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Abstract

The dissertation advances an original theoretical framework to grasp processes of ideational diffusion across social, professional and cultural contexts. Combining inter-disciplinary insights from Science and Technology and Translation Studies, it theorizes norm translation as a socio-discursive and political process through which agents attempt to overcome a boundary of understanding separating professional communities, knowledge fields and/or epistemic regimes. Three mechanisms of translation are explored: equivalence-making by astute translators, unintended distortion consequences and institutional performativity. Empirically, I apply the framework of translation to explain the diffusion of human rights to multinational corporations. At the global level, I highlight how human rights are translated to corporations as practices of impact assessment, risk management and performance reporting, undergirded by an instrumental normativity. While creating a ‘boundary language’ straddling legal and managerial communities, the translation also engenders distortions from established practices. At the organizational level, I assess the human rights management system of a multinational gold corporation whose local operations have been challenged by a social movement. I find that human rights corporate standards, if perceived to clash with entrenched business norms, do not have the potential to disrupt 'business as usual' practices. Moreover, they might inadvertently delay political action by legitimizing managerial solutions to what are essentially political-economic conundrums.

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