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OBGP 3175 - Managing (What Is Left Of) Globalisation – A Critical Look At International Organisations

Type d'enseignement : Lecture alone

Semester : Spring 2018-2019

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English

Voir les plans de cours et bibliographies



Course Description

Intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) play a distinctive role in global governance. The course explores this role, in a context marked by attacks against (or even retreat from) multilateralism. The point is that IGOs – because of the way they operate - may have played a role in the mounting critiques against multilateralism. Business as usual is not an option, if they want to restore some capacity to act and deliver in the current context.
To substantiate this claim, the course considers IGOs as organisations, endowed with an agenda and some form of autonomy and authority - not mere states' agents as depicted by prevailing international relations theory. Analysing IGOs as organisations helps understand how their mode of operation drives or affects their legitimacy and capacity to have an impact. It guides a forward-looking discussion on how IGOs can position themselves in the emerging environment.
Additional requested information: (eg mainly theoretical or mainly practical or a mixture of the two):
Students with an interest in global governance, or experience working in or with IGOs will be able to reflect on their own engagement, practice or career plans.


LEFLAIVE, Xavier (Administrateur, OCDE)

Course validation

Assessment will combine three methods: a mid-term test in class (30%), oral participation (10%), and a final paper (60%).
The final paper focuses on one IGO or one area of global policy selected by the student. It can be drafted individually or – preferably - in teams of up to 3 students.


The workload includes: i) routine monitoring of news items relevant for the course; ii) reading one book in social theory, from the "required reading" section; iii) actively contributing to sessions, on the basis of own experience, knowledge, and the first 2 items.

Required reading

  • 1. Mouffe C. (2013), Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically, Verso (traduction française: Penser politiquement le monde, Albin Michel)
  • 2. Sassen S. (2014), Expulsions. Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, Harvard University Press (traduction française: Expulsions. Brutalité et complexité dans l'économie globale, Gallimard)
  • 3. Barnett M., M. Finnemore (2004), Rules for the World, Cornell University Press

Plans de cours et bibliographies

Session 1: Rationale for and relevance of the course

The session explains why management and organisation theory can inform a reflection about globalisation and the role international organisations (IOs). It introduces the concept of organisational narrative and illustrates some of the main stories that pervade the operation of IOs.
The session sets the scene for the subsequent sessions. It clarifies all issues related to the organisation of the course, students’ participation and assessment.
Students are encouraged to situate globalisation, IOs and public management in the context of recent transformations of contemporary societies. How do these transformations affect (or are driven by) patters of globalisation, the policy agenda, the ways states and bureaucracies operate?
The Required readings include some of the most prominent analysts of contemporary societies, whose work is relevant for the course, even though they never directly considered IOs. Students are requested to select one of the three books below and consider how it helps reflect on globalisation, bureaucracies and public management.

Required readings - One of the books below:

  • Bauman Z. (2003), Society under Siege, Blackwell (traduction française: La société assiégée, Le Rouergue/Chambon)
  • Elliott A., B.S. Turner (2012), On Society, Polity
  • Sassen S. (2014), Expulsions. Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, Harvard University Press (traduction française: Expulsions. Brutalité et complexité dans l'économie globale, Gallimard)

Session 2: The OECD as an intergovernmental organisation

The session will introduce the OECD, taken as an illustration of how IOs operate and deliver in a globalised world. The class will discuss distinctive features of the OECD as an IO. We will explore how fit the OECD is for future challenges.

Recommended readings:

  • Mahon R., S. McBride (2009), Standardizing and disseminating knowledge: the role of the OECD in global governance, European Political Science Review, 1, pp.83-101
  • Martens K., A.P. Jakobi (eds., 2010), Mechanisms of OECD Governance: International Incentives for National Policy Making?, Oxford University Press
  • Pease K-K. (2003), International Organizations: Perspectives on governance in the 21st century, Prentice Hall
  • Salzmann J. (2011), The OECD’s role in international law, George Washington International Law Review, vol.43, pp.255
  • Woordward R. (2004), Global Monitor: the OECD, New Political Economy, vol.9, 1

Sessions 3-5: Debunking myths in International Organisations

A series of 4 sessions develops a critical analysis of how IOs operate in a globalised environment. The sessions focus on some of the basic stories told by IOs, illustrated by the four statements below, which can be found in most reports and policy papers developed by IOs:

  • You can't manage what you can't measure (on measurement, indicators and monitoring)
  • TINA - There Is No Alternative (information, expert knowledge and policy making)
  • We know what should be done. The challenge is implementation (the limits of the rational policy maker)
  • It takes political will (the narrative of controlled change)

Critical organisation theory will be used to show that these statements are misleading. They portray policy making, the operation of governments and international relations in a most peculiar way, which does not reflect mundane experience. The critique of the basic statements above introduces alternative ways of seeing and practicing government and international relations.

