Archives for posts with tag: research

I guess it could come in handy as a queue skip?

So I managed eleven official meetings and hopefully have four more phone interviews in the pipeline. I have yet to type up all my notes but one estimate would be that they come to 30,000 words.

All told I met with academics, advocates, policy experts and diplomats. Especially interesting was the mixture of anecdote and analysis whereby personal reflections and recollections marry with or elucidate official positions.

More than one interviewee had studied to an advanced level themselves, so it’s always nice to see life after the PhD, but on a more serious note this added something to the discussions in that they could better see where I was coming from and perhaps even interpret the questions better than I could, given their dual perspective.

You definitely grow in confidence over the course of conducting such research, you get used to some nuances and come to recognise different types of interviewee. Besides the dual academic/diplomat are those who offer expansive and varied answers, those who tend to repeat or emphasise a single theme throughout and those who are too senior to interrupt.

Whilst I am still typing up all my notes, one immediate recollection is that every interview contained at least one nugget or specific insight. Whether it was about Council dynamics; keeping on side of the P5; problems of institutional memory; open secrets; flawed processes or frank disagreements. Some of this confirms or corroborates what I’ve read elsewhere, others were more surprising.

It was also terrific to visit the Dag Hammarskjold Library and thank those in person who I have been emailing all year. True to form having innocently discovered some digest documents on Security Council activity for 2013 at an info desk (perhaps the world’s most informative info desk?), colleagues there were able to show me where to find them online. Then in response to my vague question about any good books to read for more information on the Council or interpreting resolutions, they excelled themselves with their recommendations. In general the library really gives the impression of an official authoritative source, if it isn’t there not only does it not exist but it doesn’t matter.

People have asked what it’s like wandering about the UN itself in what with it being a landmark but also a working organisation. What struck me on my 2009 visit was just how low key it was in places, that it had the look of a 1960s office complex in places i.e. lots of wear and tear.

Whilst some of this remains despite a lot of extensive (and ongoing renovations) this time as a visiting researcher and not just someone on a tour, I was struck more by the sense of purpose around the building. This was most notable not in the official settings such as the Council or General Assembly, both of which appeared to me quite choreographed, but in the Delegates’ Lounge, canteen, library and foyers.

On one occasion in the canteen I overheard a particularly frank discussion out loud about the problems in Afghanistan, on another in the library I heard that “the Russians are very upset” but that someone is trying to “defuse” things, and in the Delegates Lounge I went to sit down only to have my chair taken thus nearly provoking a diplomatic incident.

There’s also something to be said for an organisation that manages to have Nobel Peace Prizes stashed away in obscure corners, an impressive array of murals and an exhibit on landmines which yes, I did accidentally stray into.

So going forward my immediate priorities are to contact all my participants as agreed in the consent process, hopefully get a few clarifications or additional questions answered (especially now that I have read all the participants responses); do some more research around the areas that cropped up and above all else get writing…

Day two of the interviews and if nothing else I seem to have got the hang of running between meetings. I am not using an audio recorder which is just as well given the security restrictions of some Mission premises, so am scribbling my notes as best as I can.

Today, before my twelve o’clock I figured I’d drop by the Security Council and have caught the start of 7314th meeting on “The situation concerning Iraq”

Having spent months of reading the transcripts of such meetings it’s certainly interesting to see one “as it happens” whilst in the room.

I’d take another picture of the full Council in session but there’s a guard standing next to me…

IMG_20141118_095605981

The UN Headquarters

Not the World Trade Center

It’s odd how famous places cease to be landmarks and end up places you navigate via as transit points. The World Trade Center is a case in point. Famous even before the tragedy of 9/11 but fixed in our generation’s imagination as our “where were you when you heard Kennedy had been shot?” , yesterday it wasn’t an iconic symbol that you deliberately visit but rather where I had to go to get somewhere else.

Today has been a day of phone calls (twenty two in total) contacting the Permanent Missions of the various states I’m looking to meet with during my trip. It’s an odd experience in that it is deceptively simple but the success of the trip lives or dies by who I speak too. All in all this is where you need the elevator pitch of academic lore. However, rather than trying to succinctly explain your thesis in less than three minutes, you’re trying to get the operator to connect you to the *right* person through a combination of clarity, kindness, seriousness and buzzwords.

