Human Rights Decoupling & Aid

The latest article from the Developing Conformity project has been published in The Sociological Quarterly.

Co-authored by Qian Wei and Liam Swiss, the article examines the relationship of bilateral foreign aid flows to human rights decoupling in aid-receiving countries.


Despite extensive literature examining human rights decoupling between treaty commitments and practices, little research has addressed how to fill these empty promises. This paper proposes a mechanism neglected in prior studies that might play an important role in narrowing human rights decoupling and improving world society model compliance: foreign aid. Using longitudinal analysis on a sample of 120 aid-receiving countries between 1981 and 2011, we find: total aid has a significant effect on reducing human rights decoupling; aid to good governance shows a similar pattern but the impact is much weaker; by contrast, aid to human rights has limited influence.


Foreign Aid & the Rule of Law

Andrew Dawson (York University, Glendon Campus) and I have published the latest article from the Developing Conformity project in the British Journal of Sociology. The article is available to all via open access.

This article uses a World Society theory framework to test the effects of foreign aid on both the diffusion of rule of law reforms and the implementation of the rule of law in low- and middle-income aid-receiving countries. The details are as follows:

Foreign aid and the rule of law: Institutional diffusion versus legal reach


This paper examines the role of bilateral foreign aid in supporting the diffusion and enactment of common models and institutions of the rule of law among aid‐recipient low‐ and middle‐income countries. We ask whether aid targeted at security‐sector reform and the rule of law influences the adoption of constitutional and legal reforms over time (institutional diffusion), and whether aid also supports more effective implementation of the rule of law, writ large (legal reach). We use event history and fixed‐effects panel regression models to examine a sample of 154 countries between 1995 and 2013 to answer these questions. Our findings suggest that aid does increase the likelihood of adopting several rule of law reforms, but its effect on increasing the depth or quality of rule of law over time within countries is much less substantial. These findings suggest that though aid may play a role in supporting the diffusion of models contributing to state isomorphism among countries, it is less effective at increasing the pervasiveness and quality of such model’s implementation. This discrepancy between the effectiveness of bilateral aid in promoting law on the books versus law in action in aid recipient countries calls into question the current approach to rule of law reforms.

Donor Proliferation to What Ends?

Nilima Gulrajani (Overseas Development Institute) and I have a new article available in the Canadian Journal of Development Studies.  This article extends the World Society theoretical perspective at the centre of the Developing Conformity project to help explain why new donor countries become donors to seek legitimacy on the world stage, how that leads to challenges to existing donor norms, and what that means for the future of development assistance.  The details are as follows:

Donor proliferation to what ends? New donor countries and the search for legitimacy


Despite aid fatigue in the Global North, the number of donor states continues to grow. This article examines the motivations and performance of New Donor Countries (NDCs). Drawing on theories of norm diffusion, we argue that an important driver is new donors’ search for legitimacy as advanced and influential states. A comparison of 26 NDCs with established donors on three metrics of aid levels and quality reveals that NDCs may be adopting the form but not the associated functions and responsibilities of traditional donors. While NDCs are contributing to the viability of global development cooperation, vigilance is required to preserve its robustness.

Developing Conformity @ all the conferences

Project researchers were busy this past summer sharing research from the Developing Conformity Project at a number of conferences in the sociology and development fields.

Recent presentations included:

Qian Wei and Liam Swiss.  “Filling Empty Promises? Foreign Aid and Human Rights Decoupling”  International Sociological Association World Congress, Toronto, July 2018.

Andrew C. Dawson and Liam Swiss. “Foreign Aid and the Rule of Law: Norm Diffusion Followed by Increased Decoupling?”  Sociology of International Organizations Pre-Conference, Philadelphia, August 2018.

Andrew C. Dawson and Liam Swiss. “Foreign Aid and the Rule of Law: Norm Diffusion Followed by Increased Decoupling?”  American Sociological Association Annual Meetings, Philadelphia, August 2018.

Sam Morton, Judyannet Muchiri, and Liam Swiss. “How Feminist is Canada’s Feminist Foreign Aid?” Swedish Development Research Conference 2018, Gothenburg, August 2018.

Muchiri and Swiss (pictured above) also recently discussed our ongoing research on Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy at the CCIC/CASID Conference in Ottawa on the panel “Canada’s International Feminist Assistance Policy: Innovations and Limitations” along with other Canadian academics and development practitioners.

