University of Earth
18th May 2007

Reclaiming the Heritage of Misappropriated Collective Endeavour

the case of the Union of Intelligible Associations

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Extract from Three-stage Emergence of a Union of Imaginable Associations: Reclaiming the heritage of misappropriated collective endeavour
Conflicting claims to territory and property: real or virtual
"Existence" of collective entities
Value context
Deprecated arguments
Exploitation of contractual relationships
Reclaiming a heritage


This exploration focuses on the various understandings of the "existence" of collective "national" and "international" bodies, the ownership of their (intellectual) "property" in an increasingly open information society, and the claims that may "legitimately" be made on both by those who actively sustain or develop such property over decades. Such considerations are especially relevant in the transition over a century through the colonial era to one in which post-colonialist, participative values are promoted and upheld.

The emergence of a Union of Intelligible Associations, or subsequently a Union of Imaginable Associations, may therefore be understood as a progressive reclaiming of a heritage of misappropriated collective endeavour.

Conflicting claims to territory and property: real or virtual

The 20th century has been witness to the bloodiest conflicts of human history. These might be said to have focused on various understandings of territory, its control, and especially the control of the associated resources. Such conflict is expected to continue for the same reason -- exacerbated, as in the past, by efforts to impose preferred value systems, with whatever justification.

Increasingly those claiming rights to territory, property and resources are multinational entities which "exist" only through particular understandings of legal frameworks -- at a time when such international frameworks are subject to major challenge and other virtual entities are emerging within cyberspace.

"Existence" of collective entities

The "existence" of collective "national" and "international" bodies may be challenged as legal fictions, notably fictions of a particular legislative system -- typically that of the victor in some conflict or that supporting those who have appropriated or expropriated the property of others as a consequence of successful dominance of some form. The challenges are most evident in the past and continuing treatment of indigenous populations, even when "treaties" have been duly signed with their representatives.

The challenges have been extended to divergent understandings of the the ownership of (intellectual) "property" in an increasingly open information society, and the claims that may "legitimately" be made on that property by those who actively sustain or develop such "property" over decades in some way.

Such considerations are especially relevant in any celebration of the transition over a century, through the colonial era, to one in which post-colonialist, participative values are promoted and upheld.

In the case of the "Union of International Associations", although founded on 1st June 1907 as the Central Office of International Associations by a group of 20 internationalassociations, its status as an "international association" acquired a form of legitimacy under the curent name, at the 1st World Congress of International Organizations (Brussels, 1910). However this was prior to any legislative provision for international nongovernmental organizations -- for which the UIA successfully campaigned in Belgium (but without only partial success elsewhere). Clearly its legitimacy as a federation was effectively challenged by the disruption of World War I and its aftermath -- partially indicated by the transfer of its documentary activity to the League of Nations and the suspension of Belgian government support in 1934.

The very limited activity in the period prior to World War II cannot be said to reinforce its legitimacy which the disruption of that war severely undermined. A brief, and unsuccessful, attempt by the Nazi regime was made to use such residual legitimacy as a front for Nazi ambitions. It was only following the war that it could be reconstituted as an institute -- recovering the documentation essential to its activities from the Mundaneum and from a Swiss publisher. Its mandate only derives by inference from its proven capacity to gather information from other international bodies in a consistent manner. This function is formally recognitized by ECOSOC, and recognized de facto by the academic and business communities that depend on its statistics. It derives its legitimacy and reputation from the capacity of its Secretariat to gather, order and disseminate information in a professional manner -- not from the activities or influence of the individuals who form its statutory membership and governing bodies.

Indeed there is continuing unchallenged confusion between the content and tone of formal communications for “public relations” purposes and those for “management” purposes – effectively disempowering those with any democratic responsibilities in the statutory processes of an institution. This is consistent with the wider tendency to “image management” of which, ironically, the “centenary” of the UIA is an example of an act of imagination. For an institution of problematic legitimacy in the inter-war period, at least in the eyes of historians, the claim of continuity over a century is as problematic as any effort to see the United Nations as having been founded in 1919 – as the League of Nations.

Although a highly honourable achievement for a pattern of actiovity to have survived in various notional forms through two world wars and financial crises that have condemned many international bodies, care should be taken when celebrating the "centenary" of the UIA given the quality and degree of continuity over that period. However there is clearly a legitimate case for celebrating the birth of the inspiration for that activity on 1st June 1907.

As with many international bodies, the Union of International Associations sustains a reputation justifying its name to some degree, through valued work and benefitting from mistaken assumptions as to its nature. Without seeking to correct such assumptions, this is achieved by avoiding issues associated with more searching questions regarding its legitimacy and accountability -- especially over the many decades during which the issues of the legal status of "international" nongovernmental organizations have remained unresolved.

It is however appropriate to ask with respect to many collective entities to what extent their existence is sustained by imaginative collective processes -- "lets pretend" -- which merit reflection in the light of the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. Such reflections are given legitimacy by current research on social constructionism (cf Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, 1966).

