In the past few years, there has been a growing popular backlash against international institutions. Examples include the 2015 Greek bailout referendum, the 2016 Brexit referendum, or the 2016 election of a US President seemingly determined to withdraw US support from various international treaties. The implications of these mass-based disintegration efforts reach far beyond the countries in which they originate. First, the disintegration process is shaped by how remaining member states respond to one member’s bid to unilaterally change or terminate the terms of an existing international agreement. Second, mass-based disintegration bids pose considerable political contagion risks by encouraging disintegrative tendencies in other countries. Unfortunately, our theoretical tools to understand such international disintegration processes are underdeveloped. DISINTEGRATION therefore conducts a broad, systematic, and comparative inquiry into the mass politics of disintegration that pays particular attention to reactions in the remaining member states. It explores when and how one country’s mass-based disintegration experience encourages or deters demands for disintegration in other countries, how these contagion effects are transmitted through domestic elites and domestic discourse, and how the remaining member states ultimately respond during disintegration negotiations. It undertakes large-scale multi-method data collection that exploits the research opportunities offered by two ongoing mass-based disintegration processes: the Brexit negotiations and an upcoming Swiss referendum aimed at terminating a Swiss-EU bilateral treaty. DISINTEGRATION’s main objective is to develop a much-needed theory of mass-based disintegration that helps us understand the transnational dynamics that unfold between governments, political elites and the mass public when one member state attempts to unilaterally withdraw from an international agreement on the basis of widespread popular support.
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