Framing a Concept for UN Studies

Key Thoughts for a Concept of UN Studies

In the following, you will find key aspects and issues which were discussed at our initial meetings in order to frame a concept of UN Studies. These aspects have now become part of the mission statement. However, these aspects are not an exhaustive catalogue of questions around a concept of UN Studies. The discussion must go on! - Please contact us whith any questions and suggestions.

1. Why UN Studies? - Shortcomings in UN-Related Research and Teaching

1.1. Problems related to the academic transfer of knowledge

  • Curricula and syllabi in social sciences and law are mostly broad and rarely focused on the UN; UN-specific syllabi are an exception and not known or recognized throughout the academic world.
  • Teaching methods and tools are inadequate: textbooks are insufficient to sensitize and motivate students to learn more about the UN.
  • New initiatives to foster and increase student knowledge about the UN such as Model United Nations are rarely part of the academic credit point system.

1.2. Problems concerning contents and quality of academic knowledge about the UN

  • Highly specific knowledge on the UN is being disseminated with a heavy focus on thematic issues such as peace and security, human rights and development; this hampers a generalist view on the UN and encompassing comprehension.
  • Certain aspects and views of the UN as well as issues relating to the UN have been neglected; such as questions relating to UN history; structures and functions of the UN, the role of the UN within a system of global governance, management and the UN, inter alia.
  • Biased knowledge about the UN is being transmitted: by systematically highlighting one particular dimension or function of the UN, disciplinary approaches promote a biased attitude about the UN. Thus, students at times learn to view the the UN as “inefficient organization” and “toy of member states”, or as “tiger without teeth”.

1.3. Problems concerning structures in the production of knowledge

  • The lack of mutual interest and exchange of knowledge among researchers pertaining to the fields of UN/EU/Global Governance Studies and other disciplines: Although knowledge is partially overlapping, no exchange and synthesis occurs between different areas of research/study. As a result, the identification and solution of knowledge gaps at disciplinary interstices fails.
  • Neighbouring research fields are rapidly evolving and expanding, such as global governance and EU studies; in contrast, the UN remains a marginal issue.
  • Practitioners are increasingly integrated in the production of knowledge; yet, they have no clear role in the ambit of teaching; their enormous potential to motivate students and to prepare them for their professional life is not sufficiently acknowledged.
  • Scientific knowledge about the UN is constantly increasing but no mechanism or institution exists to centralize isolated knowledge; there is no international PhD-students network; researchers and teachers are not internationally connected to share experiences or to elaborate common teaching standards.

1.4. Problem Causes

  • Lack of coherence between initiatives: The few existing UN-focused study programs are not connected and lack international attention (see Luise Druke: “Recent UN Studies initiatives”, in: Manuel Fröhlich (Ed.): ”The United Nations and Global Change – UN Studies, Nomos-Verlag, forthcoming).
  • Lack of a UN-specific profile for lecturers or professors; l ack of a common academic identity and creative commons; fuzzy boundaries of the UN as an object of study and research.
  • Structural deficits: Knowledge is being transmitted within traditional disciplinary and national boundaries, which impedes teaching interdisciplinary methods, innovative theoretical approaches and contents.
  • The difficulty to tackle the complexity of the UN system, operating at the intersection of professions, disciplines, issues, actors, levels.
  • Gaps between theory and practice, due to differences between the professional and academic worlds.
  • Tensions between formal (academic) structures and emerging informal settings of research and learning; informal settings are gaining importance, but still lack legitimacy (MUN).
  • Self-interest, concerns for reputation and power in academia diminish the motivation of academics to engage for the next generation and with others.

3. Distinguishing Features of a Future Field of UN Studies and Desiderata

3.1. UN Studies as a UN-focused field of studies

  • The UN should be the core object of study within a field of UN Studies.
  • It should cover all aspects of UN activities and its relations to the international context.
  • It should integerate all approaches to study the UN.

3.2. UN Studies as a field of study in its own right

  • It should be autonomous in an ideational sense by developing its proper scientific terminology, epistemology and pedagogy.
  • It should be autonomous in a material sense by developing proper institutional structures with adequate curricula, institutes and faculty, which identifies with such a field of studies.

3.3. UN Studies as integrated field of studies

  • It should bring together academics and practitioners.
  • It should be internationally acknowledged.
  • It should be interdisciplinary.
  • It should provide theoretical knowledge on the one hand, and practically applicable knowledge on the other hand, in order to prepare adequately the next generation of UN experts such as international public servants or researchers.