Conflict and Normative Change: Norm Conflicts in Global Governance

International norms lie at the center of global governance, yet their meaning and validity are often contested.

The research group “Conflict and Normative Change: Norm Conflicts in Global Governance” investigates how conflict affects the validity of norms, in which cases conflict over norms are prone to emerge, and the ways in which conflict either brings together or separates various levels of action (local, transnational and global). In this context, the group addresses several issues, including: processes underlying the translation of international norms onto the local level; the reverse translation of such normative changes onto the global level; and the question of how international institutions react to contestations over international norms. Our research likewise focuses on the various effects emerging from contestations over the application and justification of norms as well as the connection between language and the practices behind validating and contesting norms.

With these issues in mind, the research group aims to contribute to the question of when conflicts over norms lead to a weakening or change in the current system of global governance.

Project - Norm Disputes: Contestation and Norm Robustness

Is it possible for norms to collapse? Or do they simply change in form over time? These questions have garnered increasing attention in recent years. The liberal optimism from the 1990s, which assumed that fundamental norms had established themselves around the globe following the end of the Cold War, have seen themselves lastingly thrown into doubt in recent years. Even the most basic human rights norms have not been spared from attacks: conflict repeatedly erupts over international norms such as the ban on torture or the international responsibility to protect.

Contestation: A means of strengthening or weakening norms?

Research on the effects that conflict has on the robustness of norms, and whether contestation leads to their strengthening or weakening, has been equally contested as the norms themselves. While one theory posits that contestation intrinsically weakens norms, a competing theory identifies a normative force behind contestation that can strengthen the validity of norms through their continuous actualization.

The research project “Norm Disputes: Contestation and Norm Robustness” investigates which conditions lead norms to either be weakened or strengthened. We follow how processes of contestation unfold for four sets of highly disputed norms (the international responsibility to protect, the International Criminal Court, the ban on torture, the ban on commercial whaling) and contrast them with two cases in which norms completely eroded (slavery and privateering). 

Project - R2P: The Various Effects of Norm Contestation

The international responsibility to protect (R2P) is seen as one of the most promising normative innovations on the international level. Still, since its adoption on the UN World Summit in 2005, the R2P has been contested recurrently from diverse actors. What effects does this contestation have on the norm? Two hypotheses exist: One posits that contestation necessarily weakens a norm, the other stipulates that contestation rather strengthens norms.

Assessing the hypotheses

The international collaborative project “R2P: The various effects of norm contestation” assesses both hypotheses and tests their explanatory power. In this context, the project analyzes debates surrounding the norm at both the international and the regional level (focusing on the European Union and ASEAN).

This project is being conducted in collaboration with the University of New South Wales, Australia (Dr. Alan Bloomfield, Professor Shirley Scott).