|"For two exceptional centuries," declares Charles Tilly,
European states and their extensions elsewhere succeeded remarkably
in circumscribing and controlling the resources within their perimeters...
But in our era...at least in Europe, the era of strong states is now ending
Well, maybe. Tilly happily admits that his declaration is informed by a
"series of speculations, conjectures, and hypotheses". But let us, at least
for the moment, assume that his instinct is right; that the strong, consolidated
national state formed since the seventeenth century really is in
decline. The obvious question to ask next is; "are non-state agents taking
its place?" Or less boldly: "are non-territorial mechanisms emerging that
function alongside of states with their traditional supports of force and
Before tackling this impossible question, it won't hurt to remind ourselves
that states remain strong in most areas of policy -- for example, in maintaining
domestic security -- even if they have become weaker in their ability to
control capital flows. And although global airwaves and cheap international
travel give citizens unprecedented exposure to others' miseries and struggles,
states still control their borders and exercise legal dominion within them
(Krasner 1995). Citizens cross state borders more easily than they did;
they can form networks beyond borders (Keck and Sikkink 1998); and they
occasionally construct norms of global governance (Khagram, Riker and Sikkink,
2000). But they still live in states and -- in democratic states,
at least -- have available to them the opportunities and repertoires of
national polities. That is a resource that the supposed new world of "global
civil society" cannot easily match.
States too profit from the opportunity to reach beyond their borders
-- notably by signing international agreements, interfering in the internal
lives of [usually weaker] states, and by building international institutions.
Although these institutions are intended to serve state purposes (Moravcsek
1998), in mediating between the interests of various states and reflecting
collective goods, they can provide space and resources for non-state actors.
More than international travel, e-mail, or the internet, international
institutions can have the unintended result of encouraging the development
of networks, identities and opportunities of citizens across borders. That
is the argument I will advance in this paper.
I. A Social Movement Perspective
Some have claimed much more than this as the reesult of increased interdependency
beyond the state level -- they see a "global civil society" or a "world
polity", in which non-state actors connect to one another and become empowered
to confront once-powerful states (Boli and Thomas, eds., 1999; Meyer, Boli,
Thomas and Ramirez 1997; Wapner 1995, 1996). Some even see a "rebundling"of
citizenship around non-territorial lines (di Palma 1999). Others do not
like what they see: for them, globalization occurs at the cost of
non-state actorsâ€™ rights -- with little to take the place
of the citizenship rights acquired over the centuries. In this "strong"
perspective, the modern world of states gives way to a world of dispersed
forms of governance. In its extreme form, even when these actors never
place a toe in transnational waters, the fact that their societies and
their market exchanges are affected by globalization makes their domestic
actions part of global civil society. The much-overused imperative to "think
globally; Act locally!" expresses this elison.
Over the last decade, a new tradition of "transnational relations" has
developed which turns its attention from that old standby, the multinational
corporation, to other kinds of non-state actors -- NGO's, principled issue
networks, transnational activists, and professional and business networks.
This is a refreshing move, but much of the work in this field is innocent
of systematic attention to contentious politics -- and with good reason,
as the latter field â€“ with rare exceptions -- has been cordially
indifferent to what happens beyond the water's edge until quite recently.
Some of these authors have begun to posit the development of a whole
new spectrum of transnational social movements (della Porta, Kriesi and
Rucht, eds., 1999; Smith, Chatfield and Pagnucco, eds. 1997); others have
focussed on one particular movement family -- like human rights, the environment,
or the concerns of indigenous peoples (Risse, Ropp and Sikkink, 1999; Young,
ed. 1997; Brysk 1998); still others focus on cultural forms, deducing from
the collapse of extinct metanarratives a groping across borders towards
new cultural codes and connections (Appadurai 1990, Robertson 1992).
In contrast to the "strong" thesis -- which proclaimed a transnational
civil society developing willy-nilly across national borders -- empirical
work in this tradition is beginning to focus on beyond-border activism
on the part of actors whose interests continue to be framed by domestic
political opportunities and constraints (Imig and Tarrow 1999a and b; Marks
and McAdam 1996, McAdam 1998, Tarrow 1998a, Yashar 1998). Others see domestic
actors seeking the help of external allies in a triangular "boomerang effect"
that depends very much on enlisting the power of third party states (Keck
and Sikkink 1998 and international institutions (Klotz 1996). While the
strong thesis posited a world moving towards the unbundling of territorial
states, this approach leads to a focus on the transnational activities
of states and international institutions as well as non-state actors.
This perspective -- one that I share -- assumes that -- at least for
the present -- states and institutions remain the prime targets and fulcra
of political exchange. Social actors have to overcome a number of obstacles
in order to evade states' grasp and create mechanisms to develop and forward
their claims. Habitual alliances, familiar repertoires, and domestic routines
constrain their actions unless -- and this "unless" needs to be specified
on a case-by-case basis -- they can develop the networks, construct the
identities, and access opportunities that give them leverage outside the
state. And even when they do, the result will only rarely consist of transnational
mobilized groups recruiting across borders engaged in sustained contentious
interaction with powerholders in which at least one state is either a target
or a participant.
