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November 1976

Networks of International Associations

Occupational categories and world problems

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Paper for Conference on International Scientific and Professional Associations and the International System (Philadelphia, November 1976). Revised version distributed as Growth and Impact of International Associations and their Networks


The purpose of this paper is to report on some data on the networks of international scientific and professional organizations. Such data has hitherto been somewhat scanty and inadequate. This has prevented the emergence of any widespread appreciation of the extent of these networks and has consequently discouraged any attempts to analyze them as networks rather than as classes of Isolated organizations or as Isolated systems of closely related organizations.

Because of the usual problems of time and resources,it has not been possible to analyze the data reported here either with proven techniques or with other techniques which promise to be of value. However, the data is now in a machine-readable form which could facilitate some such analyses. The other purpose of the paper is therefore to attempt to clarify the characteristics of networks which it may be of interest to detect by such means..

Range of IASP-type organizational networks

1. Organizations as networks (intra-organizational networks)

1.1 Networks of individuals in which the (international) organization partly formalizes and concretizes relationships between Individuals e.g. professional organizations academic organizations. The degree of organization may be minimal as in the case of "invisible colleges", or almost non-existent as in the case of organizational substitutes such as journal readerships, or the participant pool fora regular meeting series. 1.2 Institutional networks: in which the size and complexity of a particular Institution, and the range of its many associated sub-units, makes it useful to perceive the institutions itself as a network through which people, decisions, goods, funds, etc. may pass: e.g. civil service (national and International) multinational corporations, military service(s)

2. Networks of organizations (inter-organizational networks)

A somewhat artificial distinction may be made between the following two types of inter-organizational network:

2.1 "Informal or operational" networks: in which relationships such as the following emerge in the course of secretariat operations: 2.2 "Formal" networks: in which the relationship is in some way formally recognized or approved by a policy-making body:

Complicating Factors

1. Conventional categories

The situation is considerably complicated by the manner in which •pure" characteristics such as (nongovernmental, (non)profit-making, scientific, professional, political, etc. are blended in any particular case. This results in a very wide range of organizational types for which no satisfactory classification system has yet been developed. Since any of these organizational types can be linked in networks,it may well be that "pure" scientific and professional networks could be more usefully considered as limiting cases. The problems of distinguishing between the scientific and professional aspects and of handling the equivalent bodies and networks in developing or socialist-bloc countries make this especially desirable. In the latter case there is complex interlinkage with governmental structures, just as in the West (particularly in North America) there is complex interlinkage with the commercial and industrial sector and its networks.

2. Network complexity

A further complication arises from the form of the networks, as contrasted with the nature of their components. This is particularly the case with international bodies and their networks.

The point is best illustrated by the international Council of Scientific Unions. This body has as one category of member a number of unions which may be considered International In their own right. Some of them have other international bodies as members. Some of the international unions also link together for specific purposes in "inter-union commissions". Some create specialized (or continental) sections which may also be considered asinternational, The international Council is also a member of various standing conferences ofinternational organizations and has formal relation- ships with many others.

This degree of complexity is however paralleled at the national level by the variety of interrelationships between the national academies of science,its commissions, and other specialized national bodies which themselves have links to either the international Council or to its member unions or to both.

At any o( these levels the network may be interlinked in unforeseen ways which may have their equivalents at the international level .

3. Interwoven networks

Whether or not networks raise descriptive or structural problems, some of them have special dependent relationships on others. (The range of these relationships could possibly be described by drawing on parallels from biology e.g. symbiosis, parasitism, commensatism, etc.). Some examples are:

4. Functional specialization and continuity

Even in the case of formal organizational networks, the function of the network may be so specialized that it is this that is more characteristic of the network than any more general notion of inter-organizational relationship.

This is the case when the main function of the organization or network is one of the following:

In some cases, where the activity does not require frequent contact, therelationships in the network may only be "activated" at Infrequent and widely-spaced intervals (e.g. annually or quinquenially). At the national level, this is particularly clear in the case of the networks which are activated for elections.

