GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Transnational Social Movements


Transnational social movement, a collectivity of groups with adherents in more than one country that is committed to sustained contentious action for a common cause or a common constellation of causes, often against governments, international institutions, or private firms.

Prominent examples of transnational social movements include the antiglobalization movement and the movement against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A narrow definition of the concept emphasizes its differences from international nongovernmental organizations and transnational advocacy networks, which are generally more institutionalized and professionalized and more frequently funded or promoted by particular states or international organizations. A broader conception of transnational social movements includes or focuses on other types of transnational actors and posits a causal relationship between globalization and the development of transnational activism. Accordingly, this broader view affords transnational social movements a greater role and influence in national and international systems of governance, where their primary achievements are the creation, strengthening, implementation, and monitoring of international norms.

- "Transnational Social Movement." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.

Globalization and Social Movements

Transnational social movements were established and organized as a result of four related changes or trends (seen as components of contemporary globalization that have intensified in recent decades):

  1. a growing trend toward democratization
  2. increasing global integration in economic, political, and social spheres
  3. confusing and diverging values that in turn bring people together in the name of a shared concern or issue that may be seen to be in opposition to other values and goals (e.g., environmentalism versus capitalism)
  4. a proliferation of transnational institutions that facilitate social organization beyond state boundaries

Five ways in which transnational social movements are able to alter the existing political landscape:

  1. mobilize support for particular policies
  2. increase participation in the decision-making process
  3. maintain the public’s attention on critical issues
  4. represent or frame the issues in a particular way
  5. enact certain policies, or make such policies come about

These five themes identified by Kriesberg (1997) explicitly recognize the importance of geographic scale. Smith (1997) highlights three scales of particular salience: individual (e.g., people holding a rally to highlight an issue for the general public); state governments (e.g., writing letters to state leaders and politicians), and intergovernmental institutions (convening or participating in an international convention).

Flint identifies the “anti-globalization movement” as a strong example of the fluidity and diversity of transnational social movements. This movement is non-hierarchical, not bound to any particular territory, and has a flexible and fluid agenda. It continually changes its methods/tactics of protest and engagement as well as its goals as they get feedback, direction, friction from their diverse membership. Flint explains that they are also known as the “Movement of Movements” to which I will add that many scholars also refer to the movement as the “global justice movement” (rather than the anti-globalization movement—as they are not necessarily “anti-globalization” so much as “anti” globalization-as-we-see-it-now). Nonetheless, as Flint consistently uses the “anti-globalization movement” terminology, I will continue to refer to it as such. I did think it was important to point out that this is somewhat of a misnomer—lest we get confused about the goals of the movement because of the title.

The anti-globalization movement is an umbrella for a large eclectic group of interests including the environment, gender justice, economic justice, and so forth. There is no one governing body for the anti-globalization movement—which has been identified as a weakness by those who oppose the agenda(s) or have been caused frustration by those who share the same agenda, but are more state-centric. However, proponents of the anti-globalization movement claim that its fluidity is one of its strengths—allowing it to quickly and continually adjust to the dynamic nature of economic globalization. The networks of connectivity engaged with the anti-globalization movement covers a large geographic territory and a diversity of topics. Table 6.1 and Figure 6.2 (p.188 of Flint) highlight this diversity through an analysis of participants at the World Social Forum.

Geopolitics of Peace Movements

George Konrad (1984) proposed an idea to counter the military build up during the Cold War. He asserted that the idea of “antipolitics” could/should challenge the nuclear militarism of the US and Soviet Union. His vision of antipolitics rejected state-based politics and created alternative movements that crossed international boundaries in order to form communities of people with shared goals and values, which was, perhaps, a precursor to transnational social movements and the central role of peace movements within the World Social Forum.

Flint distinguishes between positive and negative peace, where:

  • Positive peace is through a process: a means to resolve conflicts peacefully and transform institutions and behaviors to promote justice and well-being (Galtun, 1996, p. 32).
  • Negative peace is, simply, the absence of all violence (Galtung 1964; 1996, p. 3)

Positive peace requires identifying inequitable economic and social structures, transgressions of the natural environment, and attitudes of racism, homophobia, sexism, and religious fundamentalism; and creating means to transform these structures and create dialogues of mutual understanding between individuals, states, and social groups.

Three basic categories of peace can be related to scale:

  • Individual Peace: How individuals become and stay at peace with themselves.
  • Social Peace: How groups become and stay at peace with themselves.
  • Collective Peace: How groups become and stay at peace with each other.

In relation to geopolitics and negative peace (lack of violence), the latter two categories (social and collective peace) connect to peace within a state (i.e., absence of civil war or social disorder) and peace between states (absence of war between states).

If we focus on positive peace, we must draw our attention to the engaged process(es) and constant energies required to achieve and maintain a state of well-being. Such a goal requires active engagement at all scales—from the individual to the local to the global. See the peace pyramid (figure 6.4) on p. 170 of Flint. Adolph (2009) proposed this pyramid as a reflection of the three scales of transnational social movement activity discussed earlier: individual, states and intergovernmental institutions.

As you review this pyramid and the discussion of the pyramid on pp. 170-171, think about how these scales are interconnected, as well as how much agency any individual or collective group has to control various factors aiding their quality of peace.

Looking over the section on Flint (2012) pp. 171-175 (peace movements in time and space), note some of the general conclusions that are drawn from Herb’s (2005) geographic interpretation.