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Global Governance Centre

‘Architects of the Better World’: The Birth of the International Conference Complex (1919-1998)

Even before the Unitedstatesean President Truman urged the attendants of the 1945 United Nations Conference on International Organization to see themselves as “architects of the better world,” the field of global governance has proven to be a fertile ground for metaphors drawn from architecture. Indeed, in the collective imagination of practitioners and scholars alike, the international legal order appears as a vast and towering edifice: a veritable “legal architecture” of globality that overlooks “areas” of governance sustained by figurative and normative “pillars.” But international law’s castles, of course, were not built solely in the air. For the metaphorical use of architectonical language only hides international law’s profound lack of engagement with the material and concrete spaces in which the “international” is produced, contested, and disputed. Conversely, in this dissertation, I argue that the “architecture of international cooperation” is a relevant question for international legal history. Instead of taking purpose-built environments for granted, I trace a genealogy of the emergence of the international conference complex as a spatial technology of global governance (1918-1998). I draw from science and technology studies (STS), Foucauldian insights into the relationship between power and knowledge, and the material turn in history to dissect the international conference as an apparatus (dispositif) of material practices and prefigurative discourses which enables a particular type of procedures and gives certain actors claims to global authority. Historicizing space and spatializing history, I suggest, might enable us to understand the role of architectonical infrastructures in the creation of socio-technical imaginaries of global governance.


Timeline:  June 2021 - August 2024.


Funding organisation:

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To learn more about the project, see the interview with Daniel Ricardo Quiroga-Villamarín on the International Conference Complex.