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Review of International Organizations and Global Civil Society: histories of the Union of International Associations (2019)
In its draft form this is subject to further clarification. The lengthy text will be segmented for presentation and indexing in the Kairos database
In their Acknowledgements, the editors of the study reviewed explicitly indicate with respect to their topic that: rather than producing a celebratory volume, we were aiming for a scholarly book that gives due attention to various problems and shortcomings. In that spirit, rather than celebrate the historical achievement of the volume, the intention of this review is similarly to give due attention to various problems and shortcomings of that study -- from a critical perspective. Hopefully this will enable the debate over any controversial issues to move forward.
The focus of the commentary is therefore framed by the emerging sense of urgency in relation to the challenges of global governance for a world in crisis. The founders of the Union of International Associations (UIA) envisaged it as having a role in that regard. Any failure by a study in that respect -- from the perspective of the untroubled realms of academia -- can be seen as a lost opportunity, as are its insights for the UIA itself.
The question highlighted by the study is whether such a study exemplifies a particular mode of conceptual entrapment -- both for those contributing to it from the social sciences and for those working within the framework of any such "union of international associations". The question is given a particular focus from a policy science perspective by Geoffrey Vickers:
A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped (Freedom in a Rocking Boat: changing values in an unstable society, 1972)
Arguments: The book can be understood as making a case that the UIA is at fault:
Such assessments are notably made by contributors in the light of a critical analysis of UIA operations in 1968, which one contributor labelled the "Judge Report" (Preliminary Investigation of the Possibility of Using Computer Data Processing Methods by the Union of International Associations, 1968), most notably referring to a section on Analysis of Union of International Associations. This was necessarily prior to progressive implementation over decades of a variety of reforms to remedy those deficiencies within operational constraints.
Counter-arguments: Complementing the above assessment, the book could be considered to be at a fault for:
It is unclear whether the study has been undertaken in support of some hidden agenda. It is however clear that some contributors have framed their critical review of the data supplied in the Yearbook of International Organizations over many decades such to conclude that that process has been faulty -- minimizing the uncritical use of that data by scholars (acknowledged by the study). This emphasis is effectively a case of "shooting the messenger", namely blaming the UIA for the failure of scholars in their consideration of international organization.
Partially funded as the contributors to the study have been by the international research network "The Transnational Dynamics of Social Reform", the critical approach to data gathering and institutional reform could be considered naive in the light of experience in other domains. Most notable in this respect has been the approach over many decades to Reform of the United Nations to better reflect the vision embodied in its Charter. This dates from the report by Robert Jackson (A Study of the Capacity of the United Nations Development System, 1969). Long forgotten, it was variously reviewed at the time (Johan Kaufmann, The Capacity of the United Nations Development Program: The Jackson Report, International Organization, 1971).
Ironically, this reviewer considered its implications for the bodies profiled by the UIA (Study of the Capacity of the UN Development System, 1970) as part of a UIA study of International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change (1970). Given the labelling of the author proposed in the current study, it is somewhat ironic to note the labelling of the "Jackson Report" favoured at that time. Since the report chooses to make that point with respect to the author of the 1968 study of the UIA, Jackson was also an Australian -- as with a key contributor to the volume reviewed here.
Is there a case for recognizing that academics in conceptual glass houses should be careful about throwing stones? Of considerable relevance, the metaphor has been employed by Shirley Hazzard in a highly controversial summary of insights following a decade of employment within the United Nations (People in Glass Houses, 1967). Being also an Australian, is this a further indication of cultural bias?
There is a strange delight in endeavouring to review a historical study by scholars of an organization in which one has worked for some 46 years. What biases might infect any such review? What posture to adopt in such a review, as someone with questionable historical expertise from the perspective of that profession?
Is it possible however to deny some such expertise, having been responsible for documenting the history of so many international organizations, however questionably, in the Yearbook of International Organizations and its many related publications (Sharing a Documentary Pilgrimage: UIA-Saur Relations 1982-2000, 2001)? What of a more contextual perspective reflected in a commissioned paper in an academic journal on the challenges of the historical perspective at this time (Engaging Macrohistory through the Present Moment, Journal of Futures Studies, August 2004).
What of the application of that perspective to future studies, perhaps implying a degree of bias to the future rather than the past (Towards a History of World Futures Studies: focusing on collective initiatives, 2010)? What of any reflection on the strange conundrum posed by the UIA -- beyond the framing favoured by more conventional approaches (Union of International Associations -- Virtual Organization: Paul Otlet's 100-year Hypertext Conundrum? 2001)? The review is clearly biased towards considering the future potential of any UIA -- towards what might have been, rather than what has been.
Then there is the responsibility assumed by the reviewer for an archival function over some 50 years, through ensuring the online availability and indexing of the internal reports on the information processing operations and challenges of the UIA (Information / Research Activities for Civil Society, 1959-2006), since this historical perspective has scarcely been of concern to the UIA itself, given its resource challenges. Documents relevant to aspects of this review have long been presented in the personal web site of the reviewer (Documents about the Union of International Associations, 2007).
Given the degree of involvement, what of the internal dynamics of the UIA to which the reviewer was exposed, or for which the reviewer might be held to be responsible -- especially when these may entail problematic matters of contrasting perception? Of particular relevance is the manner in which the reviewer, as Secretary-General ad-interim, resigned (or was voted out) as a consequence of a conflict typical of many organizations. In this case it involved loans which the reviewer (as effective guarantor) had negotiated to fund a UIA initiative -- on whose repayment the UIA then reneged. It also included the failure of the statutory authorities to address matters of underpaid staff salaries and pensions. How relevant is an insider perspective to complementing or challenging a historical review by outsiders of externalities, with no experience of the UIA and with little interest in the dynamics of "how it worked" and survived -- in contrast to many other better funded initiatives?
Then there is the question of why bother to review a historical study of interest to the very few in a period of global crisis, variously calling into question the relevance of many so-called international organizations. What is it useful to conclude, and for whom, in a time of poisonous divisions between nations, political parties, classes, ethnic groups, religions, disciplines, cultures, languages and genders? Is the methodology of a self-justifying scholarly perspective now to be considered as part of the problem -- or part of the solution? What is insightfully offered in that regard?
In this respect the reviewer is particularly biased with respect to the relevance of the vast network of organizations -- "international" and otherwise -- in its capacity to engage effectively with the global problematique, namely the vast network of problems with which those bodies are purportedly concerned (John Gerard Ruggie, On the Problem of 'the Global Problematique': What Roles for International Organizations? Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 5, 1980, 4). Since this bias gave rise to the instigation by the reviewer of the UIA's Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, the failure to give due consideration to the very purpose of international organizations, as explored by that initiative, necessarily frames the study (for this reviewer) as lacking balance in its consideration of the UIA. It is in this sense, as an insider, that this review is preoccupied to an undue degree with the purpose and potential of any "union of international associations" and how the study enhances that understanding, if at all.
It is especially strange to recall the extent to which few of the social sciences (if any) attached meaning to the entities profiled by the UIA over extensive historical periods. Civil society has proven to be a late discovery by such disciplines and by many intergovernmental institutions -- now variously "playing catch-up". Ironically, rare have been the academics in the social sciences who would would admit to the international significance of an organization of which they were a member -- and the merit of studying such bodies and their efficacy. More symptomatic is the indifference to what might be termed a psychosocial ecosystemic perspective on the vast array of international entities -- variously addressing the world problematique or framed as responsible for it (The Nature of Organization in Transnational Networks, 1972).
Should the UIA be compared with an exotic tribe, even a living fossil, with which scholars only now consider it appropriate to discover and engage? In doing so, should the methods they bring to bear merit the criticism recently made of the insensitive and disrespectful approaches of anthropologists having purely academic priorities -- and concerned with what can be acquired from such tribes for the museums which fund them? Given the origins of the UIA, is the "safeguarding" of Mundaneum archives by a university a continent away to be considered in that light -- an "Elgin Marbles" problem?.
How should an "insider" reflect on any such study? Clearly there is a danger of defensiveness and self-serving overreaction. Such a review could then itself be subject to the Shakespearean criticism that it "protesteth too much" -- if not as being a form of Apologia Pro Vita Sua. It could however be considered a historical narrative in its own right, given the subtitle of the book.
Given what might be considered a degree of equivalence between the vision articulated by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine and that of a "secular theology", it is perhaps appropriate to ask whether there is a degree of "scholastic" bias in the preoccupations of historians commenting on the realization of that vision, and its embodiment by the UIA (Tibor Ivan Berend, History as a Discipline, Scholarly and Scholastic, Akademiai Kiado, 1980; Scholastic vs Scholarly - What's the difference? WikiDiff).
Currently understood as primarily restricted in its meaning to a pre-university school, the number of "schools of international relations" associated with universities suggests that "scholastic" could indeed be interpreted to include a "school of thought". An indicative Google search for: "school of" and university, gave some 440,000 hits, thereby calling into question the potential for "scholastic bias". The argument is reinforced with use of the term "graduate school", with Google offering 108,000 hits.
Neither the editors nor the authors acknowledge any particular biases framing the perspective from which their arguments are developed. This is however with the exception of the clearly stated distinction made by the editors in binary terms, namely that the study was not celebratory of the UIA but a scholarly study of it from a variety of professional perspectives. Whether that variety is adequate to the task at this time is not questioned. There is a relatively implicit assumption that "scholarly" implies "objective" -- in contrast to "celebratory".
No reference is made to the possible biases of such a perspective in contrast to any other perspective of which one academic methodology is appreciative inquiry. Others of relevance might include action research, in which the UIA itself could be assumed to have engaged in exploring the integrative possibilities of its initiative. From the perspective of those involved, narrative history might be especially relevant given the assumptions implied by the subtitle of the book -- and any understanding of the "multiple personality disorder" by which the UIA may have suffered, and may continue to suffer.
It is of course not to be expected that any reference would be made to the academic tendency to engage in point-scoring or in the extent to which any such study is primarily an exercise in career advancement. Current controversies regarding the scientific process, the peer review system, and access to research results, are necessarily beyond the scope of a compilation by historians eschewing self-reflexivity, or of this review (Knowledge Processes Neglected by Science: insights from the crisis of science and belief, 2012).
Past decades have of course seen extensive criticism of studies serving hidden agendas, and specifically funded to that end -- most notably as an aspect of defence research. Little reference is made to that possibility or to the nature of the funding which enabled the study in the first place. It is however stated that financial support for the initial meeting of contributors was provided by the international research network "The Transnational Dynamics of Social Reform" and funded by both the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the research project TIC Collaborative, itself funded by the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO). From the very beginning, Bloomsbury as (publisher) has been noted as exemplary in its support.
What purpose is the study intended to serve, as defined in the applications for that funding? The editors only hint at this: the UIA's case addresses issues of ongoing relevance (p. 2). Cui Bono? That question can of course be addressed to the writer of any review.
Is there any conflict of interest to be recognized from a more critical perspective? What indeed was the motivation for the study as a whole or of individual contributors -- and how might this have distorted their work, as may be detected by future historians? In the current period in which intergovernmental organizations and their funding is challenged by changing foreign policies of member states, it could be asked to what extent the framing offered by the contributors is part of a pattern more evident in the case of the eroding capacity of the UN and UNESCO, for example.
