The Constitution of International Expertise
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With the end of the Cold War has come a remarkable expression of international expertise in such fields as conflict resolution, debt, environmentalism, ethnic minorities, health, human rights, military conversion, the oppression of women, refugees, and the protection of indigenous populations. Such expertise is coming to constitute itself as an international civil society with common approaches to local, regional, and global issues, shared languages of discussion, and comparable institutions shaping research and activism. Such expertise evokes communitarian values and goals through the motivation and enforcement of ``international standards''. It is an expertise that straddles a realm of activism and practice and a realm of scholarship. Glancing at but one section of the academy—American legal education—one can see this transition toward a grammar of global values in the surge of specialities in ``human rights law' or ``international human rights'' within the registers of faculty interests and expertise in the catalogues of law schools; it can be noted in the internationalization of law conferences; and it is noted in the enlarged presence of human rights within the programs of professional meetings of lawyers and legal scholars. At home I observe my own mail box overflowing with appeals for the support of organizations documenting rights abuses across the globe.
Moving effortlessly across national borders and no longer harried by once common-place accusations of serving international communism, international expertise today is challenging and even altering, perhaps forever, long-standing concepts of sovereignty and non- interference. There are remarkable discursive shifts as members of guilds of international expertise name themselves. Appellations such as ``the development community,'' ``the human rights community'' and ``the disarmament community'', are replacing older topographies defined by ideological difference and national interest. Claiming ``global addresses,'' these ``epistemic communities'' of experts are, on closer examination, thickly involved in tensions and conflicts among local, national, global, and professional values.
The incompleteness of this transition from national interest to international service may be recognized in the role of experts in the documentation and analysis of famine relief requirements in Somalia between 1982 and 1992. For years, ``on the ground'' expertise in the Horn of Africa defined itself as independent of the interests of particular states [replicating in a sense the political self-presentation of the old and now virtually forgotten ``non-aligned bloc'']. But since 1992, such expertise has become the very medium of state or metropolitan or western or American influence in northeast Africa.
In Somalia and around the globe, the guilds and communities of experts are having a profound effect on the ways that countries, or nations, are known and addressed within the global arena. This is beautifully illustrated in Joe Kane's ``Letters from the Amazon,'' recently published in The New Yorker. In Kane's discussion of the search for heavy crude oil and the exploitation of indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon, experts who seek to define and control the issues and to speak for the ``indigenous'' do not fare well. Notwithstanding Kane's productive skepticism, the claims to authenticity and virtue of ``on the ground,'' ``in the villages'' authority will continue to anoint individuals as experts on countries which, on reflection, are structured within complex international and regional economic and social contexts virtually invisible from ``the ground''. These claims to authenticity and virtue are beginning to alter the landscape of international relations in a number of fields. In the organization of development programs one notes the emergence of the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund as major non-governmental players on the global environmental stage, operating as major contractors for the U.S. Agency of International Development.
It is of course commonplace to defrock expertise as Joe Kane has done, and in this country it is commonplace to bewail the failures and inexactitudes of experts: why couldn't experts predict the end of the Cold War or the disintegration of the Soviet Union and why couldn't they comprehend the logic of Saddam Hussein's campaigns? Or anticipate the popular enthusiasm for Mohammed Farah Aidid's resistance to U.S. and U.N. intervention in Somalia? Or recognize the impossibility of finding anyone who could command and sustain legitimacy as spokesperson for indigenous peoples of the Amazon? But the question goes beyond competency, beyond recognizing that the ``experts'', such as those educated within our American universities, may not have been sufficiently trained or skilled to predict or imagine the direction or the pace of recent change. It extends to the fate of expertise itself, with the appearance of a global intellectual apparatus and the general globalization of professions. The interests of the new self-naming global experts may not be unambiguous but they are clearly constructed differently than the interests of those experts—for example, the Kremlinologists—who were expected to have predicted the disappearance of socialist states across the globe.
To look closely at one arena, human rights reporting has emerged as a primary medium of communication about the conditions of life and the practices of government of more than a hundred nations across the globe, paralleling the post-World War II growth of economic indicators as measures of conditions in the non-Western countries. This expansion of human rights reporting, evident since the Carter Administration, has centered human rights concerns within the practice of international diplomacy. Many scholars are noting a saturation of the political field (national and international) by what Mary Ann Glendon has called ``rights talk'', displacing other forms of interest articulation and other languages of political, economic, and social action. The opening of almost global ``conversations'' concerning human rights has been accompanied by extraordinary ruptures in many experts' anticipations of realizing global norms. What may seem natural and normative to one party appears threatening, intrusive, and even revolutionary to another. While citizens of two countries might share, axiomatically, an affirmation of Western or international standards relating to the rights of the individual, serious differences remain. The prosecution of Africans in Paris and London for practicing female circumcision— honored in one place, criminalized in the other—is an example. In one country a woman might identify the recognition and defense of rights over her body and over her reproductive capacity as key within her rights as a person and a citizen, but in another country a woman might well assert that these reproductive rights lie in the recognition of her role in a family, or of a corporate lineage, or of a status conferred by marriage or by age, but not by the state or through a constitution. In the new nations in particular, one notes the heightened significance attached to occupation, professional status, caste, class, race, age, and gender in the formation of ideas on the rights of the person. And, across the globe, international peacekeeping missions raise questions concerning the nature of justice and the status of civil rights within the policed communities. Where, in these settings, will experts or activists choose to locate the moral, ethical, and political growth points of rights?
