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Norm challenges and norm death: The inexplicable?

Panke, D. and U. Petersohn (2015). “Norm challenges and norm death: The inexplicable?” Cooperation and Conflict.
The subject of a formerly strong norm’s death is not often in the limelight of political science research. This paper investigates successful norm challenges and analyses the conditions that lead to the abolition of norms rather than to limitations of the norms. It presents a theoretical account of norm challenges and develops hypotheses on mechanisms, success and outcomes. Six illustrative case studies show that norm contestations take place through non-compliance when norms are not embedded in international negotiation systems, while norm contestations through negotiation are frequently the case if norms are embedded in international regimes or organizations. Irrespective of the institutional context, the strength of norm challengers relative to norm proponents impacts the prospects for successful normative change. If norm challengers are stronger than the actors defending the status quo, the outcome of norm challenges is influenced by the combination of norm precision and the stability of the normative environment. If the broader context undergoes change while the contested norm is precise, norms cannot be reinterpreted to accommodate norm change. As a result, in such instances, norms die. By contrast, vague norms in combination with stable environments are not abolished after being subject to strong challenges, but are merely reinterpreted in a manner delimiting their applicatory scope.


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