Recommended readings:

  • Chiapello E., L. Boltanski (1999), Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Gallimard
  • Czarniawska B. (2008), A Theory of Organizing, Edward Elgar
  • Leflaive X. (2011), Repenser l’Entreprise et la Gestion, Economica
  • Parker M. (2002), Against Management, Polity

Sessions 6-7: Inter-governmental Organisations as bureaucracies

The literature on international organisations tends to consider them as back boxes, uniform agents in a globalised context. Recent developments in political science and international relations open the box and explore how IOs operate as organisations.
The two sessions will present the outputs of recent research in this area, with a focus on the distinctive (while still emerging) contribution of critical organisation theory. Some of the main themes will derive from the previous sessions, on information, change management, and power and domination.

Recommended reading:

  • Special issue of the Journal of International Organizations Studies (2014), Volume 5, Issue 1.
  • Note that, from Session 6 onwards, teams of (maximum) 3 students will make one oral presentation in class. See Assessment and grades, for more information.

Session 8: Test in class (one hour)

The first hour of the session will be dedicated to a test in class. See below Assessment and grades, for more information.

Session 9-11: Oral presentations
The sessions will essentially host oral presentations by groups of three students. Discussion with the class will help explore alternative approaches, possibly building on some of the elements discussed in sessions 1-5.

Session 12: Wrapping up
Session 12 draws the threads together and sketches scenarios for the future of international organisations. The discussion will provide concrete answers to such questions as:

  • How can international organisations deliver with high impact?
  • How can international organisations engage with central governments?
  • How to design and manage projects in international organisations?
  • Why and when join an international organisation (expectations, ambition)?

Assessment and grades
Students will be asked to select one policy area or one international organisation. They will make one oral presentation in class and write one 3,000 words essay on the selected policy area or international organisation. The oral presentation will last 45': 15' presentation + 30' discussion in class, facilitated by the team. It is expected that the essay reflects some of the feedback received during the oral presentation.
The oral presentation and the essay can be done in teams of maximum 3 students (same team for the oral presentation and the essay). Each team will be given one grade (same grade for each team member) for the oral presentation and one for the essay.
A list of policy areas is provided below. It is indicative only and can be adjusted to reflect suggestions from students. For the policy area they have selected, students are requested to i) review how the policy area is affected by (or affects) globalisation; ii) present the role of international organisations in this policy area; iii) flag challenges and limitations; and iv) explore alternative ways of managing the policy area in a globalised environment. For instance: how climate change has emerged on the global policy agenda; how climate change is being managed at global level; what are the limitations of this architecture; options to overcome them.
Alternatively, students can select one IO. A list of IOs is provided below. It is indicative only and can be adjusted to reflect suggestions from students. For the IO they have selected, students are requested to i) review how that IO drives (or is affected by) globalisation; ii) flag challenges and limitations; and iii) explore how that organisation could be managed to maximise impact. For instance: how the OECD promotes globalisation; how emerging patterns of globalisation affect the way the OECD operates; how the OECD could be managed to deliver in line with its mandate and ambition.
Indicative list of policy areas: urbanisation; climate change; health; education; sustainable development; water; corporate social responsibility; trade; fiscal affairs…
Indicative list of IOs: G20; UN agencies (WTO, WHO, UNEP, Security Council…); the World Bank; GAVI; multinational enterprises; global NGOs or civil society organisations; philanthropies (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation...).
In addition, students will take a test in class during one session (possibly session 9; to be confirmed). Students will have to answer 2 questions: one the substance of previous sessions; one on the book they have selected at the beginning of the class (see Required Reading, under Session 1).
Finally, active participation in class will be rewarded. Active participation typically takes the form of questions, remarks or experience sharing during the sessions.
Each student will receive 4 grades.

Maximum score
Oral presentation on the selected policy area or IO = 5
3,000 words essay on the selected policy area or IO = 8
Test in class = 5
Participation in class = 2
TOTAL = 20

Biographical Information

Title: Principal administrator
Organisation/Affiliation: OECD Environment Directorate
Short biography: Xavier Leflaive joined the OECD Environment Directorate in 2004. He currently leads the Water Team, promoting policies that contribute to water security and sustainable growth. Prior to joining the OECD, he has worked as a consultant, advising governments and corporates on sustainable development.
Xavier Leflaive has studied public and private management and social and political sciences in France, Canada and the U.K. He holds a Ph.D. in political and social sciences from the University of Cambridge (UK). He explores how critical organisation theory can inspire new ways of managing corporates and bureaucracies.
Xavier Leflaive teaches critical organisation theory at Sciences Po / EMI and PSIA.