In this paper, I develop this perspective further. In the next section,
I define a set of terms that are central in the developing field of transnational
contention. In Part Three I investigate the main obstacles I see to transnational
collective action. In Part Four, I lay out a set of mechanisms that domestic
actors can use to overcome these obstacles. In Part Five, I will argue
that international institutions are most likely to serve as a fulcrum for
transnational contention and point to some mechanisms through which these
can empower resource-poor actors.
The major hypothesis that will be advanced is that precisely because
of the combination of national inducements and transnational obstacles
facing domestic actors, the incentives and opportunities for transnational
collective action are most likely to be found in relations forged within
and around international institutions. But because of the constraining
and coopting nature of these institutions, cooperation is more likely to
take forms less contentious than transnational social movements.
II. Clearing Global Underbrush
This hypothesis requires us to distinguish analytically among a number
of features of transnational politics that are often congealed in a kind
of "globalspeak" â€“ interdependence, nonstate actors, international
institutions and norms, transnational activist networks and transnational
Why make "interdependence" the independent variable of choice? Why not
"globalization" or "transnational civil society"? In short, I argue, because
globalization is too broad and transnational civil society is what may
or may not emerge at the end of a long and highly complex process
that needs to be the object of concerted study.
The term "globalization" has come to have so many meanings that it is
ceasing to have any meaning at all; it is used indifferently to refer to
economic links between producers, workers and consumers across borders;
to the political changes that have emerged since the end of the Cold War;
to the transnational spread of resources and networks; and to the globalization
of cultural norms. A sure sign of its conceptual degeneration: the term
"globalization" has begun to give rise to a family of semantic neologisms,
While globalization is too broad a concept to help us identify causal
relations, "transnational civil society" is a teleological concept that
assumes what needs to be demonstrated. As in domestic affairs, the term
"civil society" will lose all analytical bite if it is taken to mean all
relations of non-state actors across national boundaries. It also elides
the crucial question of the links between nonstate actors and third party
states in temporary coalition. Such relations would need to be relatively
autonomous, continuous, and multivalent for them to resemble "civil society"
as the term has grown up over the past two centuries.
"Interdependence" may at first seem too narrow a term. Its proponents
in the 1970s were interested in inter-state relations, during a period
in which sheer realism was under attack, but when the diffusion of governance
that is at issue today was not yet on the horizon. Today's analysts of
international relations are more likely to ask whether and with what consequences
changes in lateral relations outside of states are producing new vertical
structures of governance and new norms and identities across boundaries.
By interdependence, therefore, I will mean
the creation of increased institutional communication, coordination,
and constraint below the interstate level among nonstate actors and between
them and third party states and international institutions.
B. Non-state Actors
Interdependence leads to an increase in communication, coordination
and constraint as states and non-state actors respond to challenges and
opportunities beyond their boundaries, reduce transaction costs through
contractual arrangements, and create institutions to mediate conflicts.
The 1970s brought a new attention to the international relations of non-state
actors. Spurred by the oil crisis and the expansion of trade, sub-contracting,
and branch-plant development across national boundaries, the "old" field
of transnational relations featured mainly economic actors and, in particular,
the "multinational corporation", which was seen sweeping national sovereignties
before it as it conquered new economic spaces.
MNC's are still very much with us today, but the 1980s made it clear
that international finance was both more mobile and less controllable by
host states than the capital-heavy monoliths of iron and steel. Attention
to the transnational relations of non-state actors broadened in the 1990s
(Risse- Kappen, ed., 1995), but the actors who caught scholars' attention
in this decade lack both fixed and mobile capital: they are a plethora
of NGO's, human rights groups, environmental and women's movements and
even public actors acting internationally outside of states (Cameron 1995).
So diverse is the spectrum of "non-state actors" considered in the new
transnationalism that two observers seem close to despair. "Some analysts,"
conflate inter-governmental organizations ...such as the WTO, IMF,
WB, EBRD and the like, with NGOs such as Greenpeace, MNCs such as motorola
and TNCs such as Phillips....Yet their objectives, institutional structures
and modus operandi, remain largely undifferentiated. The end product
of this lack of differentiation is an obfuscation of the changing nature
of authority in a rapidly evolving international system of governance (Higgott
and Reich 1998:25-6).
Higgott and Reich actually understate the problem: in much of the globalization
literature, even domestic actors who attach their claims rhetorically to
globalization but never act beyond their borders are often clothed in global
garb. But the inspiration of domestic actors with transnational symbols,
endowing their claims with broader meanings, has been true for centuries
and doesn't depend on the recent wave of internationalization (Keck and
Sikkink 1998: ch. 2; Tarrow 1998a: ch.11). Merely claiming inspiration
from non-national sources does not make a domestic group "transnational";
at least the direct opponents -- if not the actual sites of contention
-- of non-state actors must be external for the term "transnational collective
action" to have any use.
