Professor Deitelhoff's research projects

Research Interests

  • International Political Theory (especially democracy, opposition and resistance)
  • Norms and Institutions
  • Global Governance
  • Security Police
  • Social Movements

Current projects

Commercial Normativity in Cyberspace?

The state-led, UN-based process for finding norms for responsible behavior in cyberspace is currently deemed to have collapsed, following the failure of the UN’s Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) to produce an outcome document at their June 2017 meeting.

The primary bone of contention is whether International Law such as the right to self-defense (Art. 51 UNC) is applicable to cyberattacks. Another fundamental tension lies between the Chinese and Russian principle of “cyber sovereignty” – i.e. full state control over the Internet within state borders – and the US-led and Western approach of multistakeholder governance – meaning the current less centralized system of internet regulation through corporate interests, civil society, research institutes, and government institutions.

In the face of this impasse at the state level, IT firms have emerged as vocal and proactive norm entrepreneurs. Private actors have a claim – and perhaps even an obligation – to set cyber policy and norms due to (1) the ongoing unregulated nature of the internet and (2) their superior technical expertise. Remarkably, Microsoft has called for a “Digital Geneva Convention” to protect civilians from cyberattacks, united 70+ IT firms under the “Cybersecurity Tech Accord,” and has most recently partnered with France to launch the “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” for states, civil society, and firms. Siemens has started similar initiatives.

This research project aims to explore this move towards corporate norm entrepreneurship in cyberspace, and to broaden it as a nascent academic field. The International Relations (IR) literatures on (1) corporate norm entrepreneurship and (2) areas of limited statehood can inform this analysis and help systematize the field, as can scholarship from International (humanitarian) law and cyber studies. With this focus on cyberspace and the changing condition for the generation of normative orders, the envisaged project contributes directly to research field II on medial and digital transformations of normative orders and the cross-cutting theme on Law.

From the original “Digital Geneva Convention” proposal to its important role in crafting the “Paris Call” alongside France, Microsoft has not only pursued a seat at the table, but the seat at the head of the table. In this, the company certainly has been successful – Microsoft, Facebook and Google portray themselves on equal footing with states and international institutions. However, corporate press releases indicate that the provisions of Microsoft’s initiatives seem to be neither shared nor understood among their addressees – casting some initial doubt on the project’s prospects for success.

Legitimacy Policy through Dialogue Forums? Global Economic Institutions and their Critics

International insti­tutions are in crisis. In addition to states, criticism comes in particular from civil society actors. The world economic organ­izations in particular, which have repeatedly come into the focus of civil society protests since the 1990s, have consistently reacted by developing dialogue forums.

These forums are supposed to enable civil society repre­sentatives to enter into a direct exchange with repre­sentatives of the criticized institutions. Dialogue forums thus aim to take up civil society criticism and restore the questioned legit­imacy of inter­national organisations. Initially celebrated as the dawn of a new era in dealing with civil society criticism, these forums are now strongly criticised and accused of failure.

However, research has so far barely dealt with the dialogue forums of inter­national institutions explicitly. The project "Legitimacy Policy through Dialogue Forums" therefore focuses on dialogue forums and examines whether criticism of the opening of inter­national organisations and the creation of dialogue forums is justified. To this end, the design and practice of dialogue forums of different institutions will be examined over time and in comparison. In addition, research will be conducted into the reasons why dialogue forums do not fulfil the expectations placed in them.

The project has a duration of three years and is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Internationale dissidenz the happy robot

Dissidence: Rule and Resistance in International Politics

(with Prof. Dr. Christopher DaaseBen KamisJannik PfisterSebastian SchindlerThorsten Thiel)

The on-going process of globalisation has intensified international and transnational relations; it has also attracted increased resistance to global regulation and administrative governance. Greater opposition to liberal economic models, contempt for international rules and open protest against 'western values' signal this trend. The central question of this project is how transnational rule relates to transnational resistance. The character of rule in the various sub-orders of global governance is polycentric and cannot be squared with traditional notions of sovereignty focused on the nation-state. Nonetheless, the loci of power, which regulatory norms, institutions and discourses perpetuate, demand adaptation and obedience from those they claim to govern. How and when does resistance to this form of rule emerge? Where is it manifested and in what forms? Although these questions have been largely neglected in the research community, this project aims to answer them by focusing on 'dissidence', which we understand as a form of resistance that rejects the normative status quo, opting instead for unconventional means of organisation and expression. To this end, we chart the amplitudes of rule and resistance empirically.

For more information see


Globale verhandlungen pablo manriquez

Norm Disputes: Contestation and Norm Robusteness

(with Lisbeth Zimmermann

The research group analyzes instances of contestation of international norms that occur at the international, regional, or national levels. Our goal is to understand what kind of effects contestatory practices have on international norms: Does contestation, as is often assumed, weaken a norm’s claim to legitimacy and its effectiveness? Could contestation also work to strengthen a norm – by clarifying its meaning and its conditions for application? If so, when does contestation result in one or the other?

The research group aims to tackle these questions by empirically investigating the conditions under which practices of contestation have weakened or strengthened international norms. It will study six prominent cases of contested international norms from varying policy fields: security (international criminal justice, the Responsibility to Protect, privateering), human rights (ban on torture, slavery), and environmental issues (ban on commercial whaling). In doing so, the group intends to establish the influence different types of norm contestation have on the stability of international norms.

We hypothesize that contention relating to the application of a norm can strengthen its stability, while contention relating the validity of a norm adds to its weakening. Additionally, we want to ascertain under which circumstances contention remains limited to application and when it radicalizes into questioning validity.)



Completed projects

No Alternative? Social Protest in the Alter-Globalisation Movement between Opposition and Dissidence

(with Dr. Priska Daphi and Felix Anderl)

No contemporary protest movement against international institutions has achieved a media profile comparable to the alter-globalisation movement. Its protests have repeatedly accompanied World Economic Forums and international summits since the 1999 “Battle of Seattle”, whose influence remains strong in current demonstrations. This reveals a radical contradiction in parts of transnational civil society directed against international institutions and the norms they embody. The movement is hardly monolithic in its aims and strategies despite broad consensus against neoliberal and capitalist globalisation. This is reflected in the diversity of the groups’ positions towards national and international political structures. While some groups pursue their goals in the context of established institutional channels of political participation, others deliberately violate the prevailing rules about how to exert political influence up to and including (sporadic) violence. This sub-project compares various groups in the movement to identify factors that promote the transformation of protest into dissidence and back by looking at the groups’ development (from opposition into peaceful dissidence up to violent dissidence and vice versa). This should also allow a more refined consideration of the social significance of dissident movements in contemporary democracies.

For more information see: