Comparative European Politics

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 1–17 | Cite as

Contested Meanings of Norms: A Research Framework

  • Antje Wiener
Original Article


Constitutionalism is ‘a legal limitation on government’ and ‘an antithesis of arbitrary rule.’ It is this aspect of constitutionalism which the contributions to this special issue discuss with reference to various forms of governance beyond the state. It focuses on accommodating cultural diversity within the constitutional framework of one State (e.g. Canada) and on addressing recognition in a constitutional framework beyond the State (e.g. the European Union, the United Nations, or, the World Trade Organization). Once constitutional norms are dealt with outside their sociocultural context of origin, a potentially conflictive situation emerges based on de-linking two sets of social practices (i.e. cultural and organizational practices). The article argues that the potential for conflict caused by moving fundamental norms such as human rights, citizenship, sovereignty or the rule of law outside the bounded territory of states a decoupling of the customary from the organizational occurs, which creates a situation of enhanced contestedness. That is, through this transfer between contexts the meaning of norms becomes contested — as differently socialized individuals (politicians, civil servants, NGO activitis, parliamentarians or lawyers trained in different legal traditions) seek to interpret them. That is, while in supranational contexts actors may agree on the validity of a particular norm, say for example human rights, that agreement may not be recognised outside these limited negotiating contexts. Subsequently, associative connotations with normative meaning is likely to differ according to experience with norm-use. It is therefore important to ‘recover’ the hidden interrelation between cultural and organizational practices. Both contribute to the interpretation of meanings that are entailed in fundamental norms which are, in turn, constitutive for democratic governance beyond the state.


norms democratic governance constitutionalism methodology 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antje Wiener
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of European Studies and Modern LanguagesProfessor of Politics and International Studies, University of BathBathUK

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