Call for Papers “Inter-Organizational Relations: Theory and Practice”

We are proposing a panel for the next meeting of the German Association for Political Science’s (DVPW) International Relations Section 4-6 October 2017 in Bremen. If the subject and panel description (below) spark your interest, please submit an abstract of approximately 200 words by 20 March 2017 to:

Ulrich Franke (InIIS), Martin Koch (Bielefeld University) and Janosch Kullenberg (BIGSSS) at

“Inter-Organizational Relations: Theory and Practice”

In global governance, both the proliferation of international organizations and the broadening of their mandates increasingly lead to organizational overlaps and the emergence of new organizational fields, also referred to as regime complexes. Due to its traditional focus on states, the discipline of International Relations had long neglected the importance of such inter-organizational relations. It was only when international organizations were recognized as autonomous units towards the end of the 1990s that IR’s attention subsequently also turned to the relations between them. Given this delay, IR scholars have tended to ‘import’ theoretical frameworks from disciplines more advanced on that matter, mainly sociology, economics, and psychology. Today, IR scholars apply a multitude of theoretical frameworks alongside each other, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in contradiction (particularly economic vs. sociological or rationalist vs. constructivist perspectives). The explanations provided by these frameworks, be it resource dependency, culture, path dependence or bureaucratic logic, shed light on specific aspects of inter-organizational relations and are helpful in elucidating individual instances of organizational interaction. However, they tend to subsume the empirical reality under pre-established categories and thus frequently fail to do justice to the more complex and dynamic reality of Inter-organizational relations.

Therefore, we are seeking papers papers that demonstrate strong empirical understanding, while building on previous frameworks and making sophisticated theoretical contributions. Some of the questions that could be addressed are:

  • What is the most insightful theoretical approach for explaining inter-organizational relations to date? Can such a claim even be made or should theoretical approaches rather be categorized according to their main research question, for instance: how do organizations relate to each other (network theory), why do organizations act in certain ways (institutionalisms), or what are the consequences of their interplay (regime theory)?
  • How can the multitude of theoretical explanations be reconciled in a more pragmatic and/or holistic theoretical model? In particular, what ideas exist to reconcile rationalist and constructivist as well as economic and sociological divides? Should scholars be encouraged to build more on each other’s work, instead of continuously developing their own ways of making sense of the subject or will consolidation happen ‘inevitably’?
  • The different theoretical explanations of organizational actions are insightful, but how do they work in practice? How can we imagine the organization/individual making those decisions that follow one or all of the above-mentioned theoretical logics?
  • More generally, how could the gap between theory and practice in the field of inter-organizational relations be reduced? Does addressing the theory-practice gap require an agreement among scholars on the most viable theoretical approach?
  • What is currently restricting research on inter-organizational relations, and how is it possible to overcome these obstacles?

We do not want to limit discussions to a particular area of global governance because we assume that the dynamics across empirical contexts may be similar. Therefore, we want to prioritize the phenomenon/topic of inter-organizational relations over its specific empirical manifestations. Given the focus of our own work, however, we particularly welcome studies on international interventions (humanitarian action, development aid, peacekeeping). We, of course, remain open to papers that challenge our premise about generalizability and consequently highlight the idiosyncrasies of the inter-organizational field of intervention. If a shared interest on the topic of interventions exists, more specific questions may emerge, such as:

  • In what ways are the inter-organizational dynamics in the field of intervention fundamentally different than in other fields?
  • What then is the impact of inter-organizational relations on multidimensional interventions, such as on the Millennium Development Goals, Peacekeeping or the Protection of Civilians?
  • How does the coordination discourse relate to organizational practices in post-conflict interventions? Does this discourse remain on the level of rhetoric, or is the UN engaging in ‘overlap management’? If policy reforms, such as the cluster system and UN Integration, can be seen as active overlap management, how do we assess them?
  • Why are practitioner/policy studies on inter-organizational relations in intervention contexts often of limited analytical value? Can this be explained merely by the influence of a strong coordination rhetoric, lack of theory, or the technocratic tendencies of these studies?