5. Degreeof centralization

The term network generally implies the presence of

(a) relationships between a particular node and some more central node (i.e. 'vertical' relationships) (b) relationships between a node and less central nodes (i.e. a network of more than one level) (c) relationships between nodes having a similar relationship to a more central node (i.e. 'horizontal' relationships) and possibly also: (d) relationships between a particular node and more central nodes other than the one noted in (a) (i.e. a network with several centres) (e) relationships between a particular node and nodes more central than those noted in (a) and (d) (i.e. a network with links across levels, or 'jumping' levels) and possibly also: (f) direct relationships between the most central node(s) and the least central node(s) (g) relationships such that under one set of conditions the least central node (in the extreme case) may be the most central node under another set of conditions

Clearly networks vary a great deal in their possession of one or more of these characteristics. The first three an? typical of most formal organizations (organizations as networks), although (c) is less frequent or raises problems,in organizations of a more bureaucratic style. An organizational hierarchy, having characteristics (a) and (b), may therefore be considered as an ordered network. The degree of ordering isdecreased or diluted (at least in one sense) with the presence of the other characteristics.

To the extent that the last four characteristics are embodies in networks, and particularly the last two, there is a tendency for the networks to become less formal and more difficult to document. This does not of course necessarily imply a decrease in their functional significance in society - it may even imply an increase.

The degree of centralization raises a difficulty in that some may prefer not to apply the term network in situations where centralization is high, particularly where this implies ultimate control by a single centre. Others, however, may consider that situations of (very) low or "variable" centralization are not ofimmediate interest, whether or not they can be adequately studied.

Predictive possibilities

The data available and the manner of its organization suggesting possibilities for predicting:

Such prediction is not confined to networks of organizations and is in fact dependent upon examination of the interactions between networks of organizations, occupations, disciplines, problem-areas, etc. Growth or evolution of any of these networks will tend to provoke corresponding growth or evolution in the others with which it interacts.

1. Network growth

It is possible to make use of existing ordered subject domains, applied against semi-ordered domains of organizations, problems, disciplines or occupations, to detect subjects which have a significant probability of being expressed in organizations, problems, etc.

The simplest and most common example of an ordered subject domain is a hierarchically organized thesaurus (e.g. the Universal Decimal Classification system). Specialized thesauri have been developed to order occupations (*), commodities {**), economic sectors (***), and diseases (****), for example.

A simple procedure (perhaps overly simple In the light of further investigation, but an advance on the current state of affairs) that can be adopted, is to check off in any such hierarchy the nodes for which corresponding organizations, problems, etc.exist. Then, by inspection,it is possible to note unchecked nodes which are apparently "late" in being activated by any such correspondence.

This may best be clarified by the following diagram:

The solid circles indicate checked nodes for which a corresponding organization, problem, etc.exists, whereas the unfilled circles indicate the lack of any such correspondence (or lack of adequate data). The degree to which any particular branch is "filled" may be considered to exist a "probability pressure" on the change in the status of those remaining unfilled. This approach at least raises the question as to why a particular correspondence has not been found. This may be very useful, in the case of organizations for example, to identify domains in which a formal organization has not been created because an organizational substitute has been found satisfactory (e.g. a periodic meeting, a journal, a treaty, etc.).

The possibilities of this approach emerged in the collection of information: world problems. Where these were related to commodities, economic sectors, diseases, or occupations, gaps in any hierarchy of problems immedliately became apparent and raised useful questions.

Clearly there are possibilities for refining this technique by exploring matches between several hierarchies simultaneously. Matching the disciplines against the (ILO) catalogue of professional occupations brings out underdeveloped features of the latter which may suggest areas of emergence of organizations, problems, and treaties.

This approach is of course not limited to matches between hierarchies. it may also, and possibly more realistically and usefully, be applied using computers to detect degrees of correspondence between any isomorphic structures. This would of course be more appropriate in the case of those networks which cannot be usefully assumed to be hierarchically ordered.

In this way it could well prove possible to explore the way and speed at which networks of organizations are likely to develop specialized branches to break down some subject domain (- possibly to a point of saturation at which a paradigm shift becomes necessary).

