The 'Rashomon Effect': Explaining Differences in the Narratives About Multilateralism and Global Governance

Beyond the broad support for multilateralism and global governance, a closer examination of the discourses and practices around them reveal quite different narratives contingent upon the particular position of international actors, their historical experience, and their prevailing political culture. Beyond 'hard' material interests, it helps to explain why, in many policy areas, consensus is rather superficial and often not much more than a rhetorical invocation, or a smoke screen of deep disagreements about issues such as global economic governance, reform of the UN and the Security Council, policies dealing with climate change, peacekeeping operations, or the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P), leading to frustration, criticism, and/or cynicism, whether in politics, society, or academia.

These differences seem to respond to the so-called 'Rashomon effect', referring to the title of the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece of 1950. Based on two stories by Ryanosuke Akutagawa, the movie 'Rashomon' narrates the death of a samurai and the rape of his wife in twelfth-century Japan, using the narrative technique of flashback to gather the different stories of those involved. Each one is presented as a 'story within the story', emphasizing its apparent realism without revealing any of these as the 'true' story. Conversely, Kurosawa shows that all of them are true, but their truth is contingent upon the context, background, and conditions of each character.

From the field of anthropology, Heider (1988) notes that, in the social sciences, the 'Rashomon effect' could be described as the effect of subjectivity in perception or in the recollection of information, by which the observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts or assessments of it. For Roth and Mehta (2002) it combines both interpretive and positivist analytical methods of contested social events.

In order to analyse the particular approach of Latin America to multilateralism and Global Governance, this chapter will depict four major conflicting narratives as 'Rashomon tales'. Two of them refer to Latin America, and the other two are included as contrast models. As described earlier, the role of these narratives is to define and constitute the actors themselves; to guide and give legitimacy to their foreign policy aims and actions; to shape their identity and self-perception; and finally, to generate 'discursive' power in the international arena. These four narratives are: a) hegemonic multilateralism, promoted by the US but also partially shared by its allies; b) normative multilateralism, advocated by the EU, and, for the case of Latin America; c) defensive multilateralism, deployed by developing countries in the 'Global South'; and d) revisionist multilateralism, as an updated version of the latter, promoted by emerging countries. In the next sections each one will be described in a simplified and stylized way using, as a metaphor, the main elements of a film narrative, as 'Rashomon' does, as a heuristic device for the sake of clarity, and assuming beforehand that the 'real' narratives are much more complex and diverse.

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