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Welcome to the UN Library and Archives Geneva's Audio Research Guide! Here you'll find episodes from our own podcast, The Next Page, as well as podcasts and audio from or on the UN system and multilateralism.

Why International Organisations Hate Politics with Dr. Lucile Maertens and Dr. Marieke Louis

by Alma Rinaldi on 2022-07-04T16:01:03+02:00 in Member States, International relations, Humanitarian Affairs, Politics and International Relations, Social Affairs, Human Rights, United Nations | 0 Comments

Amy Smith 

Sometimes, a book title really catches your eye – and this one – Why International Organizations Hate Politics - certainly piqued our interest.  The authors, Marieke Louis and Lucile Maertens question the apolitical claim of international organizations. Through current and historical examples and case studies, they systematically analyse the practices and logic of depoliticization, throwing light onto everyday practices in international organizations. Professor Vincent Pouliot at McGill University describes their book as, “the final nail in the functionalist coffin of depoliticized global governance”. I’m Amy Smith and you’re listening to The Next Page, the podcast of the Library & Archives devoted to advancing the conversation on multilateralism. This is a perspective-changing book, and it was a huge pleasure to have Marieke Louis and Lucile Maertens join me for a conversation to explore their work. Enjoy listening. 

So hello, welcome to The Next Page, thank you for joining us. Would you like to introduce yourselves briefly for our listeners and just tell us how you came to write this book that has such a provocative title? 


Marieke Louis 

Thank you very much for the invitation. My name is Marieke Louis, I am an Assistant Professor in political science and international relations at Science Po Grenoble in France. 

I have been working for 10 years now on international organisations. I made my PhD on the International Labour Organisation and I'm working with Lucile for, I could say, 10 years as well. We've known each other for a long time since we were actually master students and then PhD students. 

So, our interest for that book and I will probably explain a little bit later, but, came from a very similar question that we were confronted with in very different areas because Lucile is specialised in environment, and I'm specialised more in social and economic multilateralism. 


Amy Smith 

And Lucile? 


Lucile Maertens 

Thank you very much for having us, it's a pleasure to have this opportunity to present our work, so I'm Lucile Maertens. I'm a senior lecturer at the University of Lausanne, and my work also, like Marieke’s, is focusing on the study of international organisations, mostly in the field of global environmental politics, but also on International Security, and I've been working on this project on depoliticization for a few years now, and I'm really glad to have this opportunity to present it today. 


Amy Smith 

So, the title, tell us more. 


Marieke Louis  

So you said... you talked about the provocative title of the book. 

To be honest, we are clearly not the first to have used this expression. 

Actually, we borrowed it so to say, to Colin Hay. Colin Hay is a political scientist. He wrote a book in 2007 called Why we Hate Politics, and it was already an attempt to theorise that question of depoliticization and he made distinctions between different kinds of depoliticization. The government depoliticizations through delegation practises, the public depoliticizations through privatisation and also the private depoliticization through the denial of a political problem. 

We were very much inspired by this title and for the subtitle which is Depoliticizing the World clearly is also a reference to the famous book, at least in the field of international organisations, from Michael Barnett and Martha Finnemore, Rules for the World,  2004. 

And it’s also a way for us to show the link between two literatures, literature on political science, but also the literature on international organisations which not always dialogue with each other, so this is this is the reason for the title. 


Amy Smith 

So, the book, you know, tell us a bit more about how it fits into the existing literature and what makes it relevant for advancing our understanding of international organisations. 


Marieke Louis 

Well, the book is really at the crossroads of different literatures. The first one is, broad literature on what is called functionalism, which is of course a key concept in order to understand this apolitical claim that that we tackle in the book. Functionalism, which is also related to technocracy. The second trend of literature is vast amounts of articles and books on anti-politics and bureaucratic multilateralism. 

The fact that we don't consider only international organisations through their member states but also as bureaucracies and of course this is linked with these depoliticizations mechanisms that we identify and the other one which is interesting because it's not restricted to international organisations, is the literature on expertise, knowledge and technicisation which is very much transversal in fact and doesn't only tackle international organisations.  