The most valuable paper in framing the challenge for a historian is not the introduction by the editors but rather the discussion of historiography by Matthias Middell and Katja Naumann (Historians and International Organizations: the International Committee of Historical Sciences, 2019). They note with respect to the ambitions of the International Commission for a Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind (SHCM), funded by UNESCO, that many of its goals proved difficult to realize (p. 143), as described by Paul Duedahl (Selling Mankind: UNESCO and the Invention of Global History, 1945-1976, Journal of World History, 2011). And furthermore:
The dynamics of an institutionalized debate between agents from all regions of the world shattered consolidated narratives and epistemological certainties... The idea of an unbiased interpretation, free from any political cultural baggage, had proven to be a myth -- indeed a highly problematic and powerful one (pp. 143-144)
How might those considerations be applied to the contributions in the book -- or to the criticisms of how the Yearbook has been used by scholars? What frameworks do scholars bring to bear -- or avoid acknowledging? What implications might that perspective have for the relations between authors and their contributions? What is the wider perspective which the book could be said to systematically avoid?
By contrast one contributor dubiously framed Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine as "amateurs" (Thomas Davies, The UIA and the Development of International Relations Theory, 2019). They were contrasted with the "professional" perspective offered by scholarly historians. Curious also is the remarkable turn of phrase employed in some "professional" contributions in the book, readily to be challenged as judgmental and opinionated (as discussed below). Given the importance ascribed to Otlet with respect to envisioning the internet, and the contributions of autodidacts, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, to its realization, are they also to be framed as "amateurs"?
Especially curious was the choice of venue for discussion by the participating academics, namely the Mundaneum in Mons (2016) and at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (2017) -- but not at the UIA itself. Does this exemplify detached objectivity or does it suggest cultivation of a hidden agenda -- possibly framed under the Google Arts and Culture program in which Mundaneum is a "partner"? Historically the Mundaneum and UIA have had a degree of long-standing mutual estrangement -- unmentioned in the study -- deriving from the manner in which the UIA archives were extracted from the Mundaneum in the post-war period. No indication is made of who was invited to such meetings to assist the contributors in framing their understanding of the UIA. No mention is made of Google in the book. It is unclear that representatives of the UIA, however defined, were invited -- whether or not they participated.
The choice of contributors, and their topics, also evokes questions. To what extent can they be said to be authorities on international organizations and information gathering processes -- the focus of the UIA undertaking? An obvious potential exception is W. Boyd Rayward, given his earlier study of Otlet (The Universe of Information: the work of Paul Otlet for documentation and international organization, 1975). This was published by what merits recognition as the UIA's twin, the International Federation for Documentation, which ceased to exist in 2002. More curious is the insight brought to his contribution by Pierre-Yves Saunier (Transnational History, 2013; The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History, 2009). There is little evidence of direct experience by the contributors in the complex evolving world of international organizations -- or is such necessary for an historian, or even to be considered a hindrance?
The editors frame their introduction, entitled Reconstructing the Identities of an International Non-Governmental Intelligence Agency, with an unusual stress on "identity". With respect to emerging challenges to their conventional thinking, this avoids consideration of the perspective of one of the leading scholars of international relations, Alexander Wendt (Quantum Mind and Social Science, 2015; Social Theory of International Politics, 1999). The former explores the crossroads between quantum physics and social theory, notably highlighting the extent to which the very nature of the "existence" of nation states, as well as international organizations, can be usefully called into question. The editors and contributors, by contrast, could be said to be locked into frameworks which are eroding fast, if not already outmoded and obsolete, in a world of social media, fake news, and the surreality of global governance at this time.
Whilst "scholastic bias" may indeed be understood as merely a metaphorical allusion to the now-deprecated methods of medieval theologians, the term has been applied in a number of recent critiques, notably in the light of the arguments of Pierre Bourdieu for whom the homo scholasticus or homoi academicus is an observer who is "placed outside the context of urgency of a practical situation" and is able to "produce practices or utterances which are context free" (The Scholastic Point of View, Cultural Antrhopology, 1990):
From that perspective it is unclear which contributors are members of any organization which would be profiled in the Yearbook -- the focus of many comments -- or be a member of a body that was. How might that influence their assessments of the success or failure of any coordinative process?
For this reviewer, the weakness of this study, as articulated in the comments below, is that it is subject to the "epistemic dogmatism" characteristic of academic prejudice, as framed by Hamlet: There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Hamlet, 1.5.167-8)
To what extent can it be said from a critical perspective that academia in general has appropriately and adequately addressed the conditions of a world in crisis? To what extent does academia consider such practicalities of relevance to the abstractions of the theoretical perspectives so widely preferred? In this sense does the book exemplify the inadequacy of academia and elites in the face of global crises? Are the contributions indicative of a degree of effort to play "catch-up" with a rapidly evolving reality -- rendering obsolete the frameworks and priorities of the past?
Structure of the study:
Consultation and archival research: As is evident (and discussed below), several contributions are specifically critical of the methodology of the UIA in selecting, gathering and organizing the data on the entities defined and profiled -- given the uncritical dependence of other scholars on that data. In that spirit there is therefore a case for asking how the various contributors selected, gathered and organized their data on the UIA, given the more professional methodology to which they lay claim. Specifically:
Why the use of curiously judgmental language in some contributions, which the editors and publisher failed to call into question -- language potentially to be described as unprofessionally "snide" -- and intentionally so?
Critical assumptions regarding funding of data gathering: In implying UIA bias with respect to funding its initiative -- without proving such bias -- this raises the question as to how it is expected that resources for any data gathering process should be obtained in order to meet the academic requirement for appropriate datasets. Any initiative must consider the range of possible sources of income and how these might imply "strings" undermining its acclaimed value. Sources can include the following, for different periods. according to changing policies and opportunities:
From an academic perspective, what is "clean" and unbiased and how can the contributors demonstrate that with respect to the funding of their study of the UIA -- or other studies of international organizations? What percentage are dubiously funded by defence research budgets? The question is especially relevant to the decades over which it is the intelligence services which have been unusually interested in UIA data, especially the connectivity profiled between organizations (notably with Eastern bloc organizations during the Cold War). The question also applies to the conference industry dependent on such data to frame competitive marketing strategies for lucrative international events.
Confusing advertising claims with substantive content: Some contributions have gone to surprising length in expressing irritation at the inconsistency between the marketing claims for comprehensive coverage as made by the publishers of the UIA reference books and the actual editorial achievement -- despite explicit disclaimers in that regard and typically justified in a marketing context by the legally tolerated role of puffery.
To what extent is any reference book to be considered "comprehensive", complete and beyond improvement? Clearly editors struggle to improve coverage through successive editions, in response to detected omissions and changes in the domain of concern. Publishers must necessarily engage in puffery, acclaiming what has been achieved in any one edition that is marketed. There are time factors involved? When is it "worth" producing a new edition? In the case of the book reviewed here, how are the claims made by its publisher to be assessed? When will it be considered appropriate to correct errors and omissions in the light of feedback?
Confusion regarding the entities of relevance to comprehension of global organization: To what extent do the contributions reflect a focus on organizations as they are imagined to be, without recognizing the variety and the conditions under which they function? This consideration is typical of the best of biodiversity and anthropological studies. It also reflects an ecosystemic recognition in contrast with the typical specialization of academic studies.
A concluding section of the book is devoted to a critical review of the Yearbook of International Organizations and its data collection and presentation (Exploring the UIA's Publications and Data). As noted above, the section suggests the needs for higher standards to meet the requirements of scholars, noting that they have been uncritical in their acceptance of what was offered by the UIA. It is therefore appropriate to consider any corresponding errors or omissions in the study which argues that case.
Errors: Curious examples of errors, which could be readily corrected, include:
The study explores the UIA over a century from its founding, with special emphasis on the post-war development of its information gathering and dissemination.
Period of transition: Neglected to a degree by the study, the work of the UIA has continued through the progressive emergence of previously "unthinkable" conditions, including:
Taken together in relation to any potentially evolving role of the UIA, these raise the question as to what is implied by the challenge of "international". Through the above transformations, what boundaries are now the challenge of any meaningful union between distinctive organizations? The question is usefully framed by the contrasting struggle of interconnectvity prior to the internet, when postal and face-to-face interaction constrained the viability of any coordinated relationship -- to say nothing of freedom of movement and transfer of funds. When communication is relatively instantaneous, what are the unforeseen constraints on global organization?
Questionable (ir)relevance of the UIA: The study variously calls into question the credibility of the UIA and its information gathering:
With respect to the first, and the challenging meaning of "union", this is discussed in a separate section below. With respect to the second a distinction can usefully be made between those variously investing in those facilities, namely:
That the UIA should be able to continue to generate adequate income from these facilities, separately or in combination (online), is an indication of perceived relevance to particular sectors -- however misled they may be. There is a hunger for data. Of relevance however is the relative lack of interest of the non-profit sector in these facilities, except as a means of reinforcing their claims to existence and relevance in the eyes of others, notably governments and intergovernmental organizations.
Especially interesting with respect to relevance is the treatment by the study of the online Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (as discussed below). The capacity to profile entities beyond the conventional scholarly focus on organizations, their meetings and their publications proved to be fundamental to the UIA's successful response to calls for proposals from the World Bank and the EU, leading notably to significant funding by the latter (as discussed below).
Competitive rivalry with regard to organization profiling: Whether or not the UIA has been specifically at fault in its profiling of "international organizations" (however they are to be understood), the viability of that enterprise has at various times been threatened by other initiatives with which it variously engaged where possible (as noted by the study, p. 186):
Many other more specialized directories have been produced for a time, readily to be understood as potentially undermining the long-term viability and coherence of the data set maintained by the UIA. Of particular interest in this respect is the listing provided by the Global Development Research Center of many NGO Databases and Directories -- notably failing to include the Yearbook. Also of relevance is the listing of NGO Directories provided by the Knowledge, Impact and Policy team at the Institute of Development Studies in the UK -- also failing to mention the Yearbook. The contributors fail to make any comparative study of such sources in terms of their value for scholars and for engendering the "union" implied by the UIA title. Nor does such a comparison appear to exist.
The number of these facilities is an indication of the challenge to staff of any organization receiving survey questionnaires from many of them, from scholars, or form those marketing conference facilities to them. Of greater relevance to a concern implied by the study reviewed is the absence of any exploration as to the reasons for the variety of information sources. These reflect multiple approaches to coordination, clearly now proven to be inadequate to the challenges of global governance at this time.
Of related relevance are the challenges faced by the UN Administrative Committee for Coordination, renamed in 2001 as the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination -- with the purpose of coordinating the initiatives of the United Nations System, as the name implies (Joseph A. Barry, Bolstering United Nations Intelligence: Cultural and Structural Solutions, American Intelligence Journal, 30, 2012, 1).
Especially intriguing in the methodology of contributors to the study is the apparent failure to interview Cyril Ritchie (only mentioned as having assisted with others in the production of its Epilogue). As an emblematic figure with respect to the success or failure of any coordinative focus of international organization over many decades, he holds (or has held) the positions of:
More valuable to the study, and the governance challenge of the times, would have been an explicit contribution by Cyril Ritchie reflecting the insights of an experienced practitioner, especially with respect to the role of any kind of "union", and the coordinative role it may perform, through information facilities or otherwise. Why is such coordination now proving to have been "unfit for purpose" in the face of global crisis? Why did the contributors not clarify how progress towards it is systematically undermined?
It remains completely unclear what the various coordinative initiatives now envisage as being appropriate to the challenges of global governance, other than in their tokenistic promotional communications. Only too evident is the degree of rivalry and suspicion which prevails between them, their widespread loss of credibility, and their denial of that current reality. The pattern is of course echoed in the unfruitful fragmentation of academia and the conceptual impotence in the face of global crises.
Preoccupations of questionable import: It is appropriate to note the principal preoccupations of users of the Yearbook data:
In the light of these preoccupations, it is unclear what points academic research has endeavoured to make and to what end, although the study notes the early review of Chadwick Alger (Research on Research: a decade of quantitative and field research on international organizations, International Organization, 24, 1970, 3). The contributions to this study do not help to clarify this matter. This then begs the question as to how they might frame the purpose of any Union of International Associations, or of how "union" and "coordination" are then to be understood -- now or in the future.
