Interview with Former AUWCL Visiting Scholar Dr. Leon Schettler
Dr. Leon Schettler (Visiting Scholar 2017) recently published his dissertation Socializing Development as a book, which investigates the tactics of transnational social movements to enhance the human rights accountability of multilateral development banks in light of the declining hegemony of the United States. We interviewed Dr. Schettler to highlight his achievements and learn more about his time at AUWCL in 2017.
1. Can you briefly describe your area of research and the topic of your dissertation?
In my dissertation, I was interested in the state of human rights accountability among multilateral development banks (MDB's) and specifically, how transnationally organized social movements shape that kind of accountability among MDB's. My dissertation thus combines international human rights law (which human rights norms apply to MDB's legally?) and normative considerations from the lens of political theory (How should sound MDB human rights due diligence look like?) with a more empirical, political science account of the effectiveness of social movement tactics.
2. How did you come to be interested in this topic?
We know that most governance problems these days are of a transnational nature and require responses that transcend the boundaries of nation states. Yet at the same time, we are still lacking a coherent idea on how a global order with cosmopolitan intent, that is, governance beyond the nation state that respect human rights and basic democratic principles, could look like. Certainly, international organizations play a major role in that. This is reflected in the empirical trend that states have delegated more and more competencies to IO's throughout the last decades, to the point that IO's are increasingly able to take decisions by majority (without the consent of all members) or even without prior member state consultation. Against this background, I was interested in the democratic and human rights accountability of IO governance at large. I then chose to focus on IO's in the field of global development, where MDB's like the World Bank exercise considerable influence and where the very raison d'être of organizations involved is to enhance the human rights of those affected. Hence, if anywhere, we should expect these organizations to embody democratic and human rights norms. Yet, with the kick-off of the World Bank social and environmental policy (“safeguards”) reform I saw first indications that the World Bank – the norm-setter among MDB's - sought to dilute, not enhance, its own human rights accountability. Moreover, transnationally organized, human rights based social movement actors that were important in pushing human rights reform at the World Bank in the early 1990's seemed much less powerful, despite better communications technology and strong networks with global reach. I wanted to find out what was going on.
3. Tell us a bit about your time at AUWCL.
I mainly worked with Professor David Hunter upon whose invitation I was able to come to AUWCL. Encounters with Jonathan Fox and Daniel Esser from AUWCL were also very helpful and important to dive into the AU community. For my daily work, I loved going to the Library of Congress – sitting there in the main reading hall is enough to stay focused and inspired for hours. I also have vivid memories regarding the cycling up to AU from downtown (I lived right next to the Convention Center), but especially the way back, all downhill floating through an April-ocean of cherry blossoms till home. I also didn't expect all that many social events around the World Bank Annual Conference, that was fun, too.
4. Did your time at AUWCL play a role in your research and ultimately your PhD dissertation? Were there certain courses or topics that influenced you?
Yes, it certainly did. Meeting a number of key actors that were connected to AUWCL or Prof. David Hunter was key in shaping my understanding of the matter I was researching. For instance, meeting Charles Di Leva (World Bank Chief Officer for social and environmental safeguards and adjunct Prof. at AUWCL) at a colloquium or Eduardo Abbott (former member of the World Bank Inspection Panel) – these were amazing opportunities. Some of my interviewees even lived around AUWCL, which made it very easy to meet them for a coffee in the area.
Of course, Prof. Hunter's amazing connections to the Washington D.C. based social movement community was at least equally important. He introduced me to several key movement actors from the Bank Information Center and elsewhere. Participating in their strategy meetings, observing the interaction between movement representatives, Treasury and World Bank staff during joint discussions behind the scenes and participating in numerous informal get-togethers and parties around the World Bank's Annual Conference in April were golden eggs I was able to put into my dissertation basket.
5. What advice could you give to a Visiting Scholar or a current student at AUWCL?
I think I would try to connect more to students at AUWCL early on when different paths of future habits are still widely open. In my opinion, sports activities are perfect for informal encounters. As AUWCL I would thus make sure all visiting scholars are allowed to percolate in all sport activities at no (or low) cost.
Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.