This Working Paper makes the case for devoting greater attention to problems of norm complexity in international politics, particularly to the social construction of norm relationships. Recent International Relations (IR) research has highlighted that global norms often remain contested and malleable even after their formal adoption, but has focused on exploring the dynamism of single norms.
While norm conflicts or synergies are often discussed as “explanatory factors” that may account for the evolution of an individual norm, PRIF Working Paper No. 41 "Navigating Norm Complexity. A Shared Research Agenda for Diverse Constructivist Perspectives" by Caroline Fehl takes a different perspective: it argues that norm conflicts and norm synergies are themselves the subjects and products of social construction and discursive controversy, and that we need to better understand the dynamics of “norm linkage” that generate different norm relationships. To this end, the paper proposes that constructivist norms scholarship can benefit from an engagement with rationalist theories of regime complexity, on the one hand, and pragmatist-inspired IR scholarship, on the other. By drawing on and contrasting these different perspectives, the paper outlines a joint research agenda that tackles the issue of norm complexity with a range of questions and heuristic tools. To illustrate how the agenda can be put in practice, the paper discusses linkage dynamics between norms of protection (as exemplified by the “responsibility to protect”) and norms of prosecution (as expressed in the International Criminal Court’s Statute) in debates about mass atrocity responses.