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Who Is Watching? The Consequences of Foreign Criticism 

What are the consequences of foreign criticism? In my book project, I challenge the conventional understanding of the "effectiveness" of naming and shaming, which has traditionally been limited to examining the reactions of the targeted state. Instead, I develop a multi-audience theory of shaming which posits that foreign criticism is a deliberate strategy in which political actors simultaneously communicate messages to the shamed society ("targets"), their constituents back home ("shamers"), and the international community at large ("third-party observers"). Turning the spotlight onto the range of audiences of foreign criticism, I argue, allows us to gain valuable insights into its motives, and intended and unintended consequences. By shaming foreign transgressors, governments effectively ‘virtue signal’ to their domestic constituents while improving their international image among third-party observers. Building on moral licensing theory I posit that, ironically, as governments reinforce their image as moral actors they can simultaneously increase their public’s tolerance for certain domestic abuses. My theory thus sheds light on the puzzling prevalence of shaming as a political strategy even when it evokes a counterproductive `backlash' effect in the shamed country. 

To examine the range of consequences associated with shaming, the book investigates the impact of foreign criticism on public opinion in three distinct audiences: targets, shamers, and third-party observers, relying on an unusual combination of large-scale survey experiments fielded in multiple countries and large-n analysis. In particular, I conducted experimental surveys in seven democracies (Brazil, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Nigeria, and the U.S.) with over 29,000 respondents, combining case-specific survey experiments around contentious policies such as the Israeli government's plans to annex territories from the West Bank with a meta analysis in which the experimental design is held constant across multiple countries. Effects that I identify through survey experiments are then corroborated with cross-national observational analyses of global trends of government shaming in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) combined with data collected by the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) and the World Values Survey (WVS). Overall, I show that while shaming can incite a counterproductive backlash effect in the shamed society as a function of foreign policy dispositions held by the general public, it allows shamers to signal their dedication to international norms at home and abroad. Paradoxically, this moral signaling can increase tolerance for certain domestic abuses by governments, which has implications not only for scholars of international relations, but also for policymakers who rely on shaming as a prevalent diplomatic tool.

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