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Dorottya Mendly

PhD Candidate at Corvinus University of Budapest, International Relations Multidisciplinary Doctoral School

Constructing Agency: The UN in a Global Governmentality



Global governance and the way it has been studied within the discipline of IR is one of my objects. In tight connection to this, I also intend to analyse how the United Nations—and especially the Secretary-Generals—have been constructing, through their discourses, a quasi-independent agency for the Organization in the past 70 years. The two issues intertwine in various ways. A link to highlight, according to my main argument, is the political rationality that made both processes possible on a cognitive level. In brief, political rationality is understood in Foucauldian terms, meaning one side of what he termed ‘governmentality’. It requires a specific rationality to make the construction of self and agency thinkable in a certain context, and to provide the cognitive bases for theoretical innovations such as global governance. I attempt to unfold the two phenomena in relation with each other, and argue that they facilitate one another through discursive processes. I construct a theoretical framework in which the idea of global governmentality is complemented with analyses of the main structures of global capitalism as system which frames ideas (and practices) of global governance and of the United Nations. Theory is put to the test in an empirical analysis of a selected segment of what I identify as ‘the UN self-definition discourse’. In an admittedly non-exhaustive – but analytically focused – manner, I consider sources that I deemed essential to understand the intertwining processes introduced above: introductory chapters of the annual reports by the SG from 1946 to 2015. I chose them, because they are expected to be basic documents for self-definition, a process that is necessary for the construction of the Organization as an independent actor in world politics – and a central one in global governance, understood as governmentality.