions

The ongoing global financial and economic crises, the upheavals throughout the Middle East, the emerging dispersion of power toward a broader G-20, and copycat protest movements across all regions highlight both the continued centrality of diffusion to contemporary international politics and the difficulty of predicting diffusion patterns. A conventional wisdom argues that the speed and reach of diffusion is unlike anything we have seen in the past. People, power, authority, capital, property rights, international law, religion, technology, democracy, electoral systems, flower and color revolutions, sub-national and supranational governance systems, conventional and unconventional weapons, wars, peace, regional institutional designs; norms about gender, minority, children and other human rights; knowledge, culture and information; financial, fiscal and economic crises; open and closed economic models; patterns of state expansion and retraction; and emotions regarding each of these categories are among the many politically-consequential phenomena that cross borders within and across regions. They do so however, at different rates, through different mechanisms, and with diverse effects. Of crucial concern is the need to assess what we know and what we don’t know regarding the sources, agents, mechanisms, speed, spatial and temporal domains, consequences, and desirability of international diffusion.

The 2013 conference will seek to improve our understanding of regional and global diffusion across several dimensions. What phenomena diffuse faster, why and how? What phenomena do not diffuse? Why is non/diffusion so hard to predict? What are the barriers to diffusion and how do they operate? What explains differential rates of diffusion across time and space? How can different epistemological and methodological tools be used to study those processes? What are the areas of consensus and dissent in the study of international and transnational diffusion? And what are the normative and policy implications of different findings? In addressing these general puzzles, we invite proposals that take stock of the following additional aspects of contemporary international/ transnational diffusion:

What is diffusion and how can it be studied? Interest in the specific content of diffusion (norms, trade, technology, etc.) has generally overwhelmed a focus on diffusion itself as a core concept in international studies. Hence, there is ample room to improve conceptualization that could enhance our ability to analyze, measure or compare the extent and rate of diffusion across time and space. Research relying on different methods, epistemologies, disciplines, regions, and core substantive interests often proceeds along different tracks, depriving the study of diffusion from potential synergies. Yet the analysis of diffusion renders itself an ideal subject for transcending particular international studies paradigms, methods, modes of analysis, and region-specific expertise.

What diffuses, what doesn’t, how and why? The rate of diffusion of different phenomena is uneven as is the spatial and temporal domain within which it occurs. Indeed there are instances of non-diffusion (democracy in Eastern Europe and the Middle East for several decades preceding 1989 and 2011 respectively); stalled diffusion (supranational regional institutions beyond Europe); and counter-diffusion (higher barriers to migration and citizenship; EU efforts to contain a spreading financial crisis). Hence, to avoid potential selection biases evident in at least some of the existing literature on diffusion, our understanding of what does not diffuse should be as central as what does.

Who are the agents and what are the causal mechanisms carrying out or blocking diffusion? When are agents and power structures mutually enabling or disabling diffusion? Governments, regional and international institutions, non-governmental organizations, inter-governmental associations, multinational corporations, social movements, hedge funds, political/moral entrepreneurs, and networks, among others, acts as agents of diffusion through top-down or bottom-up mechanisms. Some state bureaucracies may seek to halt immigration whereas others encourage it. States may seek to block or accelerate the diffusion of power through war, balancing, soft power, or international institutions. Causal mechanisms of interest also include coercion, persuasion, emulation, socialization, adaptation, translation, resistance, competition, bargaining, signaling, emotions and learning.

What are the spatial and temporal domains of diffusion? While analysis of global diffusion rode the wave of post-1989 globalization studies, regional processes of diffusion in the last couple of decades, and the relationship between the regional and the global, demand closer attention. What diffuses (or doesn’t diffuse) more commonly or more rapidly at the regional than the global levels? Conversely, what makes global (systemic) diffusion more likely? What diffuses from the West to the rest and vice-versa? What patterns of diffusion can be observed across different regions? When is global-to-regional, regional-to-global, or region-to-region diffusion more common? What phenomena diffuse across democracies (or autocracies) at different rates than they otherwise would?

What are the outcomes of diffusion? Will democracy be the outcome of the 2011 Arab uprisings? How does global diffusion alter the boundaries of regions? How does it affect in/equality? Some regard the diffusion of capital, technology and markets as harbingers of more egalitarian economic capabilities around the globe; others see such diffusion as perpetuating skewed distributional effects. Some see the spread of international power and authority to more states increased multipolarityas inducing greater equality; others foresee a dilution of human rights norms as a result. Some regard the rapid diffusion of bilateral and plurilateral trade and investment agreements as beneficial to a world of open economies; others foresee weakened global rules.

How desirable is diffusion? Beyond disagreements over empirical findings, intellectual excitement over the potential diffusion of public goods must be tempered with sober assessments of undesirable diffusion of public bads. Furthermore, there are bound to be contested normative standpoints regarding the diffusion of particular political phenomena. And even where consensus on the desirability of diffusing democratic institutions and human rights may exist, debates over appropriate mechanisms and their unintended effects remain. Many agree that international contagion of financial crises is an undesirable outcome but disagreement remains high on the solutions, given their implications for the kinds of arrangements in state-society relations that may emerge after the crisis. Studies of human migration can dwell on its normatively desirable and undesirable consequences.

These are suggestive rather than comprehensive sub-themes that can be complemented with other ongoing research on the nuts and bolts of international, transnational, and regional diffusion. Panel proposals that bring together methodologically and epistemologically diverse groups of scholars interested in diffusion will be of particular interest. They may lead to productive collaborations in the effort to untangle the sources, nature, speed, mechanisms, and firewalls in the diffusion of international political phenomena.

The deadline for paper and panel proposals, made through the MyISA system, is June 1, 2012. Inquiries to the program chairs should be directed to The call for papers has been archived on our website here .