Publication details [#54417]

Holzscheiter, Anna. 2011. Power of discourse or discourse of the powerful?: The reconstruction of global childhood norms in the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Journal of Language and Politics 10 (1) : 1–28.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


This article discusses the relevance of discourse analytical approaches for a specific field of social inquiry in international political studies: the creation and transformation of international norms. It starts from the assumption that contemporary discourse scholarship in the discipline of International Relations is a vibrant yet still under-explored area of social constructivist research. The field is still characterized by a rather sharp rift between postmodern notions of discourse on the one hand, and more pragmatic, positivist studies on communicative rationality on the other. By exploring the transformation of powerful global discourses on childhood and children's rights during the negotiations leading to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the article will argue that for a fuller understanding of such norm-changing events a two-dimensional perspective on discourse is essential which combines elements from both branches of IR discourse research. In discussing this case, the article will show that the concept of discourse can both serve to identify historical meaning-patterns and social conventions (in this case attached to the child and the phase of childhood) and, at the same time, highlight the real-time communicative processes and communicative strategies among a distinct set of policy-makers in the course of which such meaning conventions are transformed. Following the tradition of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), the approach stresses the value of incorporating the `social environment' into discourse analysis, since it allows identifying specific sets of socially shared semantics within the institutional setting as well as to account for specific interpersonal dynamics and exclusionary practices that expand and transform these semantics.