In a period of ever increasing global crisis, the relatively trivial focus of such studies could indeed be fruitfully compared to the deprecated preoccupation of medieval scholasticism framed as How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?. As noted elsewhere, there has been very little study of the set of bodies profiled by the Yearbook as constituting an ecosystemic network engaging with the global problematique. This is equally true of the many more specialized data sets, notably those with an issue focus, however specialized.
From that perspective it is appropriate to ask the provocative question as to what interesting questions have scholars asked about international organization and any coordinative process over the past decades?
How are those questions now deemed interesting and of particular relevance to global governance at this time -- or to any "union" of "international associations" or of "global civil society"? What proportion would indeed be deemed trivial -- or simply deprecated as "academic"? Is this a suitably provocative question for the process of the Edge.org and its World Question Center? (Alexander Rose, How to Create an Institution That Lasts 10,000 Years, Edge, 24 April 2019).
A provocative comparison between the UIA initiatives and a scholastic analysis thereof could be usefully explored through the analogy of putting the cart before the horse. With any implication that academia is necessarily the "horse" and that data gathering is the "cart", the UIA is clearly to be understood as failing to wait upon the driving forces of academia as to what data should be gathered and how. For some the UIA approach could however be said to have been that of the "horse", variously attempting to pull the "cart" of academia over decades.
Problematic assessment: The study chose to frame the relevance of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential by singling out (from the reviews and criticism noted in its description in Wikipedia) an early negative review by the American Library Association in 1987 (of its first edition, titled the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential). That review specifically described it as a problematic monument to idiosyncrasy, confusion, and obfuscation that certainly is not worth purchasing at any price. Ironically these descriptors could be seen as only too appropriate to the condition of the world at this time, the governance of it, the organization of information appropriate to it, and the disciplines purporting to offer insight into such matters.
In that sense the study effectively echoes that understanding in failing to recognize that the very organization of the data in that Encyclopedia had been a deliberate editorial approach to the category traps of conventional librarianship -- and scholarship (see Explanatory Comments). Encompassing, as it deliberately did, both highly "negative" and questionably "positive" themes, it was recognized that in splitting its potential market it was endeavouring to create a market which transcended unfruitful binary thinking. Ironically, as noted in an introduction to the Encyclopedia, it was Paul Otlet who had articulated the challenge it endeavoured to address in a text on Le Problème des Problèmes (Monde, Mundaneum, 1935).
Contrasting commentaries: Although ignored by the study (despite being accessible via the UIA website), these include the following:
The last was the extract from a doctoral thesis of a long-standing member of the Executive Council of the UIA, which also discussed a second case (Development Alternatives, India), namely the initiative of another UIA member (Ashok Khosla). An English translation of the full title of the thesis is: Tools for sustainable development: case for reconfiguration (see abstract in English). The relevance of that perspective is perhaps usefully indicated by the former roles of its author as Secretary of the Canadian Council of Resource and Environment Ministers, and as Secretary of the Commonwealth Science Council. Of relevance to the successful UIA application for funding to the World Bank (noted below), the requisite coalition included Development Alternatives as a partner.
The editor of the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies emphasized, as described in the Wikipedia description of the Encyclopedia:
... the significance of the work is not its size or the scope of its references, impressive though these are. It is rather in the nature of what has been attempted. The accompanying notes and commentaries... are good enough to be published separately because they contain highly cogent observations on the "global problematique", commentaries on the work of numerous great thinkers from a wide variety of fields, and an impressive array of insights about the epistemology, symbolism, metaphysics, metaphors and linguistic representations of the subject (Richard A. Slaughter, A meta-linguistic resource, Futures, 1992)
In that light, it is curious that the editors of the study suggest that the UIA "field of action" was much broader in its early period (p. 5), a potentially misleading framing of the subsequent ambition to encompass the totality of the global problematique -- including those earlier preoccupations -- in the light of information from the multiplicity of emerging international entities. It was the scope of the initiative that enabled it to benefit from EU funding, as noted below, as well as evaluation to that end by the World Bank.
Exemplifying the value attached in practice to the initiative, a degree of collaboration was subsequently explored with the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability with respect to its Global Problem Solving program (Visualisation tools resource list).
Unrecognized challenges: The Encyclopedia initiative emerged in reaction to the recognition of the relevance of the handful of world problems highlighted by The Limits to Growth study of the Club of Rome in 1972. The reaction derived from the appreciation that the many international bodies were preoccupied with a far wider range of problems to which they were endeavouring to devote resources -- despite the manner in which these concerns were variously deprecated, notably by scholars and the media. Scholars and specialists in international documentation have yet to articulate an approach more appropriate to data of the type profiled in the Encyclopedia in order to enable more fruitful approaches to global governance. In dismissing the UIA's efforts with respect to this challenge, the study renders itself symptomatic of that challenge.
Since the conclusion by the epitome of library science in 1987 with respect to the first edition of the Encyclopedia, there has been a major shift in the policy sciences to the complex multiplicity of problems variously recognized by a multitude of organizations -- but with little capacity to engender a coordinated response to them, however enabled by the information sciences. Later editions of the Encyclopedia endeavoured to profile and interrelate the strategies advocated by international constituencies in response to those problems, together with the values by which they were inspired. The misleading critiques of the past were recently reviewed from that perspective (Flatulence is a Problem Aired: resmelling the stench of past undertakings, 2013) -- exploiting the metaphor in a disparaging review by The Guardian -- now framing itself as a champion of environmental issues. Academia has notably demonstrated its limited competence in this regard.
Most curiously, from the opposite ideological extreme, an appreciative front-page review of the Encyclopedia initiative was given by The Wall Street Journal (Daniel Michaels, Encyclopedia of World Problems Has a Big One of Its Own, 11 December 2012), specifically recalling the role of Paul Otlet.
Institutional focus of data gathering: The dubious appreciation of the Encyclopedia by the world of academia and library science could be understood as indicative of limited understanding of the potential function of any "union of international associations" at this time. The following table is helpful in that regard.
|Indication of a "schizophrenic" approach to any "union of associations"|
"organization" (static identities)
"change" (dynamic potential)
meetings / events
values communication and comprehension
The column on the left is what UIA preoccupations are typically held to imply, on which its data gathering has focused, and what the social sciences have long preferred to study. That on the right is indicative of the challenges to that conventional world view -- which international relations theory has long endeavoured to avoid, but has since become obliged to take into consideration, as framed by the challenges to governance, policy sciences, considerations of complex systems dynamics, widespread appeal to "human values", and a surprising degree of reference to "evil" by world leadership (as noted below).
Curiously, in the historical focus on the tangible entities in the left-hand column, data gathering and related studies have all but forgotten the functional purpose of those entities -- with which organizations, their membership and their meetings are primarily concerned. That is better reflected in the unsatisfactorily nebulous nature of the right-hand column. It would seem inappropriate for the study to reinforce such avoidance, rather then considering the challenges it poses for the social sciences and for any "union of international associations".
If the UIA profiling methodology for tangible entities is to be criticized (as discussed below), of potentially far greater interest is the challenge of "profiling" the intangible entities, as undertaken by the UIA for the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential and extensively discussed therein. Few organizations have a clear articulation of the problems with which they are preoccupied, the strategies they deploy, or the values empowering them to do so -- as the social sciences would consider desirable.
Profiling process: Contributors to the study are very explicit in calling into question the manner in which the UIA gathers information from the bodies it profiles. The focus of the criticism is on self-reporting, irrespective of how the information is then reviewed and amended in the light of other sources, whether or not those amendments are approved by the body at some later date. The core of the complaint lies in the failure to verify the accuracy of the information finally presented. No mention is made of how scholars verify the veracity of survey questionnaires on which they may otherwise depend -- especially the challenge of census data. Other sciences are explicit in their use of statistical confidence levels.
The study fails to accord significance to two valuable aspects of self-reporting, irrespective of any subsequent editorial enhancement of such profiling:
Missing from this critique is how any relevant information is to be located in a situation in which bodies may have every reason to be less than enthusiastic about being profiled, or may only wish to be minimally profiled, or may indeed choose to misrepresent themselves in some way. These are issues common to any social science survey, including census data. Only a degree of verification is typically possible, whatever the resources available -- including information from third parties. Missing information may however be considered confidential -- including the manner in which the body is funded. The approach of the UIA was to consider every possible source available, but not to engage in verification research -- preferring instead to improve the profile over successive editions if possible. Warnings in that regard were explicitly indicated. Professional social science studies could clearly choose to estimate a percentage of errors or confidence level -- as may be done with census data.
The criticism articulated by the contributors could therefore be considered as unrealistic, if not naive. Survey data is only adequate to a degree. in the real world, it is neither as perfect as scholars might wish it to be, nor as reliable. It is somewhat ironic to note that when scholars initiate their own surveys, they are typically obliged to note a "response rate". The contributors say nothing about how survey data should be rendered as perfect as they would wish -- and validated by some unquestionable authority.
In questioning the validity of the Yearbook data, one contributor argues that:
More recently, the Yearbook has presented, for the first time, an evaluation of its data collection process: the 2014-5 edition includes a (discreet) mention that the annual questionnaire to INGOs has had a response rate of 35 to 40 per cent - as such, it hardly amounts to an annual comprehensive census. (p. 194)
This comment seemingly obscures other aspects of the Yearbook profiling process through which profiles are progressively enhanced over the years. It also avoids any mention of how scholars launching their own surveys enhance the quality of the results or derive reliable conclusions from relatively low response rates. To be clear, options by which information has been derived (separately or in combination over successive periods) include:
Another approach to the matter is through a form of open source profiling. The UIA has experimented to a degree with this. It suffers from the same inadequacy as being a form of self-reporting. Where a profile can be amended by any authorized informant, difficulties may well be compounded. The editorial wars of Wikipedia have been extensively documented in this regard. The fate of the Encyclopedia Britannica, with its authoritative profiles, has also been noted by comparison.
UN approval of organization criteria? The contributors endeavour to stress the manner in which the criteria for inclusion have been subject to an "arrangement with the United Nations". In 1950 the UIA retook responsibility for registering international organizations in its Yearbook of International Organizations. Its capacity in this respect was acknowledged in a special UN/ECOSOC Resolution 334B (XI) of 20 July 1950, and subsequently figured in successive Annual Reports of the UN Secretary General. The UIA has had consultative relationship with UN/ECOSOC since 1951 for that reason. On this basis the study asserts:
Such assertions are mistaken in confusing that early resolution of ECOSOC, specifically approving the publication of the Yearbook, with a non-existent formal arrangement as to what should be included. The only implication in the latter regard was a requirement to profile NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, and by further implication, in consultative status with other UN agencies -- on the assumption that these had been formally perceived to be of significance to the process of international organization. This has always been assiduously done -- notably for the benefit of scholars of international relations -- even benefitting from profiles provided to those agencies by the NGOs (as has been formally required by those agencies). There have been periods in which the constrained resources of those agencies had resulted in the reverse process, namely provision by the UIA of NGO profiles to them.
Is the study endeavouring to make a case that this introduced a form of bias in contrast to an unspecified approach to profiling organizations of some other kind -- a process in which the UIA was heavily engaged over decades? Is there any evidence of scholarly suggestions as to other categories of organization that could be feasibly profiled or distinguished from those actually profiled?
