Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

August Books 13) Knowledge, Power and International Policy Coordination

13) Knowledge, Power and International Policy Coordination, ed. Peter M. Haas

Originally published as a single issue of the academic journal International Organisation (of which I had not previously heard) this is a very lightly edited repackaging of the papers from that journal by the University of South Carolina Press (of which I had also not previously heard). I got it because it puts forward the concept of an "epistemic community", a body of experts with shared goals and values who attempt to influence international policy by deploying the fruits of their scientific research, and suggests that this is a useful analytical tool in understanding why decisions are made the way they are in international politics.

When I was a little boy of, say, 23 or 24, I always assumed that big political decisions were made after finely-judged statesmanlike weighing up of all the available options, having ensured that as much information as possible is available to the decision-makers, and the "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" were satires with little basis in real life. I have come to realise that if "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" erred, it was in portraying the decision-making process as being much more rational than it often is. My own particular interest, both professional and personal, is in the role of knowledge in all of this - not only access to good information, but the inclination to use it, and that's what this collection of essays looks at.

The more convincing case studies examined here are mostly on the technical side - nuclear arms control, whaling, CFC's; on the more economic side, a good case is made for epistemic communities affecting international policy on trade in services and on food aid, less so on central banking and the establishment of the Bretton Woods institutions (though actually I think the last of these understates the case). For myself, of course, I've witnessed at close quarters the effect of non-government experts on international policy; and if there is such a thing as an epistemic community dealing with Balkan politics, I'm certainly in it. So I've found this book helpful in understanding how I do what I do, and also in fortifying myself against criticism from a) those on the official side who want to keep pesky NGO's out and b) other commentators who resent the fact that governments actually listen to us. I admit I skimmed some of it but there's plenty to come back to.
Tags: bookblog 2005, information flow, life: work

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