International Organizations And the Terms of Legitimation

researching norms of global governance in books In this collaborative project, we examine how the norms and values that underpin evaluations have changed since the 1970s. In addition, we seek to reconstruct how international organizations themselves have adapted to new legitimation challenges through institutionalizing and professionalizing their legitimacy management. The book will include case studies on the African Union (AU), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Using evidence from three types of sources – namely the communications of international organizations themselves, of their members and of external actors – the case studies will map the norms against which these international organizations have been evaluated and reconstruct the discursive dynamics that have led to changes in the legitimation discourses related to each organization. Our research contributes to a broad literature on the legitimacy and legitimation of international organizations. This literature frequently alludes to a ‘legitimacy crisis’ of international organizations or to their ‘politicization’, but it has so far mainly focused on a small range of hihgly prominent international organizations to illustrate these arguments. Through providing a historic account based on a broad range of primary sources, our research might reveal that legitimation and legitimacy management have always been important elements of international organizations and their activities and help to differentiate more clearly between traditional and novel types of challenges to their legitimacy.

First results of this ongoing research are published in International Studies Perspectives and in a forthcoming special issue of Politische Vierteljahresschrift.

Why International Organizations Speak Democracy

In an article project that is closely related to our book project, we zoom in on a particular normative frame, namely democracy. Based on assumptions in the academic literature that international organizations are increasingly evaluated in terms of democratic norms, we are interested in when, how and why international organizations use the language of democracy to describe and justify themselves or their activities. To answer this question we investigate the public communications of around 30 international organizations and their executive heads dating back to the 1980s, and identify the extent and centrality of democracy-related rhetoric in such communications. In a second step, we relate our observations to a range of explanatory factors, including the visibility of individual international organizations in the media, the democratic quality of their members and their working relationships with other organizations that have adopted a democratic rhetoric. This project is conducted in collaboration with Henning Schmidtke from our partner project on ‘Legitimating States, International Regimes, and Economic Orders’.

We will present first results at the 2015 ISA Annual Conference.

The PhD Projects: Normative and Empirical Perspectives

researching norms of global governance in booksThe individual dissertation projects address the overarching theme of ‘changing norms of global governance’ from very different angles. Two projects are based on normative political theory and hence deal with how world politics ought to be conducted.

Ina Lehmann‘s dissertation aims to bridge the gap between normative political theory and empirical social sciences in the field of global environmental justice research. Along the lines of distribution, participation and recognition she develops an evaluative justice framework for the specific case of international biodiversity conservation policies. In a second major step she applies this to the analysis of the policy principles of the conservation regime established by the Convention on Biological Diversity and its implementation through Global Environment Facility-funded biodiversity conservation projects in India.

Ellen Reichel‘s dissertation examines the notion of responsibility in world politics. Based on a normative framework that elaborates the idea of collective responsibility and spells out who can have responsibility for what and under what conditions, her work evaluates recent empirical changes in the international regimes for humanitarian intervention and for the protection of refugees.

The other two PhD projects start out from an empirical interest in norms as a social phenomenon. Tobias Weise‘s dissertation thus builds on the literatures about NGO access for and transparency of international organizations. It examines to what extent the ‘opening up’ of international organizations that is described in these literatures can also be observed to international security organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and asks whether the observed amendments are primarily driven by changes in decision-makers’ strategic considerations or by changes in their conceptions of ‘normal’ or ‘appropriate’ organizational designs.

Finally, Antonia Witts dissertation deals with international reactions to coups d’état in Africa by asking how they contribute to the re-negotiation of national, regional, and international political orders. What happens if international actors such as the AU, SADC, ECOWAS, UN, or France intervene in order to “return a country to constitutional order”? On what grounds, to what ends, and with whom does a return to an acceptable political order take place? Starting from the 2000 Lomé Declaration in which then OAU member states defined and agreed to collectively respond to so-called unconstitutional changes of government, the project reconstructs how this norm has created contestations over its meaning in practice. For this, it draws on two in-depth case studies on the international reactions to the coups in Guinea (2008) as well as Madagascar (2009).


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