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International Norm Dynamics and ‘the End of Poverty’: Understanding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)


  • David Hulme
  • Sakiko Fukuda-Parr


Since their emergence in 2001, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have become accepted as consensus objectives of international development efforts. They have generated controversies and literature that focus on the economics of whether and how they can be achieved. However, little work has been done to understand why they became so widely accepted as an international normative framework of development. This paper focuses on the MDGs as ideas and international norms to explain how they emerged, became institutionalised, yet stalled in implementation and behaviour change. The paper applies Finnemore and Sikkink’s analytical framework of international norm dynamics, and argues that the MDGs have proved an effective mechanism to promote the broad norm of eradicating global poverty. Finnemore and Sikkink note that broad and vaguely specified norms are difficult to implement. Global poverty eradication is an example of such a norm, but the MDGs gave it specificity and then provided an effective vehicle for its diffusion and institutionalisation. This paper introduces the concept of the ‘super-norm’ to clarify the nature of poverty eradication, as being a composite of several sub-norms. The paper also introduces the concepts of message entrepreneurs (as distinct from norm entrepreneurs) who play a key role in this process, who are motivated primarily by organisational objectives rather than ideational commitments. This in turn influences the content of the norm itself. In its conclusion, the paper explains the way in which both realist and constructivist ideas have to be utilised to explain the faltering advance of extreme poverty being seen as morally unacceptable in an affluent world.

Suggested Citation

  • David Hulme & Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, 2009. "International Norm Dynamics and ‘the End of Poverty’: Understanding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," Global Development Institute Working Paper Series 9609, GDI, The University of Manchester.
  • Handle: RePEc:bwp:bwppap:9609

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    Cited by:

    1. de Haan, A., 2009. "Aid: the drama, the fiction, and does it work?," ISS Working Papers - General Series 18705, International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS), The Hague.
    2. Keijser, C. & Beshay, Y. & Al Raee, M. & Avenyo, E. & Bierbaum, M. & Amoateng, E. & Sinha, R., 2014. "Millennium Development Goals: Tool or token of global social governance?," MERIT Working Papers 024, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    3. Sanjay G. Reddy & Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven, 2015. "Global Development Goals: If At All, Why, When and How?," Working Papers 1523, New School for Social Research, Department of Economics.
    4. Oyvind Eggen, 2013. "Making and Shaping Poor Malawians: Citizenship Below the Poverty Line," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 31(6), pages 697-716, November.
    5. David Hulme & James Scott, 2010. "The Political Economy of the MDGs: Retrospect and Prospect for the World's Biggest Promise," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series 11010, BWPI, The University of Manchester.
    6. Arjan de Haan & Ward Warmerdam, 2012. "The politics of aid revisited: a review of evidence on state capacity and elite commitment," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series esid-007-12, BWPI, The University of Manchester.

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