The UN operates a directory called The Blue Book, it’s a phone book 394 pages in length produced by the heroic “protocol and liaison service” with all the contact information of accredited Permanent Mission staff. Whilst it tells you whether they work in the political or social section, and whether they are a Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Counsellor, Secretary or attache, it doesn’t tell you their brief. I’m looking for whoever deals with Protection of Civilians, Responsibility to Protect and/or humanitarian issues.

The idea of coming to New York came about after discussions with colleagues revealed the drawbacks of visiting embassies in London. The simple truth being that if your research is about discussions among states at the UN, and your documentary source material is the records of resolutions, statements and debates at the UN, then well you go and visit the UN.

I began emailing the Missions in September and yes you may well be surprised at how many use gmail (I remain a hotmail man myself). Delicate chase up emails followed, as did some communication with the London embassies asking for their assistance. Between all this and some academic colleagues I have a number of interviews penciled in already with the hope being that “snowballing” (getting recommended and vouched for by those you meet and interview in a chain reaction minus the explosion) and my phone calls today will get me more.

The countries I’m targetting selecting were picked for the following reasons

  • Have been, are currently or have just been elected to the Council 2010 – 2014
  • The Permanent Members – “five to rule them all” in the words of David Bosco
  • States bordering my notional case studies; Cote d’ivoire, Libya, Syria, for the regional perspective
  • Hmm maybe my case studies, why didn’t I think of that before?
  • States who have been vocal in open thematic debates or participate in informal working groups on relevant topics
  • South Sudan as the UN’s newest member (2011) and given their diplomatic input to RtoP as a concept in the mid 90s.

So between twenty odd phone calls (made from a discreet corner of the UN canteen) and dozens of emails sent over three months what have a I learned?

  1. These people are *busy*
  2. These people are *really busy*
  3. They all seem to be based in a tight radius of The UN Plaza, so I will probably be doing laps.
  4. Some of them have been seconded to The Ebola Task force – “who ya gonna call?”
  5. “Violent extremism, foreign fighters and international terrorism” have somewhat muddled my trip by changing the topic of the open Security Council debate I was organizing things around when back in my “ivory tower”
  6. Some missions are very small, like two or three people only
  7. Staff turnover is a challenging reality – “I’d love to talk but I will be gone by then”
  8. It’s alarmingly easy to be confused for someone from the British/Scottish government
  9. A poppy is a good conversation opener
  10. When calling someone because you haven’t had a reply to an email, 80% of the time you will be told to send another email
  11. It’s probably not a good sign when their voice mail inbox is full.
  12. When attempting to phone the five newly elected non permanent members of the Security Council it is probably not a good idea to call them whilst they’re all away attending a handover workshop together. Whilst this may work wonders for global governance and represents a welcome improvement in Council working methods it was *not ideal* from my perspective.
  13. In the process of writing up this blog I’ve realised I was using the March Blue Book and there’s a November one out now..
The Secretary General's Bulletin (ST/SGB/259) requires that bearers must wear their ID cards visibly while on United Nations premises

“The Secretary General’s Bulletin (ST/SGB/259) requires that bearers must wear their ID cards visibly while on United Nations premises”

It’s been five years since my first and last trip to New York where i visited the United Nations for a guided tour.

This morning I came to begin research interviews for my PhD with staff from the Permanent Missions complete with (temporary) security pass.

I am conducting 15-30 semi structured elite interviews, or informal guided conversations. The people I intend to talk with are insiders with knowledge and whilst they may not be decision makers, they are a defined elite who “do” and “see” the day to day practices of international society. In speaking to them I want to check/corroborate/falsify my understandings, allow for any bias on my part and check their “internal understandings” of my research i.e. what do they think about what I think.

Given that I am already reflecting on the reflections of others through document analysis, in asking them what they think of my reflections I appear to have entered the film Inception.

Essentially I am researching norms – intersubjective shared understandings – and these are the people who share them/contest them/deliberate with them on behalf of the society of states, so who better to talk to?