Where parts of the network are tied to geographical regions (e.g. Scandinavia, Europe, Caribbean, etc.), the presence or absence of particular regional components could be used in a similar way to predict the emergence of others. For example, European professional regional organizations are likely to emerge before equivalent African or Asian bodies. It might be possible to estimate the degrees of lag for certain categories between different regions. (This would of course be dependent of the national and sub-national networks.)

2. Multiplication of networks

In attempting to predict the emergence of organizations it is of course not possible to limit attention to the simple breakdown of subject fields. Even a superficial check of the range of international organizations shows that a particular subject may be the focus of an organization with slants or modes such as

Each of these modifiers, and the list is neither complete nor systematic, may give rise to parallel networks interwoven to different degrees.

Presumably at some stage it will be possible to clarify the possible scope for organization formation by combining a series of factors such as

An attempt in this direction by Johan Galtung extraprolating from diachronic data on international organizations.

3. Evolution of networks

In the absence ofany analyses and comparisons of organizational networks which could be used to distinguish types of networks, structural formulate for networks, .it is only possible to suggest that networks may be subject to structural shuts after periods of growth, Someindications may possibly be gleamed from the literature describing transport and communication networks within and between urban centres.

When a network has grown, in terms of a given formula, it appears . reach a point of strain,in relation to the demands placed upon it, a: which some new structural formula becomes desirable. (From a strictly formal point of view, the need for such changes and their nature is evident in the evolution and morphogenesis of biological forms). It is through such structural transformations that new varieties o! organizational network emerge. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the emergence and complexification during the 20th century Of inter-corporate networks, whether in terms offinancial control (holding companies,inter-locking directorates, etc.) or movement of products (between corporations producing or using goods and services). It is less clearly documented in the case of the academic environment.

Another possible model of Interest might be developed from that suggested by Eric Jantsch ( ) in order to define the emergence of conceptual relationship between disciplines - particularly since it is probable that this would influence the interrelationships between the corresponding professional or scientific associations.

Data on inter-organizational networks

The project which led to the production from computer files of the Yearbook World Problems and Human Potential was designed to highlight the existence of a variety of networks . This data is summarized in Table 1 . This shows:

  1. the number of entitiesin 13 different files (Including international organizations, world problems, intellectual disciplines, occupations, etc.)
  2. the number of relationships (of different types) between entities in the same file.
  3. the number of relationships between entities in different files.
Table 1: Data from Yearbook of Word Problems and Human Potential, 1976
This table summarizes the information on the number of entries and their interrelationships.
(Totals in brackets are for relationship-pairs, where this differs from the total (or relationships.)

Due to the procedure adopted, some of the relationships counted (by computer) in the files were eliminated (by computer) before inclusion in the actual publication (see Table 2 totals, for example).

Of special interest in relation to ISPA's is the data on relationships between organizations and the international Labour Office's International Standati Classification of Occupations. This is shown in Table 2, which also Includes the relationship between Intellectual disciplines and occupational categories.

Table 2: Discipline and international organization relationships
ILO occupational categories Disciplines Agencies
00/ 01 Professional, technical and related workers



Total   490 730
20 - Administrative and managerial workers   8 30
25 - Members of the armed forces   - -
30 - Clerical and related workers   8 49
40 - Sales workers   2 38
50 - Service workers   1 4
60 - Agricultural, husbandry and forestry workers, fishermen and hunters   11 56
70/80/90 - Production and related workers, transport equipment operators and labourers   37 234
Total   557 1179

Table 1 was obtained by a computer count prior to a final computer edit (of duplicates and incomplete records) before production of the publication from which Table 2 was obtained. It is for this reason that the totals in Table 2 are lower than the corresponding totals in Table 1. (Other relationships will be eliminated and added during the next update.)

In this form it is not possible to determine the nature of the networks which are recorded on the computer files. It is hoped that this can be done with suitable computer programs in the future.

A count of the organizations (based on the computer files) interacting with others gave the following results: *************

A more detailed study by the author of a small sample of international social science organizations was done on the basis of a questionnaire in 1971/2 ( ). A diagrammatic representation of the network of most Interactive bodies is reproduced here.

