Research Projects

The logics of acting up? Conscientious objection on Brexit (with Jess Gliserman)

Recent studies have found that moral conviction shapes people’s political views and that the public’s moral beliefs can influence norm change. However, we do not know whether or how moral convictions influence elite decision-making. We explore these questions in the context of Brexit, where British MPs across the political spectrum took risks with their careers for what they considered to be “right”: either preventing a no-deal Brexit or leaving the EU. Based on an analysis of public statements and thirty-five interviews with British MPs, we find that elites do moralize and that their moral convictions influence their foreign policy decision-making. But because holding office comes with role expectations and accountability to multiple audiences (e.g. party, constituency, country), elites – unlike ordinary people – do not treat their moral convictions as absolute and binding on others. While MPs believe their convictions generate obligations only for themselves, they do assess to what extent other MPs factor moral principles into their decision-making, classifying them as uncompromising idealists, pragmatists and self-serving careerists. Most consider being a pragmatist – both principled and compromising – as most virtuous and effective. These findings suggest that studying how elites moralize helps us specify how the logic of appropriateness guides decision-making

The interaction of law and politics in norm implementation

 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 paper 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 timing, publicity and consistency of actions and justifications. 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 exceptionalism or norm change.

Conference Papers


The interaction of law and politics in norm implementation. Virtual Workshop on Norms, organized 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, organized 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?”, ISA Annual Convention, San Francisco, April 2018.

“The Dynamics of Dissent: When Actions are Louder than Words,” co-authored with Lea Wisken, ISA Annual Convention, San Francisco, April 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?, ISA Annual Convention, Atlanta, March 2016.

The rise and fall of Star Wars in US security policy: Insights into the battle over norms, ISA Annual Convention, Atlanta, March 2016.

 Motivations for liberal peace building: A complex interplay of interests and ideas, ISA Annual Convention, Atlanta, March 2016 and BISA Annual Conference 2015.

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