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Mechanisms of Globalized Protest Movements

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines the mechanisms of globalized protest movements. It tries to draw together intellectual resources on this field, and offers a survey of theories of contentious politics. These theories aim to explore their applicability to the new phenomenon of global protest movements (GPMs). The article also suggests that the differences between GPMs may be attributed to their differential use of mobilizational mechanisms. A comparison of these mechanisms involved in different GPMs and contentious politics allows for the redefinition of an understanding of how these mechanisms work in explaining globalized collective action as well as other forms of contention.

Keywords: mechanisms, globalized protest movements, theories, contentious politics, global protest movements, mobilizational mechanisms, globalized collective action, forms of contention

1 Introduction

While architects built the post‐Cold‐War world, popular movements against neo‐liberal globalization and against war mobilized protesters around that world. For example, worldwide demonstrations on November 30, 1999, during the Battle of Seattle, and February 15, 2003, before the US invasion of Iraq, involved millions of protesters in dozens of countries. Academic theorists have tried to explain how different kinds of macro‐level global institutions activated the mechanisms behind the global protests, one of the newest forms of contentious politics.

  • Economics. Thomas Friedman analyzed the losers of neo‐liberal globalization and Chris Chase‐Dunn the structural deficits of the world system.

  • Culture. Ben Barber stressed pre‐modern backlash and Ron Inglehart postmodern and postmaterial angst.

  • Society. Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink located activist non‐governmental organizations (NGOs) and Manuel Castells an emergent global civil society.

  • (p. 462)
  • Politics. Sid Tarrow discovered the complex internationalism of an emerging world polity, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri American hegemony and empire, David Held a global democratic deficit, and Dani Rodrik state‐level democratic incapacity.

Activist thought has also enriched our understanding of global economics, culture, society, and politics. Protester reflections have clarified several institution— mechanism—protest linkages.

The literature on contentious politics, which explores meso‐level processes of mobilization, can also be drawn upon to explain the global protests. Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly's Synthetic Political Opportunity Theory or SPOT analyzes political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and cultural frames. Mark Lichbach's Collective Action Research Program or CARP analyzes market, community, contract, and hierarchy mobilization processes.

Finally, the micro‐level or survey literature on political behavior can also be tapped. Sidney Verba's theory of political participation examines protesters' decision calculi, individual resources, recruitment or institutional resources, psychological engagement, and issue intensity.

This chapter draws together these intellectual resources. We offer a survey of theories of contentious politics that aims to explore their applicability to the new phenomenon of global protest movements (GPMs). Our theme is that macro global institutions drive meso mobilizing processes that micro recruit individuals into GPMs. Using general theories of contentious politics focused at the macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis, we derive competing explanations about the mechanisms used to mobilize GPMs.

We also suggest that differences between GPMs may be attributed to their differential usage of mobilizational mechanisms, and thus that these mechanisms may also account for the successes and failures of the various new manifestations of contentious politics. When mobilizational mechanisms are refracted through the lenses of academic theories and activist thoughts about globalized protest, we can develop and test hypotheses that distinguish GPMs and other forms of contention. Our main goal is in fact to compare and contrast the mechanisms involved in different GPMs as well as contentious politics more broadly. This comparison allows us to refine our understandings of how these mechanisms work in explaining globalized collective action as well as other forms of contention.

Using macro, meso, and micro processes to analyze protest involves an investigation of resources, relationships, and values in protests, protester coalitions, and protesters. Compared to non‐protesters, movement participants in various GPMs have differential access to certain sets of resources, relationships, and values. Resources include education and socioeconomic well‐being. Contacts and networks created by participation in parties, interest groups, and social movement organizations constitute relationships. Values are attitudes and beliefs (e.g. having postmodern values or favoring globalization). We expect that protest locations, groups in protest coalitions, and protesters are more likely to be characterized by the high (p. 463) availability of these resources, relationships, and values. These features seem to differentiate protests, coalitions, and protesters in GPMs, and may play a role in inspiring globalized collective action.

While the exploration of GPMs is nascent in the field of contentious politics, and many of the theories which have been used to explain globalized collective action have also been applied to understand other forms of contention, we argue that dynamics of contention are best accounted for using such a multi‐level theoretical framework. One must explore the linkages between macro‐level targets, meso‐level organizing, and micro‐level political behavior. One must compare and contrast the mechanisms behind different GPMs as well as other forms of contentious politics. And one must consider activist thought, which provides activists' perspectives on GPMs, in addition to traditional academic theories. Our framework is summarized in Table 20.1.

Academics and activists thus show how macro, meso, and micro explanations of protest suggest alternative mechanisms of contention. By specifying how abstract mechanisms work in concrete situations, the theories can help us compare and contrast disparate GPMs and other types of contention. Future research should investigate linkages between movements' differential mobilizational success and differences in their strategic use of mobilizational mechanisms. To do so, researchers must pick and choose among the mechanisms of our multi‐level framework, to which we now turn.

Table 20.1 Model of the mechanisms explaining the mobilization of globalized protest


Economic mechanisms (economic, world systems)

Culturalist mechanisms (cultural backlash, postmodern value changes)

World society mechanisms (empowered non‐state actors)

World polity mechanisms (complex internationalism)

US hegemony explanations (opposition to US hegemony)

Neo liberal institutional trilemma mechanisms (democratic deficit)


SPOT mechanisms (PO, MS, CF)

CARP mechanisms (contract, community, hierarchy)


Political behavior mechanisms (resource accumulation, associational recruitment, psychological involvement, issue intensity)

2 Macro‐level Mechanisms

According to McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly, contentious politics refers to “episodic, public, collective interactions among makers of claims and their objects when (a) at (p. 464) least one government is a claimant, an object of claims, or a party to the claims and (b) the claim would, if realized, affect the interests of at least one of the claimants” (2001, 5). Contentious politics thus includes many forms of political struggle, concerning issues of interstate conflict, civil war, revolution, repression, ethnic conflict, genocide, politicide, human rights, riots, strikes, demonstrations, protests, civil disobedience, dissent, and everyday resistance. Contentious events can be violent or non‐violent, and their scope can be domestic, transnational, or global. These forms of contention are interrelated, and although some speculate they are driven by similar causal mechanisms, they are often studied in isolation. Tarrow (2005) has made considerable inroads in his seminal attempt to generalize across episodes of transnational contention.

