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Rhetorical Adaptation and Resistance to International Norms

Rhetorical Adaptation and Resistance to International Norms

by Jennifer M. DixonVillanova University

Scholarship on states’ responses to international norms has focused on commitment, compliance, and noncompliance; paying insufficient attention to responses that fall outside these categories. Beyond simply complying with or violating a norm; states contest, resist, and respond to international norms in a range of ways. I identify rhetorical adaptation as a central form of resistance to international norms. Rather than simply rejecting a norm or charges of norm violation, such a strategy draws on a norm’s content to resist pressures for compliance or minimize perceptions of violation. Theorizing the relationship between norms’ content and states’ resistant rhetoric, I identify four types of rhetorical adaptation: norm disregard, norm avoidance, norm interpretation, and norm signaling. To probe the plausibility of these propositions, a case study of Turkey’s post-World War II narrative of the Armenian Genocide traces a sequence of rhetorical adaptations over the past six decades. Building on the case study, I then draw out generalizable insights into the uses and effects of rhetorical adaptation. Connecting theoretical concerns in political science with the interdisciplinary fields of genocide studies and memory studies, I delineate the ways in which actors instrumentally use norms and expand understandings of the forms and effects of so-called norm takers’ agency.

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Perspectives on Politics  /  Volume 15Issue 1  /  March 2017, pp. 83-99