C. International Institutions
A key question in the burgeoning literature on transnational relations
regards the role of international institutions. Early scholars were impressed
with how such institutions -- especially the two big multilateral lending
agencies -- weakened domestic actors by enforcing strict austerity policies
on their governments (Kowalewski 1989; Walton 1989). But these observers
wrote mainly to address the domestic impacts of internationalization
-- what I will call "domestication"; they left unexamined how international
institutions affect the formation and mobilization of transnational
activism. As international regimes, treaties, contacts and exchanges crisscross
the planet, a wider range of institutions is developing; how these interact
with domestic social actors is a rich potential field for the analysis
of transnational activism.
By international institutions I intend
established and routinized relations among states and non-state
actors in the international system whose competence in recognized sectors
of activity is governed by agreed-upon norms and regulations.
Although it is clear that some international institutions (Interpol, Euratom)
are less then welcoming to the claims of nonstate actors, we can imagine
a hierarchy of international institutions: at the lowest level are occasional
contacts between states, succeeded by conventions, treaties, and regimes,
and capped by sustained international institutions. Although transactions
occur constantly at all levels of the hierarchy (and some at lower levels
-- like the Treaty of Rome -- they are profoundly important for establishing
more permanent institutions), international institutions are the most concrete
sites for establishing transnational connections when arrangements made
to mediate between the interests of their constituted states can be employed
for leverage or opportunities by non-state actors. International institutions
are not only the targets of national actors -- state and non-state;
they are the fulcrum around which they may turn their attention
and their activities.
D. Norms and Institutions
Recently, a new generation of international relations theorists have
discovered -- or rather rediscovered -- the power of norms in international
relations. Norms are usually defined as "a standard of appropriate behavior
for actors with a given identity" (P. Katzenstein 1996: 5; also see Khagram
and Sikkink 2000). Norms which cohere in a "relatively stable collection
of practices and rules defining appropriate behavior for specific groups
of actors in specific situations" produce a normative definition of institutions
(Finnemore and Sikkink 1998:891). From this perspective, institutions become
defined as bundles of norms.
Much creative work has grown out of this new concern with norms in the
international system. But there are problems with reducing institutions
to bundles of norms. First, we need to ask who defines the standards of
appropriate behavior within or in contact with institutions, and under
what conditions other actors will accept these norms. Second, as Finnemore
and Sikkink point out, institutions are a mix of rules and practices;
the particular mix can vary over time - both with the personnel who manage
them and as a result of the policy problems they face (ibid.) and the relations
between underlying norms and actual practice varies. Third, once in existence
for certified sets of actors, institutions become available as targets
and resources to actors who may share their norms only partially or not
at all. Defining institutions in terms of the norms they embody elides
their interactions with key players both within and outside of the institution
and the variety of uses that access to the institution allows these players.
International institutionsâ€™ norms may be more or less congruent
with the norms and organizational forms found in different national settings
(Eckstein 1966). John Meyer and his associates have done pathbreaking work
looking at the universality of the "state norm" across the international
system (Meyer, et al, 1997a; Boli and Thomas 1999) and at modern legal
systems as expressions of universal norms (Boyle and Meyer 1998). They
have demonstrated the co-occurrence in the growth in international and
national activities and institutions around the environment and derived
this from a normative perspective (Meyer et al 1997b). But there is little
or no attention to the relations between norms and practice in the work
of this school.
Nevertheless, we cannot proceed very far without interrogating the norms
that nonstate actors array in transnational settings. If the norms, practices
and organizational forms that domestic actors find in international institutions
are congruent with their own, they are more likely to interact with them
successfully. Wishing to profit from access to international institutions,
domestic groups may shape even their norms, practices and institutions
around these modular forms (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998:893-4; Hovey 1997).But
how to mesh the development and diffusion of norms with the strategic actions
of nonstate actors remains beyond the reach of the normative perspective.
E. Transnational Activist Networks
As Keck and Sikkink define it,
a transnational advocacy network includes those relevant actors working
internationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a
common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services (1998:2).
For Keck and Sikkink, through a "boomerang effect", resource-poor domestic
actors can gain leverage in their own societies against oppressive states
by enlisting the aid of resource-richer non-state actors outside their
boundaries. The latter -- working through either their own states, international
institutions, or both -- activate a transnational network to put pressure
against the target state (see the diagram on p. 13).
The "boomerang effect" is a nice metaphor for the triangular relations
that crop up continuously among domestic groups, their governments, and
transnational activist networks. Such networks, continue Keck and Sikkink,
"are most prevalent in issue areas characterized by high value content
and informational uncertainty" (ibid: p.2). A notable aspect of these networks
is that they can include both state and international institutional actors.
This has implications for both their resources and their potential repertoire
of action. For example, activist networks with state representatives among
their members can profit from accessing resources of powerful governments
and international institutions but they are unlikely to attack the headquarters
of the World Trade Organization. Their composite nature provides them with
both opportunities and constraints.
To the extent that many such networks continue to appear, we can expect
to see more boomerangs whizzing across transnational space. But it is as
yet unclear how they relate to the existing state system, to international
organizations, or to domestic social actors in their "target" states: Do
they depend indirectly on the power of the states they come from? It cannot
be unimportant that the majority of those who make them work come from
the wealthy states of the North. Do they depend on the support of international
institutions? If so, how far beyond the policies of these institutions
can their campaigns go? Are they occasional interlopers in the relations
between states and their citizens or are they becoming core links in the
formation of transnational social movements among these citizens?