So, given these different traditions you might say OK, but what's new? There are so many books and articles already on the on the subject. Actually, when we were finishing the book there are actually two other books that just came out. A book from Frédéric Mérand, a political scientist at the University of Montreal who wrote on the politicisation of the European Commission and his book is entitled The Political Commissioner and also at the same time in 2021, Jens Steffek wrote a book on International Organisation as Technocratic Utopia. We actually had a workshop with him to discuss the similarities on our two books. So, even though we have many workshops organised and a vast amount of literature, I think there is still more to say about it and clearly, if you have to make a second edition, we will have to include way more literature, I guess. 


Amy Smith 

Very interesting. So Lucile, do you want to do you want to add something? 


Lucile Maertens  

Yes, just to go back to the relevance of the book in the study of international organisations. 

I think what we addressed in the book is that we propose a systematic analysis of something that is very common in many international organisations. It's a bit of an elephant in the room, as Marieke was just saying that there was quite a lot of literature that addressed depoliticization, but most of depoliticization was not questioned especially in the case of the functionalist work, or it was marginally addressed, it was not directly the main question that was at the at the core of the different literature that was before the book.  

And so, what we tried to do in this in this manuscript is to bring together very different case studies with this conceptual ambition to have an original framework that is applicable in very different types of institutional settings. And so, I think what makes it relevant for advancing our understanding of IOs is specifically the fact that we identify practices that are very diverse, like delivering technical assistance using ready-to-use formats or using even delaying tactics all of that it's quite different, but we put it in a coherent way in this effort to have a typology of those practices and logics of depoliticization. 

And so, it's going inside the inner dynamics of IOs but also questioning the impact of those inner dynamics onto the global problems that international organisations were created to solve. 


Amy Smith 

Thank you, Lucile. We'll come back to the practices in a moment but first I love it that you start your book with an exclamation that you've heard around international organisations “we don't do politics now”. It's certainly something I've heard working here. But first, tell us how you are defining politics? What is this paradox that you take as your starting point? 


Marieke Louis 

Maybe I will start with the paradox. Maybe it's not so much a paradox in fact than a tension between as you say, these apolitical claims. Everyone who's been studying or working for an international organisation has heard we're not here to do politics. We don't do politics, so we hear that in very different contexts, I talked about my research in the International Labour Organisation and Lucile is working more in the field of environment, in UNEP but also in the UN. 

So, there is a tension between these apolitical claims and the fact that they evolve in very political environments, which is why the definition of politics is of course so important and we try to tackle the issue in the introduction. 

Let's say without being too technical, that we adopt rather inclusive views on politics. It's both professional specialised activities, but also more mundane private practices, as long as they have an impact on the daily lives of a broader collectivity, let's say. And as long as these practices, whether they are performed by professional or by ordinary citizens, as long as they involve consideration about the legitimacy of detaining power and make a decision, the exercise of authority and the delivery of public policy. 

And of course, in this consideration you have a conflict and debate and very often when you have conflict and debate, it's a signal of politicisation and the presence of politics, but not exclusively because politics is also about cooperation and this is maybe where we differ from the dominant literature on politics, because most of the time politics is very much seen through the lenses of conflict and opposition and debates and  we think that you also have to include more cooperative dynamics. 

And the other reason we had to take on a more inclusive definition of politics is because if you define politics only as we do at the national level in terms of partisan cleavages for instance, you will exclude international organisations because within international organisations you don't have the same lines of tensions of political parties, for instance. So, if you want you to make politics also fit for the realm of international organisations you need to be a little bit more inclusive and being inclusive doesn't mean that we think that politics is necessarily everywhere, all the time, it varies, some issues can become political at some point and be less political at others, so it's not everywhere all the time, but it's more contextual, but being attentive to both the professional and nonprofessional actors and activities. 


Amy Smith 

And so, whilst we're on definitions and just so that we all understand, explain to us about your notion of depoliticization. 


Lucile Maertens 

So, linking with the fact that we have this inclusive view of politics and that we say that not everything is political all the time, what we consider as being a deep politicisation process is precisely this “de” “politicisation” process that is different from “a” “political”. 

When you say that something is apolitical, what you mean is that it's non-political. It doesn't have a political character when we talk about depoliticization the “de” refers to the process of taking away the political character. 