GPMs involve a series of globally coordinated, simultaneous demonstrations on key dates of action, occurring at dozens or even hundreds of protest venues located on most every continent. Compared to the recent anti‐war and global justice protests, GPMs have occurred previously, but not with the same degree of global coordination, simultaneity, and inclusiveness geographically. Compared to the waves of contention in the late eighteenth century, 1830, 1848, 1918–19, the late 1920s and early 1930s, 1968, and 1989–91, the recent protests were more global than merely transnational; occurred in most continents as opposed to just some continents; involved a higher degree of cross‐national collaboration and temporal simultaneity; focused on the global nature of protest as a primary tactic; and were low on violence.

In the last decade, GPMs against globalization and against war have thus mobilized protesters around the globe in new ways. Namely, on November 30, 1999, the principal day of international action during the Battle of Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO), coordinated protest occurred in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan, India, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia (Laskey 2001, 84–90). More recently, an even more mobilized and globalized anti‐war movement has arisen, with many dates of globally coordinated protest involving hundreds of protest locations, between 2001 and the present. One of the most mobilized and geographically globalized anti‐war protests occurred on February 15, 2003, involving an estimated “12 million people” by “interconnected social movements on every continent” (Solnit 2004, p. xxiii).

It is natural to explain macro‐level phenomena with macro‐level variables. GPMs may be explained with mechanisms that focus on several aspects of the global order: economic markets, world systems, cultural values, world society, world polity, US hegemony, and the neoliberal institutional trilemma. These macro‐level explanations are systemic influences that both academics and activists point to as sources of global contention.

(p. 465)

2.1 Economic Mechanisms

2.1.1 Economic Issues

Political economists stress the material basis of protests and thus theorize about activists who mobilize unions with material grievances. Accordingly, academics posit an economic issues structural mechanism suggesting that GPMs are, at root, a protectionist reaction to global markets experiencing economic globalization and heightened domestic economic pressures. While the economic benefits of neo‐liberal globalization are a diffuse public good, the economic costs are concentrated on the losers who take action. According to this approach, distributional impacts explain how the dissidents mobilize in GPMs.

Since the losers under economic globalization are seen as the opponents of neo‐liberal globalization, the economic issues mechanism leads us to expect globalized collective action in locations where the losers of globalization are clustered; where the unemployed are concentrated; and where neo‐liberal reforms are implemented with the greatest domestic problems and least popularity. Protesters are moreover expected to have grievances focused on domestic problems related to neo‐liberal policies. Common material concerns are likely used to solidify coalitions, and coalitions are expected to include groups representing material interests. Finally, protesters are expected to be affected negatively by globalization; to have a negative view of globalization and neo‐liberal reform; and to have relationships with individuals representing material interests through union or interest group memberships.

2.1.2 World Systems

While the economic market explanation of the protests focused on the agency of the “losers” of economic globalization, the world systems argument is that the international system has a long history of counter‐hegemonic projects and antisystemic movements. Hence, the world systems mechanism finds proponents amongst the activists who focus on the systemic problems posed by the global market. According to the world systems structural mechanism, resistance has always been globalized and protest often comes in waves and affects many countries at the same time. For example, there is a long history of protest against capitalism because people claim that it ignores social welfare, destroys cultures, damages the environment, and hurts human rights and democracy.

The world systems mechanism thus focuses on the structure of the new global market—the globalization of material interests (Chase‐Dunn 1989). The present international political economy consists of a set of interlinked country‐level economies that create global markets in land, labor, and capital. Problems of production—trade, finance, immigration, migration, communications, transportation, growth, poverty, inequality, diseases, epidemics, and the environment—are all now global. Thus, it is not possible for a country to isolate itself from global economic trends (e.g. technology), cycles (e.g. booms and busts), and shocks (e.g. oil crises).

(p. 466)

According to world systems theories, economic globalization, guided by policies of neo‐liberal globalization, has produced destabilization, exploitation, and dependency, which eventually beget materially based movements and protests. The neo‐liberal Washington consensus—the type of pure capitalism sometimes advocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)—generates many problems that spur protests (Rodrik 1997, 1999, 2001). The dark side of neo‐liberal economic globalization is, first, that globalization produces interdependent economies that are vulnerable to the global trends, cycles, and shocks that destabilize political economies. Unregulated capital movements, for example, lead to booms and busts which can bring down whole countries. Some further suggest that globalization produces relative deprivation (inequality and economic stratification); absolute deprivation (unemployment and poverty); and structural dependency (special vulnerabilities of marginalization and exploitation that produce underemployment, resource depletion, population growth, urbanization, natural disasters, disease, and epidemics). These phenomena fuel populist movements. And the more neo‐liberal the policies, the greater the resistance: globalization leads to the reduction of the welfare state that ends the social safety net.

World systems theories, in sum, posit that dissidents involved in GPMs are participants in yet another counter‐hegemonic, anti‐systemic movement, currently using global resistance to oppose a global market which has increasingly globalized interests. As Multilateral Economic Institution (MEI) meetings increase, MEI protest campaigns and mobilizations are expected to increase. Protests are expected to occur in locations where people have gained less through globalization or been more hurt by global markets. Protesters are expected to have grievances focused on domestic problems related to the system's prescribed neo‐liberal reforms. Groups representing material interests are expected to be important members of protest coalitions. Protesters are expected to have negative attitudes toward globalization.