F. Transnational Social Movements
The non-state actors that have attracted the most attention in the globalization
literature are often referred to as "transnational social movements" (Smith,
Chatfield and Pagnucco 1997), and are reflected in transnational movement
organizations (TSMOs). These authors define TSMOs as "a subset of social
movement organizations operating in more than two states" (1997:43). They
see TSMOs as collectivities working to "change some elements of the social
structure and/or reward distribution of society" (p. 12).
The problem with this definition is that its parameters are so broad
that they comprehend groups as varied as the Fourth International, the
World Wildlife Federation and the International Red Cross and take no account
of the types of activities in which organizations engage. A danger arising
from this broad definition is conflating transnational social movements
with NGOs and transnational advocacy networks. Social movements may have
connections with such networks and organizations; they may evolve into
them as they move into transnational activities; but we should take care
to distinguish analytically between the two categories -- if only to allow
us to understand their relationships and dynamics over time.
I begin from a more action-oriented perspective, drawn from the political
process approach to social movements. From this perspective social movements
mobilized groups engaged in sustained contentious interaction with
powerholders in which at least one state is either a target or a participant.
To be transnational, a social movement ought to have social and political
bases outside its target state or society; but to be a social movement,
it ought to be clearly seen to be rooted within domestic social networks
and engage in contentious politics in which at least ne state is a party
to the interaction. Such a definition sets transnational social movements
off from the larger universe of international non-governmental organizations
and elite transnational activist networks (Khagram and Sikkink 2000). It
also allows us to zero in on the set of obstacles they face in engaging
in transnational activism.
III. Obstacles to Transnational Collective Action
Scholars of social movements once believed in an automatism of social
causation, through which it was sufficient for groups, classes, or political
actors to have an objective interest in common for them to produce a social
movement. This gave rise to the so-called "hearts and minds" approach to
collective action (McAdam 1982: ch. 1). The past three decades of social
movement research have taught us to be more cautious about the conditions
in which people will mobilize; an entire funnel of causal conduits must
be in place to translate structural strain into collective action (Klandermans
1997). That is: it is not only when macrostructural or cultural conditions
are conducive to mobilization, but where indigenous social networks, collective
identities, and political opportunities come together that concerted collective
action is mobilized (Klandermans, Kriesi and Tarrow 1988; McAdam, McCarthy
and Zald 1996). If this has been found to be true in the relatively proximate
world of national politics, how much mode difficult it must be to mobilize
across national boundaries?
A. Social Networks
Social movements are most likely to take root among pre-existing social
networks in which relations of trust, reciprocity, and cultural learning
are stored. This is the thesis that Tilly developed when he placed "organization"
in a triangular relationship with interest and collective action in his
"mobilization model" (1978: p. 57). In examining what kinds of groups are
likely to mobilize, Tilly paid attention to both the categories
of people who recognize their common characteristics, and to networks
of people who are linked to each other by a specific interpersonal bond,
than to formal organization (p. 62). The resulting idea of "catnets" stressed
a group's inclusiveness as "the main aspect of group structure which affects
the ability to mobilize" (p. 64).
McAdam advanced a similar idea when he showed how the recruitment of
Freedom Summer volunteers grew out of their participation in pre-existing
social networks (1988). Aldon Morris found a similar role for the African
American church in the civil rights movement (1984). So did Roger Gould
for neighborhood insurgents in successive Parisian revolutions (1995).
Social networks provide the interpersonal trust, the collective identities
and the social communication of opportunities that galvanize individuals
into collective action and to coordinate their actions against significant
others in a social movement.
The key role of interpersonal networks in movement aggregation and mobilization
has obvious implications for the likelihood that social movements can form
across transnational space. Even if "objective conditions" (eg., economic
interdependence, cultural integration or hegemony, or institutional diffusion)
produce the preconditions for the appearance of similar movements in a
variety of countries, the transaction costs of linking them into integrated
networks would be difficult for any social movement to accomplish in the
absence of activists whose ties cross national boundaries on a regular
basis and exhibit the mutual trust and reciprocity of domestic social networks.
Cheap international transportation, electronic communication and lobbying,
and international subcontracting provide resources for various kinds of
social networks to form across national boundaries (Bob 1997; Keck and
Sikkink 1998; Wellman and Giulia 1998). But the same mechanisms work in
the opposite direction; for example, international subcontracting can as
easily produce economic nationalism as cooperation.
B. Collective Identities
In the social movement field, just as macro-structural causal arguments
have given way to social network ones, pure interest-borne models have
been challenged by identity arguments (Melucci 1988, 1996).The two categories
actually reinforce one another: where networks can both form out of the
social relations of everyday life and be built around purposive goals,
collective identities are either "embedded" in the relations of everyday
life or "detached" from them for purposive goals (McAdam, Tarrow, Tilly
2000: ch. 2).