One also notes the increasing complexity and pervasiveness of discourses on ``group rights'' across the globe. One begins to see, here and there, attempts to codify certain aspirations to rights of ``groups'', ``cultures'', and ``ethnicities'': for example, in claims of groups to reparations and other forms of ``justice'' five decades after the end of the Second World War or a century and a half after the end of the slave trade; within the developments of cultural policy by the European Community; within the constitutional negotiations in South Africa; within the Inuit settlement in Canada; within the International Court concerning the ``rights of indigenous peoples''; within the United Nations approach to the protection of Kurdish populations resident in Iraq; within the Vance-Owen negotiations over the ethnic partition of Bosnia; and as groups define their essential commonality and ethnicity across recognized national boundaries (Berbers in North Africa; Armenians in the Caucasus; Kurds in the southern Caspian; and Tibetans in inner Asia). Significantly, the challenges to Western paradigms of rights have come in an era of unparalleled communication of principles of rights across national borders and among diverse communities of scholars, jurists and lawyers, religious leaders, physicians and public health experts, political activists, and local officials. One notes equally how programs of documentation of human rights abuses and programs in defense of group rights are tragically underlain with the logic of local nationalism, oppression and exclusion of minorities, national purity, and ethnic cleansing. How do human rights paradigms nurtured in a framework of individual, as opposed to communal, interests and rights operate in these explosive settings? If the protection of the special rights of particular groups are not given legal recognition and value within national constitutions, they are nevertheless becoming legally operative within international juridical practice; and, perhaps, more importantly, their statuses are being actively documented and defended by those who see themselves as belonging within an international community of human rights expertise.
One may argue that this centering of attention onto human rights in the relations of states in the world mediated through the work of international expertise is at least as acute and significant as the centering of a ``language'' of modernization and development from the late 1930s and early 1940s into the 1980s. It may be predicted that for the Western democracies, and most particularly the United States, relations among nations over the next two or three decades will be principally defined by such questions as the protection of the rights of minorities, the rights of movement including both political and economic refuge, the rights of long-term guest populations, the rights of seasonal migrants moving back and forth across national borders, and the rights of workers within transnational and foreign-owned corporations. These issues are being defined by an international cast of individuals and groups who see themselves not only as experts but as experts operating through international norms and procedures.
The emergence of international norms and procedures mediated by expertise can be equally illustrated in the field of population and fertility control. Across Africa, there is a history still to be written of the emergence and adoption of ``national population policies'' over the past decade and a half. In certain respects, international population programs have led through a labyrinthine process to the situation where adolescent girls are left carrying the burdens and responsibilities of national development while campaigns to improve the life chances and quality of life of children become programs that effectively demonize the young through invocations regarding the costs and benefits of children. International organizations, including the United Nations Fund for Population, the World Health Organization, and the Economic Commission for Africa, along with Planned Parenthood, the Population Council, and the Rockefeller Foundation, have played important roles in the constitution of ``national policies'' across much of the developing world, setting population targets and contraceptive utilization goals, or promoting processes through which these targets and goals will be defined.
Histories of policy development will certainly reveal an important interplay of overlying authorities and underlying constituencies and interlocutors, as well as a complex global economy of expertise both ``independent'' and highly involved with the promotion of particular techniques and pharmaceutical products which themselves are developed and promoted for profit. When local organizations, activists, and experts bid for resources, support, and authority, they seek to anticipate the interests of donors and lead contractors, with the effect of both confirming and producing in the field protocols and imperatives authorized elsewhere. In what sense then are these international programs made ``national policy'' simply by virtue of a signature on an international convention?
