Over the last 20 years, historiography has observed that international institutions are ideal case-studies for the study of transnational connections. Such an analysis can be made on several levels: in addition to investigating institutional structures or founding principles, an examination of the concrete functioning of these bodies allows us to analyze not only the forms and strategies of interstate political relations, but also the transnational circulation of problems, proposals, and people. From this point of view, the emergence of international organizations after WWI is linked to the appearance of a new figure in the world of work: the international officer, embedded within – and in turn the producer of – broader political and epistemic networks. The concept of "epistemic network" was introduced by Jasmien Van Daele and then adopted by Sandrine Kott to define and analyze a part of the social linkages revolving around the International Labour Organization (ILO), which was founded in 1919 to strengthen the protections of workers and the triangular dialogue between trade unions, business representatives, and public authorities. Against this setting, epistemic networks are defined by intense exchanges and debates characterized by high specialization, by sharing practices that are first spontaneous and then slowly formalized, and by the aim to elaborate proposals that move beyond the dimension and purpose of the single nation state.
The main objective of the conference is to study the history, individual and collective, of the officials and experts who collaborated within the ILO; we will focus on the social, political, and epistemic networks where their activity took place, and observe their paths, origins, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, debates, political loyalties, personal motivations, technical skills, and diverse trajectories. This will allow us:
- to ascertain in depth the composition of the ILO bureaucracy, exploring its ordinary functioning and internal mechanisms;
- to observe the construction, extension, and functioning of the transnational epistemi networks embedded in the ILO, mapping the development and functional articulation of the various committees and study groups and their exchanges;
- to study the interactions between individuals of different ages, origins, skills and perspectives, who were nevertheless united as part of the bureaucratic body of an international organization that was to some extent autonomous from its member-states;
- to measure the convergences and potential conflicts created within these bureaucracies due to pre-existing and divergent political or disciplinary affiliations;
- to analyze the ways in which “experts” from different scientific disciplinary fields and activities used and enhanced their expertise to participate in the construction of the legal and cognitive tools of the ILO, and contributed to their dissemination by presenting them as indispensable tools for the resolution of national and international social problems;
- to evaluate the specificities of female participation in these networks and the dynamics of the change in gender relations over the 100-year history of the ILO;
- to rebuild the dialogue and exchanges between the ILO and other international organizations – inter-governmental and non governmental – through various types of formal or informal networks;
- to evaluate the different loyalties developed by international officers in relation to the national / international nexus.
On the one hand, institutions such as the ILO presupposed a bureaucracy of officials who were dedicated to the cause of the organization; on the other, this plurality of individuals, trained in different national contexts and with divergent political and economic interests, ended up giving life to complex networks of relationships characterized by the convergence of a multiplicity of identity and belonging. Finally, the national / international nexus can also be read through the ways in which experts operating in the transnational sphere dialogued with their respective national political spheres in order to promote the adoption of specific measures in their own country.
The scientific committee is particularly interested in contributions relating to the following topics, which will be the subject of the respective sessions:
- occupational medicine
- boundaries of work
- social justice
The scientific commission invites the submission of proposals in English or Italian by 15 May 2022, by sending an abstract of 500 words and a one-page curriculum to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Conference will be held in English or Italian; slideshow in English is required. Daniel Maul (University of Oslo) and Isabelle Lespinet-Moret (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) will be the keynote speakers.
The Conference will take place on 27-28 October 2022 at the ILO Office in Rome.
No fees are required. Limited travel grants are available for PhD students and post-doctoral fellows: please ask if interested.