Global Governance Centre - Colloquium
Xymena Kurowska

The poverty of cyber norms?

Xymena Kurowska, Associate Professor, International Relations, Central European University
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Can cyber norms facilitate de-escalation of global antagonisms? Global governance of the cyber domain yields a familiar predicament: Projecting ‘normality’ onto this domain, that is, ordering it within the parameters of rules-based international order, is hampered by the crumbling of global liberal norms. The latter’s broadcasted solidarism proved problematic in the first placed as norms order international society hierarchically. The alternative of governing by illiberal norms does not level the normative playing field despite pluralistic declarations of contestants of the liberal order; it deepens rather than dislocates existing hierarchies. The common diplomatic and policy response has been to displace this awkward reality by advocating strategies of “cyber norm implementation.” By assuming the consensus about the meaning of cyber norms and the need for technical capacity building, such strategies can pragmatically manipulate a conflictual and disorderly global environment where bona fide norm contestation cannot obtain. This displacement, the paper contends, temporarily obscures difference but ultimately rejuvenates antagonisms. In the effort to shift from antagonism to agonism, and toward more democratic forms of global governance, practices of contention at the core of governing through cyber norms need to be better recognised.

The paper excavates three dimension of such contention: (a) the social versus legal function of (cyber) norms in international society that takes precedence over interpretive disagreements; (b) the mobilisation of international law for, declaratively, democratising international relations that, in practice, embeds hierarchical solutions; and (c) norm mimicry which implodes such norms from within. Bringing this complex contention to bear on cyber norms reveals vulnerabilities in the liberal, postliberal, and postcolonial understandings, along with the analytical frameworks that accompany them, specifically strategic construction of norms, norm contestation and refusal of norms as inherently oppressive.



Xymena Kurowska, Associate Professor, International Relations, Central European University 



Roxana Radu, Postdoctoral Researcher, Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy,  University of Oxford



Annabelle Littoz-Monnet, Professor, International Relations/Political Science and Director, Global Governance Centre, the Graduate Institute


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