The Social Psychological Barriers of Social Norm Contestation: The EU, Russia and Crimea



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University of Tartu Press


This paper focuses on the social psychological barriers underpinning the EU and Russia’s social norm contestation in the context of Ukraine. Through a frame analysis, I analyse how the two actors perceive the Crimean annexation, their own foreign policy behaviour in this context, the foreign policy behaviour of the other, and the general state of the international normative system. My findings indicate that the social psychological barrier which underpins the social norm contestation between the EU and Russia is related to the cognitive processes the actors apply in their construction of the international normative system and the type of norms which constitute it. Whereas the EU points to a stable international normative system based on injunctive norms and their clear-cut application, Russia emphasises that the normative system also consists of descriptive norms and that the presence of this type of social norm makes social norm application a matter of contextual interpretation. What the actors do agree on is the purpose of social norms and the motivation states have for complying with them. The analysis hence finds that the social norm contestation between the EU and Russia is not based on differing perceptions and interpretations on why norms are relevant or why states should comply with them. Rather, it is based on differing perceptions and interpretations of the common knowledge that is to guide state behaviour. What the analysis also suggests is that Russia’s foreign policy behaviour in Ukraine was not necessarily influenced by a lack of moral compass or a wish to disrupt the international normative system. Instead, it may have been based on a subjective interpretation of what has been done before in perceived similar contexts.



social norms, social psychology, conflict analysis, state behaviour, interpretations and perceptions, sotsiaalsed normid, sotsiaalpsühholoogia, konfliktianalüüs, riikide käitumine rahvusvahelisel areenil