Posts by Liam Swiss

Associate professor of Sociology at Memorial University. Interested in international development, foreign aid, gender, security, and globalization.

Foreign Aid & the Rule of Law

Andrew Dawson (York University, Glendon Campus) and I have published the latest article from the Developing Conformity project in the British Journal of Sociology. The article is available to all via open access.

This article uses a World Society theory framework to test the effects of foreign aid on both the diffusion of rule of law reforms and the implementation of the rule of law in low- and middle-income aid-receiving countries. The details are as follows:

Foreign aid and the rule of law: Institutional diffusion versus legal reach


This paper examines the role of bilateral foreign aid in supporting the diffusion and enactment of common models and institutions of the rule of law among aid‐recipient low‐ and middle‐income countries. We ask whether aid targeted at security‐sector reform and the rule of law influences the adoption of constitutional and legal reforms over time (institutional diffusion), and whether aid also supports more effective implementation of the rule of law, writ large (legal reach). We use event history and fixed‐effects panel regression models to examine a sample of 154 countries between 1995 and 2013 to answer these questions. Our findings suggest that aid does increase the likelihood of adopting several rule of law reforms, but its effect on increasing the depth or quality of rule of law over time within countries is much less substantial. These findings suggest that though aid may play a role in supporting the diffusion of models contributing to state isomorphism among countries, it is less effective at increasing the pervasiveness and quality of such model’s implementation. This discrepancy between the effectiveness of bilateral aid in promoting law on the books versus law in action in aid recipient countries calls into question the current approach to rule of law reforms.

Donor Proliferation to What Ends?

Nilima Gulrajani (Overseas Development Institute) and I have a new article available in the Canadian Journal of Development Studies.  This article extends the World Society theoretical perspective at the centre of the Developing Conformity project to help explain why new donor countries become donors to seek legitimacy on the world stage, how that leads to challenges to existing donor norms, and what that means for the future of development assistance.  The details are as follows:

Donor proliferation to what ends? New donor countries and the search for legitimacy


Despite aid fatigue in the Global North, the number of donor states continues to grow. This article examines the motivations and performance of New Donor Countries (NDCs). Drawing on theories of norm diffusion, we argue that an important driver is new donors’ search for legitimacy as advanced and influential states. A comparison of 26 NDCs with established donors on three metrics of aid levels and quality reveals that NDCs may be adopting the form but not the associated functions and responsibilities of traditional donors. While NDCs are contributing to the viability of global development cooperation, vigilance is required to preserve its robustness.

2018 Summer School(s)

Developing Conformity project student researcher and MUN Sociology PhD Student, Judyannet Muchiri, had the good fortune to spend much of the past summer participating in a series of specialized field schools and programs for doctoral students  (in the Netherlands, Tanzania, and Canada), as well as a Youth Forum in her home country of Kenya.  I asked Judy to summarize her experiences, and am happy to share her report here:

“CASID Doctoral School 2018: Organized by the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID), this doctoral school brings PhD students together to gain methodological and practical insights from professors and practitioners. In a group of twenty students, we spent three days discussing the specifics of doing doctoral research right from formulating research questions to writing and publishing.  This was a good exercise that enabled us to look at our research critically and think about possible improvements in our methods. We finished with a session on bridging academia and practice which I found quite useful. I am certain that the insights from the CASID School will inform my research in better ways as will the networks that I formed with peers.

Youth Participation in Policy: This program at the University of Groningen  brought together people working in, and passionate about, youth participation in policy. It was a great opportunity to hear from policy makers and advocates of youth participation from the Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland and London. I got a chance to share my advocacy work with African youth and also my experience researching with and for youth. At the end of the program I was inspired with new insights on youth participation and gained new methodological insights that will shape my ongoing and future research work with youth. It was also a good opportunity to exchange notes with peers working on youth participation.

Women’s Participation in Community Development: Through the ACE Intensive Program in Development Studies , I experienced firsthand women’s participation in community development in Kituntu village, Tanzania. This program is put together by two universities and GEPAT a local NGO doing great work in women empowerment and environmental conservation in Tanzania. With a group of students from Europe, Asia and Tanzania we focused on a variety of development issues in Kituntu. Specifically, I was in a small group exploring women’s participation in local governance in Kituntu. Contrary to our assumptions, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that women are actively engaged. It was a great opportunity to put into practice the principles of ethical research that I have been trained on here at Memorial.

