My dissertation is motivated by a puzzle of international social policy and norm emergence and diffusion. Today, children in one hundred and forty-one countries receive free or subsidized school lunches. Yet less than a century ago, no state had a national child nutrition policy. Feeding children was clearly not considered a state responsibility a century ago, why is it considered one today? In addition to analyzing this policy emergence and diffusion, I argue that this policy emergence represents an emergent international norm - a norm that there is public responsibility beyond the family to feed children. Scholars tend to explain policy and norm emergence and diffusion as due to the work of activists, diffusion effects or with world polity theory. However, these explanations tend to focus on either the national or international level as the causal source. Instead, I look at how the national and international levels interact in the creation of policy. In addition, my argument incorporates ideational factors into the field of social policy, which has long focused on material factors to explain policy emergence. I do this by utilizing insights from constructivist international relations theory. Specifically, my argument focuses on the ability of policy entrepreneurs to manipulate certain, internationalized, frames, or ideational cultural structures, within their domestic context in order to produce school lunch programs.
The dissertation is structured around the historical development of school lunch programs and traces their progress from their inception as food surplus disposal and military readiness programs, to their current use as a development tool by the international community. After using my global dataset of school lunch programs to assess conventional social policy theories, I develop my argument through in-depth case studies of the US, UK, Canada, India, the UN's World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services and the New Partnership for African Development. In each case study I focus on the interaction between the different ways the problem of child malnutrition was framed in each context and the political consequences of the emergence of structural agricultural surpluses at the global level.