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Standardization for Transnational Diffusion: The Case of Truth Commissions and Conditional Cash Transfers


International Political Sociology

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The study of the transnational transfer of practices and institutions generally looks at the intermediary and final stages of the process, with much less attention devoted to its initial steps. In contrast, this article theorizes the early part of the trajectory of transfer, conceptualized as the process through which local ideas and practices are turned into a “standard model,” which we term the process of standardization. Drawing upon the public policy and social movement literatures, we identify three potentially robust mechanisms as central to the process of standardization—certification, decontextualization, and framing—and apply this framework to two cases: the transnational spread of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and the use of conditional cash transfers as a social policy instrument. We find that the key actors in shaping the content of these standards were neither the innovators nor the early adopters but intermediary entrepreneurs located at the intersection of a complex mix of state and nonstate networks.