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No action without talk? UN peacekeeping, discourse, and institutional self-legitimation

von Billerbeck, S. ORCID: (2020) No action without talk? UN peacekeeping, discourse, and institutional self-legitimation. Review of International Studies, 46 (4). pp. 477-494. ISSN 0260-2105

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S026021052000011X


In this article, I argue that much of the discourse observable within the UN constitutes neither unnecessary and unproductive ‘talk’ nor efforts to convince outside audiences of its legitimacy, but actually a form of institutional self-legitimation that is key to its ability to function. Using the case of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), I show that because the organization has a multifaceted organizational identity, it faces situations where it is forced to choose between multiple but equally appropriate courses of action, and it uses self-legitimation alongside other mechanisms to overcome these tensions. I specify three sets of circumstances in which this occurs, showing how DPKO uses discourse that simplifies and exceptionalizes in a bid to reconcile or downplay these contradictions and reassert a cohesive and legitimate organizational identity internally. This simplification and exceptionalization in turn serve an enabling function, allowing DPKO to continue operating in conditions of complexity by decreasing risk aversion and instilling a deep sense of professional loyalty in staff. At the same time, such discursive processes are costly and may entrench inefficient practices, rendering the effects of self-legitimizing discourse paradoxical: they may enable action, but they reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of that action.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:89258
Uncontrolled Keywords:United Nations, legitimacy, self-legitimation, discourse, peacekeeping
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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