29-30 June 2017, Graduate Institute Geneva, Switzerland
The twenty-five years since the end of the Cold War have been a historical watershed for the project of international governance embodied by the United Nations, a project forged from the tragedy of the Second World War and its unprecedented levels of violence. Indeed, the 1990s saw the multiplication of UN agencies, international laws and transnational human rights networks, all of which endorsing an agenda for improving the world and bringing about a new one in which the impregnability of state borders would be gradually replaced with the authority of international law. But if the post-Cold War was a giddy time of possibility, it is worth considering the present status of these ideals as the post-Cold War gives way to a world marked by chronic patterns of socioeconomic inequality which set limits on structural change in places where it is most needed.
How did we get there ? Why do organizations put in place in order to promote justice in the world seem unable of doing so ? The idea for this workshop comes from the realization of a certain disconnect between the progressive ideals upheld by institutions of global governance and the rather dull nature of the bureaucratic labour that constitutes their everyday. Building on the latest advancements in the anthropological study of bureaucracies, policy and audit cultures, this workshop examines global governance from the perspective of actors involved in international institutional processes. It uncovers the paradoxes, potentials and unexpected and surprising effects of mechanisms grounded in a wider social and political field and constituted through specific encounters, institutional codes, norms and knowledge practices, and documentary processes. It seeks to understand the reasons for which the great utopias of the past century have taken such complex bureaucratic forms and the ways in which these bureaucratic processes attempt to translate utopian ideals into tangible facts in the world. Moving away from Weberian accounts of bureaucracies as sites where the disenchantment of the world is best examplified, the workshop conceives bureaucratic administration as just another arena for social life and political action, an arena with both constraining and enabling potentialities.