UNSA Dialogue 1-2009

Date & dial-in information

Thursday, January 8, 2009, at 6pm Central European Time / noon Eastern Time.

The session will last for an hour.

To join the conference call, please dial +1-712-580-1800. Upon prompt, enter the access code 801187 followed by the # key.



We will start our debate about how to best build bridges between academics and practitioners:

UN Studies between theory and practice

In the study of the United Nations, practice and practitioners have a unique role not found elsewhere in International Relations. Groups such as ours, the UN Studies Association (UNSA), as well as the Academic Council of the United Nations System (ACUNS) or the United Nations Association (UNA) worldwide explicitly name practitioners as their core constitutency, highlighting their role in understanding the UN. Similarly, discussion about the future and direction of UN Studies explicitly reserves a place for practice and practitioner knowledge in teaching and researching the UN - next to that of academia.

Without a doubt, the implications of this emphasis on practice and the practitioner in relation to learning, teaching and research is unique insofar as students of US politics, for example, would not necessarily seek the input of members of the US congress for their research.

At the same time, an emphasis on theoretical study (in IR and political science in particular) appears not to provide students with adequate knowledge and understanding of an organization which could be a potential employer. International organizations such as the UN prefer specialists (lawyers, economists etc.) over graduate of generalist degrees such as IR or PS.

In this short, inter-connected series of UNSA Dialogs we hope to discuss:

  • What is this special relationship of UN Studies with the practitioner and practice knowledge, and what does this mean for UN Studies?

  • How can students and researchers learn from practitioners, and how can practitioners learn from academia?

  • How can academics and practitioners work in future to best inform learning, teaching, research and practice?



1. Introductions and welcome

2. Short introduction into topic (10 mins max)

3. Discussion

"What should students learn about the UN as a subject in IR, political science, international law"?

  • What are the main facts / data etc. that students need to know (knowledge)?
  • How should students approach the UN / how are students encouraged to approach the UN by textbooks, research and curricual (understanding)?
  • What is the UN in this view?
  • Which views of the UN are promoted / discouraged by the academic agenda?

4. Summary and Conclusion - outlook to next dialog

The results of our discussion will form the basis for a UNSA discussion paper, which we could discuss in its entirety at a future workshop or on the wiki.


Additional background information: Platzer and Stelzer

Can the UN be taught? Foreword to Diplomatic Academy Favorita Papers, written by Michael Platzer: DA Favorita Papers Platzer.

Based on introductory remarks on occasion of the Vienna Colloquium in November 2008 (see Report Vienna Colloquium).

Speech by Thomas Stelzer.


New idea: "Cyber Shelf" for practitioners teaching the UN

For more information and to participate in our ongoing discussion to create a cyber shelf with reference material for practitioners, please visit: Cyber Shelf.


Results of our discussion

 Discussion Topic: What defines the relationship between academics and practitioners?

  • What is a "practitioner"? -> trainers and educators in general
  • The Cyber Shelf is aimed to provide trainers and educators with a practitioners' background with reference material, thus offering them guidance on how to develop their own courses.
  • Participants felt that it might be difficult to develp a generic product.

 Discussion Topic: The different perspectives of academics and practitioners

Julia's major distinctions: Academics and practitioners.

 Discussion Topic: What should students learn?

  • difficult to capture the specific atmosphere, driven by individual diplomats and their struggle for / over power
  • the atmosphere also varies in terms of places (Vienna is different from NYC-HQ).
  • How to teach the dynamics, processes behind-the-scenes? How can these informal processes be translated into teaching?

 Discussion Topic: What ist the most important issue students should learn?

  • A working knowledge of the UN Charter is a pre-condition. Approach taken: lecture included a tour of the Charter.
  • UN Legal Research Group (reforming the Charter) is a related approach, however, on a higher level.
  • The UN Charter as the main starting point - a too narrow approach? Do we overlook key aspects?
  • The key question might better read: What do students consider essential?
  • Demonstrate that the UN matters / works. Not to be understood as a call for more advocacy (see Pat Goffs remarks in the Vienna Colloquium: Report Vienna Colloquium). Rather illustrate that the UN does not only exist on paper. Provide samples, insights, case studies.
  • For example, course on strategic communication in IOs: step 1 - create basic knowledge, step 2 - practical excercises, e.g. write press releases, step 3 - case studies (more research-focused)