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The Politics of Practice: Diplomacy and Legitimacy in International Society. Open Access

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Why do states reject Westphalian diplomatic practice? Diplomacy in international society is a highly regulated practice involving the exchange of representatives, the hosting of embassies, the upholding of rights of immunity and extraterritoriality, and the performance of ceremonial and protocol. Although it appears anachronistic, it is an efficient medium through which all states can participate in diplomacy. Furthermore, it is a low-cost practice to faithfully engage in, but generates considerable costs for those states that refuse to do so. Given all these factors, why would states reject it?This dissertation offers an answer to this question. By drawing on historical sources, including archival and media materials, I analyze three cases where states rejected Westphalian diplomatic practice for a sustained period of a year or more: Qing China from 1794 until 1860; Soviet Russia from 1917 until 1923; and Revolutionary Iran from 1979 until 1981. I find that the narratives of legitimation used by these regimes - the stories that regimes tell to legitimate their right to rule - caused states to reject Westphalian practice. In order to explain how these narratives of legitimation work I propose a causal mechanism I call "narrative binding." This mechanism occurs when (a) a regime's narrative mandates practices that conflict with the practices of Westphalian diplomacy, and (b) when the regime faces internal threats to its survival. Under these conditions a regime will have strong incentives to rely on the symbolic practices that legitimate it, even if this means rejecting those of Westphalian diplomatic practice.In coming to these conclusions this project challenges a number of assertions in the literature on identity politics, strategic bargaining, and domestic audience costs.

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