Edited by Hein-Anton van der Heijden
Chapter 15: The transnationalization of social movements
Before the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi sparked social unrest in Tunisia and spurred conflicts throughout the region, would theorists of transnational social movements have predicted these events? The unlikeliness of this level of predictability is exacerbated by the difficulties that analysts have in grappling with social movements that engage in activism at both the local and global levels, often at the same time and frequently relying on national and transnational networking. Most theories on the transnationalization of social movements take as starting points conventional perspectives of social movements that focus mainly on the national arena and primarily center on the Global North. Here the hegemonic perspective is the political opportunity model, which emphasizes structural reasons for social mobilization; others have emphasized agency to counter this bias. A significant challenge lies in applying these theories to social movements in the Global South where states are more likely to be authoritarian and repressive, and where political changes and reforms are few and not usually experienced as opportunities. The impact that transnational social movements have on the system of states has also complicated these debates. Here propositions about the existence of a global civil society come up against notions of stronger and more insular states. Further, the sea change in technology and communications media have impacted the reach and depth of social movements, but they also tend to replicate the old power divisions that continue to prevail on the global stage.
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