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Analysis of the League of Nation’s Bruce Report (1939)

A Working Paper by Sabine Selchow | 2022


Selchow, Sabine (2022) "From “economic and social questions” to national containers and two notions of ‘political’: a systematic analysis of the symbolic construction of ‘economic problems’ in the LoN’s Bruce Report (1939)" EUI Working Paper 2022/07


My paper contributes to our understanding of the symbolic construction of ‘economic problems’ in international organisations in the 20th century. It is part of a broader research endeavour into the history of ‘international economic thinking’. ‘International economic thinking’ refers to the ideas regarding the (world) economy that have been generated within the distinct institutional context of 20th -century-international organizations and international non-government organizations. The study of the symbolic construction of ‘economic problems’ contributes to this broader endeavour as it focuses on a central ideational driving force of (national and international) collective action: problems that need to be solved. My empirical focus in this paper is the League of Nation’s document The Development of International Co-Operation in Economic and Social Affairs: Report of the Special Committee (League of Nations 1939), called Bruce Report. The Bruce Report is the product of a Special Committee that met in August 1939 to suggest reforms to the League’s organisation regarding the dealing with what was at that point called ‘technical problems’. The Report is interesting because it is about the reform of exactly those parts of the League of Nations that deal with economic and social issues. Hence, I asked: ‘How ’economic problems’ are symbolically constructed in this document?’ My systematic text analysis of the Bruce Report brings out four main findings: 1. There are no ‘economic problems’ in the world of the Bruce Report. There are ‘economic and social questions’. 2. Economic and social questions relate to issues that are (distinctly) political, objective, organic and universal. 3. Economic and social questions relate to issues that exist contained within nation-states. 4. Economic and social questions relate to issues that are at the heart of/essential for international order and the project of global civilisation. My paper elaborates and supports these findings by providing empirical evidence. It concludes by suggesting four sets of questions to be taken up in subsequent analyses of other documents, such as texts produced in the context of ECOSOC. One of them is: Is the Bruce Report a discursive exemption in regard to the absence of ‘economic problems’? If not, do ‘social and economic questions’ ever get discursively separated? If so, when, how and with which consequences? Relatedly, is the distinction between ‘problems’ and ‘questions’ in the text simply a linguistic preference or is it significant?

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