2.1.3 Economic Threat Attribution

A third related global economic mechanism, the economic attribution of threat, is sometimes used by activists to frame grievances so as mobilize participants. Some activists suggest that economic problems due to neo‐liberal reforms and the global economic system are hurting people (Faraclas 2001, 67). Activists appeal to material interests by suggesting that in this global economic system the haves are trying to control the have‐nots: “The few (the wealthy and mobile elites) are once again attempting to control the many, that is the diversity group” (Hawthorne 2001, 87). Hence, important labor unions like the AFL‐CIO have even endorsed global justice protests and formed coalitions with global justice groups (Danaher and Burbach 2000, 9; Njehu and Ambrose 2001, 49–50). By connecting reforms sought by global economic institutions to concrete domestic economic problems, unions were drawn into global justice protest coalitions (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000, 55; Starr 2000, 83, 89). Activists also try to mobilize participants by drawing the connection (p. 467) between the global economic system and military interventions. Wolfwood (2001, 87) states,

Globalization and militarization are inseparable. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombed Yugoslavia so that multinational corporations can have access to state‐owned mines and oil pipelines, and so that foreign‐armed thugs can use Yugoslavian territory for the international drug trade, one of the top ten commodities traded globally.

Both academics and activists thus advance economic explanations of mobilization. Academics endorse structural mechanisms, such as the economic issues mechanism and world systems mechanism, that tend to explain events using larger social structures. In contrast, activists put forth attribution mechanisms that relate events to people's claims and grievances and they try to use such frames strategically. However, most activists tend to focus on other explanations of protest, and academics concur that poor people rarely hit the streets during globalized resistance. Economic mechanisms behind GPMs are thus often considered more peripheral than other explanations that activists and academics put forth. We now turn to these alternatives.

2.2 Pre‐modern Fundamentalism and Postmodern Relativism as Culturalist Mechanisms

2.2.1 Cultural Backlash

Culturalists argue that specific values and value change have led to GPMs. Some culturalist explanations of these protests stress a cultural backlash mechanism or protectionist reaction to the globalization of identities (Barber 1995). Western, and especially American, values are increasingly hegemonic and have come to define social and cultural identities around the entire world. Global pop culture is thus becoming consumer cosmopolitanism: a common global lifestyle of taste, fashion, and talk in which people define their identity and express themselves symbolically through their material possessions. The New World Order, which connects individuals everywhere at all times, is destroying the autonomy and cohesion of states, societies, and local communities—their cultures, civil societies, markets, democracies, and bureaucratic state institutions.

One possible backlash to this cultural onslaught is the death of politics— alienation, withdrawal, depoliticization, fatalism, nihilism, cynicism, defeatism, and immobilism. Another possible backlash involves the revival of politics. GPMs are thus about a reactionary defense of pre‐modern, fundamentalist values against the universal and global logic of the market, the West, the United States, and bourgeois culture. The defensive or protectionist reaction to these purported globalisms and universalisms is diversity and fragmentation: Jihad, fundamentalisms, and particularisms. In the New World Order, resistance thus relies on local traditions (p. 468) to define themselves in opposition to global neo‐liberal values. Globalization reinvigorates older forms of solidarities (interests and identities) as weapons to deal with globalization. Traditional religious and ethnic cultures have thus produced fundamentalist backlash to dominant Western values and policy orientations. Globalized resistance to global order therefore occurs because of backlash to the globally dominant path of development—neoliberalism.

The results are economic nationalism and autarky, populistic rhetoric and racial chauvinism, anti‐internationalism and isolationism. We would therefore expect some protesters to have protectionist grievances focused on promoting traditional values. As Western values have penetrated formerly isolated pre‐modern cultures, various kinds of movements have arisen. Thus, we would expect some protests to occur in locations with recently increased Western influence and heightened perception of the threat posed by Western values.

2.2.2 Opposition to Authority, Cosmopolitanism, Heterogeneous Identities, and Relativism

The other cultural explanation of GPMs is that they are a product of a movement toward postmodern values in activist segments of industrialized and Third World societies. Postmodernists claim, or advance the metanarrative, that metanarratives are breaking down. Today's world is therefore characterized by heterogeneity and fragmentation—multiple modernities or postmodernity—in which the self seeks several different moral causes. No longer is society preoccupied with materialism, but now that a certain level of material welfare has been reached, people have the luxury of focusing on other, more idealistic, ends. Postmodern values are evident in decreased trust of and skepticism toward authority; increased protest and other forms of active political participation; decreased conventional participation; decreasing religiosity; increasing support of progressive ideals; and increased grouping of such issues as peace, human rights, the environment, women's rights, and gay rights (Inglehart 1997). Thus, people with postmodern values are more likely to hold a multiplicity of grievances and to select a multiplicity of targets. Some anarchists radically opposing globalization may draw from postmodern relativism—anarchically opposing all manifestations of power, or all forms of authority. Other protesters, opposing war or globalization, may be less radical and draw from the issues which have been grouped together and made salient during postmodernity as well as its popularization of active political participation and distrust of authority.

Academics suggest several postmodern mobilizational mechanisms that relate societal change to activism: opposition to authority, cosmopolitanism, heterogeneous identities, and relativism. The opposition to authority mechanism suggests that people are more likely to participate politically via protest when they are opposed to authority. The cosmopolitanism mechanism suggests that people are more likely to mobilize around a set of ideals they claim as universal and universally valid. The heterogeneous identity mechanism suggests that protesters are more likely to develop several ideals and become active in several social movements because (p. 469) identities are more fragmented and unstable, and emergent in social situations like protests. The relativism mechanism suggests that people's actions and attitudes are not a constant but rather evolve relative to their cultural and historical context; thus, individuals are likely to adapt as their context becomes more opposed to traditional authority, as multiple ideals become linked, and identity becomes increasingly fluid. These several societal changes are likely to lead an individual to become more engaged in progressive collective action.

Postmodern mobilizational mechanisms thus suggest that multi‐issue idealistic activists who are unconcerned with materialism are likely to mobilize into GPMs. More protests are expected at locations where postmodern values are most commonly held. Coalitions are likely to involve groups working on disparate ideals, and the recognition of common ties across these ideals is likely to be a key factor in binding the coalitions together. Protesters are expected to hold less modern and more postmodern values than the general population, to mobilize for various idealistic causes, to frame their opposition in a way that connects several idealistic causes, to oppose traditional authority, and to engage in active political participation.

