Research statement

My research explores how international institutions – especially multilateral treaties and intergovernmental organisations – can shape the behaviour of actors in the international system. Substantively I study institutional efficacy in the fields of security (conventional weapons disarmament) and international justice and human rights (the International Criminal Court). I also maintain an active interest in International Relations theory, particularly theories of international law and constructivism (and its intersection with rationalist theories of strategic action).

My research agenda is centered around three long-term projects concerning the nature and impact of international law. The first of these engages with recent IR interest in the nature and dynamics of contestation in world politics, by systematically examining the content of challenges to international norms. I contend that differing forms of contestation – for example challenges motivated by diverging interpretations of legal rules versus those directed at the fundamental legitimacy of social standards – profoundly shape the status and impact of normative and legal structures. I am currently revising a draft article that examines contemporary African state challenges to the International Criminal Court and responses from the international community.

A second and related project contributes to a growing interest in the strategic use of norms that aims to integrate instrumental sources of compliance (such as coercion and reputation) and constructivist logics of appropriateness and argumentative reasoning. Actors often invoke norms as a means of bolstering their own standing, or undermining opponents by accusing them of transgressing these same standards. My research specifically highlights the social dynamics of instrumental episodes by identifying the nature and functions of international audiences. Strategic efforts do not occur in a vacuum, but are only potentially effective to the extent that claims are made within a community of actors who can respond with forms of support and condemnation. But not all claims are created equal: international law, I contend, provides an especially powerful medium in informing the deployment and reception of instrumental normative claims. This research develops a series of conjectures concerning when instrumental norm use can prove successful which are then assessed through an examination of recent examples drawn from human rights and international humanitarian law.

The final project explores the interaction of international law and non-parties. The recognition that legal instruments are only binding on states via voluntary consent has meant that IR scholars have largely ignored the potential for more informal modes of influence. This also applies to non-state actors like rebel groups and multinational corporations that are typically unable to join multilateral treaties. The goal is to build connections with other scholars to compare how mechanisms for generating compliance and ideational change—including coercion, reputation, and socialization—operate in state and non-state contexts across a range of issue areas.