Short Article on CLA’s

Indian commander

In October Forced Migration Review – “the most widely read publication on forced migration; available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic, and free of charge in print and online” – published it’s latest issue on community-based protection. I contributed a short article on UN Peacekeeping’s Community Liaison Assistants (CLAs) that you can find online here and the printed PDF here (the latter is visually more appealing). CLAs are a great instrument and deserve more attention and support. I have worked on  CLAs since 2013 and wrote MONUSCO’s CLA Best Practice Review, which is available here. Get in touch, if you want to get more into the subject.

In addition,  the Policy and Best Practice Section in DPKO’s & DFS’ joint Policy, Evaluation and Training Division (DPET) should soon release a review on the global implementation of CLAs. It is not yet clear whether that will be made publically available.

On the run

Yesterday, I finished Alice Goffman’s captivating ethnography about the lives of young black men that are bound up with the American criminal justice system from their childhood onwards. Most of us don’t realize it, but prisons in the US are a scary thing. They are a humongous and ugly industry, incarcerating five to nine times more people than western European countries and, far more than the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia. Approximately 3 percent of adult Americans are either in prison, jail or on parole. And what makes these numbers even scarier is that black men, and especially ‘poor’ black men, are much more likely to go to prison and suffer the life-alternating consequences.

But while the statistics are shocking, Goffman provides a powerful highly-readable account of the realities for a group of young men and their loved ones and family, living around Philadelphia’s 6th Street. From her vivid descriptions, the reader comes to understand that entanglement with the law is not just a couple of guys making bad choices, nor does it affect only their lives alone. Rather, the criminal justice system has a central role in shaping poor, urban black communities by pressing young black men into detention and functioning as organizing principles for their communities. Like Goffman during her impressive 6 years of fieldwork for this project, we come to sympathize with the described individuals, and maybe more importantly, we come to feel the injustice.

It is therefore bewildering, that much attention has been drawn to mild inaccuracies and the possibility that the author might have committed a crime during her ethnographic research. After reading the book, I am furious about these accusations, not because I think they are necessarily incorrect, but because they certainly derail the conversation. There is a point in discussing the methods and ethics of Goffman’s research process, for instance, during an anthropology course, but not in the public dialogue about her book, which should be on… you guessed it… its pressing content.

Wold Humanitarian Summit: What results

Last week (May 23-24) the World Humanitarian Summit was organized. The first of its kind and a product of long preparation, the event brought together some 9000 participants from 173 of the UN’s 193 member states, as well as civil society organizations and NGOs. Some of the Successes were:
– The even itself: everybody (or their representatives) coming together and giving public attention to the pressing issues
– 1500 individual commitments and lots of exciting initiatives
– An education fund for children in emergencies with 90$ million already pledged
– A “Grand Bargain” for humanitarian financing, with donors and aid organizations pledging that 25% percent of aid will be given directly to local NGOs (giving them a bigger share of the cake); complexity of report will be cut and more aid will be given in the form of cash transfers, meaning that affected population will get money instead of aid organizations deciding what to buy for them.
On the other hand there were also a number of shortcomings:
– Despite the recognition of the need for political leadership, no real commitments were made and the world’s most powerful leaders were frustratingly absent
– The over 1500 individual commitments are mostly fragmented, a lot of small initiatives have been launched; individual actors committing to individual action thus no consistent commitments.
– Finally, there is no action plan of how to move all the debated issues forward.
For more information and analysis, see the following blogs that I found quite insightful: IRIN, ODI, GPPI and some expert voices.



Timothy Raeymaekers’ Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo Power to the margins

Editor’s note: This review will be published slightly differently in the near future.

Timothy Raeymaekers’ assesses that stereotypical and simplistic understandings about state failure and chronic violence in central Africa, such as the thesis of economic greed, have not led to great insights about either the mechanisms at work, or the emerging orders. As a consequence, Raeymaekers approaches the “constant crisis” in eastern Congo through investigating every day decision-making and its long-term consequences in an “ethnography of critical life worlds” (P.4). Specifically, he focuses on a seemingly marginal group of transnational trader networks in northeastern DRC. He describes how these businessmen of the Nande community have dealt with uncertainty and insecurity over the last century, and how these coping strategies have increasingly appropriated the state.

