The UN As a communication and knowledge sstem

At the 2010 Annual Meeting the UNSA members Henrike Paepcke, Chair of the United Nations Studies Association (UNSA), and Kirsten Haack, lecturer in International Politics at Northumbria University, presented their paper with the title

The UN as communication and knowledge system: Creating new ideas through discourse

This paper is part of a larger research project to conceptualize the role of the UN Secretary-General as discourse leader and knowledge manager. Faced with the challenge to explain the emergence of new supranational ideas and norms within the UN system, the authors have analysed structural-institutionalist as well as constructivist concepts such as "intellectual leadership", centering on the power of ideas and norms; but found the /communicative/ dimension of leadership to be under-developed and under-theorized.

Based on the understanding of the UN as a communication and knowledge system, the current paper aims to clarify how "discursive institutionalism" (DI) provides an integrative theoretical framework to explain the creation of supranational ideas (programs, policies, philosophies) through discourse. The authors explained in depth the meaning of discourse and DI theory in the context of global communication and global knowledge; as well as explored ways how to link this discursive theory with more concrete interactive knowledge creation processes.

The paper addressed key questions such as:

  • What exactly constitutes a global discourse?
  • What is global knowledge?
  • What role do new social media play in creation processes?

The key findings of this paper pave the ground for the next research phase, which is aimed to refine the different "ideal discursive leadership roles" of the Secretary-General ("collector", "connector", "visionary") within the UN communication and knowledge system, leading to an analysis of discursive leadership practices, such as discourses about "peace operations" or the concept of "human development".