And that's what we study by defining depoliticization as a process in which we minimise, conceal, or even eliminate politics within international organisations. 

And so, it's a process that needs to be contextualised because it's enacted through daily practices, but it also follows institutional logics and individual tactics. And why is it important to look at that? Because it has political meaning and implications for global governance and internationalisation, because that's how international organisations functions on a daily basis, but that's also how we would frame, and we would enact our solutions for the global problems that are at play in international relations. 


Amy Smith 

So now we're onto the practice and in talking about international organisations you specifically talk about how they perform depoliticization, and you know three ways in which this is done and the first one is that IOs discourses have a tendency to reduce political issues to technical ones, especially through using expert knowledge and so on. What have you observed? 


Lucile Maertens 

So, this is something that we see in many organisations where you have expertise that is produced by international organisations that tend to simplify very complex social facts or social problems. Our take compared to the literature on expertise and international organisations is to focus on the claim of expertise. Here, what we say is that claiming being an expert within international organisations or international bureaucrat, but also diplomats, provides a credential that can isolate the actors from politics. Because the expertise would be the reason why this actor is legitimate to intervene on this field. By doing so it creates a distance with the politics and this also lead in terms of interpreting the problem at stakes into technical interpretation that tends to reduce the complexity also for practical reasons and we'll come back to that.  

Until we build on the like the sociology of quantification, for example, to discuss the way international organisations use models, indexes, numbers, without disclosing the political decisions that are taken in the calculation process. If I take an example of the UN development programme, so UNDP, uses now the Human Development Index. When the Human Development Index was put in place, the idea was to challenge an understanding of development through the GDP only. But this index is still just one number. It's just the addition of three variables, not even a very specific ponderation between them, and so having this number at the end, it's still debatable to use those numbers instead of another more complex understanding of what it means to be developed. 

And so, this is the type of practices that we were able to analyse into different cases and. I think what's interesting also when we look at the different international organisations is that we don't always have the same mechanism that we can see in terms of the link between expertise, technicization and international organisations because it depends on their mandate. For example, the case of UNEP, the UN Environment programme, its mandate is connected to its expertise on environmental assessment, so it's quite connected to a form of technical expertise so it's easier for UNEP to use this type of technicization practice. 

But if you take, for example, the World Bank. The World Bank would have more tendency to use econometrics compared to environmental assessment, because it’s economists that are inside the World Bank. But you have also other types of knowledge. Like experience is very used as a knowledge, especially for humanitarian organisations. If you take the case of the UNHCR, the UN High Commission for Refugees, their experience in CAP management was used as a form of claim to be able to depoliticize their role in intervening after a natural disaster. And so here again, you have different types of knowledge that is used to participate in the process of depoliticization. 


Amy Smith 

Your second point is on neutrality. How is neutrality used for depoliticization and can you give us an example? 


Marieke Louis 

Yes, we have to say that neutrality is a very challenging concept. It's difficult to define because it's used with regard to very different issues. I mean neutrality in academia is not necessarily the same as in the public service, and definitely also not completely the same in the field of international organisations. But in the field of international organisations, neutrality has historically been and still is a key concept, especially with regard for instance to humanitarian intervention and also in peace keeping. 

It entails very much this idea of not taking sides in hostilities, but also not to engage more generally speaking, into political or ideological controversies and most importantly, this neutral positioning is seen as a way to secure the trust. The confidence of the parties involved in a dispute or a conflict and, and therefore to facilitate the intervention of international organisations. 

So, in the book we don't necessarily take on the challenge to assess whether international organisations are in fact neutral or not. 

What we take seriously is the neutral claims, and we adopt a more practice-oriented view on neutrality. So how is neutrality produced? How does it circulate? And most importantly, how does it serve the purpose of depoliticization? And here the answer relies on the way of what we call neutral formatting, and I will let Lucile give some examples. How neutral formatting is used to reduce the political space for debate and contradiction by relying for instance on success and successful and experience-based justification in displacing the political agencies from international organisations to the audience it targets, and we will give the example of training.  

And finally, how international organisations are very effective in turning information and facts into actual normative recommendations like best practises. And we see that very much also in the case of breast feeding, it both relies of course on scientific expertise, so it also relates to what Lucile was talking about the production of expertise, but by saying what is good for a child, for instance, it becomes very, very quickly what people should actually do, so you always have a very thin frontier between informing but also recommending the best way to go. 


Amy Smith 

So, Lucile would you like to tell us a bit more about training and how that comes into the picture and not only how neutrality is produced but about its dissemination, as you've just been talking about, Marieke? 


Lucile Maertens 

Yes, so training for us was a very good example of how international organisations rely on ready to use formats that displays the political agency - so let me explain. International organisations produce these very accessible tools where they then encourage the reappropriation of those tools by the targeted audience. And by doing this re-appropriation to the audience, they reverse ownership. The political agency is not put on the international organisation that produced the training, but on the participants that are in charge of taking the training and then applying the information that is turning to a recommendation. 

If I take a very concrete example, I studied an online training programme for peacekeepers that was dedicated to the protection of the environment. 

The topic was highly political. States disagreed on what peacekeepers should be doing on the environment. It was different types of practices; it would implying also changes in terms of procurement: what type of material peacekeepers should bring with themselves? 

So, this was quite a political topic. By doing this online training, it moved a responsibility of the application of what the training is saying that peacekeepers should do, on the participants. It's not about the organisation, it's not about UNEP or UNITAR which created the training, but it displays a political agency towards the participants and it's really this reverse ownership that is part of the depoliticization process that we studied. 


Amy Smith 

So, continuing about dissemination, tell us a little be more about how you see the power of storytelling as part of this depoliticizing procedure. 


Lucile Maertens  

Storytelling is used more anymore within international organisations, especially in the way that international organisations create undebatable stories. They can base that on success stories, they can base that on lessons learned for example where there is no need to discuss it again because we learned a lesson, right, we don't need to discuss with the past. And so that's one technique and the other one is just to call to common sense. It makes sense. It's logical. It's even universal. 

Who could say no to ending poverty, to put an end to hunger? So, for sure, this makes it as a very shared success story of storytelling that international organisations use on a daily basis, but that actually tend to close down to debates because you can agree on saying OK, we should end poverty, but the way we will do it, that's very political. 

And here, if we follow the storytelling, it's a way that international organisations manage to bypass political division by bringing these very shared common-sense stories, but at the same time at the expense of an important debate that we should have on how we should address those problems. 


Amy Smith 

So, we've talked about technicization, we have talked about neutrality, and the third point you bring up is about time. So how is time used as a means to depoliticize issues and in what ways have you seen this used? 


Lucile Maertens 

So, as you mentioned this is the third type of practice that we identify in the book, the time-related depoliticization practices. And we build on the growing interest on time and temporality in international relations to think about time as a resource. So, we think about time in the way that it can be played with or even instrumentalized because within international organisations, diplomats and staff, they can use time to postpone decision-making to decrease political momentum, to lose political and interest to the point that we can even forget past political debates and Marieke will illustrate with a few examples. 


Marieke Louis 

Yes, we have illustrated this chapter through three cases actually, which all the three entail the different steps of the process of a time-related depoliticization, so we've talked about the UN Security Council reform, the ILO reform of the governing body, and finally, the reform of the voting system. So, they may seem very different at first sight, but in fact they are all related to problems and challenges of representativeness. 

And in those three cases in, although in quite different historical periods because for the ILO we're talking already of a process starting in the 1920s, for the UN Security Council reform it's more in the 1960s, for the IMF becomes more salient in the 1990s, but in all the three cases we observed the same tactics of delaying the time of the decision-making, diluting the issues which are at stake which reinforce the delaying tactics by saying “oh yes, of course there is the problem of the veto, but there is also a problem of the voting power and the question of geographic representation”, and so it adds more problems and then the question is complexified and then it delays, it postponed the time of the decision-making. 