Raeymaekers explains that the Nande played a central role for the capitalist expansion into eastern Congo’s borderland since 1900. He describes how a combination of political marginalization and protestant work ethic led to the development of a high degree of self-reliance and a strong commercial tradition in the Nande community. Nande traders continuously expanded their successful commercial activities and increasingly asserted themselves against colonial domination. They were subsequently able to use Congo’s post-independence turmoil as a business opportunity, thus riding “the wave of the crisis and bending it to their personal advantage (P.66). This capacity seemed to characterize Nande elites through Mobuto’s reign and the international conflicts of the 1990s and early 2000s, particularly during the second Congo war. While most of the East was plagued by violence, the Nande managed to maintain relative peace and stability through paying off armed actors and engaging in de facto governance.

Through the historical descriptions and detailed examples, Raeymaekers argues convincingly that the informal arrangements of Nande businessmen, concerning for example cross-border trade taxation or the provision of security, became increasingly formalized, in this way transforming local political institutions and unexpectedly leading to new forms of hybrid governance. The description cautions, however, that the “broker” role of Nande businessman also made them complicit as “to avoid redundancy, they have to simultaneously maintain the tension” (P.145). Raeymaekers specifies that as much as Nande businessmen stabilized and developed their heartland during the armed rebellion, they also instigated violence and terror in order to maintain the upper hand in the standoff between political institutions after 2003 (P.133-137). This leads to the question of Nande involvement in the mysterious mass killings in Beni territory between October 2014 and December 2015, which arguably give Raeymaekers research and argument an unsolicited actuality. Although the book is mainly based on fieldwork between 2000 and 2008 and therefore not addressing these issues directly, the provided analysis is very useful for making sense of the more recent killings.

A glimpse on the predatory state


Perception Taxe Kopie

The Congolese state, from its colonial origins through the Mobuto dictatorship to Kabila’s regime, has widely been described as „exploitative“ and „predatory“ (e.g. here). In practice, this means that power is used arbitrarily and abusively to squeeze resources out of common people. As an expat working for an international organization you miss most of that. Your special status and the bubble you live in safely shield you from being confronted with such inconvenience. You don’t pay any of the creative “taxes” and quickly pass, for example, the checkpoints which are used to extract money form the population. Seeing these things through the lens of the legal-rational (Weberian) state, you come to think of them as normal regulatory and security measures.

During recent fieldwork in the Congolese countryside, however, I was able to catch a glimpse of reality. Without the “carte de service” that identified me as belonging to a powerful international organization, all kinds of semi-officials and authorities laid claim on my freedoms and ultimately my money. Roadblocks became real obstructions and in every location, I had to register with the administration, the immigration service (DGM), the security forces (FARDC & PNC) and the intelligence service (ANR). Such situations represent ample opportunities for establishing “infractions” and subsequent demands. The difference to normal Congolese people is that I remain privileged and never really feel vulnerable. I am aware of my special status, which protects me from abuses, and increasingly use it in negotiations. As a consequence, these situations are more annoyances – costing me time, energy and money – than they are threats. However, by the behavior of those “agents”, you get an idea of what it would be like to have no power at all and be completely at the mercy of such agents. This is probably an exaggeration as ordinary citizens have agency and negotiations always take place, but it leaves me wondering, if experiencing such a sporadic glimpse of reality is necessary to understand governance and coping strategies. Timothy Raeymaekers writes in this regard that “one should always remain aware of the often intricate ways in which daily attempts to avoid risks, increase predictability, and make a living profoundly inform political rule systems” (2015, P.151). It follows that such an understanding might be needed to successfully work on any kind of reform in this country. If that’s true, could such experiences be made part of a cheap and effective introductory course for new arrivals?


Article in German Development Magazine

Im November hat das entwicklungspolitische Magazin Welt-Sichten eine Ausgabe zu UN Friedensmissionen veröffentlicht. Die ganze Ausgabe kann hier runtergeladen werden, mein Artikel zu der Situation im Kongo ist hier einsehbar. Lustigerweise ist unter den ausgesuchten Bildern mein indischer Arzt vertreten. Viel Spaß bei der Lektüre, Feedback und Kommentare sind wie immer Willkommen.