12 March 2024

International Organisations and Global Capitalism: From Commodification to Socialisation

In her PhD thesis in International Law, Negar Mansouri provides a historical materialist account of post–World War II corporate capitalism by focusing on three specific cases: the liberalisation of global telecommunications, the rise of flags of convenience in the maritime sector and the mass logging of tropical forests. She particularly explores the role played by a selected number of international organisations in institutionalising the capitalist mode of production in these three sectors.

How did you choose your research topic?

Prior to starting the PhD programme, I had researched the universe of international organisations from a rather conventional and doctrinal perspective. However, a course I took on methodology in my first year of PhD, followed by a research stay at the University of Helsinki in 2020, inspired my turn to critical international political economy, a subfield of International Relations concerned with the application of Marxist theory to the world order. Beyond the question of approach, I wanted to write about those technical international organisations that had remained marginal in the international law literature due to their apolitical façade and/or the complexity of their work. So, I selected four organisations whose work captured the global flow of manufactured products and primary commodities, but also the machinery of such flows, i.e. marine logistics. 

Can you describe your thesis questions and how you addressed them?

I asked three questions: What role did the International Telecommunication Union play in the liberalisation of telecommunications in the last quarter of century? How did the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organization and the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Shipping Committee come to normalise open shipping registries in the marine transport of raw materials? What role did the International Tropical Timber Organization play in the mass logging of tropical forests by the postcolonial states?

Borrowing from International Relations’ historical materialism and specifically the works of Robert Cox and Kees van der Pijl, I constructed the three histories through a dialectic triad: first, at the local level, capitalism expands through commodification and socialisation (or management of externalities) and international organisations partake in both. Second, capitalist relations of production stabilise through a hegemonic fit between material capability, ideas, and institutions and international organisations are set up and function within such historical structures. Third, international organisations originate from and are continuously shaped by the struggles between laissez-faire and state capitalism. 

What are your major findings?

A fundamental insight I gained from researching for this thesis was that capitalism – as a system of social relations around “things”, marked by the ownership of means of production by a few, the proletarianisation of the rest and the accumulation of surplus value by the capitalists – should be viewed as an independent force with its own laws of motion in global politics. Although all three stories in my thesis reflect political choices by liberal institutions (states, international secretariats, global experts, industry and civil society organisations) in favour of the capitalist mode of production, they also exhibit the separate and distinct force of capitalism as moving spatially and temporally, peripheralising non-capitalist spaces, demanding change as a condition of its survival and creating cycles of crises that the very same liberal institutions have to catch up with. Centring capitalism’s laws of motion (also known as the theory of “uneven and combined development”) in our enquiries of global governance can indeed open new doors in the disciplines of International Law and International Relations. 

What are you doing in your post-PhD life?

Since early March, I have been based in Melbourne Law School’s Laureate Research Program in Global Corporations and International Law as a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Fellow. Starting in June 2024 and for two years, I will join a project titled “Global Value Chain Law: Constituting Connectivity, Contracts and Corporations (GLOBALVALUE)” at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) as a postdoctoral researcher. In parallel, I am co-editing a volume on different approaches to the study of international organisations, which is the output of an international conference I co-organised with a PhD colleague back in October 2021. The book is currently under contract with the Cambridge University Press. Finally, following the useful advice I received during my thesis defence, I am starting to prepare a book proposal based on my doctoral dissertation. 

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Photo of Dr Mansouri and PhD jury members

On 2 February 2024, Negar Mansouri (right) defended  summa cum laude avec félicitations du jury her PhD thesis in International Law. The jury was presided by Professor Nico Krisch (left) and included Senior Visiting Professor Gian Luca Burci (second from the left), Thesis Director, and, as External Examiners, Professor Guy Fiti Sinclair, Auckland Law School, University of Auckland, New Zealand, and Professor Laleh Khalili, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK.

Citation of the PhD thesis: 
Mansouri, Negar. “Reconfiguring Relations of Production: International Organizations and the Making of Global Classes.” PhD thesis No. 1505, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2024.

Members of the Geneva Graduate Institute can access the thesis via this page of the repository. Others can contact Dr Mansouri at
The first chapter of the thesis is also available in open access in London Review of International Law at

Banner image: Richard E. Butler (centre), ITU Deputy Secretary-General, taking ministers on a guided tour of the exhibition at TELECOM 71. (Source: ITU)
Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.