Repetition as a Technique of Global Governing

The everyday textual practice of international organizations raises false expectations. Documents (such as resolutions or reports) usually start with a daunting apparatus of repetitions—wherever we look at, we see reaffirmations and emphases on the paramount importance of what had already been “reaffirmed” and “emphasized” before. This hints at a certain imaginary of organizational pathways, suggesting ongoing stability. It is puzzling that despite this apparent textual prove to the contrary, international organizations do change. This observation points to a remarkable divergence between institutional output (textual inertia) and outcome (organizational change). In other words, organizations adapt to environmental changes even in the absence of visible reforms by means of formal reconfigurations. What we observe is a paradoxical “change by repetition.” We thus argue: time becomes a critical concept in the study of international organizations. In our understanding of temporality, rhythms and the production of time become important elements of organizational practice, which we call rhythmic governance. Accordingly, rhythmic governance can be understood as a reflexive practice of creating and recreating the present by way of an ongoing and somehow rhythmic retrospection of the past. Ongoing rearrangements are thus made invisible. We will study a period of approximately ten years (since the beginning of the global ‘financial crisis’), looking at relevant institutions, most importantly the International Monetary Fund. This case selection is based on the assumption that a rhythmic oscillation between repetition and change can be traced in their textual representations, i.e. documents.

Keywords International organizations, global governance, practice, repetition, documents, intertextual institutionalism, rhythmic governance, temporality

Related Publications Katja Freistein and Philip Liste (2012) Organisation-im-Kommen: Intertextualer Institutionalismus in der Analyse von Weltorganisationen. In Martin Koch (ed.): Weltorganisationen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 71-100.