2.2.3 Postmodern Ideals Framing

Activists indeed use a postmodern ideals framing mechanism to mobilize. Many argue vehemently that they are motivated by a common set of progressive ideals and not by common material interests. As Danaher and Burbach (2000, 10) state,

In contrast to the money cycle that is the central organizing principle of the corporate elites, the movement is organized around the life cycle (human rights and protecting Mother Nature) …we challengers focus our core values on the quality of relations among people and between people and the environment.

The wide array of progressive values that activists see as interconnected under this umbrella include “environmental concerns, human rights, hostility to patriarchy, and a vision of human community based on unity of diverse cultures seeking an end to poverty, oppression, humiliation, and collective violence” as well as nuclear weapons and apartheid (Brecher, Childs, and Cutler 1993, p. ix; Callinicos 2003, 134). Moreover, activists emphasize their mutual distrust of state authority as well as their relative valuation of progressive ideals over material interests (Danaher and Mark 2003, 1). Activists acknowledge that protesters from the industrialized north tend to be well‐off and white, and they argue that minorities and the disenfranchised are too preoccupied with their own material problems to protest for these ideals (Barlow and Clarke 2002, 214–15). Activists' postmodern ideals framing mechanism coincides nicely with academics' postmodern values arguments about mobilization which suggest that protesters are more likely to have a postmodern world‐view: to link various social causes together as progressive ideals; to place more value on these ideals than on material needs; to distrust traditional authority; and to participate politically by protesting rather than voting.

Quite a few protesters discuss multi‐issue linkages and engage in collective action for these disparate issues. Further, many activists emphasize their predilection for (p. 470) these ideals over material interests. Postmodern structural mechanisms like opposition to authority, cosmopolitanism, heterogeneous identities, and relativism have much overlap with postmodern ideals framing. Academics look at cultural changes structurally, describing a societal transition in which materialist values are giving way to postmodern values and certain kinds of activism are increasing. While some academics are still skeptical about the mobilizational power of value change, this perspective is increasingly popular in activist circles. Activists are concerned with mobilizing individuals in collective action, and hence they respond to societal changes by adapting their framing and adopting postmodern ideals. Therefore, the postmodern values perspective is increasingly central for activists.

2.3 World Society Mechanisms

World Society explanations maintain that a globalized civil society has facilitated GPMs (Florini 2000). These explanations suggest that globalization is triumphant over the state—that it has even rendered the state obsolete. Neo‐liberalism thus tosses problems away from states and markets and passes them on to individuals and groups. Deconstructing the state gives an opening to civil society. Hence, nongovernmental organizations in civil society (NGOs) are organized to protest against the state about the market and to counter the market by organizing cooperative communities. The “end of sovereignty” or “sovereignty at bay” has thus given way to world society—bottom‐up global governance through the growth of transnational civil society. This global civil society or global community is a borderless world composed of NGOs, international non‐governmental organizations (INGOS), multinational corporations (MNCs), and international organizations (IOs). As they become increasingly dense, these create organizations in global civil society: layered sets of networks and connections that are not defined by spatial location and geographic context and that are often connected to formal intergovernmental relations.

2.3.1 Empowered Non‐state Actors

The decline of the state has been accompanied by the rise of non‐state actors, such as GPMs, which have built global civil society. The empowered non‐state actor structural mechanism has meant new forms of collective action and solidarity. The movement is not traditionally organized and thus is not institutionalized or centralized, and it is not a political party but a network, a set of local and global connections. Castells (1997), Melucci (1996), and Keck and Sikkink (1998) thus suggest that networks combine unities and disunities, permanence and impermanence, the global and the local. There is also a transnational public sphere of global communications; the internet has produced global bandwagons of dissent. Hence, the globalization of interests, identities, and institutions creates a variety of economic, social, cultural, and political grievances that are mobilized via the internet. Due to internet‐based (p. 471) resistance, virtual activism, and cyberpolitics, protest is now a global‐wide phenomenon that comes in waves and affects many countries simultaneously. GPMs thus build upon existing transnational advocacy networks which, in turn, build upon transnational civil society.

An equally dramatic global force in instant communication is worldwide television. Global TV has collapsed space and time, deterritorialized states, and, some argue, created a borderless and distanceless Marshall McLuhan global village that manifests interconnectedness, interrelatedness, integration, and interdependence. Since people know in real time how events in one locale affect events in other locales, local news becomes the subject of worldwide concern. The individual citizen of the world connects to global events, relates to all people, and has a consciousness of a global problématique. The human community becomes the focal point, and activists think and frame issues globally while acting locally.

The empowered non‐state actor mechanism thus posits that participants in an oppositional civil society are mobilizing globally to advocate that states take an active role in globalization. As the threats globalization poses to states' power become increasingly salient, MEI protest campaigns are expected to increase in frequency. Most MEI protests are expected to occur at locations where an oppositional civil society is especially strong and active or where neo‐liberal reforms have coincided with domestic problems and may have heightened perceptions of weakened state power tied to globalization. Grievances at these protests are expected to concern state problems resulting from neo‐liberal reforms. The key actors in protest coalitions are expected to represent global or cosmopolitan identities who complain of inadequate state responses to globalization. At times when the salience of weakened state power coinciding with Western‐centric globalization is heightened, protest is expected to spike. Protesters are expected to be more active in civil society and more opposed to globalization and war than the general population.

2.3.2 Global Civil Society Recruitment

Similarly, activists suggest a global civil society recruitment mechanism, arguing that a global civil society is developing which is opposing threats to state sovereignty and fighting for accountability (Brecher, Childs, and Cutler 1993, p. ix). During the Seattle WTO protests, the strength and oppositional activity of these groups became evident (Wolfwood 2001, 147). Both the 50 Years Is Enough Network and the World Social Forum drastically increased in size (Brecher 2003, 204; Danaher and Burbach 2000, 8). An astounding 51,300 participants attended the second World Social Forum in 2002, and attendance has more than doubled in more recent Social Forums (Brecher 2003, 204). Besides emphasizing democracy and democratic reforms, these activists advocate global civil society as a solution to global problems (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000, 42). This argument about the mobilizational power of global civil society is made by both activists and academics.

