Kseniya Oksamytna, Sarah von Billerbeck | 2024

Race and International Organizations

In: International Studies Quarterly, Volume 68, Issue 2

While International Relations scholarship has increasingly addressed questions of race, the literature on international organizations (IOs) has been slower to do so. In particular, it has neglected how race functions within IO workforces. Building on sociological theories of racialized organizations, we develop the concept of racialized IOs. Like domestic organizations, racialized IOs are characterized by enhanced or inhibited agency of racial groups, racialized distribution of resources, credentialing of whiteness, and decoupling of formal rules and informal practices along racial lines. However, there are also two important differences. First, since IOs rely on member states for resources, their secretariats need to accommodate powerful white-majority countries (macro-level pressures). Second, since IO workforces are diverse, their employees may bring a range of racial stereotypes that exist in their societies into their professional practice (micro-level pressures). Using the case of UN peacekeeping, we demonstrate how the four features of racialized organizations operate in light of these macro- and micro-level pressures. We show that locally hired peacekeeping staff face constraints on exercising agency; that non-white peacekeepers perform more dangerous jobs than their white counterparts; that whiteness serves as a proxy for desirable skills while non-white peacekeepers’ knowledge is devalued; and that peacekeepers from white-majority countries receive special treatment or deviate from UN-wide procedures.

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