The assumption that Yearbook profiling was controlled in some way by the UN is usefully challenged in the light of those NGOs accepted into consultative status as a consequence of political lobbying even though (for the editors) they were essentially national organizations and merited appropriate treatment as such. This notably applied to "diaspora" organizations from particular Asian countries. This illustrates how the political bias of the UN was respected -- as of significance internationally -- but was not allowed to bias the editorial treatment of such exceptions, duly categorized otherwise.
The UIA has always been free to consider categories of international body, including intergovernmental agencies, which were not in any way a feature of this consultative status process. Of particular interest in this regard has been the profiling of intergovernmental "agencies" of the United Nations and their subunits -- for whom establishing any such profile of themselves could well be considered politically delicate and heavily constrained by bureaucratic processes. This did not prevent the UIA maintaining such profiles to the extent possible.
Of particular relevance to this argument is a conversation with regard to criteria with Alexander Szalai, at that time Director of Research of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). He suggested to this reviewer that the UN might indeed formulate such criteria to constrain the range of bodies in the Yearbook. My response was that the UIA would be happy to give it due consideration, provided the UN would in some way formally approve such criteria. The matter went no further.
The value of the Yearbook to the UN system can however be recognized otherwise with respect to the process of approving NGOs formally for consultative status. A preliminary step in this process for the NGO was to ensure that it was appropriately profiled in the Yearbook -- where the entry might be subject to preliminary perusal by the responsible officials.
"Genuinely international organizations"? Contributors have also focused misleadingly on the potential bias in the efforts of editors to distinguish bodies to be understood as having the quality of being "genuinely international". Reference is made to "seven rules" on which other scholars are alleged to have commented critically:
These criteria were only made explicit in the 1968-9 edition: seven major characteristics decided whether non-governmental organizations were 'genuinely international' and could be included in the Yearbook. (p. 190)
It is curious that the study should focus on this reference dating from 1968, possibly written by this reviewer (What Kind of Organizations Are Included, Yearbook of International Organizations 1968- 1969, p. 11-12), when the types of organization included were constantly under review, and extended in response to recognition of entities which were of potential interest as "international organization" in some way. That checklist, discussed below, indeed predates the extensive commentary on the further challenges detected (Types of International Organization: classification categories, 1978; Types of International Organization: detailed overview, 1978).
As indeed noted by the study (p. 190), this extension was organized such as to maintain the coherence of the types having the greater claim to be called international, whilst adding other types which lent themselves to challenge in this respect -- notably by politically sensitive intergovernmental organizations and scholars of international relations. As noted by the study, however:
In almost every article I have found where Yearbook data has been used, authors have conflated the number of existing INGOs with the content of the Yearbook, and even more narrowly with the Yearbook's category of 'genuinely international bodies'. This suggests how far the categorization of the Yearbook's, and its content, have been framing the perimeter of most studies. Only a handful of the identified 172 articles which have used figures or lists from the Yearbook include any acknowledgement of the 'seven aspects' used for inclusion and exclusion as 'genuine international bodies' and the consequences of such criteria for the research parameters, questions and conclusions. While it seems likely that most scholars are aware of the Yearbook's limitations, they did not articulate their concerns: their choice to work with what they had seems to have muted the critical appraisal of their main source. (p. 190)
The appropriateness of this comment obscures the manner in which it is effectively a case of "shooting the messenger", namely blaming the UIA for the failure of scholars in their consideration of international organization. That failure recalls the distinction made in taxonomical studies of biological species, caricatured as that between the "lumpers" and the "splitters". The contribution reinforces the criticism by citing the apparent bias in the Yearbook regarding human rights and religious bodies in that the activities of national bodies were considered far less significant internationally than those identified as international. The bias is obvious in the case of the numerous "church planting" initiatives emanating from the USA. It is surely for scholars to distinguish these appropriately from those which endeavour to coordinate their strategies internationally.
The issue can be clarified by indicating the categories of organization distinguished, however extended between editions in the face of the emergence of new types of entity -- or the perception by the editors of the relevance of entities previously omitted. Examples include:
This followed from early assessment of the variety of such bodies meriting consideration (Types of International Organization: classification categories, 1978; Types of International Organization: detailed overview, 1978). Both documents, variously reproduced in the Yearbook, discuss the variety of bodies with which the editors have been confronted -- in the real world. The solution was to group organization by category, as noted in the latter (Types of organization in the Yearbook), briefly described as follows (of which a version is reproduced in the study from the 1988 Yearbook as Table 11.1 (p. 235).
|Types of organization in the Yearbook of International Organizations
|Conventional international organizations||Type A||International organizations whether governmental or non-governmental, which group together at least three other autonomous non-regional international bodies as full members.|
|Type B||Non-profit international organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, that have a widespread, geographically-balanced membership, management and policy-control.|
|Type C||Non-profit organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, whose membership and preoccupations exceed that of a particular continental region, although not to a degree justifying its inclusion in Type B|
|Type D||Non-profit organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, whose membership or preoccupations are restricted to a particular continent or subcontinental region.|
|Other "international organizations"||Type E||Any international non-profit bodies, whether governmental or non-governmental, which may be considered an "emanation" of a particular organization, place, person or proprietary product|
|Type F||International organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, whose formal characteristics raise fundamental questions if they are allocated to any of the preceding types.|
|Type G||National organizations with various forms of international activity or concern such as research, peace, development or relief. It may also include national bodies which have relations with international organizations and which are listed by them in conjunction with truly international bodies or which appear from their titles to be international themselves.|
|Special types||Type H||International non-profit organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, which have been dissolved, are currently inactive, or are otherwise dormant|
|Type M||Developed to include multinational enterprises, whether governmental or non-governmental (subsequently incorporated in Type F).|
|Type N||Bodies known to hold meetings with extensive international participation. The type is also used for national bodies which have names that create the impression they should be in any of the preceding types.|
|Type R||Religious, military and fraternal orders or congregations, together with similar bodies based on charismatic leadership or commitment to a set of religious practices|
|Type S||Continuing conference series|
|Type T||Multilateral treaties, conventions, pacts, protocols or covenants signed by 3 or more parties.|
|Index-only types||Type J||Used to indicate names of apparently international organizations whose creation has recently been reported but for which no further information has been obtained|
|Type K||Used for names of units concerned with substantive matters within the selected complex international agencies|
|Type U||Used for names of apparently international organizations whose existence has not been confirmed as well as for inactive bodies which would have appeared in Type E or F.|
Over many editions of the Yearbook, these distinctions have been used to separate out those bodies on which greater emphasis should be placed. The statistics generated followed that pattern. Whether or not the legalistic distinction is appropriate is naturally a question -- as with the distinction of profit from non-profit (especially when profit can be explored in non-financial terms). When is a cartel a non-profit organization? Is the acquisition of merit a nonprofit objective? Scholars have been less than helpful in clarifying and reformulating such distinctions over the years. Scholars have naturally been free to "lump" categories together or to benefit from the UIA "splitting" of them into types.
With respect to any assumption regarding "seven rules", it could be that the Types A through G have been seen as establishing such distinctions. The failure to conform to the "rule" defining any type could then result in its allocation to a "less international" type -- hence the challenge to distinguishing "genuinely international organizati0ons".
An analogous distinction of types has been used in the response to information on world problems and global strategies, as profiled in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.
Types of organization vs "Seven rules" of inclusion: Given the importance seemingly attached by scholars to "seven rules" articulated in 1968-1969, in contrast to the set of Types articulated in 1978, clarification is appropriate. Firstly it should be noted that the label "seven rules" does not feature in the document. With respect to the seven items there, in each case their "exclusion" (as indicated), relates primarily to exclusion from Types A through D. Bodies which did not correspond to those criteria would typically have been considered for Types F through U. The seven headings in that document are:
|Relations with other organizations
Presumptions of facticity: The detection and profiling of entities in the Yearbook and other UIA publications has always been an exercise in the art of the possible under circumstances in which the collection of that information could be variously challenged. The constraints were typically clarified in cautionary explanations introducing the profiles (as noted by the study). Various contributors call into question the value of UIA data without indicating how the information could be gathered otherwise. By comparison, reference could be made to the maze of cautionary footnotes in the various statistical studies produced by United Nations agencies on the basis of data supplied by member states.
It is too readily assumed that the UIA data purported to provide completely verified answers to the questions of scholars. It would be more appropriate to assume that the data raises questions which should call for critical inquiry by researchers (which might be assumed to be one purpose of the study). Through much of the development of the Yearbook effort was made to introduce previously unforeseen categories of relevance to comprehension of international association, most notably unusual entities whose relationship to the conventional categories merits commentary. Rather than challenging the credibility of data, ideally the evolution of the Yearbook could be said to have been designed to challenge the credibility of any given research framework and the oversimplistic categories favoured.
Some contributors would appear to have sought ways to use the efforts of the UIA to gather data to discredit that process as a consequence of the dissatisfaction of some scholars. No effort has apparently been made to indicate how data gathering could be improved and verified to a higher degree. This is particularly unrealistic and naive in the emerging context (Zen of Facticity: Bull, Ox or Otherwise? Herding facts and their alternatives in a post-truth-era, 2017). Especially striking with respect to criticism of Yearbook data by scholars claiming to establish more rigorous data sets (pp. 192-193), has been the complete lack of feedback from such scholars over decades regarding errors they had detected in the data.
Presumptions regarding criteria: Where do the contributors draw attention to the criteria which ought to have been applied by the UIA and to the methods which ought to have been applied in data gathering and verification? How can any such perspective be reconciled with the categories favoured or deprecated academically at different periods ?
How might such questions be compared with widely known recognition of the manner in which biologists have carefully reported on biodiversity along the Stuart Highway in Northern Australia -- generalizing their results as applicable to the desert environment far from that lonely road? Can international relations be considered similarly myopic in its focus on "big game" -- "carnivores" (IGOs) and "herbivores" (NGOs) -- to the exclusion of the multitude of smaller entities constituting the "biomass" of global civil society as profiled to a degree by the UIA? Is IR to be explored as "roadside research"?
For example, as cited in an early discussion of the variety of international bodies and their inclusion in the Yearbook of International organizations (Types of International Organization: detailed overview, 1978), Michael Wallace and J. David Singer were quite explicit about exclusion of NGOs from their analysis:
...our interests (and, we suspect, those of most of our colleagues) are more concerned with IGOs than with non-governmental organizations... as an independent variable, one can hardly urge that the amount of NGOs is likely to be important in accounting for many of the theoretically interesting phenomena, which occurred in the system of the past century or so. (Inter-governmental organization in the global system, 1815-1964; a quantitative description. International Organization, 24, 2, Spring 1970, p. 239-287).
Responsible as Singer was for the Correlates of War project (cited in the study), and depending on the meaning of NGOs, this conclusion could be seen as referring to all revolutionary and liberation movements, religious organizations, terrorist organizations, and secret societies, as exemplified by the history of Freemasonry (Joachim Berger, European Freemasonries, 1850--1935: networks and transnational movements, European History Online, 2012).
Is it any surprise that academics have had difficulty in engaging effectively with the challenge of religious conflict, civil unrest and terrorism? What of the nebulous groups facilitated by social media, held to have been so instrumental in the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, in the Occupy Movement -- and currently in the Yellow Vests movement? Such conceptual gerrymandering presumably renders any "correlates of war" irrelevant to the Global War on Terrorism, and many other "virtual wars" (Review of the Range of Virtual Wars: strategic comparison with the global war against terrorism, 2005). Potentially even more relevant are the elusive networks which are the preoccupation of conspiracy theorists, such as cartels, crime rings, and those which enable global financial crises (Diana Crane, Invisible Colleges: diffusion of knowledge in scientific communities, 1972).
