Lunch-séminaire du CRHIM
Politics by Other Means?: Depoliticization and Technification in International Organizations, 1910-1970
This paper discusses how experts and expertise contributed to processes of what I would call depoliticization and technification. This emerged as a way of alleged politics-free problem-solving in the period between the 1910s until the 1970s. Focusing on these concepts at international organizations (IOs), these processes are approached rather critically: should we believe experts at face-value, and is there really something as an a-political position? What are the limits of such an approach?
While (technical) experts gained more respect and autonomy within their national settings since the dawn of the 20th century, they at the same time increasingly organized themselves on the international level. During interwar years, technical experts in particular rose in the ranks of IOs such as the League of Nations and International Labor Organization, providing alleged technical solutions to a multitude of issues, in order to insulate these from political strife. Some experts were even more idealistic, and aimed to preserve peace and strengthen international society. Schot and Lagendijk have described this as “technocratic internationalism” (2008). The paper will explain this concept by looking at plans of electrical engineers.
After the Second World War, the ascendancy of expertise continued, now also joined by economic experts playing a key role in conceptualizing the notion of development, as described by Daniel Speich Chassé (2008). Like during interwar years, depoliticization and technification traits can be observed in the work of the United Nations Organization and the World Bank, particularly in relation to development. World Bank president Eugene Black pursued a mission of “development diplomacy”, i.e. seeking not just to develop but also to mediate. The paper will zoom in the Bank’s (and Black’s) involvement in the troubled relation between India and Pakistan over the river Indus.
Lastly, the paper reviews whether or not this era of depoliticization and technification is at an end, with the rise of skepticism vis-à-vis expertise in general, and increased calls for civic participation in ever-more technical discussions.