With ACE researchers & a local councilor

Judyannet Muchiri (L), with ACE researchers & a local councilor

Youth Mentorship in Kenya: Besides participating in the above programs, I was honored to be invited as a panelist by the Youth Mentorship Foundation  during a youth mentorship forum. Youth Mentorship Foundation (YMF) does important work mentoring youth in Nairobi. This particular forum was organized by the Class of 2018 as part of their project management training and the mentees did a great job. Together with other panelists, we held an open discussion with the mentees on leadership, ethics, community participation, civic duties and goals and dreams. It was an honour to be part of a group of young Kenyans with such positive energy and commitment to community.

With Panelists at the Mentorship Forum

Judyannet Muchiri (Front-Centre), With Panelists at the Mentorship Forum

I am very grateful to the University of Groningen (Netherlands), Mzumbe University (Tanzania), GEPAT (Tanzania), Youth Mentorship Foundation (Kenya) and MUN my home university for a great opportunity to learn from peers, practitioners and most importantly from the community.”



Developing Conformity @ all the conferences

Project researchers were busy this past summer sharing research from the Developing Conformity Project at a number of conferences in the sociology and development fields.

Recent presentations included:

Qian Wei and Liam Swiss.  “Filling Empty Promises? Foreign Aid and Human Rights Decoupling”  International Sociological Association World Congress, Toronto, July 2018.

Andrew C. Dawson and Liam Swiss. “Foreign Aid and the Rule of Law: Norm Diffusion Followed by Increased Decoupling?”  Sociology of International Organizations Pre-Conference, Philadelphia, August 2018.

Andrew C. Dawson and Liam Swiss. “Foreign Aid and the Rule of Law: Norm Diffusion Followed by Increased Decoupling?”  American Sociological Association Annual Meetings, Philadelphia, August 2018.

Sam Morton, Judyannet Muchiri, and Liam Swiss. “How Feminist is Canada’s Feminist Foreign Aid?” Swedish Development Research Conference 2018, Gothenburg, August 2018.

Muchiri and Swiss (pictured above) also recently discussed our ongoing research on Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy at the CCIC/CASID Conference in Ottawa on the panel “Canada’s International Feminist Assistance Policy: Innovations and Limitations” along with other Canadian academics and development practitioners.

The Globalization of Foreign Aid

The Globalization of Foreign Aid - Cover

The Globalization of Foreign Aid is a new book forthcoming from Routledge Press which helps set the stage for much of the research in the Developing Conformity Project.  Look for it in December 2017 or read more here.

Description: Why do aid agencies from wealthy donor countries with diverse domestic political and economic contexts arrive at very similar positions on a wide array of aid policies and priorities? This book suggests that this homogenization of policy represents the effects of common processes of globalization manifest in the aid sector. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative analysis of policy adoption, the book argues that we need to examine macro-level globalizing influences at the same time as understanding the micro-level social processes at work within aid agencies, in order to adequately explain the so-called ‘emerging global consensus’ that constitutes the globalization of aid.

The book explores how global influences on aid agencies in Canada, Sweden, and the United States are mediated through micro-level processes. Using a mixed-methods approach, the book combines cross-national statistical analysis at the global level with two comparative case studies which look at the adoption of common policy priorities in the fields of gender and security. The Globalization of Foreign Aid will be useful to researchers of foreign aid, development, international relations and globalization, as well as to the aid policy community.

Workshop: Aid, Norms, & The World Society

On May 15 & 16, 2017, the Katë Hamburger Kolleg Centre for Global Cooperation is hosting a workshop on foreign aid, norms, and the World Society.

Bringing together sociologists, political scientists, economists, and other development scholars studying foreign aid from an institutionalist perspective, the workshop is intended to be a starting point for discussion of how to better understand aid through a World Society lens.

The workshop will feature several members of the Developing Conformity research team (Brown, Dawson, Fallon, and Swiss) presenting some of the initial results of the project.

Many thanks to the Katë Hamburger Kolleg Centre for Global Cooperation and their events team for generously supporting this event.  Thanks too to SSHRC for their ongoing support of the Developing Conformity project.

For more details about the workshop, view the program.