Contested Meanings of Norms: A Research Framework

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This special issue draws on the workshop on ‘Contested Meanings: Democratic Practice and Principles across Cultural Boundaries’ held at Queen's university Belfast, 22–23 September 2005. Funding from the EU 6th Framework Network of Excellence CONNEX; the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at Queen's and the British Academy is gratefully acknowledged.

  2. 2.

    The following draws closely on Wiener (2006a, esp chapter 4).

  3. 3.

    Note a similar pattern of distinction by Dimitrova (2005) who distinguishes, however, between ‘levels’ not ‘types’ of norms.

  4. 4.

    I thank Martin Binder who raised this issue at a discussion at the Science Centre for Social Research in Berlin, 8 June 2006.

  5. 5.

    This observation follows from discussions at the workshop which preceded this special issue, see: Contested Meanings: Democratic Practice and Principles across Cultural Boundaries, workshop held at the Queen's University of Belfast, 22–24 September 2005, sponsored by the EU Sixth Framework Programme's Network of Excellence, CONNEX, Working Group 2, Team A, the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at Queen's, the School of Management and Economics at Queen's as well as the British Academy's Visiting Professorship Programme. For the workshop programme see http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofPoliticsInternationalStudiesandPhilosophy/FileStore/PDFfiles/Filetoupload,16547,en.pdf 〈16 May 2006〉.

  6. 6.

    For the distinction between retrospective and prospective methods of analysis see Tilly (1975, 14).

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Wiener, A. Contested Meanings of Norms: A Research Framework. Comp Eur Polit 5, 1–17 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.cep.6110107

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Keywords

  • norms
  • democratic governance
  • constitutionalism
  • methodology