|Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders:
Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University
Press. 1998. 227pp.
Keck and Sikkink (henceforth K&S) have written a very good book.
No, an excellent one. It is going to be both academically and politically
influential. My guess is that it will become a standard teaching text on
what they call transnational advocacy networks - even if I call them international
solidarity networks. One reason for this expectation is that they work
on this novel subject matter within new, but not-unfamiliar, theoretical
paradigms. A second is that they do so within politically established ones.
A third is that this is a highly professional work, even a technical one,
and that these things are sorely needed in the world of international non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), still largely becalmed in a sea of global-civil-society
babble. This is, finally, a confidently and tightly argued work with a
nice combination of theory, literature discussion and case study.
K&S has a sophisticated theoretical introduction. It has a chapter
on history, or pre-history. Three case study chapters deal with transnational
networks on human rights in Latin America, on the environment, and on violence
against women. The conclusion summarises.
Theory. K&S plumb international relations, social movement,
network and other theory to come up with their major model. This is of
local NGO initiative surpassing recalcitrant local states, reaching foreign
and international NGOs, foreign states and international organisations,
so as to `boomerang’ back on local ones (13, fig.1). But this major model
is not as central as first appears. The theory chapter itself, and the
succeeding ones, offer us an expanding battery of concepts and typologies
to aid analysis, evaluation and strategy.
Crucial is the combination of concepts in the book’s subtitle (8-10,
32-34). Advocacy is taken to mean the promotion of causes, principles
and norms that go beyond a conventional understanding of `interest’. A
network is understood as a horizontal, voluntary, reciprocal pattern
of exchange and communication. Conventional contemporary understandings
of international politics or relations are criticised, as are those
that would subsume transnational advocacy networks (henceforth TANs) `under
notions of transnational social movements or global civil society’ (33).
K&S prefer to see a global civil society more as a fragmented and contested
arena of struggle in which TANs struggle with(in) states and inter-state
organisations, press on these, find each other, and form and transform
themselves. Sub-sections of Chapter 1 explain the origins and rise of the
TANs, how they work and the conditions for influence. In each case the
specification is both original and insightful. Repeated conceptualisations
offer us a toolchest where we previously had only steamhammers. Three examples:
Our typology of tactics...includes 1) information politics...;
2) symbolic politics... 3) leverage politics... 4) accountability
To assess the influence of advocacy networks...[w]e identify the following
types or stages of network influence: 1) issue creation and agenda setting;
2) influence on discursive positions of states and international organisations;
3) influence on institutional procedures; 4) influence on policy change
in `target actors’...and; 5) influence on state behaviour. (25)
[F]ocusing on international interactions involving nonstate actors...we
distinguish three different categories based on their motivations: 1) those
with essentially instrumental goals, especially transnational corporations;
2) those motivated primarily by shared causal ideas, such as scientific
groups or epistemic communities and 3) those motivated primarily by shared
principled ideas or values (transnational advocacy networks). (30)
History. K&S recognise three different historical traditions
behind contemporary TAN activity: the religious, the labour/socialist,
and the individual rights one. Their history chapter however, deals only
with those coming out of the religious and rights traditions: with the
international 19th or early 20th century campaigns 1) against slavery in
the US, 2) for women’s suffrage world-wide, and 3) against footbinding
and female circumcision (in the then (semi-) colonial world). More concepts
are developed, including the distinction and dialectic between the often
individualist rights model of advocacy and a solidarity one which assumes
a community of fate.
Cases. The three case studies are chosen by K&S because of
their international significance. Using data from the International Union
of Associations’ invaluable Yearbook of International Associations,
they argue that these represent about half of the international TAN community.
But it is only somewhere in the middle of the book that they comment on
what has already become apparent, that they are also stressing North-South
networking, or the North-South aspects of networking (132). No reason is
given for this, so we have to assume it as being due to both authors being
Latin Americanists, or to them assuming the North-South axis as the dominant
one internationally. Chapter 3, on human rights networks in Latin
America is thus, primarily, about human rights networks on Latin
America, though the point is firmly established that the on and
in are not only interlinked but mutually influencing. This last
point is crucial to the chapter on TANs working on violence against women,
in so far as this issue is seen as having allowed for a surpassing of a
North-to-South model with its built-in conflicts of interest and values.
