The Politics of Resonance: Transnational Sustainability Governance in Argentina

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The article has argued that over the decade Argentine political culture has (i) configured an exclusive discursive field around sustainability initiatives and their promoters, that (ii) precluded wider norm-diffusion and regime uptake by limiting the interest of potential adherents and collaborators. Sustainability initiatives tend to be framed as corporate projects of limited social and political relevance, disconnected from national positions concerning domestic priorities, human and labor rights, and corporate practices. As a result, in the words of a local interviewee, ‘private social responsibility is not an issue in the public eye in Argentina’ (San Andrés University, 2011, pers. comm., 14 September). The ‘shallow’ salience of sustainability frames and programs in the country is conducive to a pattern of engagement featuring a disarticulated network of actors, peripheral NGOs, and proxy organizations.

Acknowledging the limitations of case studies for theory-building, the article poses that national cultural-ideological structures may be more resilient and influential than what conventional models imply, configuring discursive fields that can be either supportive or detrimental for the operation of global norms and actors. Moreover, the case suggests that some national political cultures may be more compatible and receptive than others in relation to sustainability norms, and that such compatibility constitutes a necessary condition for successful norm diffusion and regime effectiveness upon implementation. When semantically aligned with incoming regulatory frames, national cultural structures and institutions provide fertile symbolic material for the emergence and evolution of (second order) legitimacy-building processes and coordination games that underpin organizational capacity.20 Instead, when this alignment is absent, as in the Argentine case, it becomes difficult for norm-entrepreneurs and interested parties to make sense and establish meaningful communications and relations with other potential participants and allies. This interferes with the normative validity of prospective norms, amplifies competing counterframes and antagonistic positions, and deters the emergence of supporting coalitions. In this manner, the article validates the observation by Espach (2009, p. 141) that ‘effective regime implementation may be impossible’ in certain national environments, as it involves altering enduring patterns of social relations beyond the reach of design considerations, and of framing strategies. Future research could examine and validate this conclusion, considering different frames and standards, cultural environments, regime moments, and political economic trajectories.

Moreover, the article warns against accounts exclusively driven by market or power-centered considerations, and overly focused on developments in the global North. As shown, the domestic – and the domestic in the global South – emerges not as a passive context of deficit, but as a dynamic field populated by active structures, institutions, and actors. Furthermore, the case suggests that situated political actors may be better positioned to devise ‘counterframes’ that reverberate nationally, and that can potentially ‘crowd out’ new regulatory models and norms. This is clear in the case of the Kirchner governments, which over the last decade successfully promoted a political discourse that amplified certain cultural-political narratives in detriment of private governance frames and initiatives. In the context of Latin America, and of the global South in general, the historical and enduring centrality of the role of the state – not only institutionally, but also ideologically as well as discursively – remains a key variable to be considered when analyzing private governance and its diffusion, even if governmental actors are rarely found to be directly involved. Simultaneously, the case showed that low resonance does not imply that sustainability initiatives will fail to recruit relevant participants. An adversarial environment can even reinforce self-regulation as a defensive practice, as it appears to be the case with the RTRS and GRI. In this form, rationalist and cultural explanations might not be mutually exclusive and in certain instances could well complement each other, but nonetheless involve different understandings of what regime effectiveness entails and how participation is sustained.21

In conclusion, by unpacking the politics of resonance in Argentina the article has made a dual contribution to the literature. Empirically, the article further elucidated the Argentine situation in relation to sustainability governance, illuminating major structural challenges for governance actors seeking to promote private regulatory agendas. Theoretically, it advanced and evaluated a conceptual approach to transnational governance and norm-diffusion that bridges with more sociological and cultural conceptualizations, emphasizing greater attention to path dependent structures and discourses, and to the contextualization of causal mechanisms.


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