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Social Movements in the World-System

Social Movements in the World-System: The Politics of Crisis and Transformation

Jackie Smith
Dawn Wiest
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  • Book Info
    Social Movements in the World-System
    Book Description:

    Global crises such as rising economic inequality, volatile financial markets, and devastating climate change illustrate the defects of a global economic order controlled largely by transnational corporations, wealthy states, and other elites. As the impacts of such crises have intensified, they have generated a new wave of protests extending from the countries of the Middle East and North Africa throughout Europe, North America, and elsewhere. This new surge of resistance builds upon a long history of transnational activism as it extends and develops new tactics for pro-democracy movements acting simultaneously around the world. In Social Movements in the World-System, Jackie Smith and Dawn Wiest build upon theories of social movements, global institutions, and the political economy of the world-system to uncover how institutions define the opportunities and constraints on social movements, which in turn introduce ideas and models of action that help transform social activism as well as the system itself. Smith and Wiest trace modern social movements to the founding of the United Nations, as well as struggles for decolonization and the rise of national independence movements, showing how these movements have shifted the context in which states and other global actors compete and interact. The book shows how transnational activism since the end of the Cold War, including United Nations global conferences and more recently at World Trade Organization meetings, has shaped the ways groups organize. Global summits and UN conferences have traditionally provided focal points for activists working across borders on a diverse array of issues. By engaging in these international arenas, movements have altered discourses to emphasize norms of human rights and ecological sustainability over territorial sovereignty. Over time, however, activists have developed deeper and more expansive networks and new spaces for activism. This growing pool of transnational activists and organizations democratizes the process of organizing, enables activists to build on previous experiences and share knowledge, and facilitates local actions in support of global change agendas. As the world faces profound financial and ecological crises, and as the United States’ dominance in the world political economy is increasingly challenged, it is especially urgent that scholars, policy analysts, and citizens understand how institutions shape social behavior and the distribution of power. Social Movements in the World-System helps illuminate the contentious and complex interactions between social movements and global institutions and contributes to the search for paths towards a more equitable, sustainable, and democratic world.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-777-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Signs abound that the world is witnessing a time of major transitions. Although great uncertainty persists about the direction in which change will go, conflict has mounted in recent years over the future trajectory of the world political and economic system. Transnational corporations, wealthy states, and other influential elites generally support the existing global capitalist order. These actors seek to defend the status quo, or to make only minor adjustments to sustain the privileges that have accrued to these groups in particular. They resist government regulation of capital and advocate for market-based responses to problems like climate change. And, as...

  6. Chapter 1 Theorizing Social Movements and Global Change
    (pp. 18-44)

    Amid the 1990s celebrations of globalization was a growing rumble of discontent over the effects of global economic integration on the poorer countries of the world and on working people in the rich countries that were championing economic globalization. In the late 1970s and 1980s, few in the global North knew of the increased frequency and militancy of protests taking place in the global South against the punishing conditions imposed on Third World governments by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, or IMF (Walton and Seddon 1994). Proponents of the loans claimed that conditionalities such as reductions in social...

  7. Chapter 2 Changing Patterns of Transnational Social Movement Organizing
    (pp. 45-72)

    Transnational social movements have always shadowed states and other powerful actors in the world political economy (Chatfield 1997; Finnemore 1996), but over time they have become more formally organized and more connected transnationally (Smith 2008). Following the theoretical logics outlined in the previous chapter, we summarize this trajectory of social movement development, which is happening alongside other global trends such as the growth and increasinge bureaucratization of states, the proliferation of intergovernmental institutions, and the expansion of the world economy.

    In this chapter we situate the evidence we have on developments in the population of transnational social movement organizations within...

  8. Chapter 3 Regionalisms and Counter-Hegemony in the World-System
    (pp. 73-99)

    Like other interstate bodies, regional intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) such as the African Union, the European Council, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations assume important roles in structuring cooperation and mediating conflict among states and between states and other actors. The mandates of many of these organizations have expanded since the 1990s, facilitating cooperation around myriad economic, political, and social goals. In the process, regions have become important arenas for interactions between political elites and social movement challengers seeking influence over domestic and international policies. Most often, regional projects represent efforts by groups of states to advance their interests within...

  9. Chapter 4 Global Conferences and Movement Sectors
    (pp. 100-131)

    The global conferences hosted by the United Nations during the 1990s were a significant driver of the three trends we see as shaping the possibilities for world-system transformation. The conferences changed opportunities for organizing transnational activism, helping both increase the organizing capacities of transnational movements and introduce activists to new ways of understanding and framing global problems. High-level global conferences became possible because the end of the Cold War allowed new issues to gain priority on international agendas and generated optimism that new and more cooperative approaches to global problems were possible. Conferences became organizing opportunities for social movements, creating...

  10. Chapter 5 Institutional Logics and Paradoxes
    (pp. 132-162)

    Whereas world-systems analysts speak of contradictions between the world economy and the set of principles, or geoculture, that has developed to justify and legitimate the modern world-system, analysts of global institutions have identified the specific ways these contradictions are manifest in global institutions such as the United Nations. For instance, Bruce Cronin speaks of the ″two faces of the United Nations,″ which must arbitrate between its roles as an organization of member governments and as a guarantor of a global common good (2002, 55–58). This ″paradox of international relations″ pits intergovernmentalism against transnationalism as key orienting practices in the...

  11. Chapter 6 Antisystemic Movements and Global Transformation
    (pp. 163-182)

    Three basic claims have oriented our analysis of transnational organizing over the closing decades of the twentieth and early years of the twenty-first centuries. Specifically, we have argued that today′s social movements must be understood in world-historical terms. The contemporary context of U.S. decline as a dominant force in the world economy and polity affects the opportunities for challengers of all types to advance new claims and build strategic alliances with other global actors. To understand the possibilities for social movements to contribute to radical social change, we must consider this larger global context and the structures of alliance and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-194)
  13. References
    (pp. 195-222)
  14. Index
    (pp. 223-236)