Conclusions. This chapter is useful as a summary of the book
as a whole but does not really adding to the argument. It includes further
literature discussion rather than, for example, making explicit recommendations
for either the TANs themselves or research on them. The Conclusions do,
however, raise directly the question of sovereignty. K&S seem to be
concerned with nation state sovereignty not only because of their political
view of the global mentioned above but also because of their recognition
of the continued attachment of Southern activists to at least `the idea
of the state’ (215) as a symbol of self-determination - `a desired, if
fading, utopia’ (ibid.). K&S here value networks precisely as a space
within which the anti-sovereignty attitudes of the Northern activists can
be negotiated with the pro-sovereignty ones of the South.
Although this is nowhere made explicit, my assumption is that K&S
are from the Left, with `from’ suggesting political origin and/or current
position. This is suggested by their familiarity with - and even sympathy
for - the labour and socialist tradition, particularly in Latin America.
They are certainly working on the front edge of both conventional international
politics and social science. I think, however, they are doing this from
within certain parameters of both the academy and activism. I think they
are also doing it within certain social and geographic ones. There seems
to me to be a certain paradox in dealing with this transformatory, emancipatory
and internationalist subject matter within such borders.
Let us consider the K&S view of the international/global; their
attitude toward the labour/solidarity tradition; the class and Western
bias in their approach; the problematic lexicon that reveals this, and
the liberal-pluralist orientation of the work as a whole.
Despite its theoretical sophistication and sensitivity, there is no
explicit worldview (either weltanschauung or view-of-the-global)
in this work. Indeed, there is no reference to globalisation in general
or the internationalisation of capital in particular. The theoretically
critical and socially committed literature on globalisation is ignored,
along with the related ones on the globalisation of culture, citizenship
and of social movements. Capital itself makes its rare appearance in the
guise of transnational corporations (and even here mostly in reference
to one international campaign). The blind eye to globalisation means that
K&S are working, inevitably, within traditional liberal (or leftist)
political and academic paradigms that their own subject matter and arguments
actually put in question. In so far as they have some view of the global,
it is, as I have suggested, a political one. It is, they say, the `world
political system’ that is the `appropriate level of analysis’ (212). Although
they obviously reject the notion that nation states are the only actors
here, they believe that in
the world political system today, states remain the predominant actors...The
cosmopolitan community can bring pressure to bear at stages of the domestic
process, but the state is still in charge. (ibid.)
Despite all the evidence they give of TANs questioning, subverting or reducing
the relative power of the nation state, of TANs as operating within globalised
institutions, or on/in globalised communicational and cultural terrain,
K&S see them as essentially political and as operating essentially
on/in the nation state. This helps us understand why they object to TANs
being subsumed under either a global civil society or global social
movements. But a state-centred approach also means that TANs are not even
considered in relationship to the latter.
The significance of the restriction becomes evident when we consider
the K&S treatment of labour and socialism. These are recognised as
representing one historical tradition, but this is done in passing,
and, whilst K&S recognise the contemporary significance of the dialectic
between communal-solidarity and individual-rights orientations to TAN activity,
labour’s present significance is dismissed in the following terms:
Although labour internationalism has survived the decline of the left,
it is based mainly on large membership organisations representing (however
imperfectly) bounded constituencies. Where advocacy networks have formed
around labour issues, they have been transitory, responding to repression
of domestic labour movements (as in labour support networks formed around
Brazil, South Africa, and Central America in the early 1980s). (15)
The first sentence is true and important. The second is not, and this is
just as important. A number of such significant networks have survived
or even developed in the 1990s, in both the UK and the USA, as well as
in, for example, South Korea. In so far, moreover, as national and global
power is moving from states to corporations, that labour protest is reviving
internationally, that international labour organisations are beginning
to fight back against global neo-liberalism, that they are applying themselves
to rights issues particular (including those of women), and even recognising
the significance of the network form (Danish General Workers Union 1997),
one has to either rule them out definitionally or have a broader definition
of the TAN. K&S have taken the first option. There are implications,
not least being the failure to recognise that TANs might (and do) reproduce
the self-defeating shortcomings of labour and socialist internationalism!
These include hierarchisation, bureaucratisation, financial dependency,
ritualisation, incorporation into hegemonic forms and norms, substitution
for the membership/community in question.
