Emerging Indigenous Governance: Ainu Rights at the Intersection of Global Norms and Domestic Institutions

By Larson, Erik; Johnson, Zachary et al. | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, January-March 2008 | Go to article overview

Emerging Indigenous Governance: Ainu Rights at the Intersection of Global Norms and Domestic Institutions


Larson, Erik, Johnson, Zachary, Murphy, Monique, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


As a consequence of the success of the global indigenous peoples' movement, international bodies have established a baseline of global norms concerning indigenous rights. Although few formal mechanisms exist for exercising these rights, emergent norms shape governance. Internationally, the premises underlying indigenous rights have become resources that enable expanded agency for indigenous peoples and that provide for legitimacy of international action. (1) While the transnational indigenous peoples' movement and the secretariats of international organizations regulate access to these global resources, these actors have little authority in domestic contexts governed by nation-states. Accordingly, the influence of global norms depends on their diffusion to and implementation in domestic environments. (2) The outcomes of normative diffusion, therefore, depend on the manners in which the global principles intersect with and are incorporated into domestic governance processes, particularly definition and policymaking.

While global norms can produce language and ideas that enable domestic actors to reframe grievances into principled claims, (3) this effect presumes that the global definitions have domestic salience. Aggrieved actors need to identify with the global norm--for example, they would need to identify themselves as an indigenous people--and domestic political actors must recognize the category of actor in order for these principled claims to be compelling. A comparison of women's rights and indigenous peoples' rights exemplifies this point: Principles of women's rights are less likely to face problems of recognition in diffusion than principles of indigenous peoples' rights since global and national definitions of who is a woman likely differ less than definitions of who is indigenous. Without any preexisting salience to the identity, actors must assert the identity as a recognizable and legitimate basis for action within the polity. (4) These definitional processes mark important transitions since identities influence actors' perceptions of their interests. (5) The likelihood of actors' claims for recognition succeeding may depend on expectations of what the consequences are for such recognition and how these consequences relate to the identity and interests of dominant state actors since compliant implementation of global norms is more likely when challengers and incumbents find common interest in compliance. (6) Thus, perceptions that indigenous rights may challenge states' sovereignty could result in states resisting recognizing indigenous peoples.

Domestic policymaking processes also seem likely to shape the implementation of diffused global norms. In response to contentious claims by relatively weaker parties, international bodies frequently respond by developing soft law. (7) For implementation, such ambiguous law requires even greater interpretation than more explicit law. (8) While emerging global norms can reshape state actors' perceptions of their interests and while underresourced domestic actors can use these norms to pursue change, (9) the necessity of interpretation raises questions about which actors have input on and determine decisions about the applicability of these global principles in a domestic context and how these actors interact with one another. Rather than expecting the state as a whole to be exposed to and embrace global norms, we examine how actors at the interstices of global and domestic fields react to global norms. These actors occupy receptor sites in which global norms may be brought into the domestic context. (10) In other words, we ask how and how effectively state and nonstate actors exposed to global norms bring these norms to bear in domestic concerns.

To provide insight into how the intersections of global norms and domestic institutions shape the diffusion of indigenous governance, we examine the Ainu in Japan. While Ainu history parallels the history of other indigenous peoples in industrial capitalist democracies, the Ainu were relative latecomers to the global indigenous peoples' movement. …

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Emerging Indigenous Governance: Ainu Rights at the Intersection of Global Norms and Domestic Institutions
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