Value context

This value context, especially to the extent that a body, like the Union of International Associations (UIA), has tacitly subscribed to it through its relationship with the United Nations, raises a number of problematic issues:

Deprecated arguments

This pattern -- with respect to notions of investment, ownership, property, and identity in the case of any form of intellectual property -- can be fruitfully compared to characteristics of:

It is perhaps appropriate to question the degree to which those paying lip service to the promotion of values elsewhere (beyond any mandate for which they can be held accountable) significantly fail to ensure their promotion within contexts for which they have a responsibility.

Within this conext it is valuable to note the arguments in a presidential addresss to the International Association for the Study of the Commons, Daniel W Bromley (Common Property as Metaphor: systems of knowledge, resources and the decline of individualism. The Common Property Digest, 27, September 1993) who distinguishes two categories of problem:

Exploitation of contractual relationships

Typical of this pattern, in the case of the Union of International Associations, is the exploitative manipulation of explicit (and implicit) contractual relationships, avoiding or asserting legal (and moral) obligations where convenient, as in the case of:

Assertion of incompatible claims: As a consequence, it might be asked to what extent those associated with a body like UIA1 in various capacities (statutorily elected administrators, employees, project initiators and managers, lenders) can assert seemingly incompatible claims as stakeholders with regard to: intellectual property, trade marks, information, strategic intiiatives, and branding -- as articulated in Table 4

Claims to ownership from different levels of an organization
. Statutory legal entity
Work force
Strategic leadership
Basis for claim Self-perpetuating elite membership without significant obligations or responsibilities (reflecting contested assumptions about inherited qualities)
Claims typical of "employers"
Currently contracted long-term employees required for documentary continuity
Claims typical of "workers"
Innovators, "discoverers", "attractors", fund-raisers (variously contracted, past and present)
Claims to ownership of tangible assets Financial and material assets
Occupancy of offices, desks, workstations, etc ("territory") None
Claims to ownership of intangible assets Trademarks and titles None .
Software . .
Information (including mailing lists) . .
Copyright (intellectual property) Fidelity of documentary activity ("copyright") Relevance??
Working contacts of membership (proven to be of little value, notably with respect to UN and EU systems) Working contacts of staff (limited to ongoing documentation work) Working contacts of innovators
Reputation . .
Rights, responsibilities & obligations Statutory (accountability to membership), notability reporting on finances, performance, etc

. .
Legal (to employees), notably salaries, social security, health, etc Contractual obligations; social security payments and benefits Contractual obligations; social security payments and benefits
Contractual (to third parties), notably fulfilment of commitments made Contractual .
Financial debts None, except to the extent reduction of such debts is accepted as a responsibility of the work force .
Capacity for renewal Unchallenged self-perpetuation through cooptation and self-selection (membership for life) Constrained by financial and personnel resources to exploitation of information assets (long-term contracts inhibit staff restructuring) .
Asset of last resort (dependency) Reputation Working capacity and demand for information Innovative capacity and responsiveness to new challenges
Values and ethical standards Statutorily defined in generic terms
Operationally imposed by national legislation (accountability, social security, etc)
Unconstrained by any ethical charter
Documentation standards
Team loyalty
Partially defined by legally required working regulations
Relevance to challenges of international community
Token letterhead affiliation (requiring minimal interaction, if any)
Exploitation of name
Continuing pattern of work
Exploitation of information assets
Trading on name
Strategic innovation
Heritage Reputation and historical record of activity Pattern of collective activity Intentionality
Capacity for renewal
Centre of gravity Legal shell ("soul-less", "spirit-less") Non-viable programme ("body-less"; "spirit-less") Imaginative initiatives ("body-less"; "soul-less")
Identity Identified with name: UIA Identified with existing production activity ("know-how") Identified with strategic intentionality ("know-why")
Naming initiatives Misrepresented for trading purposes as a "union of international associations" Rebranding of current "UIA" operations to "re-animate" it for marketing purposes (without consulting membership) Rebranding of past "UIA" initiatives to reflect commitments made -- effectively "de-spirited"

In considering the distinctions made in the above table, and the learnings of relevance to other international initiatives, it is important to recognize:

Reclaiming a heritage

Given the investment of those variously associated with the initiative over the years, it is therefore appropriate that they should variously reclaim their heritage in celebration of the centenary of the "UIA":

Given the increasing degree of virtualization of knowledge society, it is clear that those engaged in collective endeavours may validly claim appropriation of heritage developed through those endeavours. This constitutes an arrogation of rights previously specifically claimed and exclusively held by the statutory administrators. As a "virtual revolution" this does not preclude alternative claims, whether or not they are recognized to be of any significance. Increasingly both traditional legal entities, and alternatives to them, may be understood in terms of the image management required credibly to sustain their appearance -- as with the classic tale of the emperor's new clothes
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