Many of the political identities that emerge in contentious politics
are the familiar ones of family, friendship group, neighborhood or work
group. But others are detached from the structures of everyday life. Movements
often strive to construct new detached identities -- as Zionism fought
to discard the Eastern European image of the Jew as urban, mercantile,
and shrinking from conflict for one that would be rural, productive, and
courageous; or as African Americans worked to create a new and more positive
image of blackness, in a community in which lightness of skin color had
once been a sign of high status. This makes it plausible to think of transnational
identities developing around parallel claims in widely differing sites
But that identities can be "imagined" does not make the imagining automatic
or necessarily effective. We can summarize the main problems surrounding
transnational identity formation in three brief points:
First, identities embedded in the relations of everyday life
are often the basis of aggregation in social movements, and this is an
obvious obstacle to building movements across national boundaries. The
task of creating detached identities that will "travel" is difficult but
it is not inherently impossible, as the example of militant fundamentalist
Second, social movements require solidarity to act collectively
and consistently; creating common identities around their claims is only
the first step in doing so. Thus, feminists seeking concrete local gains
identify themselves with woman's oppression since the dawn of time; environmentalists
seeking a stop to solid waste disposal in their communities construct themselves
as the representatives of most of humanity; and well-paid, skilled "aristocrats
of labor" present themselves as the vanguard of the suffering proletariat.
But such detached identities are in constant struggle with the embedded
identities that everyday life is built upon and constantly reinforce. As
a result of these dualities, most social movements remain far more contingent
and volatile than their constructed identities allow. If this is true for
movements operating in national space, how much more difficult must it
be to fashion enduring detached identities out of the varied materials
of social life in a variety of cultures?
Third, building a movement around strong ties of collective identity
-- whether inherited or constructed -- does much of the work that would
normally fall to organization; but it cannot do the work of mobilization
-- which depends on framing identities so that they will lead to collective
action, alliance formation, and conflictual interaction with opponents.
In fact, in the name of broad, categorical identities, identity politics
often produces insular, sectarian, and divisive movements incapable of
expanding membership, broadening appeals, and negotiating with prospective
Moreover, research on social movements shows that identities are negotiated
among people who know one another, meet frequently, and work together on
common projects -- in other words, identities are dependent on networks.
This makes it particularly difficult to construct new identities among
people who live far apart, speak different languages, have varied social
and ethnic backgrounds, and face different opponents, in the presence of
different structures of opportunity and constraint.
C. Political Opportunity Structure
Like much else in contemporary social movement theorizing, the concept
of political opportunity dates from the last major social upheaval in the
West -- the 1960s. In both Western Europe and the United States, many were
struck with how changes in modern society were expanding the incentives
for ordinary citizens to engage in contentious politics. By the concept
of political opportunity, I mean consistent -- but not necessarily formal
or permanent -- dimensions of the political environment that provide incentives
for collective action by affecting peoples' expectations for success or
failure. Compared with theorists of resource mobilization, with whom they
are often confused, writers in the political opportunity tradition emphasize
the mobilization of resources external to the group. They also,
for the most part, emphasize elements of opportunity that are perceived
by insurgents -- for structural changes that are not experienced can hardly
be expected to affect people's behavior, except indirectly.
Most political opportunity theorists specify the mechanisms of opportunity
in local, regional or national terms: the electoral realignments that produced
greater receptivity to African American claims in the U.S. South in the
1950s (Piven and Cloward 1977); the features of institutional access that
offered more opportunities for protest in mayor-council cities than in
city manager ones (Eisinger 1973); the availability of influential allies
who offered help to American farm workers in the 1960s, but were not present
in the 1940s (Jenkins and Perrow 1977); the uncertainty and weakness of
repression that encourages insurgents to take action (Mcadam 1996).
These dimensions of opportunity are cast in intra-national terms. But
there is no inherent reason why opportunity structure must be limited to
national or local politics (Khagram and Sikkink 2000). For example, Mcadam
argues that Cold War foreign policy goals influenced a change in the Eisenhower
administration's racial policies and in that way provided incentives for
the civil rights movement (1998). That was an indirect causal linkage;
more direct mechanisms can be observed in the response of Mexican immigrants
to the United States to the growing strength of opposition parties in Mexico,
which encouraged them to campaign in favor of their right to absentee ballots
(Perez Godoy 1998). Marks and McAdam argue that the consultative opportunity
structure of the European Commission induces social actors to shift from
contentious forms of action to lobbying when they shift their actions from
their national settings to Brussels (1996).
IV. Overcoming the Obstacles
What mechanisms are necessary to connect domestic social actors with
others in sustained contention in international contexts in a way that
can overcome these obstacles? Under what conditions can they knit together
the social networks, construct the collective identities, and identify
opportunities to create transnational social movements? The arguments outlined
above would tend to argue: "not many and not often!" It is not that there
are no opportunities for transnational networks to intervene in domestic
political contexts; or that such "top down" intervention on behalf of human
rights, the environment, or indigenous people does not do a lot of good
for rights-and-resource-poor actors (see, for example, Risse, Ropp and
Sikkink 1999). What seems more difficult is for such domestic actors to
"unbundle" territoriality with sufficient resources to forge long-term
ties outside their familiar surroundings. To do that, special settings
and resources are necessary which combine social network formation, collective
identity construction, and the political opportunities to bring grassroots
activists together around common interests.