Table 3. Number of types of interaction between most interactive pairs
Table 4. Frequency of most frequentdirect contact between most interactive pairs

Some indication of the number and types of interaction is given in Tables 3 and 4 .

Diagram of a network of social science organizations based on a questionnaire

A different series of networks emerges from an even earlier study by the author of the (consultative) relationships ofinternational non-governmental organizations to different intergovernmental agencies. The results are summarized in Table 5, which attempts to show what percentage of the INGOs relating to a given IGO also relate to another IGO. (Data for such studies has been published as a table in the Yearbook of International Organizations for many editions.)

Table 5: Analysis of IGO-INGO System
(from data in the Yearbook of International Organization 1970-71 edition).
width=80% src="images/76occup_files/image010.jpg">

Information on the network of INGOs which have other INGOs as their members has been given as a supplement in recent editions of the Yearbook of International Organizations (the 15th edition lists 106 of 4 types).

Data on organizations as networks

The most recent breakdown of International organizations by category is given as Table 6.

Table 6: International organizations by category (1909-1972)
Information published as a table included in the 15th edition of the Yearbook of International Organizations
width=80% src="images/76occup_files/image012.jpg">

An analysis of the international organizations in terms of the countries in which they have members is given as Table 7.

Table 7: Indicative data on international organizations as networks
TOTAL (all continents) 56442


South Africa


. 8041









South Lebanon






New Zealand






German Fed. Rep




















Based on an analysis of the location of members of 2075 international organizations (but excluding EEC-oriented commercial and professional groups)

In the case of 175 organizations, two groups of countries represented were present (due to two distinct membership categories). This would result in some countries being counted twice for one organization The data was derived from the information held on computer tape for the Yearbook of International Organizations (1977). 16th ed which was collected early in 1976.


Table 8: Indicative data on continental representation in international bodies


Continent present

Continent present
(without other continent)

Continent present
(with other continent)

Continent absent

(without continent)































Total (one continent) 694 . Total (multi-continent) (1556)

Based on the same analysis as for Table 7. The data is indicative only in that due to a combination of computer programming and coding errors 212 non-country records were erroneously included in the continent count so that this table is based on an analysis of 56,645 countries (rather than 56,442 as in Table 7). In addition, coding errors resulted in the allocation of approximately 200 countries to the wrong continent. Although this table is based on the analysis of the location of members of 2075 International organizations, 175 of them had a second category of membership (see Table 7 explanation). The analysis is therefore based on a total of 2250 "blocks of countries".

Directions for analysis

As noted by Francois Lorrain ( ), the abstract notion of a network is undoubtedly called to play a role in the social sciences comparable to the role played in physics by the concept of euclidean space. But the poverty of concepts and methods which can currently be applied to the study oft networks stands in dramatic contrast to the Immense conceptual and methodological richness available for the study of physical spaces. A whole reticular imagery remains to be developed. At this time a network is understood to contain nodes and links and little else.

Organizationis best depicted as a network. The mathematical theory of networks derives largely from certain branches of topology and abstract algebra. The theory of graphs is often presented as a kind of general theory of networks, however, other than in the area of operations research . has not proved Itself to be very useful in sociology. The theory, rarely handles networks with several distinct types of relationship, each with its own configuration of links. It is precisely such networks which are of most interest in sociology. It also tends to exclude networks in which some of the points have links back to themselves, and it is often just such networks which are Important in representing social structures.

A final disadvantage of the theory of graphs is that it only offers a fairly limited range of means of global analysis of networks. In such a situation is not possible to provide more precise descriptions of networks as structures with particular characteristics, or as made up of sub-structures with particular characteristics. It is therefore difficult to distinguish clearly between networks of different types: especially since an adequate description depends upon structural rather than quantitative information. It is curious that none of the sciences appear to have developed a terminology to facilitate communication about irregular, complex, multi-dimensional structures.

Conventional analysis of networks provides Information on such characteristics

Such characteristics give very little Information on the structural features, patterning or Irregularities of a network.

