Martha Finnemore (born 1959)[1] is an American constructivist scholar of international relations, and University Professor[2] at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. She is considered among the most influential international relations scholars.[3] Her scholarship has highlighted the role of norms and culture in international politics, as well as shown that international organizations are consequential and purposive social agents in world politics that can shape state interests.[4][5][6][7][8]


She is best known for her books National Interests in International Society, The Purpose of Intervention, and Rules for the World (with Michael Barnett) which helped to pioneer constructivism.

According to a review of her 1996 book National Interests in International Society, Finnemore became "the first scholar of international relations to offer a sustained, systematic empirical argument in support of the constructivist claim that international normative structures matter in world politics."[7]

In The Purpose of Intervention (2003), she finds that the types of military interventions that states engage in have changed over time. For example, it was accepted practice for states to intervene militarily to collect debts during the 19th century, but it became widely rejected in the 20th century. Similarly, she shows that the type and frequency of humanitarian interventions have changed drastically since the 19th century, with a massive increase in humanitarian interventions since the end of the Cold War. According to Finnemore, existing realist and liberal theories of international relations cannot account for these changes. Using a constructivist approach, she finds that changing normative contexts led states to conceive of their interests differently. International norms altered common understandings of the appropriate ends and means of military intervention, as well as which humans were deserving of military protection by outsiders.[9][10]

In Rules for the World (2004), Finnemore and Barnett argue that international organizations derive power and autonomy from their rational-legal authority and control of information.[11] International organizations are therefore purposive social agents that can act inconsistently with the intentions of the founders of the organizations (which are often states). In contrast to some realist and liberal theories of international relations, Barnett and Finnemore show that international organizations are not just a reflection of state interests and that they do not necessarily act efficiently. International organizations can develop bureaucratic cultures that result in adverse outcomes (what they call "pathologies"). They list five mechanisms that breed organizational pathologies:[12][13]

  1. Irrationality of rationalization: when an organization sticks to existing rules and procedures regardless of circumstances rather than act in ways most appropriate for the circumstances
  2. Universalism: the application of universal rules and categories may not reflect specific contexts
  3. Normalization of deviance: deviations from existing rules can become normalized and lead to aberrational behaviors
  4. Organizational insulation: when organizations do not get feedback from the environment about their performance and are unable to update their behavior
  5. Cultural contestation: different cultures within an organization may lead to clashes that produce adverse outcomes

Her 1998 study, co-authored with Kathryn Sikkink, on the life cycle of norms is among the most cited articles published in International Organization, the leading International Relations journal.[14][15][16] Finnemore and Sikkink identify three stages in the life cycle of a norm:[17]

  1. Norm emergence: Norm entrepreneurs seek to persuade others to adopt their ideas about what is desirable and appropriate
  2. Norm cascade: When a norm has broad acceptance, with norm leaders pressuring others to adopt and adhere to the norm
  3. Norm internalization: When the norm has acquired a "taken-for-granted" quality where compliance with the norm is nearly automatic

In 2009, a survey of over 2700 international relations faculty in ten countries named her one of the twenty five most influential scholars in the discipline, and one of the five scholars whose work in the last five years has been the most interesting;[3] an earlier survey of over 1000 American international relations faculty also ranked her similarly in both categories.[18] In 2011, she was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[19]

Finnemore completed her B.A. at Harvard, followed by an M.A. from the University of Sydney and a Ph.D. in 1991 from Stanford.[20][21]



