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On the Normalization of Sub-State Diplomacy

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Against conventional approaches that tend to minimize the importance of sub-state diplomacy, this article argues that this reality is presently undergoing a process of legal and political normalization throughout the world and deserves greater attention from both diplomatic practitioners and experts. This process, which is embedded in wider structural transformations, is driven simultaneously by two competing forces that are present in virtually all states: first, international mobilization of sub-state governments themselves, since they increasingly pursue relevant political objectives in the international field through their own methods and instruments; and second, the various attempts to limit and control that activism deployed by central governments through various legal and political instruments. After a brief discussion on the notion of normalization in critical social theory and its validity for diplomatic studies, this article examines the normalization of sub-state diplomacy through four, closely interconnected conceptual lenses: normalization as generalization; normalization as regionalization; normalization as reflective adaptation; and, finally, normalization as contentious regulation. Normalization enables the diplomatic system to operate in an increasingly complex environment while simultaneously affirming its own hierarchical structure. The limits of that normalization process, as well as its wider implications for diplomatic theory and practice, are also discussed.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Social Sciences, University of the Basque Country, Campus of Leioa PO Box 644, Bilbao, Basque Country 48080, Spain, Email:


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