Handbook on the Rule of Law
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Handbook on the Rule of Law

Edited by Christopher May and Adam Winchester

The discussion of the norm of the rule of law has broken out of the confines of jurisprudence and is of growing interest to many non-legal researchers. A range of issues are explored in this volume that will help non-specialists with an interest in the rule of law develop a nuanced understanding of its character and political implications. It is explicitly aimed at those who know the rule of law is important and while having little legal background, would like to know more about the norm.
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Chapter 7: The rule of law in inter-national relations: Contestation despite diffusion–diffusion through contestation

Antje Wiener


This chapter discusses the rule of law as fundamental norm of global governance. Like most such norms, its universal validity claim is globally well diffused, yet locally contested. Despite high recognition in the global realm, a norm’s impact never corresponds with its cover. It is as much a common sense among international lawyers that a norm’s acceptance grows with the degree of elusiveness, as it is a shared wisdom among International Relations (IR) theorists that a norm’s acceptance depends on social recognition. This is unlikely to change. Universal validity claims never fit seamlessly in environments where they stand to be implemented. They are continuously challenged through the mobilisation of particularistic validity claims. How contested meanings of norms play out thus remains a central issue of global governance. While there is a growing IR literature taking into account cultural background experience, this literature remains notably silent on norms. This has left a gap between norms as a subject of legal studies and the cultural generation of knowledge as a subject of sociology or cultural studies. This chapter proposes a framework for norms research to account for these everyday practices.

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