Global Governance of the Environment
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Global Governance of the Environment

Environmental Principles and Change in International Law and Politics

Afshin Akhtarkhavari

This timely book examines the role of environmental principles in changing international environmental law and politics, and argues for the importance of integrating environmental principles in the global governance of the environment.
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Chapter 4: Abstract and Open-textured Norms and Social Learning

Afshin Akhtarkhavari


INTRODUCTION One of the arguments presented in the previous chapter was how the meaning of environmental principles emerges more clearly out of discursive and other practices of actors within a social context. The nature of an individual actor’s interaction with others within a group of actors is important for understanding change. The importance of the interplay and constitutive relationship between abstract and open-textured norms and the participation of actors in international politics is often explicitly denied or not discussed in the literature on norms. This has the tendency, in practice, to narrow the relevance of norms like environmental principles at the international level. This is partly due to the dominant use of concepts such as obligation, consent, compliance, and enforcement in international law and politics, which seek to limit the participation of actors in defining and negotiating the meaning of the norm once its logic for action has been specified.1 In such contexts, change through open-textured and abstract norms fails to fit traditional paradigms of regulation because it presumes more participation is necessary from actors for the norm to be meaningful in a particular context. In other instances, where scholars have departed from using concepts like consent and obligation, they have not made the open-textured or abstract nature of norms an explicit part of their analysis. For instance, Franck, whose work on legitimacy and fairness has dominated discussions on norms in international law and politics, argues that an indicator of their legitimacy is their determinacy.2 The determinacy of a norm,...

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