Assessing citizen awareness of international organizations

Different people will naturally have different awareness levels of international organizations and global governance. But why does this matter? A new paper by Nereus Fellow Lisa Dellmuth, at Stockholm University, finds that there is inequality due to the type of people that have this knowledge.

“Generally speaking, the politically aware are typically male, white, well educated, and financially secure, making knowledge a resource whose distribution favours some groups and interests while disadvantaging others,” said Dellmuth. “In the context of global governance, the imbalance in terms of citizen awareness affects the degree to which different parts of the citizenry can grasp and participate in communicative processes leading to the public contestation of international organizations. Importantly, the unequal distribution of awareness among people or groups of people (e.g., groups of fishers) may have implications for the visibility of these people’s interests and, in turn, for the equality in representation of these interests through civil society organizations at the global level.”

The paper “The knowledge gap in world politics: Assessing the sources of citizen awareness of the United Nations Security Council“, published in Review of International Studies, used a statistical analysis of survey data for 17 Asian and European countries to look at how aware citizens are of international organizations, using the United Nations Security Council as a case study.

Image: "The Security Council" by United Nations Photo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Citizen awareness of the United Nations Security Council is shaped by economics and social identity. Image: “The Security Council” by United Nations Photo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“This paper suggests that individual citizens’ knowledge about international organizations is shaped by citizens’ economic situation, social identity, and income inequality in a person’s country,” said Dellmuth. “Higher levels of knowledge are found among the wealthier, and there is some evidence that income inequality depresses knowledge among poorer citizens. Furthermore, citizens identifying with groups or individuals across nation-state borders are more likely to be aware of international organizations.”

Dellmuth notes that knowledge about international organizations could have implications for their legitimacy. This paper could also lead to further research on fisheries governance.

“There are many important future directions. Future research should explore whether the increasing entanglement of environmental and security issues at the global level affects citizen knowledge,” said Dellmuth. “Future studies should focus on the consequences of knowledge patterns and inequalities among sub-groups of populations, such as specific groups of fishers, for global fisheries governance.”


For further information or interview requests, please contact:
Lindsay Lafreniere
Communications Officer, Nereus Program
Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries
The University of British Columbia