Especially challenging to the academic bias with regard to international organization has been the increasingly explicit recognition of "evil" by world leaders, notably framing the Global War on Terrorism as the requisite response to an Axis of Evil. It is unclear how "evil" is related to any correlates of war from a scholarly perspective. The recognition is somewhat consistent with recognition of "wicked problems" by the policy sciences. The challenge featured in consideration of a role for the UIA Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia of Evil Claims, Claimants, Counter-claims, and Sigils: proposed facility in support of current global strategic priorities, 2016). This could be seen as complementary to the "angelic" role with which international organization may naively claimed to be associated (Engaging with Hyperreality through Demonique and Angelique? 2016).
Further insight with respect to the potential scholastic bias suggested by Hamlet's admonishment of Horatio's "epistemic dogmatism" (as cited above), is offered by John Ryder:
Ryder's approach to pragmatic naturalism is not an unspecified appeal to methodological plurality. On the contrary, he shows that different disciplinary approaches to any subject-matter produce "virtuous circularities". According to Ryder, these circularities have the merit of allowing for a sound critique of many of the habitual, academic prejudices. Many times these academic prejudices unnaturally force students to choose between apparently opposing teams. (The Things on Heaven and Earth, Fordham University Press, 2013).
Presumptions regarding "international associations": The comments and judgments on the UIA data gathering methodology by contributors would have been more pertinent if they had been more precisely related to an understanding of "international associations" and to "union", given that that is the purported focus of the book.
Missing from an historical perspective is a time-line over the decades from the founding of the UIA of the "recognition" of the "existence" of different categories of international entity (including those of "global civil society") by distinct authorities, whether (inter)governmental organizations or distinct social science disciplines. As one of the contributors notes, it was only in 1971 that a themed issue covering "non-state actors" featured in the leading international relations journal the iconic journal (Robert O. Keohane and Joseph Nye, Eds, Transnational Relations and World Politics, International Organization, 25, 1971, 3). That journal, for example, could not be considered renowned for its coverage of NGOs prior to that date -- nor subsequent to it.
Presumptions regarding "union": Similarly, with respect to "union", what has been understood (or could be) by that term? This is especially pertinent to any more general reference to "united" (as in United Nations), "unity", or "unifying" -- notably given the manner in which such terms figure so prominently in political discourse (with little sense offered as to what they may imply).
More relevant to this review and any commentary on the "identity" of a UIA, what are the processes of unification which could be envisaged (or have been)? Why indeed, from a historical perspective, have they been seen as unrealistic -- even naive?
Alternatively, can the many efforts to unify or coordinate collective initiatives be seen to fail significantly to some degree -- how and why? The contribution of Matthias Middell and Katja Naumann is especially significant in this respect (Historians and International Organizations: the International Committee of Historical Sciences, 2019). Is conventional reference to "union" and its variants then to be considered inherently unrealistic -- if not a dangerous avoidance (especially when deliberate) of the organizational and conceptual challenges involved, including those of the comprehension of what is implied?
Provocatively this can be explored in terms of consensus, widely upheld as vital to global governance (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011). The latter draws on the highly provocative study by Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006).
The analogy frames the provocative question as to whether "union" lends itself to "intelligent design". Union in the imagined sense may be far more elusive than most assume (Engaging with Elusive Connectivity and Coherence: global comprehension as a mistaken quest for closure, 2018). The many insightful quotations about how the universe is to be understood as as an integrated whole -- with or without any reference to deity -- suggest this may be the case.
Reference in the study to the outmoded "internationalism" with which the UIA's founders are associated, needs to be seen historically as enabling the "transnational" and then "global" organization -- of some remarkably unarticulated kind. How to think about such evolution in the comprehension of organization when "global" is more than likely to be understood as inappropriate in the future -- whether or not it can be collectively comprehended in the present, other than as a convenient buzz word.
What comes after "global"? This will necessarily lend itself to a variety of conflicting assertions, as indicated by the profiling of some 600 in the Encyclopedia (Integrative Knowledge Project: Explanatory Comments)
Presumptions regarding civil society: Given the diffidence with which the social sciences, and especially international relations, have considered non-state actors in the past, it is strange to note the dramatic scholarly swing away from formally constituted non-state actors transcending national borders -- in favour of a "civil society" somehow rendered genuine and global by its grassroots foundations and purportedly recent emergence (James Walker and Andrew Thompson, Critical Mass: the emergence of global civil society, 2008). The lack of such grounding is now readily held to mark the irrelevance of international associations in any traditional sense -- and a mark of their failure.
This uncritical switch seemingly fails to reconcile the nature of the "grounding" associated with social media with the assumptions relating to the nature of the "global civil society" which features so prominently in the title of the book -- but about which scholars have noted that there is no agreed definition. The problematic relationship between local and global is explored separately (Local Reality of Overcrowding -- Global Unreality of Overpopulation: comprehensible reframing of engagement with global issues via metaphors of proximity, 2019). The latter could be usefully adapted to conceptual models in the light of identity politics.
Many international academic associations fall victim to this switch in perspective, although it has always been ironic to note the assumed irrelevance of such bodies according to the scholarly preoccupations of their members. What scholar of international relations would attribute significance to the International Political Science Association or the International Studies Association, for example -- a question implied for historians by the contribution of Matthias Middell and Katja Naumann (Historians and International Organizations: the International Committee of Historical Sciences, 2019)?
What historical significance is to be attached to the demise of the Global Civil Society Yearbook (2001-2012) in relation to the continuing publication of the Yearbook of International Organizations by the UIA, or the late emergence of the International Encyclopedia of Civil Society (2010)? The UIA periodically supplied Yearbook data to the first under contract.
What "methodological failings", by comparison, might be understood to have resulted in the cessation of the one and the emergence of the Encyclopedia, as might be gleaned from concluding texts of the first and the claims variously made (Helmut Anheier, Mary Kaldor and Marlies Glasius, The Global Civil Society Yearbook: Lessons and Insights 2001--2011, 2012; Mary Kaldor, et al (Eds), Global Civil Society 2012: Ten Years of Critical Reflection, 2012). The editors of the study reviewed refer only briefly in passing to the former publication in a section on The UIA and Global Civil Society. The Civil Society Index produced by CIVICUS is referenced. but without discussion.
The Global Civil Society Yearbook was a product of the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit within the Department of International Development of the famed London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). The series is acclaimed as having allowed "academics, civil society practitioners, policymakers and journalists across the globe to quickly access a wealth of information on an influential source of power and influence in today's interconnected world". LSE is however far from renowned for any studies of international association, or the challenges of any global "union" -- whether of civil society or otherwise. As with other schools of economic studies, it was caught remarkably unawares by the global financial crisis of 2008. "Scholastic bias"?
With CIVICUS described as an international non-profit organization, claiming to be "a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world", and with members in more than 145 countries, why has no effort been made to compare that function to the founding vision of the UIA? How does such an alliance differ from a union?
Given the claims of the study, and the reference to multiple "histories" in the subtitle, of particular interest in any review is what is left unsaid, implicit or avoided.
External relations of the UIA with other bodies (other than via the Yearbook data gathering process):
Characteristic of the oddities which feature in the ecosystem of international bodies -- as a challenge to the preferred clarity of academia -- is that many multinational corporations established in Belgium are legally defined as non-profit-making. They receive funding for the administrative cost of their operations from elsewhere, but engage in no profit-making activity in Belgium. This process is facilitated by a coordinating centre for such bodies.
As noted in the study, the UIA shifted from a frustrated effort at self-publishing the Yearbook, through publication by the International Chamber of Commerce (1981) to K. G. Saur Verlag from 1982 (Sharing a Documentary Pilgrimage: UIA -- Saur Relations 1982-2000, 2001). The Yearbook continued to be published by a succession of owners of the imprint -- Reed International (from 1987), sold to the Gale Group by the then Reed-Elsevier (in 2000), and again to De Gruyter (in 2006), and Brill-Nijhoff (2011). Clearly the editors have been variously under some pressure to include or exclude categories of information, where they exceed the commercially viable dimensions of hardcopy. Other pressures are evident with respect to online dissemination of information under contractual relationship with such publishers. Such pressures are equally evident in other instances, of which the case of the Global Civil Society Yearbook and the International Encyclopedia of Civil Society merit comment. Of related concern is the extent to which any such research is made widely accessible or restricted by paywalls and copyright -- most controversially when it has been significantly funded by public resources, as is a feature of the current Open Access controversy
Presumption of UIA significance: Given its title, lengthy history, connection with the United Nations system, and authoritative productions, the UIA has benefitted from an image variously amplified in the eyes of the beholder -- unduly in some cases. Whilst its promotional literature could be understood as transparent in this respect, to the point of disabusing some, any superficial regard could sustain whatever illusion the beholder sought to project onto the UIA -- possibly in support of fruitful negotiations with other parties.
Adapting the adage of Abraham Lincoln, of the UIA it might be said that that "it" could fool everyone some of the time and some people all of the time. In a complex context, this could be understood as a public relations process from which the UIA benefitted relatively innocently.
Some contributors to the study are critical of the Yearbook contents without distinguishing that criticism from how the UIA could (or should) have cultivated and promoted its image according to the principles and practices of public relations -- variously characterized of all international non-profit bodies..
Ideological influences: Belgian society is known for the long-standing academic interplay between Freemasonry (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and Catholicism (Université Catholique de Louvain), and the effects on its institutions. Missing however is a sense in which multiple influences and pressures interweave -- as might be held to be characteristic of any ecosystem. These naturally had implications for the UIA, as explored to a limited degree only in the study:
His current catalogue shows a broad selection of serious works, including titles on European emigrés, Jewish immigrants, a Hebrew text from Harvard University, and a selection of anti-Nazi books. I have published dozens of these books and made a profit on only two or three, he says. But the decisions for these books are made completely independent of the decisions for other titles. Profit is not the motivation. These books are difficult and complicated, but it is one way of doing something because my family had a Nazi past. It is my personal tribute to compensate for what my father did. (Gerald Posner, Hitler's Children: Sons and Daughters of Third Reich Leaders, 2017, chapter 4; an earlier edition dates from 1991).Aside from the Yearbook and its by-products, it is in this sense that it could be argued that Saur's funding of the second and later editions of the commercially risky Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential derived as a reaction from that influence -- personally justified as a tribute to Robert Junk (Tomorrow Is Already Here, 1954; Brighter than a Thousand Suns: a personal history of the atomic scientists, 1958). Jungk was a founding member of Mankind 2000 and an instigator of the futures movement.
The delicate methodological issue is how any influence on data gathering or research is to be noted with due weight or called into question. Potentially relevant cases with respect to Nazism include that of Wernher Von Braun (Operation Paperclip). Kurt Waldheim, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Pius XII -- with the latter now in process of canonization, despite controversial association with Nazism (John Cornwell, Hitler's Pope, 1999). More immediately relevant is the manner in which some of those formally labelled as terrorists by due legal process are subsequently "transmogrified" into a leadership role in their countries (notably including Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Menachem Begin)
Internal UIA dynamics: The study is fundamentally misleading in claiming a historical perspective whilst neglecting the dynamics within the UIA and its Secretariat over the years. The carefully crafted Epilogue to the study is misleading in omitting this dimension. The matter is treated separately below.
Presumption of UIA lack of self-reflexivity: Consistent with the previous point is the failure of contributors to explore any trace of consideration by the UIA itself of evolution of its role in a rapidly changing society -- after 1968. In a world shifting away from reliance on the articulation of insight in peer-reviewed printed journals, concerns within the UIA about its operation would be expected to be found in administrative reports to its statutory bodies.
As historians, the contributors seemed to have considered such indications to be irrelevant to their commentary on the development of the UIA and a Yearbook increasingly dependent on online operations. Essentially any considerations which had not been articulated in printed journals lending themselves to such citation have been avoided in the study -- exemplifying the superficiality of the methodology. Consistent with an increasingly outmoded academic perspective, information not available from such sources, or cited by them (as with the Yearbook) can be appropriately assumed not to exist.
