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This symposium will be held in May 2022.

Advance call for one-day workshop: Coloniality in the UN: Histories of race, gender, and institutional violence, 1945-1999

The goal of this symposium to be held in May 2022 is to bring together scholars working with a variety of methodologies, timeframes, and case studies to reframe the United Nations (UN) as a historical subject and political agent in its own right. Histories of the UN and decolonisation have traditionally conceived of the organisation as primarily a forum for anti-colonialism and the promotion and protection of global human rights. Hagiographic memoirs and histories written by (ex-)UN workers have entrenched this narrative. However, recently, scholarship has emerged that has nuanced this approach and rebalanced analysis of the organisation. This newer literature has sought to approach the organisation as more than a forum for international collaboration or competition, instead examining how the UN’s specialised agencies, executive structures, and personnel shaped – and were shaped by – colonial politics and logics. Some of this work has drawn attention to the violence of liberal internationalism, focusing on the diplomatic and functional roles played by the global governance institution in preserving colonial norms and unequal hierarchies into the post-colonial international order. By considering the organisation as a historical subject, this symposium seeks to shed light on the different forms of institutional violence perpetuated by the UN, obscured by a humanitarian guise.

Speaking to methodological questions of race, gender, violence, and colonialism, this symposium seeks to shed light on the practical impact of the UN – its staff, cultures, processes, and structures – and move beyond ideas of the UN as simply an impartial ‘host’ for imperial politics and member-state diplomacy. This symposium seeks to build upon recent debates within the historiography and connect scholars working on the UN and colonialism. We will be particularly interested in papers that critically examine the influence and logics of the UN and its international staff in the global spheres of health, education, conflict, geopolitics, culture, sport, and media.

Date: 17 January 2022