Putting ourselves in the shoes of such domestic actors, when are they
likely to access the international system and through which mechanisms?
What follows are some random examples of each mechanism, chosen only
to illustrate their different channels and not intended to be exhaustive.
In contrast to the "strong thesis" â€“ which tended to bundle
all forms of transnational contention together, I stress the differences
because they are bound to lead to different levels and types of transnational
interaction. While "domestication" and "resource borrowing" may rhetorically
be linked to "transnational collective action, they actually take place
on home ground and are subject to the constraints and incentives of domestic
polities; and while "externalization" takes social actors outside their
borders, it does so in a vertical form, in seeking sponsorship from elite
actors and networks. Of the four, only "internationalization" â€“
which is most likely to take place in the framework of international institutions
â€“ is structurally likely to produce transnational cooperation
among non-elite actors.
The simplest -- and most indirect -- of these forms is making claims
within domestic space against external actors who are seen to impinge on
actors' own interests or their compatriots'. It is "simple" because actors
can use the same repertoire of contention and depend on the same resources
and alliance structures they have available in domestic contention; it
is "indirect" because it takes place in domestic political space and has
no implications for reducing the power of states.
Research on the first wave of transnational protests -- the anti-World
Bank protests of the 1980s -- dealt mainly with domestication (Kowaleski
1989; Walton 1989). These protests took traditional forms, created no substantial
transnational ties, and left very little behind when they were over, though
they may have made international lending agencies less cavalier in demanding
that governments slash spending to meet their international debt obligations.
Domestic protest against foreign capital is also mainly traditional
in the form it takes. It may be somewhat easier to mobilize workers against
factory closures when the firm is foreign-owned than domestic. And aspects
of foreign capital -- for example, its more willing acceptance of organized
labor in South Africa than domestic capital (Seidman 1994) -- can make
it an easier target. But neither of these are central to the structure
of the relationship. As textile workers in Central America are discovering,
capital with low fixed costs is far more mobile than labor and may respond
to claims for worker rights by moving to another country (Anner 1998).
Workers can sometimes profit from their relations with workers in other
countries when each of these has something to gain from the relationship
and enjoys proximity and affinities that can help to cross boundaries.
For example, the Vilvorde case in 1997 brought French and Belgian workers
out on strike together against the Renault company, which was laying off
workers in its Belgian plant (Imig and Tarrow 1997). However, this rare
"Eurostrike" depended at least in part on the existence of transnational
organizations in the form of Renault's European Works Council and in the
intervention of officials of the European Union (Lagneau and Lefebure 1999;
Such borrowing of resources is often short-circuited by the longterm
differences among social actors in different countries; for example, American
trade unionists helping textile workers to organize in Central America
do so at least in part to level the costs of their products in the United
States (Anner 1998). Resource borrowing is also unstable because it is
frequently based on the intersection of different kinds of claims -- as
when American environmental activists on the Mexican border help Mexican
workers who primarily seek higher wages (Williams 1997). These relations
are often based on pyramiding different kinds of resources -- for example,
as when American unionists used their political clout with the American
media against Kathy Lee Gifford's textile firm to complement the strike
actions of Latin American workers (Anner 1999), or when environmental groups
pyramided their political clout in Washington on the direct actions of
Brazilian rubber tappers (Keck 1995). Because of these disjunctions in
types of claims and resources, or because they are based on short-term
grievances, these campaigns seldom ripen into permanent transnational relationships.
Professional advocacy organizations and networks increasingly offer
their resources to weak domestic actors (Keck and Sikkink 1998). But the
activities of these external activists are organized by "campaign", rather
than through long-term involvement in the claims of their allies; only
where their domestic allies are able to forge longterm external ties is
there a sustained transnationalization of their claims.
What I call externalization is a somewhat more open-ended mechanism
than the first two. When domestic actors seek outside help, they go beyond
national boundaries and opportunity structures. This exposes them to new
norms, new forms of organization, and enables them to gain sympathy and
support from international organizations. The Liverpool dockers who were
fired by the Merseyside Port Authority in 1996 managed to trigger dock
strikes in a variety of countries through their international contacts.
More recently, flight attendants working for airlines that have combined
into international alliances have engaged in solidarity actions (Lillie
1999b). In both cases, however, the transnational structure of the industry
has provided the incentives for labor to combine across borders.
Externalization can also emerge from episodes of resource borrowing
when domestic actors who have seen the role played by transnational advocacy
networks learn to seek that help from these or other agencies. The history
of struggle against dam projects financed by the World Bank shows how the
initial borrowing of resources from international environmental groups
can produce externalization, as activists learn to use international contacts
and organizations to defend their lands from inundation (Khagram 1999,
But externalization poses its own dangers -- that activists whose activities
have become transnational will lose touch with their base in domestic social
networks. For example, growing out of anti-dam campaigns, a cosmopolitan
cadre of activists developed, dividing its time between grassroots struggles
at home and the representation of their movements' interests abroad (Kothari
2000). The same danger has been observed in the Russian women's movement,
in which privileged activists who receive western financial assistance
are given advantages that are deeply resented by others who fail to enjoy
such support (Richter 1999).