Policy implications

1. Facilitation of network processes

It is clear that intra- and inter-organizational networks are growing, multiplying and evolving in response to perceived social problems and possibilities for action. These changes are in large part unplanned (and unfinanced) from any central point and appear to be self- correcting in that 'excessive' development is compensated by the emergence of counteracting networks. Little attention is given to facilitating this growth so that in some cases it may be considered dangerously spastic. Despite this the network of organizations (International, national, and local) of every kind and with every pre-occupation, represents a major unexplored resource. The (symergistic) potential of this network, if its processes were facilitated,is unknown.

Possibilities for facilitating these processes include:

2. Network organizational strategy

The elements of the strategic problem at this time include:

These networks, and others, are not static structures. They are changing rapidly in response to pressures and opportunities perceived in very different parts of the social system. As such they, and component sub-networks, are not controlled or controllable by any single body, it only because the complexity cannot be handled by any single body or group of bodies.

The strategic problem therefore is how to ensure that the appropriate organizational resources emerge, and are adequately supported, in response to emerging pressures and opportunities. But it would seem that this must be achieved without organizing end planning such organized response - for to the extent that any part of the network is so organized, other parts will develop (and probably should develop) which will favour and implement alternative (and partially conflicting) approaches.

The challenge is therefore to develop the meaning and constraints of what may be termed a network strategy. This is an approach which facilitates or catalyzes (rather than organizes) the emergence, growth, development, adaptation and galvanization of organizational networks in response to problem networks,in the light of the values perceived at each particular part of the social system.

3. Network vocabulary

Whether amongst academics, policy-makers, administators, or other practitioners, the frequency with which "network" is now used is not matched by any increasing facility in distinguishing between types of network. Because clear and simple concepts are lacking, together with the appropriate terms, discussion of such social complexity can only be accomplished,if at all, by the use of extremely cumbersome and lengthy phrases which lend to create more confusion than they eliminate. A vocabulary is required which is adapted to complexity. in the absence of such a vocabulary, debate tends to avoid discussion of Issues which emerge from such complexity and concentrates on Issues which can be adequately expressed via the existing vocabulary. This creates the illusion that the issues which can be discussed are the most important because of the visibility accorded them by the vocabulary at hand.

There is therefore a real challenge to the social sciences to Identify concepts associated with complexity end to locate adequate terms with which to label them. The development of such a network vocabulary would provide a powerful means for objectifying and de-mystifying the complexity of the organizational, problem and conceptual networks by which we are surrounded and within which most of our activity is embedded.

A very preliminary exercise to determine the kinds of ways in which it might be useful to describe networks is given as a list of terms in Appendix 2.

Appendix 1: Possible distinctions between "network" and "system"

  1. Systems tend to require more information for their description than networks, since flows must be des- cribed as well as structural relationships.
  2. Systems are described primarily with quantitative information (which is both difficult and costly to obtain and has a short useful life), whereas networks may be described with non-quantitative structural information (which is more readily available at lower cost and has a longer useful life).
  3. Systems tend to have a unique (or ultimate) controller regulating the stale of the system as a whole, whereas networks tend to have a plurality of controllers (if any), with a relatively high degree of autonomy. (In other words, systems tend to be centralized in some sense, whereas networks tend to be decentralized or polycentric).
  4. Systems tend to be associated with imposed structures or patterns (even if limited to the choice of the system boundary), whereas networks tend to be associated with emergent structures or patterns.
  5. Systems tend to have well-defined boundaries (even if they are open-systems) whereas the outer-limit (or fine detail) of a network is ill-defined and not of major significance to its description.
  6. Systems tend to have well-defined, stable goals or functions, whereas networks, if they have any, may have ill-defined goals, a plurality of goals (possibly fairly incompatible), or may change goals relatively frequently.
  7. Systems tend to have a more limited tolerance of changes to their environment, whereas networks tend to maintain a fair degree of invariance and coherence even in the event of highly turbulent transformations to their environment.
  8. Societal system descriptions tend to be meaningful only at a macro-level to detached observers, whereas network descriptions retain their utility even when limited to the immediate environment of an involved participant at a particular node of the network.
  9. Systems, and particularly their dynamics, tend to be to represent, whereas complex networks can be represented with relative ease.


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