1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events

Improving Research and Knowledge on Social Development in International Organizations

  • Project from: 2000 to 2005


Institutions in the United Nations system play a central role in research on development. Nevertheless the leadership of the United Nations—not only in generating data and policy advice, but also in shaping the ideas and norms that must guide work in the field of world development—has been severely challenged during the past several decades.

Efforts are being made to improve the intellectual capacity on the development agenda within the UN system; and this UNRISD undertaking represents such an effort. It encourages in-depth discussion among a small group of high-level United Nations officials, concerned with research on social development. In late 2000, UNRISD took the first steps to encourage an exchange of views on the current research programmes of key United Nations agencies, and to define a few areas in which they felt joint work could reinforce the collective capacity of the UN system to influence the development agenda.

Work in this area focuses on the theme of globalization and equity—a theme of fundamental concern to the United Nations on which there is some disagreement, and on which new research is urgently necessary. Within this sphere, a number of subjects have been identified on which papers could be commissioned. The papers, and the seminars in which they will be discussed, should provide an opportunity to refine a common position and to strengthen an alternative research agenda.

Two seminars have been held: the first, in November 2000 in Bellagio, Italy; and the second, in May 2002 in Prangins, Switzerland. For details on these events, including Conference News, click on the links on the right.

A new feature at the Prangins seminar was to invite a limited number of external academics and experts, who had been commissioned to write papers elaborating on the relationship between neoliberal globalization and inequality. Four such papers were commissioned and they will be included as chapters in a forthcoming volume edited by UNRISD. The first paper analysed the changing patterns of resource distribution within the global system. The second one explored the sources of neoliberal globalization and the last two papers reviewed United Nations’ and other analyses of globalization, liberalization and inequality. The four papers below will be available on this site shortly.

Prangins Papers
In ‘Analysing Inequality: Changing Patterns of Resource Distribution within the Global System’, John Quiggin, Australian National University, examined globalization from a historical perspective, portraying the changing nature of the global trade and financial system. He argued that globalization would not necessarily take a neoliberal form and that the technological advances in the second half of the 20th century have been exaggerated.

In ‘The Sources of Neoliberal Globalisation’, Jan Aart Scholte, University of Warwick, defined globalization as a spatial transformation and held that advances, specifically in communication and transportation, have enabled a transformation of social space towards supra-territoriality, allowing social relations that have transworld simultaneity and instantaneity. In terms of governance, changes in territoriality have rendered old structures of sovereign statehood, based on geographic territory, unviable, with far-reaching implications for citizenship and democracy.

In ‘Approaches to Globalization and Inequality within the International System’ Roy Culpeper, the North-South Institute, analysed the current debate, focussing on intranational inequality since he held that it is more easily modifiable through policy interventions and is more likely to pose challenges to social cohesion and thus be a source of political friction.

In ‘Methodological and Data Challenges to Identifying the Impacts of Globalization and Liberalization on Inequality’ Albert Berry, University of Toronto, emphasised the lack of understanding of the effects of neoliberal globalization on income inequality and poverty in the world. He argued that this is due to the dearth of adequate quantitative data, and that the most serious weakness lies in the analysis of causation linking neoliberal globalization to inequality and poverty, since it leads directly to indefensible policy recommendations.

Agenda for the next meeting
The agenda for the 2003 meeting will include three topics. First, global governance in relation to neoliberal globalization will be studied, based on an exposition of policy difference between the United Nations and international financial institutions. The second topic is the question of what global action needs to be taken beyond the Post-Washington Consensus to prevent national and global polarization. Taking the feasibility of policy instruments into account, this will provide policy prescriptions in response to the falling living standard of the poor in many developing countries. Finally, national responses to globalization will be studied, linking good country practices to policy prescriptions. Such national level studies, which highlight the diversity of national responses to globalization, will illustrate the economic pluralism currently practised.

Funding for the project is provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, in addition to UNRISD core funds.