1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Civil Society and Social Movements

Global Civil Society Movements: Dynamics in International Campaigns and National Implementation

  • Project from: 2003 to 2008


Background and Objectives
Deeply concerned with the many negative aspects of globalization and the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of international economic institutions —the WTO, IMF, World Bank and also TNCs— and a few governments, CSOs have particularly been active in pinpointing the negative impacts of the present world economic and financial systems, especially by organizing forceful events at international summits and utilizing more actively Internet technology. Increasingly, CSO movements and networks are combining their advocacy campaigns with distinct alternative proposals for and initiations of existing patterns of socio-economic inequalities and deprivation. At the same time, the ability of CSOs to act in a cohesive fashion may be constrained by increasing differentiation along the lines of those with access to power, influence and funding.

The objective of the research is to emphasize both the strengths and weaknesses of major civil society movements and networks and their attempts to popularise and implement global issues of concern and specific initiatives. Are these movements capable of having any significant impact on the policies adopted by leading international donor agencies and governments? How do citizens and civil society groups participating in these movements articulate their concern and propose concrete suggestions? How are civil society movements able to facilitate exchange of information, ideas and knowledge and practical experiences among national and international bodies and civil society forces, including those population groups at the grassroots level facing socio-economic deprivation and political marginalisation?

The project assesses five contemporary civil society movements:

1. Campaigns for debt relief.
2. Movement to change international trade rules and barriers.
3. Global taxation initiative.
4. International anti-corruption movement.
5. Movement on fair trade.

Research focus
While some of these movements have proven to be quite promising, there has been little systematic enquiry into the substance of their proposals. Significant differences in their coverage and achievements can be expected. However, the project's interest is not merely to illustrate how the global movements in questions are successful or unsuccessful, but rather to seek to explain why different trajectories lead to different results despite the fact that many of these movements enjoy considerable popular legitimacy.

Another key area of interest is what developmental implications do the proposals by these movements have and how much consensus or resistance there is in relation to these proposals within the policy making circle. In particular, how do recent formal policy measures undertaken by national and international bodies reflect the dynamism in popularly based civil society demands and alternative proposals? And, how could constructive dialogue and co-operation be promoted between civil society movements and national and international institutions, the academic community, NGOs, the media, etc. in various contexts?

The project focuses on two key aspects of contemporary global civil society movements. First, it investigates the structure, institutional values and modus operandi of selected global civil society movements, indicating how these have helped or hindered the emergence of robust transnational movements of citizens and civil society organizations. Second, the project examines how global civil society movements are actually faring in national and local contexts.

Research activities
A concept paper. A concept paper has been prepared at UNRISD seeking to illustrate the main conceptual and methodological questions involved in the diversity of contemporary global civil society movements.

State-of-the-art papers on selected movements. State-of-the-art papers are being prepared by specialists focusing on key dynamics of each of the five selected social movements:
  • Debt relief: Katarina Sehm-Patomäki, Network Institute for Global Democratisation, Helsinki and Yovvana Reyes Tagle, Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki, Helsinki.
  • Movement to Change Trade Rules & Barriers: Manuel Mejido.
  • Global Taxation: Heikki Patomäki, Department of Political Science, University of Helsinki; Helsinki.
  • Anti-Corruption Movement: Nelson Querijero and Ronald Amorado, University of the Philippines, Los Banos, Laguna.
  • Fair Trade: Murat Yilmaz, Science économique et sociale, Université de Genève, Geneva.
Thematic papers. Critical thematic papers are currently prepared by specialists looking more closely at the main processes and factors that have significant effects on the ability of civil society movements to emerge as powerful global actors capable of influencing international debate and implementing concrete action plans.
  • Civil Society and Transnational Movements: Forms of Contention and Emergent Common Values: Marco Giugni, Université de Genève, and Marko Bandler, Université de Genève, Geneva.
  • The Evolving Nature of Public Support and Social Bases of Contemporary Global Social Movements: Donatella della Porta, European University Institute, Florence.
  • North-South NGO Campaigns and Social Movements: Co-operation or Conflict?: Alejandro Bendaña, Estudios Internacionales, Managua.
  • Women’s Transnational Movements on Reproductive Rights and Health and the Environment: Wendy Harcourt, “Development” journal of the Society for International Development (SID), Rome.
  • Evolving Trends in Adaptation and Evolution of Transnational Movements: Dieter Rucht, Social Science Research Center, Berlin.
  • The Issue of Financial Sustainability in Transnational Social Movements: Fernand Vincent, Development Innovations and Networks (IRED), Geneva.
  • The Distinctive as well as Combined Role of Reformist-Radical Social Movements and Networks in Producing Expected Results: Andrej Grubacic, University of Belgrade, Belgrade.
Country studies on local and national dynamics. In-depth country studies are undertaken in Argentina, Bolivia, Senegal, the Philippines and Turkey with the objective of examining the resourcefulness, capacity and potential for action of the selected civil society movements in national and local contexts. These five countries are crippled by debt, suffer unfavourable conditions in international trade and have experienced major financial crises. Corruption is rampant, with abuse of public office for private gains, receipt of fraudulent benefits and profits in business, and widespread public acceptance of bribes. Similarly, various fair-trade/ solidarity economy initiatives have been experienced in all five countries.

National research teams:
Argentina: Alejandro Grimson, Instituto de Desarrollo Economico y Social/ Universidad de San Martin, Buenos Aires.
Bolivia: Fernando Mayorga Ugarte, Centro de Estudios Superiores Universitarios/ Universidad Mayor de San Simon (CESU-UMSS), Cochabamba.
The Philippines: Teresa S. Encarnacion Tadem, Department of Political Science, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Quezon City.
Senegal: Ibrahima Thioub, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Dakar and
Turkey: Nuri Zafer Yenal, Sociology Department, Bogaziçi University, Istanbul.

Funding. The project is funded by a grant from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and UNRISD core budget.