1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events (2000 - 2009) | Event: UNRISD Conference on Social Knowledge and International Policy Making: Exploring the Linkages


UNRISD Conference on Social Knowledge and International Policy Making: Exploring the Linkages


UN Social Thinking in Historical Perspective


by Louis Emmerij, Richard Jolly and Thomas G. Weiss

It may come as a surprise that there is no comprehensive history of the United Nations, neither institutional nor intellectual. Several specialized agencies have written or are in the process of writing their institutional histories, which is indeed what all organizations need to do. The Bretton Woods institutions in this respect are far ahead. The World Bank has published two massive histories—one on the occasion of its twenty-fifth and the other (two volumes and more than 2000 pages) of its fiftieth anniversary. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has an in-house historian who ensures the capture of its place in history with regular publications. The UN story deserves to be better documented if it is to be better appreciated.

The authors of this paper are tackling one aspect of this neglected task, a history of ideas launched or nurtured by the world organization. The United Nations Intellectual History Project (UNIHP) began in 1999 and has already or will soon produce a host of products that shed light on the role of the UN system in creating social knowledge and in influencing international policy making. This presentation will reflect upon “the contribution to development debates and policy of research and knowledge associated with UN agencies”. In order to do so, this essay proceeds to answer the following: How does this relate to the mandate above? What constitutes ideas and social knowledge in the UN system? What is their impact on international policy making? What are the linkages between research outside and inside the UN? Is UN research sufficiently critical?

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