This is all the more astonishing in a world in which the highest authorities now rely on Twitter for their articulations of international relations and foreign policy -- consistent with the acclaimed foresight of Paul Otlet. Indications of such reflection are presented in a subsequent section.
It is remarkable the degree to which the study managed to avoid any discussion of the internal dynamics of the UIA, namely what enabled it to "work" and survive over a century, when many other international bodies have long disappeared. The focus of the contributions is primarily on how the UIA appeared to others, and primarily in terms of the data disseminated through its Yearbook and its failure to function as a coordinating body. The sales of the Yearbook are misleadingly presented as offering the key to understanding its internal dynamics.
The failure to do so is consistent with commentary on the critique of the United Nations Secretariat by Shirley Hazzard (People in Glass Houses, 1967; Countenance of Truth: the United Nations and the Waldheim Case, 1992). The point made is that fruitful criticism of internal operations is typically avoided or suppressed, even by historians.
Significant omissions: Missing from the account are dimensions of the following type:
Funding: In considering the mystery of how it managed to work, greater insight could have been obtained from its finances, which were typically in a condition readily defined over decades as deplorable (as is the case with many international non-profit bodies), aggravated in the case of the UIA by the need to respect data production deadlines. A distinction could be made between:
Significant with respect to UIA finances was both the marginal salaries of staff and the manner in which the UIA reneged on friendly long-term loans from members of the UIA -- having failed to reflect them in the financial records. The pattern was consistent with a well-developed capacity for institutional amnesia, notably affecting the mismanagement of archives and other records, and a failure to alert members of statutory authorities appropriately. [Of some potential historical relevance was the massive transfer of UIA documentary archives on international organizations to the Archives de l'Etat en Belgique in 1985 (where they do not appear to have been catalogued)]
Human dynamics: As in many organizations, and extensively studied in relation to the potential failure of mergers of multinational corporations, of considerable significance to the operation of the UIA were the various cliques transcending functional divisions and the sympathies and antipathies between individuals engendering various forms of resentment and "ill-will":
Having always avoided staff meetings, relying on an early form of coordination via a computer network, the UIA Secretariat evolved to become increasingly non-hierarchical. Of potential concern to any history of its survival is the dynamics between people given that the challenges of power, control and ambition remain (UIA Survival: Separating Siamese Twins? a challenge of conflicting cultures, 2005). How did people get appointed to any role, or evolve into any new role?
Conflicts of interest: Related factors contributing to tensions of significance arose from involvement of key staff members in other international initiatives with which it had been argued the UIA shared some degree of common interest. In practice this took the form of staff devoting some time to non-UIA projects using facilities which were then effectively shared with those initiatives (especially significant in the case of engendering the multi-group consortia required in the fulfillment of EU contracts). Such bodies notably included those noted above with respect to external relations with project in which members of the Secretariat participated, but especially FAIB, IAPCO, GAP, and Mankind 2000
Renewal and outreach? For-profit corporations place great emphasis on creative response to emerging challenges as being essential to their survival and development -- a theme on which there is a very extensive literature. This is far less obvious in the case of non-profit organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental -- international or otherwise. There is a sense in which the benevolent implications of their statutes implies that they already embody regenerative processes appropriately enough.
This suggests a way of exploring the internal dynamics of the UIA with respect to renewal. With respect to outreach to NGOs, relationships of relevance are indicated above as part of the pattern of external relations.
The UIA was faced in the millennium period with opportunities to respond to challenges articulated through new themes, most obviously reinforced by the UN following the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals in relation to sustainability. In practical terms, these offered a means of responding to calls for project proposals associated with generous funding far beyond that to which the UIA was accustomed. With its Secretariat in the European Union, the UIA was well-profiled to respond to those of the European Commission which notably required formulation of proposals as a collaborative arrangement with bodies in several other EU countries. In the case of the World Bank, projects acquired greater credibility if they involved bodies in both "North" and "South".
The UIA Secretariat was able to benefit from the skills of Nadia McLaren (with a minimum of formal support), and her contacts with other bodies, in detecting opportunities and articulating collaborative proposals beyond the comfort zone of the UIA's normal operations -- and typically as lead agency in the partnership with those other bodies. The proposals it was possible to formulate benefitted greatly from both the ambiguous image of the UIA, its long-demonstrated production capacity, and the information skills which had enabled various forms of innovation -- beyond that with which the EU or World Bank were familiar.
The UIA was successful in the case of the Ecolynx Project enabling an unusual level funding from the European Commission over the period 1997-2000 (Final Report of Definition Phase: Information Context for Biodiversity Conservation, 1997), As required, this was applied to the considerable enhancement of some of its information facilities, notably with respect to visualization technology. The INTERCEPT Project (Interactive Contextual Environmental Planning Tool for Developing Countries, 1997-1999) was also successfully evaluated through the stringent processes of the World Bank, although funds did not become available due to a late change of policy priorities. The case typically made by the UIA in soliciting such proposals is visually summarized in a presentation: East-West Collaboration in the Development of Interactive Media Products (1999).
This approach resulted (from 1997) in the free online dissemination of the Encyclopedia databases, whilst other proposals were less successful.
This complex of initiatives is seemingly considered to be as irrelevant to the historical focus of the study in the post-war period as it has been in practice to UIA statutory authorities.
Other than the obvious financial advantages to the UIA, these initiatives (and the people directly involved with them) met with a lack of enthusiasm from the UIA's statutory bodies and other members of the Secretariat. In part this was due to the change of perspective they required (notably with respect to the rapid development of information technology), in part to resentment at initiatives which had effectively been framed and authorized by external authorities -- exacerbating concerns regarding emergence of an internal power nexus.
Of particular significance in this regard was the unforeseen invitation to participate in a bid submitted to ICANN -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- to benefit from UIA expertise and authority with regard to registering international organizations, extending that role to the registration of Internet domains (.org Reassignment: Application from Union of International Associations, 19 June 2002). The proposal effectively adapted the role of the Yearbook as a standard of reference to that of the information-based society in which international organizations would in future function.
In part, due to reluctance by the UIA's statutory bodies to be nominally associated with such an initiative via its own web site, a separate web domain was created (diversitas.org), by which the proposal was known (Diversitas.org Project). Whilst beyond any role previously imagined within the UIA, and involving a much higher degree of technological expertise, this was curiously consistent with the vision of Paul Otlet, as recognized by historians in relation to the Internet. The UIA Secretariat participated in the formal presentation of that proposal -- by Nadia McLaren, Tomas Fülöpp and this reviewer -- much assisted by the negotiating expertise of one UIA member Paul Caron. The bid was not successful, partly due to the dynamics of ICANN policies which favoured allocation of that function to the Internet Society as being a more natural fit.
Alienation of key individuals: Such efforts to reframe the innovative capacity of the UIA, became symptomatic of reasons for UIA statutory authorities to reduce support for any such outreach -- and for those formulating them. This contributed to the withdrawal of Nadia McLaren whose skills were thereby lost to the UIA, as was ultimately the case with Tomas FÜlÖpp. The dynamics are in many ways typical of unresolved strategic conflicts with conventional organizations -- about which the study has nothing to say.
Of continuing historical relevance is the comparison which might be made between:to the alienation and disappointment of those heavily involved as instigators of international initiatives. Possibilities of relevance in the case of the UIA include:
For comparative purposes, other examples might include:
For this reviewer, indicative of his own alienation as a primary supporter of such outreach within the Secretariat, and of relevance to this study, a checklist was produced at that time (How Operation of the UIA has been Systematically Undermined, 2006). This alienation resulted in the incorporation of documents written by the reviewer in various capacities for various purposes (conferences, projects, proposals, UIA journal, etc) into a separate web site, the Union of Intelligibile Associations. As writer of the reports on the UIA information processing program over decades, these were also transformed into a separate database as an archival record (Information / Research Activities for Civil Society -- Index: Reports on initiatives within the Union of International Associations, 1959-2006). This shift in focus of the reviewer was extensively described (Emergence of a Union of Imaginable Associations engendered by a Union of Intelligible Associations from a Union of International Associations, 2007; Reclaiming the Heritage of Misappropriated Collective Endeavour the case of the Union of Intelligible Associations, 2007).
The subsequent shift in innovation priorities of the UIA could be understood as having been creatively reframed within the Secretariat by a greater focus on self-management and greater interaction with one of its traditional markets, namely the conference industry. The challenging opportunities presented by intergovernmental funding and cross-sectoral programmes were accepted only to the degree that they were consistent with its conventional profiling program, as in its contractual relations with UNESCO with respect to consultative status bodies.
As variously noted with respect to the "identity" of the UIA, the editors frame the study as Reconstructing the Identities of an International Non-Governmental Intelligence Agency. The variety of such identities detected or reconstructed does not however clearly emerge from the study -- except through the subtle implications of the contributors.
The study makes no reference to reflection within the UIA on the significance of its own name Varieties of Union of International Associations (2006), a document otherwise accessible as (About UIA's name, 2006).
References is made by one contributor to an earlier study of the Information Culture of the Union of International Associations (2005), but not to the associated studies at that time, nor to their implications:
Together these gave rise to the following articulation in 2006, anticipating a subsequent development (Dynamic Reframing of "Union"; implications for the coherence of knowledge, social organization and personal identity, 2007).
|Facets and varieties of Union of International Associations
(reproduced from Varieties of Union of International Associations, 2006)
Of some relevance, such reflections could be seen as a consequence of an earlier invitation to present the UIA data to the first Global Brain Workshop: From Intelligent Networks to the Global Brain at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Simulating a Global Brain: using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values, 2001). This could be understood as consistent with both the editors reference to the UIA as an International Non-Governmental Intelligence Agency and to reflection at that time on the UIA as a "virtual organization" (Union of International Associations -- Virtual Organization: Paul Otlet's 100-year hypertext conundrum? 2001).
Restrictive definition of "the" UIA: The contributors focus on "the" Union of International Associations, as indicated in the subtitle of the study. This use of the definite article is symptomatic of the manner in which "a" UIA is vulnerable to the conceptual fallacy of reification or misplaced concreteness (H. Edward Thompson, The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness: its importance for critical and creative inquiry, Interchange, 28, 1997).
The assumption is variously made by the contributors that "a" UIA is defined by its statutes or its products over the years -- a pattern unfortunately reinforced by the Epilogue. This is consistent with academic and institutional preoccupation with reporting on the "state" of the world and researching the condition of "nations states". There is virtually no critical recognition of the "dynamics" of the world of global civil society, as argued separately (Dynamic Transformation of Static Reporting of Global Processes: suggestions for process-oriented titles of global issue reports, 2013).
The UIA, as conventionally understood, could be said to have substituted the process of definition, characteristic of entity profiling, as a surrogate for its articulated purpose of coordination -- however that might have come to be understood. The challenge to such comprehension can be compared with:
The bias in favour of "state" is consistent with the academic focus on statistical studies of data sets regarding singular entities, rather than the networks of such entities -- documented so assiduously by the UIA. Curiously it is also consistent with the assumption that the human values, to which so many refer, are best understood as definitive nouns rather than as verbs, or otherwise (Freedom, Democracy, Justice: Isolated Nouns or Interwoven Verbs? Illusory quest for qualities and principles dynamically disguised, 2011).
As suggested above, in a world of instantaneous communication across the conventional boundaries implied by "international", what are the unforeseen boundaries which are the more fundamental constraint on any global union, however that is to be understood? In contrast with "international", the challenge of "interfaith", "interdisciplinary" and "intercultural" frame the challenges of communication and coherent organization otherwise.