World Society mechanisms of collective action focus on the mobilizational structures that are presented by an increasingly globalized civil society. Academics emphasize (p. 472) the empowered non‐state actor mechanism which suggests how structural changes in society may influence protest turnout. Activists put forth a global civil society recruitment mechanism, since they are focused on using new global structures to get people to hit the streets. Most activists and academics are focused on global civil society as only one piece of the mobilizational puzzle, which explains how organizers reach out to people but does not necessarily explain the grievances that successfully draw participants to a protest.

2.4 World Polity Mechanisms

2.4.1 Complex Internationalism

The globalization of institutions is creating targets and political opportunities for GPMs. As interdependence increases, as the power of international institutions deepens, and as the scope of global governance broadens, civil society networks grow. These non‐governmental associations take advantage of the political opportunities afforded by international institutions and their meetings, especially in providing information and advocacy of particular issues. However, sometimes these organizations also have ties to groups that use demonstrations and public appeals to advance grievances which target these international institutions and their meetings. According to Tarrow, internationalism provides structured opportunities for interactions between these groups which facilitate transnational activism and coalition formation (2005). GPMs are thus part of the conflictual process of globalization, just as national protests were part of the conflictual process of building nation‐states. GPMs are thus a part of global governance, institutions, democracy, and representation.

Tarrow (2005, 7) advances the complex internationalism mechanism. Internationalism is defined as “a dense, triangular, structure of relations among states, nonstate actors, and international institutions, and the opportunities this produces for actors to engage in collective action at different levels of this system” (2005, 25). Tarrow diminishes the causal impact of globalization, which he sees as “a source of claims and a frame for mobilizations” as well as “a source of interest, ideology, and grievances” (2005, 7, 19).

Rather, Tarrow accentuates how transnational contention is influenced by “states' domestic structures,” “the international institutions that they have created,” and “the processes that link ‘the local with the global’ ” (2005, p. xiii). Tarrow argues that internationalism “provides an opportunity structure within which transnational activism can emerge” since it “offers a focal point for resistance to [globalization], and provides opportunities for the formation of transnational coalitions and movements” (2005, 7–8). Tarrow distinguishes between globalization as just one of many sources of values, interests, and ideals vis‐à‐vis internationalization as an institutional framework structuring actors' relations, stating, (p. 473)

Like the movement that Polanyi identified in the Industrial Revolution, globalization creates new social victims and transforms the role of states; and like the expanding national state in the nineteenth century, internationalization constrains and creates opportunities for citizens to engagein collective action, both in resistance to globalization and around other issues. (2005, 19)

The end result of internationalism's structured opportunities for relations producing transnational coalitions and movements are the increasingly transnational but domestically based actors whom Tarrow describes as rooted cosmopolitans (2005, 43). Tarrow states, “Through the use of both domestic and international resources and opportunities, domestic‐based activists—citizens and others—move outward to form a spectrum of ‘rooted cosmopolitans’ who engage in regular transnational practices” (2005, 35). Transnational activists, on the other hand, are a subset of rooted cosmopolitans, “people and groups who are rooted in specific national contexts but who engage in contentious politics activities that involve them in transnational networks of contacts and conflicts” (2005, 29). What distinguishes transnational activists from rooted cosmopolitans is “their ability to shift their activities among levels” and to take “advantage of the expanded nodes of opportunity of a complex international society” (2005, 29, 43).

According to Tarrow, the international political opportunity space structures the relations of transnational contenders in such a way as to change the participatory versus oppositional roles of groups he calls “NGO insiders” and “social movement outsiders” (2005, 29). Insiders are known for “gravitating to international institutions and taking part in highly institutionalized service and advocacy activities” as well as “lobbying and collaborating with international elites to the point of co‐optation” (2005, 29, 45). In contrast, outsiders “challenge these institutions and organizations,” “challenge international institutions' policies and, in some cases, contest their existence” (2005, 29, 45).

On the one hand, Tarrow cites the rise in activists who “face both inward and outward,” and argues that the “distinction between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ may be blurring” (2005, 47). Key in Tarrow's argument is the increasing insider—outsider cooperation “around international institutions, conferences, and processes” that he observes (2005, 48, 211). On the other hand, Tarrow also suggests that, eventually, internationalization may be leading insider participation to be supplanted by outsider opposition, as “participation in international protests may even resocialize insiders into outsiders” and outsiders' “numbers seem to be increasing” (2005, 48).

In sum, Tarrow (2001, 234) looks for a larger political system within which GPMs fit. Political opportunities for GPMs are provided by the composite polity (e.g. multilateral economic institution meetings and international events) (Tarrow 2001, 242–4). As interdependence increases, both multilateral economic institutions and the international actions of governments of particular states (including their heads of government and key cabinet members) are likely targets for globalized opposition.

World polity theories suggest that those who perceive international institutions and their meetings as political opportunities are likely to mobilize. As annual MEI meetings increase and are increasingly perceived as focal points, protest campaigns are expected to increase. Since Tarrow sees globalization as one of many interests, ideals, and values around which transnational activists mobilize, he would likely expect (p. 474) similar rates of protests at meetings of institutions directly linked to the Washington Consensus and its neo‐liberal agenda (e.g. the IMF/WB) vis‐à‐vis the meetings of other international institutions about which transnational activists have grievances. MEI protest campaigns are expected to increase over time. Protests are expected in locations where MEI meetings are held and where thereis easy accesstoMEIs. Spikes in globalized protest events are expected to coincide with important MEI meeting dates.

2.4.2 Attribution of Opportunity

As they target the political opportunities multilateral institutions present for protest, activists in effect posit an attribution of opportunity mechanism. After targeting one international institution, they find other institutions to target, expanding their target repertoire from the WTO to the WB and IMF, for instance (Danaher and Burbach 2000, 8). Further, some MEIs offer NGOs opportunities to participate in their meetings (Wolfwood 2001, 147). Other institutions that present political opportunities for the protesters to mobilize include the GATT, NAFTA, and FTAA (Global Exchange and Public Citizen 2001, 20–1, 131).

