Contestation and norm change in whale and elephant conservation: Non-use or sustainable use?

Together with Anton Peez (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt), Lisbeth Zimmermann published the article "Contestation and norm change in whale and elephant conservation: Non-use or sustainable use?" in the current issue of Cooperation and Conflict.

The article can be viewed here.


Elephants and whales took center stage in the environmental movements of the 1980s. As flagship species, they were the poster children of global initiatives: international ivory trading and commercial whaling were banned in the 1980s in the context of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC), respectively. While the conservation of both species is contested, we observe a change of existing norms in one case but not in the other: A moratorium on commercial whaling remains in place. Meanwhile, a limited shift to sustainable use regarding ivory was passed in 1997/2000. We ask why norm change occurred in one case but not the other, given their similarities. We argue that the difference can be explained by the perceived legitimacy of the claims of norm challengers using arguments of “affectedness” and the breadth of issues covered by CITES. In contrast, other factors commonly discussed in norms research do not explain this puzzle: the relative power and strategies of norm advocates and challengers, and the degree of legalization. This shows the interplay of discursive aspects and concrete institutional opportunities for norm change, even in the face of otherwise inopportune conditions.

Time to decide

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