Academic research is not renowned for "imagination", a quality typically only recognized and valued after the death of those exhibiting this capacity -- as in the case of Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine (non-academic "amateurs"). Despite the imagination of the latter, extolled in the study, the contributors make no effort to be imaginative in enabling the future of that vision as it might relate to the UIA. The point has been succinctly made by physicist Max Planck:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Identity of "a" UIA: As noted above, the editors frame their introduction, entitled Reconstructing the Identities of an International Non-Governmental Intelligence Agency, with an unusual degree of stress on "identity". How might the identity of "a" UIA be understood in contrast with that of "the" UIA, as variously implied by the subtitle of the study with respect to the "histories of the Union of International Associations"? And, rather than such histories, what might be the "futures of a Union of International Associations" -- or of its interdisciplinary and interfaith analogues?
Unfortunately, as with academic consideration of the variety of (inadequate) attempts at any coordinative "union", little has emerged from academia regarding how that future might be understood and imagined. The discipline of futures studies is much stronger in this respect but has continued to indulge in misplaced concreteness, focusing on "the" definite article rather than deriving inspiration from other disciplines which offer more imaginative possibilities. This could be said to reinforce the crisis of global governance at this time -- and the current irrelevance of academia in that regard.
Why do the various initiatives towards some form of global coordination (each defined by a definite article) find each other to be so irrelevant, or to indulge so systematically in protective "turf wars" -- exemplified by the relations between the various schools of thought which may recognize their existence? Examples, might include:
How might the insights of process logic, social constructivism, or enactivism be applied to this matter? Why are these typically considered irrelevant by those reflecting on international relations? If indeed "a" "union" of "international associations" is to be viable, what could be considered to be missing in the preoccupation with extant coordinative initiatives defined by "the"? How indeed is any elusive "union" to be comprehended, as questioned separately (Comprehension of Unity as a Paradoxical Dynamic: metaphors reframing problematic engagement with otherness, 2019; Engaging with Elusive Connectivity and Coherence: global comprehension as a mistaken quest for closure, 2018)?
Should any understanding of "identity", as promoted by the editors of the study, be explored as a noun or as some form of evolving dynamic -- even a cognitive puzzle for the future to solve, as speculatively explored (Union of International Associations -- Virtual Organization: Paul Otlet's 100-year Hypertext Conundrum? 2001)? As a form of riddle, how might it "work" (Global Governance as a Riddle: but is a solution the answer to the question? 2018).
Imagining "union" and "united" otherwise? Ironically, without suggesting they be compared, the challenge of imagining "union" in the case of any "UIA" is only too evident in the case of "united" -- as in the case of "United Nations". It is similarly evident in any use of "global" and "world" where they are used unthinkingly to imply a comprehensive and all-inclusive integration. This argument applies to "global civil society" as used in the title of the study. It is also implicit in the understanding of "organization" which use of "union" subsumes.
A fruitful approach to this matter have been the much-cited studies of Gareth Morgan (Images of Organization, 1986; Imaginization: new mindsets for seeing, organizing and managing, 1993). As Root metaphors and social organization, this perspective featured in a discussion of the Metaphor Project of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. It also featured in UIA contributions to future studies (Developing a Metaphorical Language for the Future, 1994). More recently, proposals have been made for extension of that framework (Anders Örtenblad, Linda L Putnam, Kiran Trehan, Beyond Morgan's eight metaphors: adding to and developing organization theory, Human Relations, 69, 2016, 4).
As noted there, Morgan has himself elaborated on the original eight metaphors:
|organizations as machines
organizations as brains
organizations as political systems
organization as flux and transformation
|organizations as organisms
organizations as cultures
organizations as psychic prisons
organizations as instruments of domination
In that special issue of Human Relations, contributors offer new metaphors and provide ways of extending existing ones. They also make suggestions for reinterpreting Morgan's eight metaphors. The issue includes a contribution by Gareth Morgan (Commentary: Beyond Morgan's eight metaphors, 2016). Practical applications are considered by Harold Itkin and Miklos Nagy, Theoretical and Proactical use of Metaphors in Organizational Development and Beyond, Pannon Management Review, 3, 2014, 4).
This approach helps to frame the fundamental question for any coordinative comprehension of "global" as potentially implied by "union" and "united". Did the study reviewed here lose a major opportunity in failing to consider that perspective -- and the extent to which it might have been evident in Otlet's vision in the case of a "UIA"? The argument, notably with respect to the UIA, has been developed elsewhere (Dynamic Reframing of "Union": implications for the coherence of knowledge, social organization and personal identity, 2007).
Does a fruitfully realistic sense of "union" call for some form of process thinking -- as a "work in progress"?
Relevance of insights into quantum reality: It is in this sense that the above-mentioned work of Alexander Wendt (Quantum Mind and Social Science: unifying physical and social ontology, 2015) can be presented as a challenge to the conventional historical methodology variously deployed by the contributors to the study. Wendt, as an esteemed scholar of international relations, specifically challenges the sense in which legally constituted organizations are appropriately to be recognized as existing, rather than as a legal fiction to which people variously subscribe. Such an argument is currently of particular relevance, given the surreal nature of global governance (Surreal nature of current global governance as experienced, 2016). Wendt notably questions the reality and very "existence" of nation states, in the light of any survey by hypothetical extraterrestrials with a universal perspective:
In contrast, social structures are mind-dependent, and so no as yet un-invented technology will enable ETs to see them. Indeed, even if ETs could scan our brains they would not see them, since social structures are not "in" our brains either, but in our minds. This is not to say that, through careful study of our behavior and perhaps extrapolation from their own experience, ETs could not infer the presence of states. But that would mean coming to see them as we do, by learning to read our minds. Short of that, the ETs would have to report back home that while Earth was teeming with life, perhaps even intelligent life, nowhere were there any states. (pp. 24-25)
There is a degree of irony to the fact that it has been over a century since Albert Einstein adopted Minkowski's formalism in his 1915 general theory of relativity. If such references to physics can be usefully understood as a sophisticated means of thinking about the reality of experience, rather than deprecated as a surreptitious exercise in reductionism, then what implications does such thinking have for the social sciences, and especially history? Other examples can be cited, notably the Heisenberg Principle regarding the uncertainty relating to determinism between perceptions of particle and wave (Garrison Sposito, Does a generalized Heisenberg principle operate in the social sciences? Inquiry, 1969).
Comprehending "a" union otherwise -- including "a" United Nations: Despite the insights of fundamental physics, so dependent on new modes of thinking, could the continuing focus of the social sciences on "states" rather than "dynamics" be understood as a desperate effort to perpetuate the kind of thinking associated with Newtonian mechanics -- without appreciating the limited contexts in which this is appropriate? Does the challenge of comprehending "a" Union of International Associations call for post-Newtonian insight? How indeed would "a" United Nations be understood from that perspective?
How is "union" to be explored in such terms -- or "international", or "association"? One early response to this was in terms of "potential association" (Wanted: New Types of Social Entity: the role of the "potential association", 1971) in the light of the argument of Alvin Toffler (Future Shock, 1970) for "transient organizations" (p. 133) and "situational groups" (pp. 340-3). The deprecated collaboration of "the" UIA with Mankind 2000 to produce an Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential could be seen as one experiment in exploring "potential".
Curiously some recognition of potential organization is evident in the literature on the possible "variable geometry" of the European Union. This notion can be applied to the United Nations (Alternation between Variable Geometries: a brokership style for the United Nations as a guarantee of its requisite variety, 1985).
With the rise of social media, and the transient groupings thereby enabled, the indeterminism between "wave" and "particle" is usefully exemplified. The social sciences could be said to be relatively schizophrenic in their "particular" approach to international organizations and their membership -- in a period in which it is the "wave-like" nature of movements of opinion on social media which have proven to be so influential.
How might "a" "Union of International Associations" exist in a context of such inherent ambiguity? (Encountering Otherness as a Waveform -- in the light of a wave theory of being, 2013)? More challenging from a quantum perspective is the role of conscious choice in determining momentarily how "the" UIA is determined (Being a Waveform of Potential as an Experiential Choice: emergent dynamic qualities of identity and integrity, 2013). Any union then merits comprehension as being many things to many people -- as the subtitle of the study could otherwise imply.
Complementarity: As in the consideration of physical reality, far greater consideration could have been given to the fundamental complementarity between formal and informal organization. A relatively late contribution with respect to the challenge of coordination by "a" UIA is that of Alan Page Fiske (Complementarity Theory: why human social capacities evolved to require cultural complements, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4, 2000, 1, pp. 76-94):
Complementarity theory posits that human social coordination is the product of structured psychological proclivities linked to corresponding cultural paradigms.
Rather than one metaphorical framework of Gareth Morgan or another, is the essence of the challenge the complementarity between a set of metaphors, enabling multi-facetted comprehension of "a" globally integrative process? The challenge may then be how to design a complementary set of metaphors, as discussed in relation to the Metaphor Project of the Encyclopedia and elsewhere (Designing metaphors and sets of metaphors; Selection of complementary metaphors, 2018; The Identity of the United Nations: experimental articulation through a dynamic system of metaphors, 1991).
Clearly many coordinative initiatives can be seen as reactions to the definitive modality purportedly pioneered by "the" UIA modality -- as perceived. As noted above, one reaction to that preoccupation has been the articulation of a Union of Intelligible Associations and a Union of Imaginative Associations -- seen as subtly implied by, and effectively co-existing, with the UIA as conventionally understood (Emergence of a Union of Imaginable Associations engendered by a Union of Intelligible Associations from a Union of International Associations, 2007). This notably contrasts the organizing principles: international, intelligible, imaginative.
Challenging the conventional: In the discussion within the latter of the Nature of an emergent Union of Imaginable Associations?, conventional understandings of the terms defining a "union of international associations" are called into question as indicated by the following:
Especially important to such explorations is the challenge of how any "union" is to be comprehended in order to render it credible and (re)memorable (Union of Intelligible Associations: remembering dynamic identity through a dodecameral mind, 2005). As the struggles of physics with fundamental reality have indicated, unitary models of adequate complexity are a challenge to comprehension which the social sciences neglect in the reliance on oversimplistic models.
As stated with respect to quantum reality, and sometimes sometimes attributed to Richard Feynman: If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics. Is the elusive "union" appropriate to global governance to be approached from that perspective? (Potential of Feynman Diagrams for Challenging Psychosocial Relationships? Comprehending the neglect of an unexplored possibility, 2013). This curiously echoes the so-alled Belgian Compromise in political decision-making, as profiled in the Principia Cybernetica.
Premature closure? More generally it could be argued that the degree to which formal organizations (including the United Nations) are now fading into relative insignificance is matched by the degree to which informal organization (exemplified by the social media) has risen into prominence. It is in that sense that the title and subtitle of the study imply the very ambiguity with which the social sciences are confronted (in the absence of a "Heisenberg principle"). How indeed to reconcile a preoccupation with "the" (exemplified by the UIA and the bodies it profiles) with consideration of "a" (exemplified by the nebulously global nature of civil society)? How is the latter in particular to be comprehended as integrated in any manner meaningful to the processes of governance?
Especially with the emergence of the tweeting metaphor, trending, and the sense of swarm intelligence, the dynamics of flocking behaviour offer one suggestive approach (Flocking behaviour and the dynamics of gated conceptual communities, 2004). Especially intriguing from such a perspective is the sense in which organizations, whether formal or informal, merit consideration as so-called "filter bubbles" (Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: what the Internet is hiding from you, 2011). What indeed has the Internet hidden from the contributors to this study? The metaphor merits comparison with that of "glass houses", as mentioned above, as with other senses of bubble (Pricking the Bubble of Global Complacent Complicity, 2017).