Using the attribution of opportunity mechanism, activists thus focus on international institutions as targets. Similarly, via the complex internationalism structural mechanism, academics focus on the various mobilizational opportunities created by these globally empowered institutions, both creating extra‐institutional targets for collective action as well as as an intra‐institutional NGO support. Both activists and academics recognize that the world polity is only part of the explanation—it is a set of targets that draw out protest participants, but it is not a complete explanation of the ways in which organizers are able to mobilize people into action. In sum, activists blame international institutions and academics study the political opportunities that these institutions create for mobilizers.

2.5 US Hegemony Mechanisms

2.5.1 Opposition to US Hegemony

Academics advance the opposition to US hegemony structural mechanism, suggesting that GPMs might be explained as opposition to the American quest for global hegemony during the current unipolar moment of American power. Under Pax Americana or empire, global institutions are designed by the United States to manage conflict, assure legitimacy, attain consensus, and maintain authority (Hardt and Negri 2000, 15). The globalized resistance strikes at the global order—this total system. As Hardt and Negri thussuggest, there is really one struggle against one enemy, and all struggles are really part of this one struggle: “each struggle, though firmly rooted in local conditions, leaps immediately to the global level and attacks the imperial constitution in its generality” and “the only strategy available to the struggles is that of a constituent counterpower that emerges from within Empire” (2000, 56, 59). In the face of totalizing power, nothing is therefore outside the system. The common center tries to create homogeneity out of heterogeneity. The opposition to US hegemony mechanism thus suggests that (p. 475) opposition, while firmly rooted in local conditions, directly attacks the global order and hence identifies a common enemy that all can fight against, uniting all struggles. These struggles are simultaneously economic, political, and social—the struggles over personal lives and political power. The struggles themselves are constitutive of—help construct—new public spaces for discourse and new forms of community. The resulting struggles and crises are met by the center's efforts to resolve conflicts and restore a global equilibrium to its conceptions of peace and justice.

American hegemony theories thus suggest that opponents of American global hegemony or empire seeking are likely to mobilize against the current global order, which they see as a by‐product of American hegemony. Thus, globalized protests are expected to be more likely as US policy appears exceptionally hegemonic (e.g. when the United States is taking unilateral action). Globalized protest participants are expected to have unfavorable attitudes toward US hegemony or toward US policies that can be construed as hegemonic or empire seeking.

2.5.2 US Hegemony Target Attribution

Similarly, activists put forth US hegemony target attribution mechanisms. Opposition to American policies that appear hegemonic, empire seeking, or unilateral is another way in which activists frame their dissent. In formulating and framing grievances, activists even rely on some academics who emphasize Empire or US Hegemony as an explanation of conflict (Hardt and Negri 2003, 118). While activists tend to make connections with US hegemony in their grievances about war or about globalization, academics tend to make these linkages to US hegemony in their elaboration of targets. For instance, activists oppose a globalization that perpetuates Western hegemony (Brecher, Childs, and Cutler 1993, p. xiv). Alternatively, globalization is opposed as a part of “US imperialism's drive to maintain its hegemony” or unilateral US action (Brecher 2003, 206; Callinicos 2003, 139). Thus, activists and academics alike have emphasized how state actions that appear to perpetuate Western or US hegemony have tremendous mobilizational power.

Both activists and academics connect dissent with opposition to US or Western hegemony. Academics' opposition to US hegemony structural mechanism focuses on likely American or Western oppositional targets whereas activists' US hegemony target attributional mechanism tends to emphasize these connections between activists' grievances about war and globalization. Thus, both activists and academics suggest that US hegemony helps to explain global dissent, but both employ other perspectives to explain the processes by which dissent is mobilized.

2.6 Neoliberal Institutional Trilemma Mechanisms

2.6.1 Global Democratic Deficit

While the world polity explanation of the protests focused on the agency of the international institutions, the neo‐liberal institutional trilemma offers a deep, structural explanation. This perspective focuses on the interplay of institutions that produce a (p. 476) global democratic deficit. The basic idea is that given independent states, international economic integration begets democratically active civil societies that protest economic globalization. These three institutions—international institutions in global orders, developmental coalitions in embedded states, and protest coalitions in democratic civil societies—affect the globalization of protest through the agency of the people involved. These institutions, in other words, add up to the issue of global governance and hence are the interrelated parts of a larger structural understanding of GPMs.

We have three interrelated institutions that manufacture three interrelated public goods: states embedded in the global order create national economic prosperity, which is supported by international institutions that create world peace and by democracy that creates stable civil societies. Neo‐liberals thus have three desiderata: world peace or external security, economic prosperity or the growth of wealth, and domestic stability or internal order. Institution builders thus face a Machiavellian state (elites interested in maintaining and expanding their power) in a Hobbesian world (anarchy of states) and thus must build an international order, a political economy, and an authority system (Hobbes 1651/1988; Machiavelli 1514/1961). Looked at from the point of view of the people rather than the powerful, citizens demand that governments supply institutions to maximize external security (peace not war), maximize efficiency (growth not stagnation), and minimize social control (representation not repression).

We shall call the problem displayed in Figure 20.1 the Neo‐liberal Institutional Trilemma (NIT), or the impossible trinity of an integrated global economy (strong MEIs), independent states (strong developmental coalitions that can make and implement national economic policies), and active civil societies (conventional democratic politics that allows protectionist groups to influence the state). The problem is that while states want international institutions to promote economic efficiency, mass publics demand that their governments safeguard them, and neither international institutions nor the governments which have ceded sovereignty and agreed to economic integration managed by international institutions can be held accountable as easily. Rodrik (2001, 347–65) thus formalizes Ruggie's (1982, 1991) arguments about embedded liberalism as follows:

  • If we want democratically active civil societies, we can have either integrated national economies or independent states.

  • If we want integrated national economies, we can have either independent states or democratically active civil societies.

  • If we want independent states, we can have either integrated national economies or democratically active civil societies.

Neo‐liberals therefore can have two things but not all three at once. Hence, there are two important tradeoffs:

  • For a given level of integrated national economies, the more independent the states, the less active the democratic civil societies.