More grave is the implicit class bias of such an exclusion. The historical
and contemporary cases considered by K&S are all middle-class - indeed
Western, or even US middle-class - in origin and appeal, all `progressive’
in aim, all `nice’ in behaviour. The Western and middle-class origins or
appeal of the TANs does not at all disqualify them for me, or even reduce
their significance, but it is problematic and could lead to a `globalisation
from the middle’. This could itself be limited to completing the unfinished
business of capitalist modernity: the universalisation of the liberal democratic
nation state. TANs, secondly, are not limited to `progressive’ causes.
In writing on internationalism, over 70 years ago, the Peruvian Marxist,
Jose Carlos Mariategui (1973), noted the paradox that even the racist,
militaristic and statist fascists were `internationalist’. This was actually
no paradox at all but an expression of the globalisation avant la lettre
of social life in the early 20th century. Today we have TANs of religious
fundamentalists, of militaristic socialists and, still, regrettably, of
racists and fascists.
It is, moreover, not only the right-wing social movements that `network
and advocate internationally’. This could well be seen as a characteristic
of the present stage of capitalist development! To thus see it removes
the aura of virtue that surrounds `networking’ in the K&S lexicon.
And, in so far as a globalised networked capitalism is increasingly a cultural
one (cultural products, creation of meanings and feelings), it is concerned
with `advocacy’ in both the most general sense and in the narrowly legal
one. I don’t think the K&S distinction between interest and values
is adequate here, since there can be reactionary/conservative values and
progressive/transformatory interests (the values/interests distinction
is, in any case, dialectical rather than oppositional). Finally, I think
that the essentially political term `transnational’ is too narrow a word
for both what capitalism is doing and the new terrain of democratic pluralist
struggle. Even `globalisation’ is inadequate, it occurs to me, since capitalist
activity is increasingly in the ether. This means that it actually surrounds
the globe. This sphere is as little national as is the ecosphere, although
- as with the ecosphere - capital and (inter-)state organisations may dominate
it. If this is a domain of politics, it is of a globalised, cultural and
communicational politics, supranational and in need of similarly supranational
forms of oversight, access and control. (Compare Castells 1996, 1997, 1998,
discussed Waterman Forthcoming A).
Back to earth. And money. K&S consider as major possible actors
within TANs not only the national and international NGOs themselves
but also, and equally,
2) local social movements; 3) foundations; 4) the media; 5) churches,
trade unions, consumer organisations, and intellectuals; 6) parts of regional
and international intergovernment organisations; and 7) parts of the executive
and/or parliamentary branches of governments. (9)
Indeed, when talking of human rights networking they even say that `foundations
may be the most autonomous of all the actors in the network’ (97), the
latter being due to what I would consider capitalist/statist characteristics
- their independent incomes and self-perpetuating boards of trustees! This
is followed up by uncritical praise for a Dutch funding agency and policy
makers, the first for involving `partners’ (i.e. financial clients) in
decision-making, the second for being simultaneously involved in governmental,
academic, NGO and other networks (and surely thus blurring or obscuring
what should be a useful, public and creative tension between such).
Here we are clearly moving toward a liberal-democratic pluralist model
of the national and international, in which everything is penetrated or
penetrable by citizen networking. (K&S now appears as successors rather
than originators, since they were preceded by an equally sophisticated,
but merely footnoted, work of the early 1980s, Willets 1982). Accepting
such a model is to ignore deep problems and contradictions. Enormous power,
wealth and cultural influence is concentrated in the hands of capital globally
(which is to say globalised capital, in increasingly intangible forms);
nation-states are still able to `discipline and punish’; foundations and
other powerful funders, finally, have their own interests, agendas, criteria
and procedures. All this leads to the current neo-liberalisation of NGO
funding, the crisis of North-to-South funding, and the `NGOisation’ of
social movements and civil society, North and South, East and West. This
is now coming to the critical attention of , for example, feminist scholars
I must now recall Gandhi’s response to the journalist who asked him
what he thought of Western civilisation: it would, he said, be a wonderful
idea. The democratisation of the world would also be a wonderful thing,
particularly if it implied the democratisation of those parts of national
and international power presently concealed from public view and controlled
by capital or executive branches of these state (or inter-state bodies).