  1. ^ As listed in Thamassat University library catalog Archived 2015-05-06 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Announced Nov. 21, 2011:
  3. ^ a b Jordan, Richard; Maliniak, Daniel; Oakes, Amy; Peterson, Susan; Tierney, Michael J. (2009), One Discipline or Many? TRIP Survey of International Relations Faculty in Ten Countries (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-07-11. For 2014 results that if anything ranked her even more highly see 2014 FP Ivory Tower Survey., 3 January 2012
  4. ^ Price, Richard; Reus-Smit, Chrustian (1998). "Dangerous Liaisons?". European Journal of International Relations. 4 (3): 259–294. doi:10.1177/1354066198004003001. ISSN 1354-0661. S2CID 144450112.
  5. ^ Checkel, Jeffrey T. (2014), Bennett, Andrew; Checkel, Jeffrey T. (eds.), "Mechanisms, process, and the study of international institutions", Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool, Strategies for Social Inquiry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 75–76, ISBN 978-1-107-04452-4
  6. ^ Pouliot, Vincent (2004). "The essence of constructivism". Journal of International Relations and Development. 7 (3): 319–336. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jird.1800022. ISSN 1408-6980. S2CID 7659893.
  7. ^ a b Dessler, David (1997). "Book Reviews: National Interests in International Society.By Martha Finnemore". American Journal of Sociology. 103 (3): 785–786. doi:10.1086/231265. ISSN 0002-9602. S2CID 151346679.
  8. ^ International Relations Theory and the Asia-Pacific. Columbia University Press. 2003. p. 113. JSTOR 10.7312/iken12590.
  9. ^ Finnemore, Martha (2003). The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs About the Use of Force. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-3845-5. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt24hg32.
  10. ^ Dessler, David; Owen, John (2005). "Constructivism and the Problem of Explanation: A Review Article". Perspectives on Politics. 3 (03): 597–610. doi:10.1017/S1537592705050371. ISSN 1537-5927. JSTOR 3689039. S2CID 145089464.
  11. ^ Blyth, Mark; Helgadottir, Oddny; Kring, William (2016-03-17). Fioretos, Orfeo; Falleti, Tulia G; Sheingate, Adam (eds.). "Ideas and Historical Institutionalism". The Oxford Handbook of Historical Institutionalism. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199662814.001.0001. ISBN 9780199662814. Retrieved 2021-02-28.
  12. ^ Barnett, Michael; Finnemore, Martha (2012). Rules for the World. Cornell University Press. doi:10.7591/9780801465161. ISBN 978-0-8014-6516-1.
  13. ^ Ege, Jörn (2020-11-23). "What International Bureaucrats (Really) Want: Administrative Preferences in International Organization Research". Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations. 26 (4): 577–600. doi:10.1163/19426720-02604003. ISSN 1942-6720.
  14. ^ "International Organization | Most cited". Cambridge Core. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  15. ^ Sandholtz, Wayne (2017-06-28). International Norm Change. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.588. ISBN 9780190228637. ((cite encyclopedia)): |website= ignored (help)
  16. ^ Snyder, Jack (2003). "Is" and "Ought": Evaluating Empirical Aspects of Normative Research. MIT Press. p. 371. ISBN 0-262-05068-4. OCLC 50422990. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  17. ^ Owen IV, John (2010). The Clash of Ideas in World Politics. Princeton University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-691-14239-5.
  18. ^ Peterson, Susan; Tierney, Michael J.; Maliniak, Daniel (2005), Teaching and Research Practices, Views on the Discipline, and Policy Attitudes of International Relations Faculty at U.S. Colleges and Universities (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-02-16.
  19. ^ Article on election to AAAS[permanent dead link].
  20. ^ Finnemore's web page at GWU.
  21. ^ Entry for her thesis, "Science, the state, and international society" Archived 2012-02-23 at the Wayback Machine, in the Stanford library system.
  22. ^ Review by Rob Dixon in Millennium 26: 170 (1997), doi:10.1177/03058298970260010313.
  23. ^ Review by David Dessler in American Journal of Sociology 103: 785–786 (1997), doi:10.1086/231265.
  24. ^ Review by Ted Hopf in American Political Science Review 93: 752–754 (1999), doi:10.2307/2585645.
  25. ^ Review by Simon Collard-Wexler in Millennium 33: 183 (2004), doi:10.1177/03058298040330010906.
  26. ^ Review by Georg Nolte in European Journal of International Law 16: 167–169 (2005), doi:10.1093/ejil/chi113.
  27. ^ Review by Richard Ned Lebow in Journal of Cold War Studies 8: 148–149 (1006), doi:10.1162/jcws.2006.8.1.148.
  28. ^ a b GWU Elliott School Professor Finnemore Awarded for her Rules of the World, GWU, November 29, 2005.
  29. ^ Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award Archived 2015-05-18 at the Wayback Machine, APSA.
  30. ^ Review by Michelle Egan in Millennium 34: 591 (2006), doi:10.1177/03058298060340021703.
  31. ^ Review by Pepper D. Culpepper in Perspectives on Politics 4: 623–625 (2006), doi:10.1017/S1537592706670369.
  32. ^ Review by Jacob Katz Cogan in The American Journal of International Law 100: 278–281 (2006), doi:10.2307/3518865.
  33. ^ Review by Paul F. Diehl in Journal of Cold War Studies 9: 129–130 (2007), doi:10.1162/jcws.2007.9.4.129.