  • For a given level of independent nation‐states, the more integrated the national economy, the less active the democratic civil society.

Mechanisms of Globalized Protest MovementsClick to view larger

Fig. 20.1 The Neoliberal Institutional Trilemma (Ruggie; Rodrik)

And here is where the global democratic deficit mechanism and thus anti‐globalization protest becomes relevant: Neo‐liberalism is not the best of all possible worlds because (p. 477) people are complaining about its institutions. The Battleof Seattle, for instance, was a fight about the WTO and global governance.

More specifically, while the neo‐liberal global order might lead to peace (although critics claim that competition among capitalist states is more likely than cooperation among them), and while it might even lead to prosperity (although critics claim that in the race to the bottom, the rich get richer and few benefits trickle down to the poor), the neo‐liberal global order has produced political instability because it generates redistributive conflicts over the democratic nature of its institutions.

Thus, the Neo‐liberal Institutional Trilemma asserts that neo‐liberal rhetoric about democracy exceeds the neo‐liberal grasp because neo‐liberal globalization puts democracy in a golden straitjacket, constructed by international and state institutions, that forces political parties to the median voter while opening up civil society to the proliferation of special interests. In a democracy, that is, neo‐liberalism contracts political (electoral) space (openness to international trade forecloses Keynesian macroeconomic policies and welfare state social policies) while neo‐liberalism expands social (civil society) space (issues of trade, neo‐liberalism, and capitalism involve more and more constituencies). The spread of democracy, at least a rhetorical part of NIT, has also contributed to the rise of civil society through the call for participation, accountability, and transparency. As cosmopolitan and international consciousness rise, the policy agenda widens even further as more voices demand access.

Neo‐liberal Institutional Trilemma theories thus suggest that protest is likely in democracies with integrating economies: in globalized democracies where international economic integration coincides with threats to state independence or in globalizing democracies where state independence coincides with poor international economic integration. Further, in the former, globalized, and largely northern countries, protesters are likely to make claims that focus on threats to state sovereignty and civil society caused by the integration of national economies, whereas in the latter, globalizing, and largely southern countries, protesters are likely to focus on inequality and exclusion in the global market. The highest level of protest is most likely when the NIT is most salient: in globalized democracies during crises when states' power is noticeably lessened or in the globalizing democracies when poor international economic integration causes domestic problems like increased (p. 478) unemployment, decreased wages, and increased prices. For instance, unilateral military intervention by a hegemon like the USA is likely to incite northern protest because it makes state sovereignty in a globalized world seem weaker; and domestic economic crises like those in Latin America during the 1990s are likely to spur southern protests because they make southern exclusion from the global market in a globalizing world more salient. Further, globalized democracies' protest coalitions are less likely to involve material interests than globalizing democracies' protest coalitions. Protesters are likely to be opposed to neo‐liberal globalization, to support national autonomy, and to support inclusive economic development.

2.6.2 Attribution of Threat to Democracy

Activists have also connected protest with the pursuit of democracy, using the threat to democracy attribution mechanism. Activists argue they are targeting a global economic system which threatens the sovereignty of the people and claim that they desire democratic institutional changes in these MEIs (Danaher and Burbach 2000, 11). Dissent is framed as a struggle for democracy, as depicted in the following quotes: “[Most civil society groups] are all fighting for fundamental democratic rights” and “[The anti‐corporate insurrection] is a rebellion that seeks to reclaim democracy” (Barlow and Clarke 2002, 207; Danaher and Mark 2003, 2). Further, Norberg‐Hodge indicates how economic integration is tied together with threats to sovereignty and problems of dependence, arguing that “economic globalization” is leading to the “erosion of democracy” (2001, 180–2). The solution, according to the activists, rests with empowering the people as the ultimate political authority or combating threats to democracy (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000, 42; Danaher and Mark 2003, 2). Activists therefore emphasize threats to democracy as a problem and suggest democratic reforms and democratic power to the people as solutions. Academics, on the other hand, focus on groupings of structures of economic integration and democratic civil society that facilitate activists' dissent.

Activists and academics are thus connecting problems during economic integration with threats to democracy. Further, both suggest that the solutions lie in people power, dissent, and democratic reforms. While academics put forth the global democratic deficit structural mechanism, focusing on how increasing integration in democratic states leads to dissent, activists suggest the threat to democracy attribution mechanism which connects economic globalization and democracy through grievances and solutions.

3 Meso‐level Mechanisms

GPMs also may be explained by meso‐level mechanisms that specify the processes that mobilize dissident movements. Contentious politics theories come in rationalist (p. 479) and structuralist variations (Lichbach 1997, 1998a, 1998b). The structuralist approach provides the better transition from global macro theories and the rationalist approach the better transition to the micro‐political behavior approach. As shown earlier in Table 20.1, this section discusses meso mechanisms and processes, such as political opportunities or communal linkages, that cut across the global economy, society, culture, and polity.

3.1 SPOT Mechanisms

The structuralist's explanandum is “contentious politics:” the “collective action” and “collective mobilization” of “contenders” for power. SPOT‐Strategic Political Opportunity theory—skillfully weaves several strands of resource mobilization and political process arguments into a “broad framework” (Tarrow 1994, 2) that explains contentious politics. This synthesis argues that GPMs are “triggered by the incentives created by political opportunities, combining conventional and challenging forms of action and building on social networks and cultural frames” (Tarrow 1994, 1). Tarrow thus argues that three structural mechanisms are crucial:

  • PO. Politics, defined in terms of political opportunities. The polity is structured in four ways: “the relative openness or closure of the institutionalized political system,” “the stability of that broad set of alignments that typically undergird a polity,” “the presence of elite allies,” and “the state's capacity and propensity for repression” (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996, 10). PO are therefore “consistent—but not necessarily formal or permanent—dimensions of the political environment that provide incentives for people to undertake collective action by affecting their expectations for success or failure” (Tarrow 1994, 85). Political processes, institutions, and alignments thus set the context for the strategic interaction of a movement with its allies and opponents in civil society and the state.

