Research Projects

Norm Contestation in International Politics (book project, under contract with Cambridge University Press)

First generation norm scholars treat the meaning of a norm as if it was clear-cut and static in order to show the influence of international law on state behavior. Second generation norm scholars acknowledge that legal ambiguities and tensions give rise to debates. However, they tend to end rather than begin with the finding that norm contestation is a common occurrence in international affairs. This project begins with norm contestation as a problematic to understand norm development in international relations. This study develops a theoretical framework on processes and possible outcomes of norm contestation that can guide empirical research. States can agree or disagree on both the norm frame (justification) and/or claim (action) when applying international law. Thus, norm contestation can have four different outcomes: norm clarification (frame and claim agreement), norm recognition (frame agreement/claim disagreement), norm neglect (frame disagreement/claim agreement) and norm impasse (frame and claim disagreement). These alternate endings have different effects on the clarity and strength of the contested norms, as well as on subsequent debate over them. This “alternate endings” typology structures an empirical analysis using content-analysis and elite interviews to compare the duration and effect of contestation over security norms. I further show that the malleability of norms does not make them epiphenomenal to power. States pay attention to the legal justifications they provide for their actions, so that norms both structure debates, and are constructed by them. States act strategically when interpreting norms, but social dynamics intervene in the process, and influence the outcome: the kind of legal framing and legitimation strategy that a state or a third party to which norm interpretation was delegated to engages in matters. Next to this justificatory discourse, the reactions of in- and out-group members to norm interpretations decide over their sustainability. This book was fully accepted by Cambridge University Press; I am currently updating the empirical case studies and implementing minor revisions based on reviewers’ suggestions.

Disentangling norms, morality and principles (with Jess Gliserman, published by EJIR in Sept 2022)

We adapt a conceptual and methodological approach from political psychology for identifying actors’ motivations: moral convictions. The September 2019 Brexit rebellion allowed us to investigate the role of (moral) principles in decision-making because it endangered rebels’ careers, making material self-interest unlikely. Based on interviews with British Members of Parliament (MPs) and text analysis, we identify norm-principle interplay: when existing norms give unclear guidance and in-group identification weakens, actors are likely to rely on their subjective (moral) principles to interpret community norms. However, pre-existing norms channel and constrain morality and its consequences, such as intolerance towards those with opposing views.

Next, in our book project, we plan to apply this interview methodology and theory to a variety of actors who took equally costly and internationally significant actions: whistleblowing on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, spying on UN Security Council delegations, and on NSA surveillance. These cases show the relevance of moral convictions research and ‘norm-principle’ interplay to international relations more generally.  

The interaction of law and politics in norm implementation (edited volume chapter, under review)

In international affairs, legal arguments and political actions shape each other. Unlike in domestic affairs, there is no enforcement authority in international affairs, and hence there is much debate over how international law affects politics. Some scholars focus on how seriously states take legal obligations in their justifications of contested actions. Other scholars apply a higher bar for the influence of international law on politics, namely whether law causes compliance. While the focus on justificatory discourse risks seeing legal influence everywhere, the latter emphasis of causation risks setting the bar too high and overlooking other ways in which law can affect politics. This chapter argues that for a richer understanding of the interaction of law and politics, we need to explore the grey zone between empty words and purposive action. To do so, it proceeds in two steps. First, I suggest that we can identify the degree of commitment to international law by looking at the publicity and consistency of actions and justifications and the degree of engagement with the international community. Secondly, I show that depending on whether the words and actions of states display a strong or weak sense of obligation, we can characterise norm implementation as exposing weakness or strength of law or attempts at discursive or behavioural norm avoidance.

Constitutionalism and Constitutionalisation (with Karolina Milewicz, under review)

I am currently working on an edited volume chapter on ‘Constitutionalism and Constitutionalisation’ in international affairs for the Oxford Handbook of International Institutions (eds. Michael Barnett and Duncan Snidal). We show that constitutionalization happens at different levels – national, regional and international – and that constitutionalisation in international affairs is at the same time deepening and stalling due to contradictory impulses from national sentiments and globalisation. This chapter will be a stepping stone to further co-authored projects on the role of ‘rhetorical entrapment’ in deepening commitments to international law.

Conference Papers


Virtual Participation at ISA Annual Convention, March 28-29: “Norm contestation in the UN Security Council: Partial agreements and their relative stability,” “The interaction of law and politics in norm implementation,” “Widening Horizons in Norms Research.” Virtual Roundtable.


“Disentangling norms, morality and modes of reasoning: The September 2019 Brexit rebellion.” Virtual International Studies Association (ISA) Annual Conference, April 9, 2021.

“The Interaction of law and politics in norm implementation.” ISA Workshop on Norms, organised by Antje Wiener and Phil Orchard, March 31, 2021.


“The interaction of law and politics in norm implementation.” Virtual Workshop on Norms, organised by Antje Wiener and Phil Orchard, March 24, 2020 (originally to be held at the ISA Annual Conference in Honolulu).


“A reversal of arguments rather than of law: Protracted contestation over the status of Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” Presentation at the Workshop on “International law in times of transformation”, St Andrews, 8 November 2019.


“Breaking Deadlock? Efforts to Meet Half-Way in Norm Contestation.” Presentation at the IR Research Colloquium, organised by the Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR), University of Oxford, 7 June 2018.

“All Things Come to an End: What Resolves Norm Contestation?”, “The Dynamics of Dissent: When Actions are Louder than Words” (with Lea Wisken), ISA Annual Convention, San Francisco, April 2018.


“The Outcomes of Norm Contestation,” BISA Annual Conference, Brighton, June 2018.

 “Norm life cycle’ or ‘norm square’? Changes in the norms of territorial integrity and sovereignty in the post-Cold War Era,” ISA Annual Convention, Baltimore, February 2017.


“Trust in international legal interpreters – a missing piece in the compliance puzzle?”, “The rise and fall of Star Wars in US security policy: Insights into the battle over norms,” “Motivations for liberal peace building: A complex interplay of interests and ideas,” ISA Annual Convention, Atlanta, US, March 2016. 


“Motivations for liberal peace building: A complex interplay of interests and ideas,” BISA Annual Conference 2015, London, UK. ​

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