Earlier this month we hosted a discussion of Guy Fiti Sinclair’s book, To Reform the World: International Organizations and the Making of Modern States. Below is Guy’s reply to the discussants. We are grateful to all of the participants for their role in this discussion
I am extremely grateful for the sensitive and sympathetic comments on my book in the posts by Jan Klabbers, Megan Donaldson, Devika Hovell, and Edouard Fromageau. Together, they offer a rich set of reflections on the book’s themes, each informed by their distinctive scholarly interests and expertise. In reading them, I found myself nodding along, with very little disagreement on even the more critical points. What follows, then, is not an attempt to debate any particular issue, much less all of them, in the systematic manner they deserve – but rather an effort to engage with a few of the wide-ranging concerns raised by four scholars for whom I have the deepest respect, in the hope that doing so will help to advance the conversation and stimulate further reflection and research.
Several of the posts raise questions relating to perspective and methodology. The book’s particular focus emerged from an effort to answer a relatively narrow set of questions, albeit ones that have broader implications for how we understand international law and organizations. Seeking to understand how international organizations have been able to expand their powers informally beyond the terms of their constituent instruments, and the role of international law in making that expansion seem possible and legitimate, led me to look beyond the relatively restricted set of legal materials traditionally examined by international organizations lawyers. Examining a handful of overlapping episodes involving three organizations with very different purposes, structures, and histories, the book adopts a socio-legal methodology which makes it possible to explore the variable role of (international) law in the public discourse and practices of those organizations.
But what does this kind of analysis help us to see, what does it overlook, and what does it obscure? While not the central thrust of his post, Jan Klabbers rightly points out that, by concentrating on fairly well-known organizations – the International Labour Organizations (ILO), the United Nations (UN), and the World Bank – the book leaves open the question whether the same framework of analysis could be extended to other organizations which are less well-studied and may present more anomalous or harder cases, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Olive Council, or the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Moreover, as Megan Donaldson wonderfully shows through a vignette by Shirley Hazzard, the book’s focus on the speeches, writings, and actions of senior international civil servants leaves unexplored the perspectives of lower-level officials in the same organizations. Read the rest of this entry…