States may construct power through enabling an intervention of international and foreign interests into the constitution of ``national policy'' on population and contraception within the states' own sovereign domains. Yet states may at the same time be reckoned an obstacle to effective population programs and may forfeit power, authority, and responsibility, and also autonomy and sovereignty in the process. In a certain sense, the state itself, the familiar unit of participation in the international framework, becomes captive within the tensions between local and national values constituted within nations on the one hand, and global and transnational values that develop and travel through broader professional and institutional life on the other. What are the effects on the governance capacity of African states of the ceremonious adoption of key policies and programs effectively mandated from outside? Historical examination reveals important resistances across Africa to command policies mandated from abroad, and much important work in support of women's and children's health and welfare in Africa actually operates against the overlying interest in reducing Africa's population. Do such mandates and conventions push social practice and local policy debate into less visible but potentially more significant and influential channels? The challenge for some of those experts working in the field is to realize interests and goals even where such interests and goals may subvert or ignore the large, utopian imperatives.
This speculative centering of expertise, and of the professions of experts, is not simply an academicist assertion, for one sees across the world diverse and significant challenges to the claims to authority that develop amidst professional life. One can recognize that while from, say, 1945 to 1960, local nationalisms developed against old imperial structures, today, since the mid-1980s, the local nationalisms exploding throughout the world develop against bureaucrats, intelligencias, nomenklaturas, and their claims, as experts, to represent history, to define policy, and to determine the new forms of community.
What is the stake of institutions of higher education, such as the University of Michigan, in the emergence and growth of the self-defining and self- confident international and transnational communities of expertise operating in fields around the globe, conceptualizing fields of interest; aggregating power, resources, and visibility; defining standards of practice for governments and international agencies; organizing the collections of new kinds of data in a wide range of social, cultural, economic and environmental fields (and giving their readings of data powerful valences); practicing investigations and enforcement; and establishing the legitimacy and value of certain kinds of expertise before international, national, and local bodies?
Where in this setting is the contemporary North American university, replete with expertise of virtually every kind, yet organized around academic disciplines and professions, organized by long established guild practices relating to teaching, research, publication in established journals and constrained by obeisance to objectivity and reproducible findings?
I would like to leave much of this speculative play for our discussion that follows, and for longer range ``conversations''. But to seek a somewhat programmatic closure to this text, I would like to assert that the University, its students and faculties, can play a major role in grasping a comprehension of a world both made and unmade by the work of such communities of international experts who are aspiring to establish global norms and standards, while pushing the edge of an important process of ``globalization''.
The University can do more to bring its students and faculty toward a more confident and toward a more productively skeptical engagement with such processes of globalization of expertise even as many in our community themselves may operate with significant and positive impact in the forefront of such international expertise. A first and obvious point here is to demonstrate that international expertise, as a sociology and as an economy, is itself a subject demanding important study. Moreover, the University, through internships and travel fellowships, and through new courses and seminars, can— and in some respects does—offer opportunities to students and faculty in international and area studies to identify arenas of practical activity, investigation, and advocacy that lie outside the frameworks of their academic and professional training yet create opportunities for the flow back and forth of critical insight and reflection. Equally, the University must press its students, the prospective leaders in their fields, to become sensitive to issues both broad and narrow relating to methods in their disciplines and professions, and to engender a sense of responsibility for the generation of high level conversation concerning the values and utilities of specific disciplinary and interdisciplinary methodologies, not only those traditionally taught but also those realized within fields of practice around the globe. One should not only seek accomplishment, expertise, within a discipline but also recognize how methodologies, epistemologies, and research designs develop through the specific histories of disciplines and sub-disciplines. What is the meaning of ``discipline''? What are the characteristics and challenges of interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research? And the University, even as a national institution, may challenge its students to recognize the complexities that attach to the disciplines as they travel internationally. In what ways do standards of practice in the disciplines develop from specifically local and national contexts? And how do such values operate as a culture, as a sociology, and as an economy of practice in a different setting? What is the architecture of the disciplines, in an international framework? How is the course of professionalization of academic disciplines altered by the enlarged global context of production, reproduction, and work of professionals?
And the University, with its massive libraries and extraordinary data-base accessibility, may well encourage its scholars to examine their own responsibilities and capacities in the development of new, and the refinement of existing and on-going, bodies of data, and to grasp the nature of data among other categories of global commodities. Whose property is such data, and what are the properties and, in a sense, sociologies, of data? How do data become standardized, and also authorized, in the production of data-sets and data packages, including censuses, data bases, economic and demographic tables? And, are there ``new bodies of data'' in the world and what are the implications of such data for method and for disciplines?
As the University seeks to play an enhanced role in the constitution of international expertise beyond the academy itself, it should seek to enrich its courses and seminars in methodology with such questions that engage the state and fate of disciplinary methodology in a world of remarkable change in the operative contexts and effects of expertise. This would be a stunning transformation of the ``laboratories'' in which expertise is nurtured.
David Cohen is Director of the International Institute. This article is adapted from a speech delivered October 19, 1993, at the University of Michigan.