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International organizations as bureaucracies: Establishing a new approach

Jenny Lewis
University of Melbourne
Klaas Dykmann
University of Roskilde
Jenny Lewis
University of Melbourne
Open Panel

Abstract

The paper aims to advance scholarship on the emergence and development of international organizations (IOs), by proposing a new interdisciplinary approach that combines historical and public administration frameworks with a strong empirical focus. We will concentrate on culture and agency to examine the importance of international organizations as bureaucracies: To what extent does the organizational culture within these IOs rest on a particular set of western beliefs and value systems? How important are the backgrounds of the individual actors within these organizations in shaping this culture? How are these bureaucrats connected through their organizational structures and various internal and external networks? Recent studies convincingly demonstrate the importance of IOs as generators of global rules (Barnett and Finnemore 2004), “quantifiers” of the world (Ward 2004), or international law-makers (Alvarez 2005). However, while these studies have shown the agency of international bureaucracies at a broad level, they have tended to neglect the importance of individuals and groups. Is there a unifying organizational culture at work, or are some dynamic core groups pursuing their agenda against a passive or disinterested majority (Trondal et al. 2010)? Following the development of a research framework centred on culture and agency, we propose an empirical strategy that examines (League of Nations and United Nations) archives to advance research on the international civil service. This framework and the empirical research that follows its development, will allow us to propose adjustments to existing public administration and policy theories to increase their adequacy in framing research at the international level.