Journal Articles

Disentangling norms, morality, and principles: the September 2019 Brexit rebellion.” The European Journal of International Relations. Published online, 6 Sept 2022. Available at (open access):


Despite morality’s important role in international relations, we still lack a compelling way to study it. Some scholars define norms as moral in nature but fail to define morality or conceptualize it too narrowly. We address this problem by defining morality subjectively, allowing us to differentiate it from norms and study its impact on decisions of international significance. To do so, we adapt the moral convictions concept developed by psychologists to qualitative, elite-focused political research. Actors with moral convictions rely upon their individually held beliefs about fundamental right and wrong, whereas norm-followers look outward to community expectations. Morality requires sincere belief and weakens social influences.
The September 2019 Brexit rebellion is an ideal case because it endangered rebels’ careers, rendering material self-interest an unlikely motive. This allows us to investigate the role of norms and moral principles. Based on interviews with British Members of Parliament (MPs) and text analysis, we find that community norms and personal moral principles interact: when existing norms give unclear guidance and identification with their in-group weakens, actors are likely to rely on their own principles to interpret norms. Morality can affect which norms matter but does not negate their influence altogether: pre-existing norms channel and constrain morality and its consequences. Many MPs moralized existing norms related to democratic decision-making, which mitigated some consequences of moralization, such as intolerance toward those with opposing views. This new conceptual and methodological approach thus helps to disentangle ideational factors and understand their influence on decisions of international significance.

“Beyond Internalization: Alternate Endings of the Norm Life Cycle.” International Studies Quarterly 63, no. 2 (2019): 270-280. Available at:


Norm scholars tend to treat norm contestation and acceptance as binary categories. This obscures variation in how much states agree over how to apply international law to specific situations. I distinguish between disagreements over norm frames (justifications) and claims (actions), and thus highlight four different outcomes of norm contestation. These differ in their effects on the clarity and strength of the contested norms, as well as on subsequent debate over them. Specifically, I argue that frame agreement limits the range of actions that actors can legitimately pursue, and thus involves norm recognition. In contrast, if states only agree on the action that should be taken, but not on the norm that applies, we see norm neglect. Both outcomes structure subsequent debates, but norm neglect is the more volatile outcome: because of the lack of normative commitment, states can justify the agreed-upon action as exceptional compromise and later revert back to a norm impasse (frame and claim disagreement). However, the joint action may also trigger socialization processes that lead to agreement on both frames and claims— that is, produce norm clarification. Hence, this typology builds a bridge between understandings of contestation as a never-ending debate and as an avenue towards agreement; it helps improve our understanding of compliance mechanisms and of contestation.


“Star Wars or Strategic Defense Initiative: What’s in a name?” Journal of Global Security Studies 95, 3 (2019): 515-533. Available at


Popular culture can influence debates over security policy. This article studies the use of Star Wars in the debate over Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The term Star Wars was widely used to refer to SDI during debates in the 1980s. Scholars have pointed to both disabling and enabling effects of popular culture on political debates. This article refines these effects and introduces a third effect that comes from the widespread use of popular culture: a neutralizing effect that turns popular culture references into descriptive short-hands. This contributes to our understanding of why popular culture  is or is not used as a framing device, and how it is used and perceived by decision-makers. I rely on content analysis of newspaper articles, congressional records, and political speeches and incorporate findings from elite interviews and the norm literature to conduct my analysis. I find that critics capitalized on linkages between the movie franchise and the policy to frame Reagan’s missile defense system as Star Wars, and to criticize his policy proposal. This science-fictionalization soon constituted the socio-political context surrounding Reagan’s missile defense initiative. Most decision-makers perceived the Star Wars label to have a disabling effect, as it cast doubt on the viability and desirability of SDI. Opponents initially tried to mobilize this effect, whereas most proponents argued against the label or refrained from using it. Few tapped into the enabling potential of Star Wars to communicate the potential benefits of SDI. The introduction of the professional term SDI helped proponents mitigate science-fictionalization in expert settings, while among the public the widespread use of the Star Wars label neutralized its meaning and turned it into a descriptive short-hand.


“The Dynamics of Dissent: When Actions are Louder than Words.” International Affairs. I am the co-author of this special section introduction and co-guest editor of the special section (with Lea Wisken). Available at (open access):


A profusion of international norms influences state behaviour. Ambiguities and tensions in the normative framework can give rise to contestation. While research on norm contestation has focused on open debates about norms, we identify a second type of norm contestation where norms are contested through particular forms of implementation. We therefore distinguish between contestation through words and actions, that is, discursive and behavioural contestation. Discursive contestation involves debates about the meaning and/or (relative) importance of norms. Behavioural contestation, by contrast, eschews such debates. Instead, different norm understandings become apparent in the different ways in which actors shape the implementation of norms. Despite being a potentially powerful mechanism of challenging and changing norms, behavioural contestation has fallen outside the purview of the literature in part because it frequently remains below the radar. The two forms of contestation overlap when the practices of behavioural contestation are brought to the attention of and discussed by the international community. Thus, discursive and behavioural contestation are not mutually exclusive but can happen at the same time, sequentially, or independently of each other. This symposium introduction develops the concept of behavioural contestation and outlines triggers and effects of this hitherto under-researched expression of dissent.


Blog Posts

Star Wars and Brexit: The “rebel alliance” leaves its mark, October 17, 2019, The Oxford Politics Blog (OxPol).

‘You did not act in time’: Greta Thunberg and behavioural contestation, May 11, 2019, Medium – The International Affairs Blog.

Bizarre, strange or last straw? Slideshows in International Relations, May 8, 2018, OxPol.

Even more unpredictable: Trump’s U-turn on Syria, April 8, 2017, OxPol.

Trump’s Impact on International Relations, November 21, 2016, OxPol.


Book Review

“The Force of Popular Culture Awakens: Hollywood, the National Security State and Star Wars.” Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, pp.1-5.

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