Norm Acceptance in the International Community: A study of disaster risk reduction and climate-induced migration


Unpublished thesis


Ataamvari Adaawen, S.


Norm Acceptance in the International Community: A study of disaster risk reduction and climate-induced migration



Academic dept

Department of Economic History and International Relations


Stockholm University


Different kinds of normative claims and statements of “oughtness” infuse the international political environment. But why do some proposed norms become accepted by the international community while others do not? This thesis investigates this central question using two normatively charged international issues as vehicles for explanation.

One issue reflects the norm to reduce disaster risk. The other issue concerns the normative question of asylum rights for climate-induced migrants. While climate-induced migration attracted much attention in the years 2007-2008, the norm acceptance process was stymied and stalled before it had a chance to gain broad acceptance in the international community. Disaster Risk Reduction reached a different outcome. After norm entrepreneurs had a difficult time in gaining traction for the issue, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami had an immense impact on the norm’s development, which led to the international community agreeing to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015. The norm proposition to reduce disaster risk has thus reached a broad and high level of acceptance. This thesis uses a norm theoretical lens to understand these contrasting outcomes. In doing so, it shows that there are key components missing from conventional explanations of norm success and failure. Most importantly, the lack of attention to contingencies and to windows of opportunity that contingencies may open up.

An analytical framework is developed to account for contingent factors in norm evolution, and the relevance of these components is evaluated by using the two cases in question as plausibility probes. The framework takes the key variables from traditional approaches (agency, the norm itself and framing), adds two more recent suggestions (venue and resistance) and, most importantly, adds the component of contingencies (including windows of opportunity). The detailed empirical investigations draw on a rich, and in some parts unique, material of official texts, practitioner interviews and secondary literature. This thesis thus contributes to existing research on norms and provides future researchers with an enhanced tool for explaining norm emergence.

The case study on disaster risk reduction provided an example of how a natural catastrophe which coincided with an already planned and prepared international summit on the subject interacted to propel disaster risk reduction to the top of the political agenda and toward norm acceptance. The case concerning international protection for climate-induced migrants showed how three particular moments in time had promising potential to advance the norm toward greater acceptance but largely failed because there were no solutions to act on, because no viable window opened to drive further attention and acceptance or because there was a “negative window”. The analysis conducted according to the framework shows how events must be actively connected to a specific norm proposition and how they must be aligned with other factors that determine the success of a norm, defined in this study as norm acceptance.

Against this background, this study argues that contingencies, and a theorization of windows of opportunity, should always be included in explanatory tools on norm acceptance. Important explanatory aspects might otherwise be missed.


Jakobsson, E. (2018). Norm Acceptance in the International Community: A study of disaster risk reduction and climate-induced migration. Stockholm, Department of Economic History and International Relations, Stockholm University. PhD.