The Death of This Norm Is Greatly Exaggerated

This paper, co-authored with Wayne Sandholtz, (UC Irvine) argues that the literature on ‘norm death’ is both empirically and theoretically flawed. This literature has argued that a wide range of norms, such as the norm against torture, the norm requiring declarations of war, the norm against mercenary use, and the norm against unrestricted submarine warfare, are either ‘dead’ or under significant challenge. The literature argues that the cause of norm death is widespread violation. This literature is empirically and theoretically flawed. We argue that the norm death literature exemplifies a more serious problem in constructivist literature generally: for methodological reasons, constructivists have focused on the study of single norms and measuring compliance as a measure of norm strength. We propose a different model of norm change focusing instead on norm obsolescence, modification, and replacement.

Sarah Percy:

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