Externalization works most successfully when there is a permanent venue
for bringing together domestic activists, transnational organizations,
and third party states. To some extent, western advocacy groups can serve
this function. For example, a good deal of the activity of groups like
Amnesty International in London or the World Wildlife Federation in Washington
consists of investigating cases for possible adoption abroad. Such organizations
will frequently take on a case due to the activities of talented and well-connected
activists able to travel and make their case articulately (Bob 1997). Conversely,
however, domestic groups whose needs may be equally great -- but lack these
resources -- will be unable to externalize their struggles.
Sustained cooperation with actors from other countries against the actions
of one or another state or international institution is the most pregnant
possibility for unbundling territorial limits. When domestic activists
interact routinely with others with similar claims, they can form transnational
networks and identities and take advantage of international opportunities
to advance these claims.
The Vilvorde conflict illustrates an important aspect of internationalization:
the capacity of domestic groups to utilize the resources of international
organizations and institutions. As part of plans to Europeanize industrial
relations, the European Union required that firms of a certain size doing
business in more than one member-state create European Works Councils.
Renault's EWC was active in encouraging and coordinating the transnational
strike and protest activities of the firm's French and Belgian workers
against the planned plant closure in Belgium (Lillie 1999). The council
helped these workers (many of whom spoke three different languages and
came from ideologically-distinct union movements) to form social networks,
at least temporarily frame their grievances in common terms, and turn the
threatened plant closing into an opportunity for transnational cooperation.
This takes me to my final topic and boldest claim: that it is when domestic
actors can access international institutions that they most easily overcome
the obstacles to transnational contention and gain longterm resources to
support their claims.
V. Institutional Opportunities for Contentious Politics
There are three possible routes that we can imagine for the formation of
transnational social movements:
first, a "grassroots" hypothesis: transnational movements are
constructed out of pre-existing domestic social movements whose activists
find one another across national boundaries;
second, an "elitist" hypothesis: transnational activist networks,
born as elite organizations in one set of (usually "northern") countries,
identify subject populations to help in other (usually "southern") ones;
third, an "institutional" hypothesis: transnational social movements
form as grassroots movement activists and activist networks encounter one
another and develop lateral links around the opportunity structure afforded
by international organizations, regimes and institutions.
Though the first and second hypotheses find some empirical support in various
sectors of transnational activity, they pose several problems:
Scholars who entertain the "grassroots" hypothesis have had a hard time
specifying the mechanisms through which resource-poor grassroots activists
"find" one another across transnational space. Normally, as we see from
the examples above, a particular social actors will seek support from a
cosmopolitan activist network for its own short-term claims;
it does not follow that links with similarly-placed domestic actors
from other countries will follow.
Scholars who focus on transnational elite networks have not paid much
attention to how they solder their links to domestic social actors in a
variety of states. On the contrary, evidence is accumulating that their
activities are organized around short-term campaigns, their assistance
is selective, and they may even trigger a competitive process among resource-poor
actors seeking help from external sources.
The third hypothesis provides at least a hypothetical linkage: that
international institutions provide mechanisms of brokerage, certification,
modeling, and social appropriation through which the "grassroots"
and the "elitist" functions can operate.
These terms need some elementary definition:
By brokerage I mean making connections between otherwise unconnected
domestic actors in a way that produces at least a temporary political identity
that did not exist before;
by certification, I mean the recognition of the identities and
legitimate public activity of either new actors or actors new to a particular
cite of activity;
By modeling, I mean the adoption of norms, forms of collective
action or organization in one venue that have been demonstrated in another;
By social appropriation, I mean the use of an institution's resources
or reputation to serve the purposes of affiliated groups .
There is little question that the number and resources of international
institutions have increased manyfold in the last decades. From the wave
of mutual security arrangements of the Cold War to the enforceable treaties
governing space, the sea, whaling, and disarmament negotiated in the 1970s
and 1980s, to regional and international trade organizations that have
mushroomed in the 1990s, states appear to be in a race to bind the globe
in the grip of international institutions. Because they provide the most
available venues for brokerage, certification, modeling and institutional
appropriation, international institutions are the most likely venue in
which resource-weak domestic groups can overcome the obstacles to transnational
While international institutions vary greatly on the dimensions of communication,
coordination, and constraint, and the degree to which they encourage member-states
to adopt transnational norms, they all share at least one benchmark characteristic:
legitimating the access of non-state actors to decision-making levels
beyond the nation-state. This facilitates the following processes:
No single international institution is going to provide the mechanisms
to facilitate all of these steps (indeed, most of them fall well short
of that threshold and some are positively insulated against such infiltration
and exploitation of their resources). But the list provided above can perhaps
help us to ask how the degree of communication, coordination, and constraint
that an international institution possesses will lead to a lower or a higher
degree of facilitation for the transnational connections of non-state actors.
providing an authoritative venue in which they can call into question behaviors
of their own and other governments;
exposing them to international norms and forms of action that may or may
not correspond to accepted norms and behaviors in their own societies;
placing them in contact with states and citizens of other states with whom
they can jointly elaborate new norms and forms of action;
enabling the formation of transnational alliances where they can call into
question behaviors of both their own and other governments;
legitimating the intrusion of these transnational alliances within the
domestic structures of states that support these institutions thus
facilitating the intrusion of transnational networks of activists into
third-party states in loose alliance with resource-poor domestic actors
in those states who cannot defend themselves (Keck and Sikkink 1998).
