Modeling the Norm Life Cycle

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The verbal model developed in the previous chapter is a potential explanation for the transitions in participation requirements in the ozone depletion and climate change cases. It presents a series of conjectures about how a universal participation norm could emerge and evolve in these issues. In this chapter, I assess those conjectures formally through agent-based modeling (ABM) techniques.

I pursue formal analysis for two reasons. First, it is crucial to assess the plausibility of the claims made in the verbal framework in the abstract. Do the dynamics described in the norm life cycle actually produce the emergence and evolution of norms? Does the norm life cycle actually work the way it is described? Formal analysis rigorously explores the logic of the verbal model to see what outcomes the framework implies and to see if it implies outcomes that are comparable to the empirical targets. I attempt to "grow" evolving norms in the computer by simulating the NLC, in order to explore what types of behavior are possible (and likely).1

Second, simulation analysis provides me with a social laboratory where I can experiment with the processes contained within the NLC. These experiments point to further insights that enhance the case studies of the ozone depletion and climate change negotiations and they facilitate outlining the boundary conditions of the verbal framework. When will a norm entrepreneur be able to catalyze the emergence of norms? Under what conditions will norms emerge? Modeling the norm life cycle is a rigorous way to find answers to these questions. While the model developed below is abstract and not designed to simulate actual negotiations, it does test the verbal model in crucial ways. Most importantly it explores how norm entrepreneurs influence the connections between norms and actors.

This chapter proceeds by first introducing the agent-based modeling (ABM) method. This is followed by a formal operationalization of the norm life cycle—the Pick a Number model. I then present the results of the simulation exercises and comment on their significance for the empirical project. The results confirm the plausibility of the norm life cycle as an explanation for the emergence and evolution of norms, and they provide a number of important insights regarding the influence of the norm entrepreneur and the importance of the complexity of the social context within which the agents exist.

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