This applies not only to the recalcitrant states on the capitalist periphery,
forefronted in the K&S boomerang model, but to the liberal-democratic
capitalist states that dominate international politics! But, one should
not, even in this case, forget that even liberal-democratic (or social-democratic)
capitalism reproduces competition, inequality, patriarchy, environmental
destruction, crime (from which it is only demarcated by the finest of constantly
shifting lines). Capitalism - of every variety - also means commodification
- the reduction of humans and their relations to that which can be bought,
sold - and accumulated. To surpass this, or even to effectively modify
it in a manner both K&S and I desire, requires a vision of a possible,
desirable and attractive alternative to it, based on more social (not to
say socialist) principles. This is what is customarily called a utopia
- something also absent from this work. Yet such a realistic global utopia
(Giddens 1990, Sousa Santos 1995) - a global alternative to a neo-liberal
globalisation - is being either articulated or is tendentially present
in the work of many TANs. And, indeed, it is difficult to know how one
could meaningfully evaluate their singular or collective success right
now, without extending our social imaginary beyond the limits of what is
dominantly present - or represented. One cannot move the world without
have both a point and a lever outside it.
Before finishing I should make clear that I am not a conventionally
disinterested reader of this book. My own book, which conceives the same
matter in terms of globalisation, social movements, solidarity and civil
society, is also supposed to appear this year (Forthcoming B). The structure
of K&S parallels my work in quite remarkable ways. Authors of unpublished
books can imagine how I experienced the discovery of this one! You find
that a book has just been published on what you had assumed was your very
own subject area. You open it with more than a degree of anxiety. Does
it say, better as well as sooner, what you will be saying more clumsily
and later? Does it reveal, devastatingly, an enormous gap in your knowledge
or - worse - your paradigm? Can it be dismissed, comfortably, as an empirical
or ideological also-ran? Or does it, reassuringly, confirm that you are
not (as you had sometimes wondered) either mad or bad. Does it even, encouragingly,
suggest that you might have met fellow travellers, with whom you could
have fruitful discussion on what has previously been a lonely journey?
As far as I am concerned, K&S are more than fellow travellers. Which
is why I want to repeat my original endorsement. But, in view of all the
criticism above, does this not all amount to praising with faint damns?
I think not, and this for the following reasons. Firstly, I do not believe
that there is only one way to global civil society, or even the civilising
of global society. This road will be made by walking - and talking. Secondly,
and more specifically, I do not see `reform from within’ in opposition
to `radicalism from without’ but rather as conditions for each other’s
existence. Thirdly, I consider that any sustained and sensitive analysis
of our new international subjects cannot but raise public awareness and
interest. Fourthly, I do not believe that macro-theoretical or ideological
claims or assumptions necessarily determine the value of a work. I may
have concentrated on criticism of these but I want to repeat my feeling
that the meso- or micro-theoretical, the analytical and even strategy propositions
in K&S are going to be of great value to those working either in or
on this field. My review has only indicated the part of the iceberg above
the water level. I will have to deal with the other nine-tenths in any
serious further work I might do on activists beyond borders.
Castells, Manuel. 1996, 1997, 1998. The Information Age: Economy,
Society and Culture. 3 Vols. Oxford: Blackwell.
Alvarez, Sonia. 1998. `Latin American Feminisms "Go Global":
Trends of the 1990s and Challenges for the New Millenium’, in Sonia Alvarez,
Evelina Dagnino and Arturo Escobar (eds), Cultures of Politics/Politics
of Cultures: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements. Boulder:
Westview. Pp. 293-324.
Danish General Workers Union (SiD). 1997. `Labour Visions and Strategies
for the 21st Century’. http:/summit.sid.dk/.
Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of
Modernity. Cambridge: Polity. 178 pp.
Mariategui, Jose Carlos. 1973. `Internacionalismo
y nacionalismo' (Internationalism and Nationalism), in Mariategui, Jose
Carlos, Historia de la crisis mundial: Conferencias anos 1923 y 1924.
Lima: Amauta. Pp. 156-165.
Sousa Santos, Boaventura de. 1995. Towards
a New Common Sense: Law, Science and Politics in the Paradigmatic Transition.
New York: Routledge.
Waterman, Peter. Forthcoming A. `The Brave New
World of Manuel Castells: What on Earth (or in the Ether) is Going On?’.
Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. 26pp.
Waterman, Peter. Forthcoming B. Globalisation, Social Movements and
the New Internationalisms. London/Washington: Mansell/Cassell. c. 320pp.
Willets, Peter (ed). 1982. Pressure Groups in the Global System:
The Transnational Relations of Issue-Orientated Non-Governmental Organisations.
London: Frances Pinter. 225 pp.