This article proposes a framework for empirical research on contested meaning of norms in international politics. The goal is to identify a design for empirical research to examine associative connotations of norms that come to the fore when norms are contested in situations of governance beyond-the-state and especially in crises. If cultural practices shape experience and expectations, they need to be identified and made ‘account-able’ based on empirical research. To that end, the proposed qualitative approach centres on individually enacted meaning-in-use. The framework comprises norm-types, conditions of contestation, types of divergence and opposition-deriving as a specific interview evaluation technique. Section one situates the problem of contestation in the field of constructivist research on norms. Section two introduces distinctive conditions of contestation and types of norms. Section three details the methodology of conducting and evaluating interviews and presents the technique of opposition-deriving with a view to reconstructing the structure of meaning-in-use. Section four concludes with an outlook to follow-up research.