Warden of the West: The OECD and the global political economy, 1948 to present

Country: Switzerland

City: Geneva

Abstr. due: 09.12.2014

Dates: 27.08.15 — 29.08.15

Organizing comittee e-mail: Matthieu.Leimgruber@unige.ch

Organizers: University of Geneva


Even though ubiquitously mentioned in current affairs and in academic writing, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has remained one of the most elusive and under-researched international organizations. Founded in 1948 as the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), a Western European institution charged with monitoring Marshall Plan aid, the organization was reorganized in 1961 as an Atlantic (including the US and Canada), and then triadic (Japan joined in 1964, Australia and New Zealand by 1974) think tank, in which Western countries coordinated their policies both in the Cold War setting and vis-à-vis the emerging power-bloc of decolonizing countries in the global South. After the end of the Cold War, the organization finally expanded its membership to include some emerging market economies and established its reputation as a key knowledge hub in the current era of globalization. Throughout its history, the OECD has worked on almost every subject of interest to national governments ranging from education (PISA rankings) to statistics to the environment, it has developed a series of unique modes of governance, and it has with varying success played more generally an important role as a warden of the West and of capitalist development.

However, we know surprisingly little about the OECD’s longer-term dynamics, internal politics, or relations with other international actors. With this international conference we want to open up the history of this fascinating organization as a field of historical, critical, and source-based research. Political scientists, sociologists, and scholars interested in international political economy only started in the wake of the constructivist turn of the 1990s to pay serious attention to the OECD. Yet by focusing mostly on the OECD trajectory since the late 1980s, these accounts have not yet explored the historical dynamics and transformations of the organization since 1948. Further, while highlighting the soft power function that does characterize the present-day OECD, existing research has tended to downplay or even ignore the use and diffusion of «power» and political interests within and through the OECD and to neglect and thus obscure the foundational role of the OEEC/OECD’s entanglements in late colonialism, in the Cold War competition, and the North-South tensions following decolonization.

To this first historical conference on the history of the OEEC and OECD we invite original source-based contributions that address the long-term history of this organization and analyze the OECD not as insular, but in its multiple relations to member states and other international organizations. In particular, we are interested in the organization’s role in the Cold War conflict, its function as an ante-chamber to harmonize Western interests vis-à-vis the global South, the relation between the OECD and other international organizations such as UNCTAD, the UN, the EEC/EU, the ILO etc. Further, we would like to learn about the OECD’s «peripheral» member countries (such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal, or Turkey) relation to the Organization as well as about the organizations entanglements in the internationalization and development of economics as a discipline.

Conference Web-Site: https://plone2.unige.ch/OECDhistoryproject/output/2015-oecd-conference-call-for-papers