And then you also have the fact that as time goes by and the fact that these issues are presented as urgent issues, in part for the legitimacy of the institution, the fact that you repeat that this is urgent. It routinizes in a way, the emergency we had that very much after the 2008 crisis with this idea that we had to reform urgently international financial institutions. It was very urgent at the time, but the question is still open and finally and this is a very much the case for the International Labour Organisation. It comes to a time where, through which, as time goes by members start even to forget about the past debates and then the political momentum of the reform is completely lost because if people don't even remember the accumulation of debate and tiny reform, which were taken then it becomes more and more difficult to reopen these debates. 


Amy Smith  

So, with all these practices you know why and to what end and, you say, and I quote from your book, that “international organisations justify their existence and intervention by defining their action as a concrete answer to specific needs while following the constraints of their mandate and institutional design”. And you choose a historical example of the ILO to illustrate this point about taking a functional pragmatic approach. Can you just explain a little bit more about that? 


Marieke Louis  

Yes, so actually maybe we should remind that functionalism and pragmatism are different paradigms, and this is an argument, a proposition that we make in the book, they share the same focus on needs and action so in that way they are very relevant to articulate. And it was actually David Mitrany who said in the 1940s that the International Labour Organisation was the typical functionalist organisation. The ILO was created 1919. Sorry, so just after the First World War, and its specific feature –  and this is the reason also why the ILO is a little bit famous, at least in the cycle of international organisations specialists and practitioners –  is because it is a tripartite organisation composed of workers, employers and governments. 

And this structure is particularly emblematic of the functionalist way of thinking. It was thought to be more effective because the idea was: in order to really produce international labour standards that would be effective, that would be that will be understood and really applied by the workers and the and the enterprises you needed to have them around the table to do the negotiations. 

So starting with this representative structure, the ILO was anchored in a way in this very functionalist, pragmatic way of thinking, and it continues for instance when the ILO was created at the same time than the League of Nations and there were very common rhetoric about the fact that the ILO and the League of Nations were completely different because the ILO was not focusing on political issues that were the business of the League of Nations. 

And the ILO was focusing on technical issues, and many have said that it was the reason the ILO had survived to the Second World War and it continues like that. 

For instance, the ILO was very pioneering in developing training centres, we've talked about this this practice. It created the International Training Centre in Turin in the 1960s, so a very much a need-based approach which is emblematic of this functional way of thinking. It's actually Jens Steffek also, and Leonie Holthaus, in an article in the European Journal of International Relations, they talk not about functionalism, but they talk about this kind of welfare internationalism that is embodied by international organisations like the ILO, those who put forward, really, the social and economic needs of the people rather than more political considerations. 


Amy Smith 

That sounds very attractive, doesn't it, really? This idea of being depoliticized to facilitate this approval from governments in order to be operational, isn't it an advantage? Or do you see consequences to following this this route? 


Lucile Maertens 

For sure, it's quite an attractive route and it's quite practical and we show that in the book it most often it's also the only way for international organisations to actually be able to do what they were supposed to do, and so for many international organisations staff they do play the apolitical card to receive the authorization to intervene and to achieve their mandate. 

And in that sense, it's also how neutrality is presented as a way of action. It's a way to be able to act, by being neutral. It’s this pragmatic decision to play on the apolitical claims, we've seen that in many different cases. 

I can maybe mention one: the case of the EMSEC initiative, the Environmental Security Initiative that intervened in Central Asia at the end of the Cold War. 

Here it was clear, because it was so politicised at the end of the Cold War that the organisation needed to be seen as completely impartial and completely not involved in the politics of what it was constructing in the world after the Cold War. And so they played the focus on environmental rehabilitation, on environmental cooperation to be able to intervene. 

But one of the consequences of using this card is that it constrained the actors to maintain the status quo and you cannot disturb the existing power relationship because you give them tacit approval and it can’t be…you can't have radical changes when you have to apply this pragmatic way of doing international relations. 

Another consequence that I would like to emphasise, it's how it tends to stigmatise politics, because it's seen as if politics is necessarily bad for cooperation, and that's something I think it's important also to pinpoint when you say, yes, it's practical, but it also has unintended consequences. 


Marieke Louis 

If I may add also something on these consequences, it's also in terms of the responsibility avoidance that it leads to international organisation that have become specialist in blame shifting and really trying to avoid putting themselves in politically difficult positions. 

