3 advocacy case studies I would love to read (on long term norm shifts). Anyone fancy writing them?

August 27, 2020

     By Duncan Green     

On the off chance that someone is looking for an interesting research topic, here are 3 case studies related to norm change that I would love to read about, but don’t currently have time to research myself. If you are interested in picking up any of them, I’d love to discuss (and read the result).

1. The canonization of Oscar Romero.

The archbishop of San Salvador was assassinated by death squads in 1980, in the early days of the Salvadoran civil war. His crime? Adopting ‘a preferential option for the poor’. No one was ever convicted of the crime. In 2018, he was canonized (becoming Saint Oscar).

What those bare facts conceal is a three decades-long advocacy campaign to have Romero declared a saint. When I worked for CAFOD in the late 1990s, it seemed a slightly bizarre campaign (the structures of the Vatican are labyrinthine and to qualify as a saint, you have to prove that miracles have taken place….). Why spend time and energy on that, rather than the immediate injustices confronting so many people in Latin America and elsewhere?

Since then, I’ve changed my mind. Saint Oscar will be a normative beacon within the Catholic Church for centuries to come, when the details of Central America’s civil wars are long forgotten.

So how did it happen? I saw at first hand the relentless advocacy of CAFOD’s Julian Filochowski and Clare Dixon. Parallel campaigns must have taken place in other countries, not least El Salvador.

I bumped into Clare recently and we were talking about this – she laughed at the idea of making it an advocacy case study. ‘We just did it because it was the right thing’. Sure, but how did you win? I would love to see the timeline and a power analysis.

Here’s my 2015 piece on one of the key victories in the campaign – an official declaration of martyrdom.

2. Modern Slavery.

The term ‘Modern Slavery’ appeared suddenly on the UK political map in the middle of the last decade (here’s my summary of a big Economist briefing from 2015), becoming a law under the Conservative government, accompanied by campaigns and public briefings and a referral mechanism for people who suspect it is taking place.

According to the government:

‘Modern Slavery can take many forms including the trafficking of people, forced labour, servitude and slavery. Children (those aged under 18) are considered victims of trafficking, whether or not they have been coerced, deceived or paid to secure their compliance. They need only have been recruited, transported, received or harboured for the purpose of exploitation. It is an international crime, affecting an estimated 45.8 million people around the world. It is a global problem that transcends age, gender and ethnicity. It is not an issue confined to history or an issue that only exists in certain countries. It is something that is still happening today, and it happens here in the UK.’

What made a conservative government grappling with austerity decide to embark on a human rights initiative that, to be honest, sounds more Labour than Tory? Who/what were the drivers? What were the political calculations within government? Answers on a postcard please.

3. Dog pooh.

OK, I realize this may seem a bit trivial compared to the preceding two issues, but if you take kids to the park these days, you can be fairly sure they won’t come back covered in dog shit. That was not the case 25 years ago, when I was taking my littl’uns to the swings. It is now almost universal that people carry plastic bags and pick up after little fido. That is a pretty big shift to doing something basically pretty unpleasant, for the public good. What enabled that change? Was it a successful public information campaign? A shift in attitudes to public spaces? Something else entirely?

All 3 of these relate to some aspect of norm shifts – changes in the long-term underlying attitudes of people towards others. The Romero campaign put a champion of social justice at the heart of the Church’s role as a norm shaper. Modern Slavery successfully reframed/revived a long-standing human rights issue by adding the word ‘modern’, a law, and some government backing. Doggie bags marked a shift among dog owners from individual to collective rights and responsibilities.

Have I piqued anyone’s interest? Hope so! If not, I might have to try and persuade my students to sign up. At least that means I can get them to follow our guidelines for writing up these kinds of case studies.

Of course, it is highly likely that someone has already done something along these lines – if so, please add links in the comments.

And if you have your own candidates for case studies, feel free to add them below.

August 27, 2020
Duncan Green