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Disciplining deviant states : the creation of self-fulfilling prophecies Esmaeilpour, Parmida

Abstract

Deviance at the international level is poorly understood and under-theorized. This paper endeavors to foster a deeper understanding of deviance in international relations (IR) scholarship. Following the work of earlier critical scholars (Nincic 2005; Wagner et al. 2014) I draw extensively on sociology and criminology, where there are well-developed theories of deviance, albeit at the level of individual offenders. Both literatures investigate persistence and desistance in criminal behaviour and share the background assumption that criminality and deviance are subjective and socially constructed. The notion of deviance as constructed was extensively deliberated in social labeling theory, a central theoretical framework in sociology which posits that labels, particularly when negative or stigmatizing, influence the behaviour of the individual that is labelled. Crucially, social labeling theorists observed that labels can actually promote subsequent deviance, effectively creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. In keeping with these findings, I ask, What are the implications of stigmatizing social practices on states? More specifically, does being cast as a ‘deviant’ through stigmatizing social practices promote subsequent deviance? I derive four observable implications from the sociology literature that describe how a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ may unfold: (1) by affecting the state’s self-concept, (2) by limiting the state’s opportunities, (3) by provoking a defensive reaction, and (4) by promoting differential justice. Using Iran’s nuclear programme from the 1970s to the 1980s as a case study, I find support for all four mechanisms, and suggest that international responses to perceived norm transgressions or “acts of deviance” can indeed perpetuate self-fulfilling prophecies and engender further or sustained deviance. Despite the inherent limitations in ascertaining the motivation of state leaders, social labeling theory proves to be a promising framework for further research into deviant states.

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