K. Gram-Skjoldager u.a. (Hg.): Organizing the 20th-Century World. International Organizations and the Emergence of International Public Administration, 1920-1960s

Organizing the 20th-Century World. International Organizations and the Emergence of International Public Administration, 1920-1960s

Gram-Skjoldager, Karen; Ikonomou, Haakon Andreas; Kahlert,Torsten
Histories of Internationalism
London 2020:
336 S.
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Enrico Behne, Universität Leipzig

Academic interest in international public administrations (IPAs) or international bureaucracies has grown considerably in recent decades. The resulting literature combines insights from public administration and management science with scholarship on international organizations (IOs) to illuminate the inner workings of these organizations, often referred to as black boxes. Moreover, this body of literature is particularly interested in case studies from the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This timely volume contributes to this flourishing research field. Its focus is on the “foundational period” (p. 1) and the emergence of “second-generation” (p. 1) international public administrations, to which the authors include the League of Nations, UN (agencies), OECD, and NATO, among others. Hence, its general empirical interest is in (Western) European and transatlantic international organizations. The editors share a long-standing academic interest in the subject and have compiled an exciting wealth of expertise for this book.1 All three editors have previously worked within the project the Invention of International Bureaucracy (2016–2019) at Aarhus University, which focused on the history of international organizations, with a particular emphasis on the League of Nations and the interwar period. The project was funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research Sapere Aude. The present volume comprises 13 chapters and is grouped into four parts and an introduction. Each of the four parts has three subchapters written by different authors.

Part one of the book, titled Populating Administrations, zooms in on the personnel of IPAs. All three contributions meticulously demonstrate the use of biographical data of employees in international bureaucracies. Chapter 2, by Bob Reinalda, introduces the reader to the IO BIO Dictionary Project, 2 which provides detailed accounts on career descriptions of executive heads in IOs and links them to a theoretical argument highlighting the benefit of studying international bureaucracies. In chapter 3, Haakon Andreas Ikonomou uses biographical data as a “can opener” (p. 7) for the study of international bureaucracies, and in chapter 4, Thorsten Kahlert introduces the analytical tool of prosopography, that is to say the reconstruction of specific sociological characteristics such as nationality, gender, and age, to shed light on broader trends in the composition of the League’s personnel. Generally, this first part sets the general methodological tone of the volume, as biographical approaches dominate throughout.

The second part is interested in Norms and Learning. The title of the section is somewhat misleading, however, as neither norms nor (organizational or institutional) learning are properly conceptualized with reference to the relevant literature. Instead, this part again deals mainly with biographical data and follows the traces of individuals. In chapter 5, for example, Christian Ydesen and Maren Elfert explain the influence of US educators and social scientists on the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and their respective approaches to educational policies and governance – one being more philosophically inspired, as in the case of UNESCO, and the other more economically oriented, as in the case of OEEC. Chapter 6, by Katja Seidel, is interested in the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the commission of the European Economic Community (EEC). In particular, she follows Jean Monnet, Jaurant-Singer, and Max Kohnstamm in the High Authority and Emile Noël and Walter Hallstein in the EEC to show how these individuals shaped practices, procedures, and norms within and across their organizations. Similar to chapter 5, in chapter 7 Amy Sayward examines the epistemic communities of nutritional scientists at and within the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Part three is devoted to Legitimacy and Legitimization. Emil Eiby Seidenfaden approaches the subject in chapter 8 through the public legitimation strategies of the League of Nations as practiced by its Information Section between 1919 and 1940 and how these experiences affected the planning of its UN counterpart. Similarly, Anne-Isabelle Richard shows in chapter 9 how international civil society actors in the form of the International Federation of League of Nations Societies engaged in “cooperative public relations” (p. 152) with the Information Section of the League of Nations Secretariat. Michael Jonas, in chapter 10, analyzes German diplomats at and within the League of Nations Secretariat, particularly in the second half of the 1920s (the so-called Stresemann years).

The fourth part deals with Leadership and Administration. In chapter 11, Ellen J. Ravndal examines the first two UN secretaries-general, Trygve Lie and Dag Hammarsköld, as “frontierspersons” (p. 183), a term proposed by Bob Reinalda to describe the heads of international public administrations in the formative years. Ravndal uses the terms to show how both secretaries-general helped to expand the autonomous powers of the Office of the Secretary General in international crisis management, for example by sending investigative committees to crisis situations, mediating between parties in conflict, drafting Security Council resolutions, and appointing special envoys. Chapter 12, by Linda Risso, goes in the same direction by tracing three NATO secretaries-general, namely Lord Hastings Ismay, Paul Henri Spaak, and Manfred Wörner, and by showing how their actions consolidated the practices of NATO secretaries-general. The final chapter 13, by Karen Gram-Skjoldager and Haakon Andreas Ikonomou, deals more generally with international civil servants and how specific notions of impartiality, loyalty, and diplomatic immunity shaped this profession in the making.

Although the editors affirm their empirical interest in European and Atlantic international organizations (p. 1), it remains a rather Eurocentric account of internationalism and international governance in the first half of the twentieth century. Except as recipients of travelling concepts derived from the European experience (p. 6), none of the chapters appreciate non-European efforts and achievements at transnational (bureaucratic) cooperation and administration. For example, the many pan-African congresses and conferences that ultimately culminated in the formation of the Organization for African Unity or the role of African and Caribbean actors in establishing and shaping the World Federation of Trade Unions are but two examples. To be fair, the editors briefly point out these shortcomings and acknowledge that these empirical gaps need to be filled in order to write a “truly global history of international administration” (p. 12).

Above all, this impressive volume shows that individuals matter in institutions. Throughout the book, the added value of biographical data and the focus on specific actors and organizational processes in the study of IPAs is convincingly demonstrated. These approaches arguably have more explanatory power than approaches that treat IOs as mere arenas of member states interests. The volume is therefore recommended to all scholars interested in the inner life of IOs, particularly IPAs and the bureaucratic processes within them.

1 Karen Gram-Skjoldager is currently an associate professor at the School of Culture and Society at Aarhus University, Denmark, where she is also program director of an MA-program in international and global history. Haakon Andreas Ikonomou is an associate professor of history at the Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Torsten Kahlert is currently a research associate at the Marbach Weimar Wolfenbüttel Research Network in a project on open-access publishing platforms in academia.
2 See https://www.ru.nl/politicologie/io-bio/io-bio-biographical-dictionary-sgs-ios/ (accessed 09.05.2023).

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