Curiously, from a historical perspective, of relevance is the emergence of a restrictive approach to corporate personhood -- potentially to be extended to the international organizations profiled by the UIA. This follows from the challenge of Wendt to the existence of organizations as legal fictions, as well the emerging possibility of the personhood to be attributed to humanoid robots in the light of their envisaged role. How might organizational personhood then come to be understood within the "Internet of Things"?
It is remarkable to note that personhood and identity may be variously understood in different cultures, as described from an anthopological perspective by Sarah Jackson, who notes:
For the Maya of the Classic period, who lived in southern Mexico and Central America between 250 and 900 CE, the category of 'persons' was not coincident with human beings, as it is for us. That is, human beings were persons - but other, nonhuman entities could be persons, too... While the social category of 'persons' is found in multiple cultural contexts, who or what is recognised as a person can differ.... Nonhuman persons were not tethered to specific humans, and they did not derive their personhood from a connection with a human... It's a profoundly democratising way of understanding the world. Humans are not more important persons - we are just one of many kinds of persons who inhabit this world...
We must also recognise that personhood is a dynamic state. An entity isn't always or inherently a person. This is kind of wild -- not only do we have to keep our eye out for the various persons who might surround us on a daily basis, but we have to be aware that things might be entering or exiting this state. (A rock, a human, a tree: all were persons to the Classic Maya, Aeon, April 2019)
Given such possibilities, and the surreal nature of the current context, to what extent is the historical preoccupation of the contributions reviewed to be considered appropriate? Is it entirely appropriate to look at the past through the eyes of the past? How might future historians view the challenge to historians of "the" UIA at this time -- as a lost opportunity? The difficulty of course is that there are considerable constraints on historical science as a discipline. Imagination and speculation are naturally excluded as inappropriate -- especially in terms of the conventions of the peer review system. Is it only for future historians to re-evaluate the relevance of any current perspective on the past?
This constraint severely inhibits the value of history as a source of learning -- in a period in which there is a desperate quest for "new thinking" and "imagination", even articulated by the highest authorities, or in critiques of their ill-adapted recommendations (Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation, 2007; Imagining the initiative: reframing conventional labels, 2011). In a critique of a global strategic report towards 2052 by the Club of Rome, the understanding of time can itself be called into question (Engendering 2052 through Re-imagining the Present, 2012).
How is it that the Paul Otlet of a century ago is acclaimed for his imaginative vision of the future, but those who study his initiatives significantly fail in this respect? To what extent could the same be said of the leadership of "the" UIA, and of many international bodies with a coordinative mandate, as implied by the contribution of Matthias Middell and Katja Naumann (Historians and International Organizations: the International Committee of Historical Sciences) ?
Intimating an evolution beyond the "internationalism" of Otlet, through "transnational" to "global" and "civil", as the study does, suggests the need for a perspective of further evolution -- if only in perpetuating the fashionable use of poorly articulated terms in the promotion of various agendas. Geometry and topology, and the formal articulation of their possible transformations, are especially valuable in this respect. They have already been exploited in science fiction with respect to extraterrestrial civilizations.
In the focus on the early preoccupations of the UIA with organization, the study appropriately notes the conflation of concern with knowledge (documentation), institutions (associations) and architecture (city design). Figures illustrative of this are reproduced. No figures are presented with regard to subsequent evolution of insight or the future -- as might be considered appropriate.
The following animations are suggestive of possibilities with regard to the future, whether with respect to the relationships between organized initiatives, knowledge architecture, or more tangible structures reflective of such insights..
|Animations indicative of contrasting understandings of an integrative union of associations|
|Dynamically alternating world
(between "global" and "ring")
|Dynamically intertwined worlds
| "Tao world"
3D Tao configuration
|Reproduced from Wikipedia||VRML animation produced by Bob Burkhardt. X3D and VRML variants produced by Sergey Bederov of Cortona3D||Videos mp4 (solid, wire).
Interactive (x3d, wrl)
The range of such alternatives can be seen of reflective of the consideration by astrophysicists of the so-called shape of the universe. Of related interest is the extent to which such forms can be understood as ideal "knowledge containers", potentially reminiscent of the quest of alchemists for a container for alkahest, namely that which can dissolve any container (Questing for an imaginal episystemic container: embodying self-reflexivity? 2014; Paradoxical container for the uncontainable: prescriptive constraints on creativity, 2016; Further Constraints on Conceptual Container Design, 1983). A "union" can in that sense be understood as a container for the uncontainable.
The torus is especially interesting in this regard, notably in the light of insights from the design constraints for the containment of plasma in nuclear fusion reactors (under construction as ITER). Any contact of the plasma with the walls of the container would destroy it. As such the analogue merits exploration for new operational insights into "union" (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8), 2006).
Given the manner in which the quest for an ultimate form of desirable organization can be compared to that for the Holy Grail, there is a case for speculative consideration of how that form might be related in topological terms to the seven elementary catastrophes which global governance may be called upon to address (Robert T. Holt, et al, Catastrophe Theory and the Study of War, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 22, 1978, 2). Forms of organizations are suggested by the following:
Tragically perhaps, given some current foreign policy initiatives, there is of course the possibility of reverting to a "flat earth" mode of "global organization", as discussed separately (Irresponsible Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2008). At the other extreme is the possibility of a hypothetical megastructure which completely encompasses the creative inspiration of a culture -- a psychosocial analogue to a Dyson sphere, extensively explored in popular fiction. Ironically this recalls the current dubious strategy of full-spectrum dominance.
As cited with respect to any engagement with "a" potential union -- in the Imaginative engagement with multiverse through poetry (2012) -- the biologist/anthropologist Gregory Bateson offered an aesthetic reminder to a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, explaining that:
One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don't ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we are not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to complexity. (Cited by Mary Catherine Bateson, 1972, pp. 288-9)
The appropriately incomprehensible integrative perspective of quantum reality, as suggested by Alexander Wendt, can itself be fruitfully complemented by such an aesthetic reminder in the light of the central thesis of Bateson:
The pattern which connects is a metapattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect. (Mind and Nature, 1979, p.11) .
The difficulty is that any form of "wholth" -- as the focus of the desperate quest for such a meta-pattern -- is a fundamental challenge to comprehension (Wholth as Sustaining Dynamic of Health and Wealth: cognitive dynamics sustaining the meta-pattern that connects, 2013).
This review is written just prior to the Eurovision Song Contest 2019. Whilst implying some relevance to a vision of a currently crisis-torn Europe, it is questionable how it will enhance and enrich that vision in the light of the argument of Bateson. However it will indeed provide a popular integrative focus far greater than that of any other form of union, including the United Nations, and any UIA.
Given the integrative function of music in society, it could be seen as strange that no attempt is made to enable comprehension of global governance through poetry and song. The essence of any union in such terms is enabled by the integrative poetic associations, resonances and harmonies so widely explored in music -- and so absent from sterile appeals for global harmony and unity, however skillfully they may be articulated in statutory legal language. The argument has been developed separately (A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006; Participative Development Process for Singable Declarations: Applying the Wikipedia-Wikimedia-WikiMusic concept to constitutions, 2006).
A contrast has however to be recognized with the symbolic use of anthems, notably the Anthem of Europe, which could be understood as unfruitful celebrations of the static and the past -- speculatively meriting its reversal at this time (Reversing the Anthem of Europe to Signal Distress, 2016). The challenge for comprehension of "a" UIA would appear to lie in improvisation engendering futures variously imagined (Multivocal Poetic Discourse Emphasizing Improvisation: clarification of possibilities for the future, 2016).
The tragedy of global governance at this time, despite the vision of Paul Otlet, could be compared with the tragedy of the social sciences in failing to enable collective comprehension of that tragedy otherwise. It is in this sense that, a century later, it is appropriate to note the poetic articulation by the Irish poet W. B Yeats in his seminal poem The Second Coming (1919).
|The Second Coming (1919) by W. B. Yeats
|Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The poem featured in exploration of mutually challenging understandings of identity (Framing Cyclic Revolutionary Emergence of Opposing Symbols of Identity, 2017). If inspiration is to be sought for an understanding of "union" from the multiverse of fundamental physics, its relation to poetry merits consideration (Enactivating Multiversal Community: hearing a pattern of voices in the global wilderness, 2012; Daniel Albright, Quantum Poetics: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and the Science of Modernism, 2006).
In that mode there is a case for noting the many reflections on the tragedy of the loss of the ancient Library of Alexandria and its associated Musaeum -- variously to be understood as inspired by an integrative union of knowledge. (Mostafa El-Abbadi, Life and Fate of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, 1992; .Monica Berti and Virgilio Costa. La Biblioteca di Alessandria: storia di un paradiso perduto, 2010)
Daniel Albright. Quantum Poetics: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and the Science of Modernism. Cambridge University Press, 2006
Helmut J. Anheier, Mary Kaldor and Marlies Glasius. The Global Civil Society Yearbook: Lessons and Insights 2001--2011. In: M. Kaldor et al. (Eds), Global Civil Society Yearbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 [abstract]
Helmut J. Anheier and S. Stares. Introducing the global civil society index. In H. Anheier, M. Glasius, & M. Kaldor (Eds.), Global civil society yearbook Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 241-254
Helmut J. Anheier and Stefan Toepler (Eds), International Encyclopedia of Civil Society. Springer, 2010
Helmut K. Anheier and Regina List. International Dictionary of Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Organizations. Taylor and Francis, 2005
Stafford Beer. Beyond Dispute: the invention of team syntegrity. Wiley, 1994
Tibor Iván Berend. History as a Discipline, Scholarly and Scholastic. AkadÉmiai KiadÓ, 1980
Christian de Laet:
Poul Duedahl. Selling Mankind: UNESCO and the Invention of Global History, 1945-1976. Journal of World History, 22, 2011, 1, pp. :101-133 [abstract]
V. Finn Heinrich. Civil Society Indicators and Indexes. In: H. J. Anheier and Toepler S. (Eds), International Encyclopedia of Civil Society. Springer, 2010
Robert G. A. Jackson:
Mary Kaldor, Henrietta L. Moore, Sabine Selchow, Tamsin Murray-Leach (Eds). Global Civil Society 2012: Ten Years of Critical Reflection. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 [contents]
Daniel Laqua, Wouter Van Acker and Christophe Verbruggen (Eds.). International Organizations and Global Civil Society: histories of the Union of International Associations. Bloomsbury, 2019 [contents]
Eli M. Noam. Who Owns the World's Media? Media Concentration and Ownership Around the World. Oxford University Press, 2016)
Eli Pariser. The Filter Bubble: what the Internet is hiding from you. Penguin Press, 2011
Gerald L. Posner:
W. Boyd Rayward. The Universe of Information: the work of Paul Otlet for documentation and international organization, . International Federation for Documentation by the All-Union Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, 1975 (FID Publication 520)
John Ryder. The Things on Heaven and Earth. Fordham University Press, 2013
Pierre-Yves Saunier. Transnational History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013
Pierre-Yves Saunier and Akira Iriye (Eds.). The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History. Palgrave, 2009
Union of International Associations. Yearbook of International Organizations.
Geoffrey Vickers. Freedom in a Rocking Boat: changing values in an unstable society. Allen Lane, 1972
James W. Walker and Andrew S. Thompson (Eds.). Critical Mass: the emergence of global civil society. Wilfired Laurier University Press, 2008 [text]
Louis Xhignesse. Une expÉrience-pilote de dÉveloppement de contenu À partir de l'utilisation sÉlective de l'EncyclopÉdie des problèmes mondiaux et du potentiel humain. 1991 [text]
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