08 June 2022
Similarity, difference, différance. These three terms work together in one’s understanding of MUN conferences. How similar are various councils? How different? How far do delegates have to delve into council debate until the true meaning of the council has been reached? What new, hidden meaning or lack thereof is derived?
Councils are often full of contradictions. At the simplest level, delegates break stances, resolutions are incongruent with council objectives; and at a more complex level there is manipulation, deception, and eventually this becomes - for cynics - what MUN is all about.
Of course, can every council be said to be like this, as is the view of cynics? In relation to this, two schools of thought can be examined - the structuralist school, and aptly following it the post-structuralist school which can be argued to be the more cynical one, and yet it is the former which views every element of a structure as the same, as in the name.
This article may be slipping into head-spinning complexity, but stay with me. In structuralist thought, all councils would be the same because at their root they follow the same path of signification, moving from one element to another -- not in the sense of GSL to motions to back, but in the sense of the recognisable and tactile, such as dynamics, roles, and relationships.
The power delegate, the quiet backbenchers, the one churning out working paper after working paper, the pre-writer, and so on. Notwithstanding substantive and individual differences, these always remain. Are these, then, just cosmetic differentiations? Certainly not. And we all know this, after all we are cognizant of the differences that emerge when we go to different councils and conferences.
I gained ever more cognizance of these differences by hopping between councils during the conference - and the dynamics and delegate participation shaped a different environment in each one. For instance, the environment in the UNSC was tense, marked by confusion due to stance breaking and yet everyone was frothing at the bit to assert themselves. This was in contrast to COP26, where it was immediately apparent that the council was being dominated by a few delegates and the atmosphere was rather unresponsive. Chair reactions to these dynamics have no similarities except frustration - thereby yielding little to no similarities overall.
Stepping back, this evaluation appears contradictory: how can chairs be frustrated at two councils shambolic in completely different ways? But of course, frustration comes about in many ways. This however fails to strengthen the position that the post-structuralist viewpoint is not completely apt for looking at MUN.
After all, at a more macro level, what is most often commented on about councils is circular debate which is antithetical to the objective of MUN which is to develop solutions to issues of current affairs with a clear objective in mind.
This is a contradiction inherent to MUN, yet its inevitability has led to its accommodation - it is no secret that political actors and chair intervention are options forever on standby and it is surprising when these are not required, as if the contradiction of circular debate is to be expected and of meaning, or possibly even is the meaning, of MUN.
Circling back to address the earlier questions - the councils do not appear to be really similar - other than the fact that most function on the basic rules of procedure - which are amended by every one of the councils in any case.
Hence, ironically, the cynical view prevails, yet it is not the cynical view that all MUNs are the same, within and without individual conferences, but that the only common thing is the inherent contradiction present in all council debate. Councils could be no different, and yet in all of them the intended meaning and purpose of MUN is never realised - the biggest contradiction of MUN as a whole.
To end, is MUN itself a contradiction, an attempt at cooperation in a world where there is polarisation as far as the eye can see, with portfolios mismatched with delegates’ personal views as a challenge to them? Does it follow that MUN, then, indirectly challenges our view of our own society?