D. della Porta: Social Movements in a Globalising World

Social Movements in a Globalizing World.

della Porta, Donatella; Kriesi, Hanspeter; Rucht, Dieter
Basingstoke 2009: Palgrave Macmillan
272 S.
€ 25,45
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Philipp Baur, Universität Augsburg

The book discussed here is the second edition of "Social Movements in a Globalising World". Originally published in 1999, it quickly became a standard reference book for students and scholars alike. While research into globalisation has skyrocketed in the last decade, and transnational approaches have become some of the most formative paradigms of our age, the 2009 paperback edition hardly reflects these developments. Truth be told, from the very outset: with exception of the introduction, the articles themselves have not been revised, neither with regards to their content nor to the literature cited.

The new preface to the paperback edition compensates for this shortfall by providing a brief, yet valuable account of how social movements studies has progressed in the past decade. The editors start by explaining why social movements have only recently been addressed in terms of transnationalisation, and why adequate theories, concepts and methods are still work in progress. Firstly, up until the 1980s, most scholarship had focused on how social movements helped to establish national citizenship rights, thereby stressing the importance of the national framework for their development. Secondly, social movement studies focused mostly on the Western world, looking at how social movements became well organized, institutionalized factors within their national contexts while at the same time broadening the scope of their activities and outreach. (p. ix)

This changed in the mid 1990s, when transnational tendencies in social movements were first recognized in the studies of international relations and international sociology. New research pointed to the role of non-state actors in environmental and human rights campaigns and to the emergence of international norms challenging the confines of the nation state. The exponential growth of International Non-Governmental Organisations in the past two decades has caused research to reevaluate the transnational context of social movements in retrospect, too. (p. x)

One of the earliest attempts to direct scholarly attention towards this new field of transnational studies was the 1995 conference "Social Movements in a Globalizing World".1 It brought together American and European scholars of social movements, international relations, as well as normative theorists of a global civil society. The preface to the publication that followed in 1999 was but an expression of the pioneering sentiment of a new era: "The growing interdependence on a global scale which characterizes the human condition at the end of the twentieth century constitutes a particular challenge for those who focus on national political contexts at the centre of its preoccupation. The 1995 conference and the present volume constitute an attempt to adjust the perspectives of the ‚political process’ approach to a world in which opportunity structures and collective action are no longer confined to national contexts." (1999, p. ix)

Ten years later, the conveners-turned-editors have identified three main aspects that stood out and impacted research of the decade which followed. Firstly, scholars identified two key developments of transnationalisation: social movements looking for external, international support to tackle domestic issues, as well as social movements pressuring their own national governments to address international concerns. Secondly, resource exchange in terms of knowledge and a reciprocal search for recognition was singled out as the defining feature of transnational social movements. Thirdly, the volume pointed at the cognitive effects of globalization as an intensifier for border-crossing relations. (p. xi)

While these observations remain true, the editors are ready to admit that the volume failed to foresee the booming of transnational social movements in the decade ahead, pointing for instance at the use of direct action and mass demonstrations at counter summits. Research has since identified an equally large number of transnational organisations and initiatives. Protest studies have argued that while some of the agendas have shifted from the street to the lobbies of international institutions, this did not lead to a taming of social movements. It has rather helped to foster new, broader alliances between religious groups, trade unions and social movements who are taking their concerns to the streets in a combined effort. At the same time, there is scholarship which suggests that despite the omnipresent global framework, actual transnational protest still remains on a relatively small scale. Despite their attempts to connect the local with the global, activists are still largely rooted in their national political systems. (p. xii-xiii)

The second edition of "Social Movements in a Globalising World" shows that many of the questions asked at the end of the 20th century are still up for discussion in the present. This is why the book has retained itself a timeless character even though scholarship has progressed significantly since its first publication. Unfortunately, this is acknowledged only in the preface. The research presented in the articles themselves remains at the 1999 level.

1 For the field of historiography, compare also the so called "La Pietra Process" by the Organisation of American Historians: Thomas Bender, La Pietra Report. A Report to the Profession, in: Organisation of American Historians <http://www.oah.org/activities/lapietra/index.html>

Editors Information
Published on
Temporal Classification
Regional Classification
Book Services
Contents and Reviews
Additional Informations
Language of publication
Language of review