Beginning from a cautious and skeptical perspective on "global civil
society", in this essay I have argued that domestic social actors do not
access the international system when they protest domestically against
external agents; nor do they do so when they temporarily borrow the resources
of external actors on their native soil -- though much good can come of
this resource borrowing.
More positive outcomes can result when domestic actors externalize their
claims -- seeking the intervention of transnational advocacy groups, third-party
states, or international institutions. But this mechanism is partial, selective
and vertical, and can create a split between domestic and transnational
activists. Internation- alization, in contrast, forges horizontal links
among activists with similar claims and is most likely to produce transnational
International institutions can thus play a facilitating role in all
four processes but are particularly important as targets and fulcra for
internationalization. This leads to the paradox that international institutions
-- created by states, and usually by powerful ones -- can be the arenas
in which transnational contention forms. I do not maintain that states
create international institutions in order to encourage contention; states
are more likely to delegate than to fuse sovereignty, (Moravcsek
1998). But because the norms and practices of international institutions
mediate among the interests of competing states, they can provide political
opportunities for weak domestic social actors, encouraging their connections
with others like themselves and offering resources that can be used in
intra-national and transnational conflict.
Under what conditions is this process most likely to occur? I have argued
that -- through brokerage, certification, modeling, and institutional appropriation
-- international institutions provide the most likely venue for strengthening
domestic groups stymied by their domestic power imbalance. Not only by
targeting these institutions, but by encountering others like themselves
in conflictual situations, social movement activists can fashion new collective
action frames, supportive networks, and gain access to resources transferable
to their national contexts.
But there are inherent limits to these processes. International institutions
are created by states, supported by states, and -- beyond a certain level
of tolerance -- serve the interests of states. Many of them are clearly
unreceptive to the claims of domestic social actors. Even those that provide
venues for network formation, mobilization and collective action, they
are not in the business of dissolving state authority structures. When
domestic strategies of transnational activism intersect with targeting
of their opponents by transnational activist networks, there is the greatest
chance for the unbundling of territoriality. But as long as state authorities
are the responsible parties for policy at the point of contact with citizens,
contentious politics will remain mainly targeted at the national level.
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By accessing the trope of global civil society, its advocates invite social
actors to frame their own claims in terms of global imperatives -- a good
social movement stratagem -- but not particularly helpful in distinguishing
transnational activism from domestic social movements.
Major mileposts are Boli and Thomas, eds. (1999), della Porta, Kriesi and
Rucht, eds. (1999), Finnemore (1996), Finnemore and Sikkink (1998), Guidry,
Kennedy and Zald (in preparation), Keck and Sikkink (1998), Khagram, Riker
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(1999), Risse-Kappen, ed. (1995), Smith, Chatfield and Pagnucco, eds. (1997),
Young, ed. (1997). For a bibliography that tries to keep up with the rapidly
expanding literature on transnational contention, see Tarrow and Acostavalle
But see McAdam 1998, and the contributions to della Porta, Kriesi and Rucht
1999; Sikkink, Riker and Smith, in preparation; and Smith, Chatfield and
Columbia contentious politics participants and some others will recognize
the derivation of this definition in ongoing work by notably by McAdam,
Tarrow and Tilly (1997 and in preparation).
For an excellent survey of these four aspects of globalization theory,
see Deborah J. Yashar, "Citizenship Claims in Latin America: Parsing out
the Role of Globalization," presented to the conference on "Citizenship
Claims", Harvard University Center for International Affairs, October 1998.
My thanks to Professor Yashar for allowing me to cite her unpublished paper.
For a review and some stimulating hypotheses, see Finnemore and Sikkink
1998 and the sources they describe. Of special interest are Finnemore 19996,
P. Katzenstein 1996, Klotz 1995, Price 1997 and the contributions to Khagram,
Riker and Sikkink, eds., 2000.
Consider the Catholic Church. No one could doubt that it is a norms-based
institution. Yet it harbors actors who share only some of its dominant
norms (M. Katzenstein 1999; Tarrow 1988). Moreover, as an international
institution, it has adapted its norms and practices to a wide variety of
historical periods, cultural settings, and political regimes. Norms, to
translate Thomas Risse-Kappen, "do not float freely" (1994).
For example, Vivien Schmidt argues that the Germans do as well as they
do in the European Union in part because business is done in Brussels in
a way that is highly congruent with the way they do business at home, through
broad, prior consultation with interested parties (1997).
Sikkink and Smith are aware of this problem when they write that "researchers
have shown significant growth in international non-governmental organizations
(INGOs), but many of these organizations are not social movements or networks".
See Sikkink and Smith 2000; compare Smith, Chatfield and Pagnucco 1997.
The main stages in the development of this perspective can be traced
through its origin in Tilly 1978, to McAdam 1992; Tilly 1995, McAdam, McCarthy
and Zald 1996; Tarrow 1998b, and McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2000.