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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The nature of norms and the evolution of transitional justice Winston, Carla


There are a wide variety of contemporary international norms: some are large and diffuse, while others are concise and clear. Some norm-adopting states follow precedent, while some adapt or innovate even as they profess to follow the same norm. This dissertation attempts to explain the variation in both norms and states’ normative decisions by investigating the conceptual structure of norms. I argue that while norms are currently understood to be a single grouping of three components – a problem, a justification, and a behavior – in reality, the international community often allows deviations from those combined components as acceptable interpretations of the original norm. This dissertation makes two contributions – a concept and a decision-making model – to bridge the gap between norm structure and the outcomes of norm diffusion. The first, the “norm cluster,” expands the single norm into a group of interlinked but distinct justifications and behaviors related to a common problem. Within a norm cluster, actors have more freedom to choose the combination of components which is most appropriate for them. The second innovation, a decision-making model, helps to understand and partially predict state decisions with respect to the contents of the norm cluster, previous norm adopters, and local conditions. Because a norm cluster’s contents are determined intersubjectively, the actions of new adopters and the reactions of the interested community combine to produce normative evolution. I demonstrate the applicability of these contributions by tracing the evolution of the field of transitional justice (TJ). I expand upon existing behavioral datasets and create an additional dataset consisting of official TJ justifications. By mapping justification and behavior over space and time, I show via multiple methods that the field of transitional justice has resulted in a wide variety of normatively acceptable outcomes which reflect choices made at all points on the decision-making model. I undertake further analysis of TJ’s evolution to show the processes of innovation, discourse, acceptance and resistance which I argue shape the content and boundaries of a norm cluster, and provide an explanation for the patterns of continuity and change which have defined and changed the field.

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