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International Studies Quarterly (1999) 43, 83–114

Norms, Institutions, and National Identity in Contemporary Europe
JEFFREY T. CHECKEL ARENA, University of Oslo
The constructivist study of norms faces two central challenges—reintegrating agency into its largely structural accounts and unpacking its arguments at the national level. This article addresses these issues, and does so in four parts. First, I briefly review the burgeoning constructivist literature, exploring the ontological and theoretical reasons for its neglect of agency. Second, by adding social content to the concept of diffusion, the transmission mechanism linking international norms to domestic change, I explain the motivation of domestic actors to accept new normative prescriptions, thus making a start at restoring agency to constructivist accounts. Third, I argue these key actors will vary cross-nationally as a function of statesociety relations (“domestic structure”). Fourth, the argument is applied to the politics of national identity in post–Cold War Europe. In particular, I examine the degree to which international norms are affecting debates over citizenship and national minorities in contemporary Germany, with empirical data drawn from the European human rights regime centered on the Council of Europe.

This article examines changing conceptions of citizenship and the rights of minorities—that is, national membership—in contemporary Europe. War in the former Yugoslavia and conflicts between Russia and the Baltic states suggest that defining such membership is fraught with dangers. However, these facts should not obscure that similar questions are being raised in many West European countries. Unfortunately, our explanations for these processes are underspecified and typically consider domestic factors alone. Yet, in a Europe with ever more permeable borders, it seems shortsighted to isolate the domestic and international political arenas. I probe this domestic-international nexus by


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