Harmonizing the Family? International Private Law, Norm Diffusion and Marriage in the Early Twentieth Century

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 656A (University of Glasgow)
Julia Moses , University of Sheffield
Recent research in political science and sociology has shed light on international norm dynamics related to sexuality and gender, including the role of LGBT activist movements and the activities of international organizations in pushing for common understandings of women’s rights around the globe (e.g., Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Ithaca, 1998; Kelly Kollman, The Same-sex Unions Revolution in Western Democracies: International Norms and Domestic Policy Change, Manchester, 2013). A few scholars have followed suit with broader investigations of diffusion and family law (e.g., The Democratic Foundations of Policy Diffusion: How Health, Family, and Employment Laws Spread Across Countries, Oxford 2013). Historians, however, have been slow to examine how these developments took shape in the past and over time. This paper offers an historical intervention into this growing social-scientific research. It focuses on a case study of the Hague conferences and related conventions of 1893-1904 and their successors in the aftermath of the First World War which sought to harmonize the diverse treatment of family law across the world. The paper parses the normative assumptions behind these international conventions and traces their impact by examining Germany as an example. As this paper shows, the problematic legacy of this early movement in international norms in family law shaped aspects of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as well as the successor Hague conventions of the late twentieth century that remain in force to the present.