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International public administration on the tip of the tongue: language as a feature of representative bureaucracy in the Economic Community of West African States

Authors:

Zuzana Murdoch, Magali Gravier, Stefan Gänzle

Abstract

Recent scholarship shows increasing interest in gender, ethnic or national representation within regional and international organizations. In contrast, language as a criterion of representation has rarely been scrutinized. We argue that this constitutes an important oversight for two reasons: (1) language is an important identity marker; and (2) language regimes in international public administrations can uniquely address representativeness relative to both member states and groups of citizens. Our article explores language representation in the Economic Community of West African States, and pursues a twofold objective: first, it extends the applicability of representative bureaucracy theory to the issue of language; and, second, it broadens the scope of representative bureaucracy studies by providing the first study on a prominent West African regional organization. As such, we develop avenues for future research on other regional and international organizations.

Points for practitioners

The article is of particular relevance for managers in multilingual international and regional organizations. Organizations tend to overlook the role and impact of languages on their functioning, often considering them as a technicality. Taking the example of the Economic Community of West African States, the article argues that linguistic regimes are important for the performance and the legitimacy of the organization in terms of acceptance by both citizens and its member states.