The Globalization of Foreign Aid

The Globalization of Foreign Aid - Cover

The Globalization of Foreign Aid is a new book forthcoming from Routledge Press which helps set the stage for much of the research in the Developing Conformity Project.  Look for it in December 2017 or read more here.

Description: Why do aid agencies from wealthy donor countries with diverse domestic political and economic contexts arrive at very similar positions on a wide array of aid policies and priorities? This book suggests that this homogenization of policy represents the effects of common processes of globalization manifest in the aid sector. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative analysis of policy adoption, the book argues that we need to examine macro-level globalizing influences at the same time as understanding the micro-level social processes at work within aid agencies, in order to adequately explain the so-called ‘emerging global consensus’ that constitutes the globalization of aid.

The book explores how global influences on aid agencies in Canada, Sweden, and the United States are mediated through micro-level processes. Using a mixed-methods approach, the book combines cross-national statistical analysis at the global level with two comparative case studies which look at the adoption of common policy priorities in the fields of gender and security. The Globalization of Foreign Aid will be useful to researchers of foreign aid, development, international relations and globalization, as well as to the aid policy community.

Student Recruitment

Two graduate student positions are available to work with the Developing Conformity project and Dr. Liam Swiss at the Memorial University Department of Sociology beginning in September 2017.  For more details, see below:

Student Recruitment: Sociology of Development

Two graduate student positions (1 PhD; 1 MA) are available beginning in September 2017 to assist with the project Developing Conformity: Foreign Aid and the Diffusion of Global Norms in the Department of Sociology at Memorial University, St. John’s, NL, Canada (

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), this project employs quantitative research methods to examine whether and how the flow of foreign aid and other forms of development finance are associated with the spread of common policies, institutions, and norms in the Global South. For more information, please consult the project website:

Students should have a broad research interest in development and globalization, with a specific focus on some aspect of foreign aid/development finance. Students experienced in quantitative research methods and familiar with Stata statistical software will be given preference (additional training to be provided).  Prior study in Sociology, Development Studies, Political Science or another social science is required. Students will play an important role in project research and have the opportunity to co-author with the project team while also conducting their own independent research. Details of the two positions are as follows:

PhD Student Position (2017-2021)

This funded 4-year position includes the following support from the MUN School of Graduate Studies and the Developing Conformity project.

Baseline funding (School of Graduate Studies): $11,742 annually
Project funding (SSHRC Stipend): $13,258 annually
Total funding: $25,000 annually

Additional funding for conference travel may be available throughout the course of the project.  Students will have additional funding opportunities at Memorial to supplement the funding attached to this position.  If eligible, students will also be encouraged to apply to SSHRC for external funding of their own research.

More details about the PhD program at Memorial are available here:

MA Student Position (2017-2019)

This thesis-based, 2-year position is supported by the Memorial School of Graduate Studies and the Developing Conformity project.

Baseline funding (School of Graduate Studies): $6,850 annually
Project funding (SSHRC Stipend): $10,650 annually
Total funding: $17,500 annually

Additional funding at Memorial may also be available to supplement the funding attached to this position.

More details about the MA program at Memorial are available here:

To express interest in either position, please send a one-page statement outlining your research interests and relevant experience along with a copy of your CV to Dr. Liam Swiss: lswiss(at) before December 10, 2016. Only selected candidates will be contacted.

Selected candidates will need to meet all requirements for admission to graduate studies at Memorial and will submit a formal application by the February 1, 2017 deadline. Details about applying to graduate studies in Sociology at Memorial are at:

Click here for PDF: Two Positions in Development Sociology at Memorial University

Foreign aid and global norms?

Foreign aid has been portrayed as a selfish tool of donor state foreign policy equally as it has been viewed as a humanitarian means of combating poverty or a neoliberal effort to control the developing world.

Researchers have paid less attention to the role aid plays in promoting globalization. Building on the World Society theory of globalization popular among sociologists, this project examines how the flow of foreign aid and other forms of development finance from North to South contributes to the spread of common policies, institutions, and norms within developing societies.

Understanding aid as a transnational mechanism of globalization promoting common policies and institutions requires that the project explore the following interrelated research questions:

  1. How is foreign aid linked to the adoption and enforcement of global norms and institutional models in the developing world?
  2. What role do foreign aid funds play in resourcing the expansion of the international networks or organizations that compose World Society?
  3. How do various forms of aid and development finance function differently when it comes to promoting institutional isomorphism?
  4. How has foreign aid’s relationship to the expansion of world society changed over time?

The Developing Conformity research project will examine these and other questions to better explain foreign aid’s role in the global diffusion of norms.