Norm Contestation And Slippage

Norms, even internalized ones, are not permanent, static structures. Certainly they do exhibit a certain degree of stability as they are recognizable by the common expectations that they structure. Perhaps paradoxically, norms are also in a constant state of dynamism and flux. This is most obvious when norms dissolve altogether—as norms that upheld the practices of slavery or apartheid5 or North-only participation in ozone depletion have dissolved. Even norms that have remained stable for hundreds of years can disappear. What is less obvious is the constant dynamism that supports the illusion of equilibrium.

All social norms—both established norms that have structured expectations and behavior for hundreds of years, and nascent norms such as universal participation in the post-Montreal ozone depletion negotiations—require action to be instantiated. Political actors must undertake the behavior that makes social norms intersubjectively real. In one sense, norms are born anew every day through the actions of political actors. Of course, there is more to the stability of norms than the random chance that political actors will undertake the appropriate actions. Social norms intimately shape the very actions that produce them in the first place. This is the paradox of mutual constitution.

As Adler argues, "[B]ecause people do 'what is called for' on the basis of 'norms and rules emerging in historical and cultural circumstances'; norms and rules structure and therefore socially constitute— 'cause' —the things people do; that is, they provide actors with direction and goals for action."6 This is not the whole story, however. Norms and rules, as intersubjective objects, require human agreement for their existence. Therefore, before norms and rules can "cause" actions they must already have caused actions previously that led to their emergence (or they would not exist). Agents must internalize the norms and rules before they can cause behavior. Again, constructivist accounts of social norms are inherently dynamic. All the parts are in motion. Agents evolve, affected by their variable normative context and their interactions with other agents. Norms are also dynamic, as these rules of the game depend on the actions and interactions of evolving agents for their existence. Very simply, then, even internalized, stable norms require continual action in their reproduction.

As noted in chapter 3, the paradox can be reconciled by considering that agents have internal, subjective understandings of their intersubjective reality. Political actors have rule models that allow them to interpret their (social) surroundings and decide upon (appropriate) actions. Chapters 5 and 6 traced the coevolution of U.S. subjective understandings of a global response with the universal participation norm. But recall that the story of the emergence of the universal participation norm was also the story of the change (dissolution) of the North-only participation norm. The same NLC process produces both norm emergence and change. The subjective understanding or internal rule model is the key mechanism for explaining this dynamism. Subjective understanding is the space for slippage in norms, as every agent will not have the same subjective understanding of intersubjective reality. In the computer model, this is captured quite simply. Even when each agent is following the same rule (Rule 1, for instance), they each have an individual understanding of the correct number to pick (a number between 0 and 10). Similarly, even when all states understand that a global response requires universal participation, there may exist different ideas about what universal participation itself entails.

This is norm slippage. Because norms are generalized rules (i.e., they do not specify exact behavior for every situation) and agents have internal understandings of these rules, different understandings or variants of social norms are inevitable. Norms may emerge whole or as one idea, but quickly they can slip into multiple variants. Every state may "know" that democracy is appropriate, but the implementation of that knowledge can vary widely. Every state may "know" that chemical weapons are taboo, but different states have different ideas about how the taboo works.7 Over time, slippage can lead to change in the norms themselves (so that the original norm is no longer recognizable) either through incremental or breakpoint change.8 Norm slippage can also lead to norm contestation as proponents of different variants of a norm advocate the appropriateness of their variant to the exclusion of others.

Norm slippage can occur for multiple reasons, but two are especially relevant in the case of climate change. The first is heterogeneity among actors. The universal participation norm is not the only influence on the interests and behavior of actors, nor is it the only rule in the states' rule models. Obviously, state interests and behavior are determined by multiple sources, and their rule models are very complicated. Different states will have different interpretations of a prevailing norm because of variations in:

• Domestic politics—the different interests that exist in the domestic sphere.

• Evaluation of rule models—different states will take away different experiences from the outcomes of governance activities.

• Different Values/Norms—the universal participation norm is but one norm in a relatively dense normative context surrounding climate change. Norms of liberalism, norms governing the role of science, norms delineating the importance of the environment vis-à-vis the economy, all factor in to how a state views a particular norm such as universal participation.9 In particular, a discourse of historical responsibility was at the foundation of the North-first variant, while the universal commitment variant relied on a discourse of current and future responsibility.

• Different Identities—because norms are "standards of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity,"10 norm slippage can occur through differences in identity as well. States with different identities (South or North, for instance) may well view the universal participation norm differently.

The second reason for slippage is continuous entrepreneurship. Merely because a stable norm for universal participation exists does not mean that the dynamic NLC comes to a halt. Ideas that would be norms are constantly input into the system of interacting states, similarly to the periodic inputs in the modeling exercises. Chapter 5 highlighted the efforts of a specific and successful entrepreneur, but Mostafa Tolba did not have a monopoly on participation suggestions. Entrepreneurship can come from multiple sources: NGOs, MNCs, states themselves. The resulting increase in social complexity may not always knock the system out of a stable normative context, but it certainly can cause the emergence of differing interpretations of a dominant norm.

This process is abundantly clear in the governance process for climate change. Although all states knew that a global response was defined by universal participation, in the FCCC negotiations, we saw the seeds of different interpretations of this understanding. The mantra of common but differentiated responsibilities that permeated the latter ozone depletion negotiations and the FCCC negotiations had always been understood to mean that the North would take the first steps to solving the problems. The United States began to obliquely challenge this in the FCCC negotiations, continually discussing vague global actions, but did not commit to a different interpretation of universal participation—the United States did not want any states to have binding commitments.

However, in the post-FCCC period, we see the gradual emergence of a U.S. challenge to the North-first approach to universal participation. The United States begins to formulate a universal commitment (all states should take on binding commitments) variant of universal participation in the negotiations that resulted in the KP. Driven by domestic political pressures, the United States was and is acting as a norm entrepreneur, advocating a new interpretation of a global response.11 Crucially, the norm slippage that occurred had significant influence on the continuing global governance efforts for climate change. The resulting norm contestation would soon shape:

• The crucial debate on Southern commitments that was as prominent as any debates on the technical aspects of addressing climate change.

• U.S. behavior and the eventual U.S. pullout from the Kyoto Protocol process.

The following discussion tells the story of norm slippage, norm contestation, and the continuing (though perhaps destined to be short-lived) influence of universal participation on the governance of climate change.

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