Individual Agency and Policy Change at the United Nations: The People of the United Nations, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Individual Agency and Policy Change at the United Nations

The People of the United Nations, 1st Edition

By Ingvild Bode


208 pages | 15 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138806887
pub: 2015-03-27
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315751436
pub: 2015-03-24
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This book highlights how temporary international civil servants play a crucial role in initiating processes of legal and institutional change in the United Nations system. These individuals are the “missing” creative elements needed to fully understand the emergence and initial spread of UN ideas such as human development, sovereignty as responsibility, and multifunctional peacekeeping.

The book:

  • Shows that that temporary UN officials are an actor category which is empirically crucial, yet usually neglected in analytical studies of the UN system. Focussing on these particular individual actors therefore allows for a better understanding of complex UN decision-making.
  • Demonstrates how these civil servants matter, looking at what their agency is based on. Offering a new and distinctive model, Bode seeks to move towards a comprehensive conceptualisation of individual agency, which is currently conspicuous for its absence in many theoretical approaches that address policy change
  • Uses three key case studies of international civil servants (Francis Deng, Mahbub ul Haq and Marrack Goulding) to explore the possibilities of this specific group of UN individuals to act as agents of change and thereby test the prevailing notion that international bureaucrats can only act as agents of the status quo.

This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of international organizations and the United Nations.


‘Bode’s innovative study extends understanding of individual agency in United Nations decision-making in vital new directions. The work is analytically rich and compelling, and serves as a valuable resource for those interested in international organization, international bureaucracy, decision-making, and tracing new ideas in the global arena, along with providing illuminating details on Francis Deng, Marrack Goulding, and Mahbub ul Haq.’ - Kent Kille, Professor of Political Science, The College of Wooster, USA

‘Ingvild Bode opens the black box of international bureaucracy to find that international civil servants are not the slaves of member states but rather have agency and can make a difference. Her in-depth analyses of non-career staffers—or inside-outsiders or outside-insiders—contain insights for how to rock the UN’s normative and operational boats.’ – Thomas G. Weiss, Presidential Professor of Political Science, The Graduate Center, CUNY

'A concise and original contribution to the growing literature on individual agency in international organizations. It offers a number of sharp conceptual lenses as well as in-depth empirical studies of personalities that have proven to be crucial for the work of the United Nations in the realm of development and security. The results of this study will be of interest to practitioners and researchers alike.' - Manuel Fröhlich, Professor of International Organisations and Globalization, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena

Table of Contents

1. Introduction, 2. The agency of empowered individuals, 3. Accounting for the influence of empowered individuals in the United Nations system: The constitutive empowerment model, 4. Mahbub ul Haq and the idea of human development, 5. Francis Deng and the concern for internally displaced persons, 6. Marrack Goulding and the diversification of peacekeeping, 7. Conclusion

About the Author

Ingvild Bode is a JSPS postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability at the United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan.

About the Series

Routledge Research on the United Nations (UN)

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General