We explore that actually in the last analytical chapters on logics: the search for different scapegoats so it can be either the governments which are stigmatised as the main responsible for the inefficiency or it can be the individuals, for instance, when there are scandals about sexual violence in peacekeeping operations. 

The UN focuses on those individuals with bad behaviours, but not necessarily questioning the structures or organisational culture that make those kinds of violations possible. 

Or also in the case of genocide, when the UN for instance recognises a general responsibility, but in the end making the guilt disappear because if everyone is responsible, who is really responsible? And I think this was really the added value of the book by Michael Barnett, Eyewitness to a genocide, where he really tries to assess this different differentiated responsibility of the different part of the UN going from the UN Security Council to the role of France, or to the role of the Secretary General, to try to identify more who is responsible and try to overcome this discourse on “we are not responsible because we don’t do politics”.  


Amy Smith 

I must admit it was quite a difficult section of your book to read. It felt a little bit uncomfortable. Now you also give an interesting example of the way international organisations compete for legitimacy and sometimes monopoly of legitimacy in writing about a conflict that happened between the ILO an ISO. 

What is this link between depoliticization and legitimacy? 


Marieke Louis  

If I take the example of ILO and ISO in here, I'm very much indebted to the work of Colin Ruwet and Camille Gasnier, who are both experts on the ISO. 

It goes back to the confrontation that arose at the beginning of the 1990s because the ISO started to produce standards on issues like health and safety at work, corporate social responsibilities and human resources which were considered as a monopoly of the ILO. 

And the reason for conflict was not just, even if it was a reason, but it was not just the ILO defending its monopoly and relevance, it was also because actually because they defend two different political visions of labour relations and democracy. 

And so, what I find interesting is the way they have tried to depoliticize not to enter into these very radical different views on democracy and labour relations to focus on the area where they could potentially work together. But in the end, this depoliticization has failed because confrontation came back, especially in 2017, and the two organisations decided to stop collaborating because the ISO would not recognise the superiority of the international labour standards produced by the ILO which shows that sometimes depoliticization can actually not be so successful in managing conflict among organisations. 


Lucile Maertens 

And if I may jump in on this link between legitimacy and depoliticization, what we try to show in this chapter is to show that there is a mutual reinforcement of both processes. 

What do we mean by that is that depoliticization help organisations to gain legitimacy and that has been shown by other scholars like Annabelle Littoz-Monet on the case of the UNESCO for example, how the depoliticization processes is a way for international organisations to gain legitimacy especially on topics that they were not on their mandate or on the agenda at first. It's a way to be able to justify an intervention that is a bit of a mission creep. It's an expansion of their mandate. 

But, once the legitimacy over a field of action is there, once there is even a monopoly, that reinforces the politicisation because it legitimises who has the right voice on the matter. It means that different or alternative voices are less heard or less legitimate. 

And one example is the way how the monopoly of the UN Climate Convention and its famous COPs on climate change: they have the monopoly on the climate change discussion and this has been used as a reason why other international organisations should not be talking and discussing climate change. 

And that has been used, for example by some delegates, Member States delegates, at the UN Security Council, saying the Security Council should not be talking about climate change because climate change is to be discussed within the climate convention and we see here the monopoly of legitimacy also reinforce the politicisation because it closes the space for political debate. 


Amy Smith 

So, your book is a very careful analysis and very well constructed argument throughout. 

What I also find interesting was the way that you show how depoliticization is also contested within international organisations. 

And for example, you mentioned the strike in the 1970s of the FAO staff who were protesting about the way the organisation was promoting the Green Revolution and whilst in their opinion they were saying that the FAO was masquerading as a neutral technical forum. Would you tell us more about this other side of the coin and how depoliticization is also resisted? 


Lucile Maertens  

The case of the FAO, this is from the work of Birgit Müller and Nora McKeon, so they both work on the FAO and what they've shown is that the FAO managed to render conflicting political and economic interests technical, making it as if political interests were not a political problem, but it was technical. And they, the FAO organised the forums that were supposed to be inclusive in terms of participants and in terms of the discussion but at the end it was still promoting the Green Revolution biotechnologies, that was its main line of action. 

