Virtual WIP on May 7th

Spring 2020 WIP Presents:


Politicization and Punishment

in the International Human Rights Regime


Rochelle Terman and Joshua Byun

University of Chicago

Abstract: By virtually all accounts, the international human rights regime is deeply politicized; violations are condemned based on geopolitical interests rather than normative principles. What factors promote politicization of global norms? This paper offers an account of politicization in the human rights regime rooted in enforcement dynamics. While enforcement or “shaming” can be costly, states also collect social benefits by defending international norms and stigmatizing offenders. As a result, geopolitical relationships shape patterns of human rights enforcement. Further, the influence of geopolitical interests becomes more pronounced as the political costs associated with a given human rights issue increase in severity. We evaluate the argument through quantitative analysis of the most elaborate human rights enforcement process in the international system: the United Nations Universal Periodic Review. We find that geopolitical adversaries are more likely to shame each other on politically costly issues that undermine the target regime’s legitimacy or its ability to rule. Friendly states, by contrast, are more likely to address safer topics in order to avoid offending the target. Our findings point to an inherent trade-off between the politicization of international human rights, on the one hand, and their weak enforcement on the other. When international norms become stronger, and the consequences attached to violations grow more severe, the incentives driving politicization intensify.


We’re All Mad Here?: An experimental Investigation of Determinants of Perceived Irrationality in Foreign Leaders


Nicholas Campbell-Seremetis

University of Chicago

Abstract: The extent to which observers believe a foreign leader is rational or irrational shapes how they approach strategic interactions with the leader in question. Yet political science lacks bases for ascertaining how people make inferences about the rationality, competence, or minds of foreign leaders. This paper addresses this gap using a pair of novel survey experiments. First, a choice-based conjoint survey experiment that probes the plausibility of the wide range of potential explanations suggested by existing work: a rationalist pathway based on costly behavior, a motivated reasoning pathway shaped in which perceptions are driven by the intentions of the observer, and a range of hypothesis about how perceived rationality is influenced by a leader’s identity and costless behavior.  The conjoint results suggest that while material variables are important, leaders’ ideology and personal behavior also carry significant weight in subjects’ inferences about their rationality.  A second survey experiment utilizing a multivariate factorial design creates a more controlled setting in which to test the causal impact of a leader’s race, ideology, personal behavior, and state economy on subjects’ perceptions of their rationality and competence.  The results provide strong support for the hypothesis that leaders with speaking styles that seem ‘angry’ or ‘eccentric,’ and leaders that are ideologically distant, are far more likely to be perceived as irrational than other leaders who possess equivalent material capability and make identical policy decisions.  The centrality of identity and costless behavior in inferences about foreign leaders’ rationality suggests such inferences are exogenous to other important factors in IR, and so must be taken seriously as an explanatory variable.

Thursday, May 7th: 3:30pm-5:00pm

via Zoom

To access the paper, please contact Elsy Gonzalez at


Persons who believe they may need assistance to attend the session should contact Elsy Gonzalez in advance to make arrangements.

The WIP Speakers Series is supported by grants from Council on Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences and The University of Chicago Division of the Social Sciences.

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