Research statement

My research explores how international norms and multilateral treaties shape the behaviour of actors in the international system, with a substantive focus on conventional weapons disarmament, international justice, and outer space. I also maintain an active interest in International Relations theory, particularly constructivism and its intersection with rationalist theories of strategic action.

My research agenda is centred around four themes concerning the nature and impact of international institutions. Most broadly, my work 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 normative logics of appropriateness and argumentative reasoning. Actors often pursue their interests by invoking–and often seeking to selectively interpret or modify–norms and legal rules. 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. Moreover, such efforts are not cost-free, as the instrumental deployment of norms embeds actors within collective discourses and practices that can constrain subsequent policy choices. I have explored this process in a series of articles that have previously been published or are currently under review.

A related strand of this research engages with recent IR interest in the nature and dynamics of contestation in world politics. I contend that differing forms of contestation–for example, challenges motivated by diverging interpretations of legal rules versus those directed at their fundamental legitimacy–shape the status and efficacy of norms. My most recent article examines contemporary African state challenges to Head of State immunity at the International Criminal Court, as part of a special issue of the Journal of Global Security Studies (2019) that brings together leading norms scholars to systematically examine the processes and impact of contestation for prominent global norms.

In a third ongoing project I examine how actors seek to bolster their own status and undermine opponents by accusing them of transgressing international norms. This research develops a series of conjectures concerning when accusations can prove successful which are then assessed through an examination of recent examples of alleged human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Strategic efforts do not occur in a vacuum, however, 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. This research specifically highlights the social dynamics of instrumental norm use by identifying the nature and functions of international audiences.

I have recently begun a new multi-year research project on the international relations of outer space. Space-based technologies such as satellites are central to virtually every aspect of life on Earth, including telecommunications and the internet, transportation and navigation, banking, agriculture, weather forecasting, intelligence and surveillance, and modern military command and control and precision-guided weaponry. Outer space is also increasingly a domain of human activity through of space exploration (including private commercial actors providing rocket launches for states), emerging opportunities for mining and resource exploitation of asteroids and celestial objects like the Moon, and the growing prospect of the weaponisation of space. Yet IR as a discipline has taken remarkably little notice of outer space as a domain of transnational interaction. I am currently developing (with Ryder McKeown of the University of Toronto and Canadian Department of National Defence) two articles that seek to situate outer space in the IR and International Security Studies literatures. Subsequent research will examine the global governance of outer space, contestation of space norms, and the potential erosion of the taboo against warfare in space, culminating in a book monograph on the international order of outer space.