And so, this depoliticization process was very criticised from the inside. Not all staff agreed on that, and that's how they went on strike. And I think this is a good example of the limits of depoliticization. Depoliticization can be counterproductive. It can create even more space for politics, and it can be resisted as well, wishing international organisations but also from the outside. 

And I think what's this tension, the almost the failure or the resistance against the depoliticization shows that depoliticization and politicisation can happen simultaneously within international organisations. We should not take them as in opposition. 

And the book that Frédéric Mérand wrote on The Political Commissioner that was mentioned earlier in this book, it shows that the political work within internationalisation, it shows how some actors actively seek to bring more politics. And this research is completely complimentary of ours, because all of that, it's about agency. It's about IO functioning. It's about IO politics, so depoliticization and politicisation happens at the same times, but there are different mechanisms that we should study independently and then together. 


Marieke Louis  

And if I may add also on the cases that I was talking about on representativeness, I think representativeness is also a good example where the depoliticization can become counterproductive because the fact that you have so many delaying tactics and dilution of issues it can create some kind of lassitude, of institutional fatigue, but it also create frustration which can also generate new claims actually, and resistance to these attempts to… not talk about that anymore. If you look at the ILO, it's no coincidence that in the 1990s you have the first Director General coming also from a southern country, Juan Somavia from Chile and a few weeks ago a new Director General from Togo, I think Gilbert F. Houngbo was elected. So, and it was the first time that you have a Director General coming from the so-called African group. So, I think it shows that even though there are attempts to depoliticize, you still have resistance to that, and members, or certain members, don't want certain Issue to be to be, to be buried. 


Amy Smith 

So, for people who work in the international organisations, the staff, the diplomats, what do you hope they take from your book? 


Lucile Maertens 

The whole project of the book would not have been able to be conducted without the diplomats, the staff, because it's based on the experience that they agreed to share with us in interviews, it's based on the fact that they opened the door so that academics were able to go inside international organisations to take the time and the distance, maybe to identify those trends and tendencies that go well beyond what individuals can anticipate.  

We do not imply that people, IO staff or diplomats wake up every morning and they say, yeah, let's depoliticize the world today, it's much more nuanced than that. And what we hope is that this will help make sense of some of the individual dilemmas that staffs and diplomats can face, and also shed light on the unintended consequences because we do need to reflect on those consequences, especially in the current context of a legitimacy crisis of international organisations, we need to think of, re-think the role of technocracy. The functionalist project is still very much in the mind of lots of people.  

We feel international organisations and thinking that technocracy is the tool for peace that needs to be challenged because what we see in the different cases that we studied is that bypassing politics to facilitate cooperation might just actually backlash on the long run. And so that's why also research, and like academics and practitioners, should be able to be in dialogue to discuss those type of issues. 


Amy Smith 

And so, finally, what do you think of the implications for multilateralism today? 


Marieke Louis  

Well, I think Lucile has used an interesting word. She talked about backlash, and I think that we are living maybe critical times also for the legitimacy of international organisations. International organisations and are mainly not so popular as they might think. They might appear sometimes away from ordinary citizen, although their mandate is precisely about the needs, as we say, of the ordinary citizens. I think there are more and more criticism about the technocratic, and not in a good way, the technocratic nature about these international organisations. 

So, I think that maybe our book opens also new venues for research in order to really tackle the question of to what extent can international organisation be more a democratic, maybe more transparent, and the key question is to what extent is depoliticization more or less linked to these democratization processes? You will have some people saying the depoliticization is anti-democratic. We don't say that we think that sometimes depoliticization might be very useful and in a very democratic way, but not always, and this is why we think that we should maybe investigate more this aspect because it's clearly linked to the legitimacy crisis of multilateral organisations today. 


Amy Smith 

Lucile, final thoughts? 


Lucile Maertens 

The fact that the book is structured in such a way that we could read each chapter individually and I am sure that some readers will focus on specific dimension. But we would really like to encourage the readers to take the opportunity to read the whole book because it's really useful to capture the coherence of the argument but also all those nuances that we wanted to put forward in the study of international organisations and global governance. 


Amy Smith 

Thank you so much for your work. Thank you for joining us today.  


Marieke Louis and Lucile Martens 

Thank you. 

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