  • MS. Society, defined in terms of mobilizing structures. Civil society is structured along class, status, gender, ethnic, religious, and racial lines. These partially overlapping systems of stratification “link leaders with the organization of collective action— center with periphery—permitting movement coordination and allowing movements to persist over time” (Tarrow 1994, 136). Elite—mass linkages include “informal as well as formal [vehicles] through which people mobilize and engage in collective action” (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996, 3). Dissident MS thus include communities and associations rooted in civil society.

  • CF. Culture, defined in terms of cultural frames. Culture is structured by shared meanings, symbols, and discourses. Social movements are thus constituted by the culture in which they operate. Structuralists also think of culture in another way (Lichbach 1995, 450 n. 5). Movements strategically frame meanings, symbols, and discourses so as to define grievances, pose solutions, and advance their “cognitive liberation” (McAdam 1982). CF therefore involves the “conscious strategic efforts by groups of people to fashion shared understandings of the world and of themselves (p. 480) that legitimate and motivate collective action” (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996, 6). Culture, as much as politics and society, structures resistance to authority.

While McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly (2001) have recently emphasized and expanded a more dynamic set of mechanisms, the root of SPOT theories still suggests that global protesters take advantage of perceived political opportunities, make use of civil society organizational and recruitment networks, and commonly frame their grievances to mobilize supporters. As political opportunities posed by annual MEI meetings increase, MEI protest campaigns and protest mobilization are expected to increase. Protests are expected to be more likely in locations where MEI meetings are more frequent and access to MEIs is more readily available. On dates of key MEI meetings and international events, protest is expected to spike. Protesters are expected to take advantage of many political opportunities for action, joining several social movements and engaging in various forms of active political participation at higher rates than the general population. Globalized protests involving disparate social movements are expected when a diverse, structured civil society is involved in mobilization. Protesters are expected to be more involved in civil society than the general population. When unifying frames are used to mobilize people to action, larger numbers of people with diffuse grievances are expected to be mobilized, and various interests are expected to be represented at the protests. Successful coalitions are expected to include material interests, social identities, global ideals, and students. Unifying frames are expected to help draw together disparate social movements. Finally, globalized protest participants are expected to share certain standpoints, which are used as common frames during mobilization.

3.1.1 Focal Points and Political Opportunities

Using a political opportunities mechanism, activists argue that MEIs, MEI meetings, international events, unpopular US unilateralism, unpopular neo‐liberal reforms, and concrete domestic problems tied to global events offer useful and interrelated focal points during mobilization (Barlow and Clarke 2002). The WTO, WB, IMF, multinationals, GATT, NAFTA, FTAA, and Structural Adjustment Programs are included amongst the targets of mobilizers (Global Exchange and Public Citizen 2001, 20–1, 131). Thus, activists tend to view political opportunities as a mobilizational mechanism.

While academics also argue that protesters mobilize using political opportunities, the different macro theories offer different predictions of the focal points that will be used. World polity and SPOT political opportunities theories suggest that protesters will take advantage of the political opportunities for mobilization presented by international institutions and international events. World systems theories suggest that protesters will target the institutions that promote the global market and domestic problems tied to the global market. US hegemony theories suggest that protesters will likely target meetings and events that are tied to US hegemonic acts. The Neo‐liberal Institutional Trilemma suggests that events which make threats to (p. 481) state autonomy salient in globalized democracies, or which make international economic integration salient in such states, are likely to be focal points.

3.1.2 Pre‐existing Organizations and Mobilized Structures

Activists argue that pre‐existing organizations are important mobilizing structures. Included amongst such groups are “not only conventional NGOs, but also local social movements, foundations, the media, churches, trade unions, consumer organizations, intellectuals” (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000, 83–4). Even labor has been drawn into these coalitions, with the AFL‐CIO endorsing the April 2000 WB/ IMF demonstrations and smaller unions also taking a stand (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000, 56). Protests are more successful, according to activists, when organizations are grouped in coalitions. According to Klein (2001, 149),

the protests are themselves made up of “coalitions of coalitions,” to borrow a phrase from Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange. Each anti‐corporate campaign is made up of many groups, mostly NGOs, labor unions, students and anarchists. They use the Internet, as well as more traditional organizing tools, to do everything … The groups remain autonomous, but their internal coordination is deft …

The resultant networks

have become the main vehicle through which the campaigns of globalization from below have been organized …. Network participants can be highly diverse and may disagree on many matters, as long as they accept the network's defining frame of the issues that it addresses. (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000, 84)

Thus, activists emphasize associational networks' capacity to become mobilizing structures for protests.

Likewise, academics argue that organizers pull together pre‐existing organizations in their diverse communities to mobilize followers. Various theories offer predictions about which preexisting organizations are likely to be important mobilizers. World society, political behavior, and SPOT mobilizing structures theories suggest that preexisting organizations in civil society will be targeted for mobilization. Economic and world systems theories suggest that material interests and unions, in particular, will be key in mobilization. Pre‐modern values and US hegemony theories suggest that groups working to preserve traditional values and groups opposed to the United States will be important mobilizers. Postmodern values theories suggest that groups with progressive ideals that engage in multi‐issue organizing are likely to succeed in mobilization. The Neo‐liberal Institutional Trilemma suggests that groups with broad progressive ideals are likely targeted by organizers in globalized democracies, whereas organizers in globalizing democracies are likely to target pre‐existing groups that are more narrowly concerned with material interests.

3.1.3 Strategic Frames and Cultural Frames

Activists use cultural frames strategically as mobilizational mechanisms. To mobilize more participants, they seek links between strategic issues as well as connections between global and local grievances. Activists allow for “infinitely expandable (p. 482) systems” of NGO and “affinity group networks” (Klein 2001, 149–50). Activists make clear that they value a set of ideals and not material interests so as to attract other ideal‐oriented groups (Danaher and Burbach 2000, 10). To attract new NGOs or affinity groups, activists emphasize the interconnections between different issues. For instance, they look for “links between human rights, environmental, and indigenous concerns” (Prokosch and Raymond 2002, 52). Callinicos (2003, 134) argues that these issue linkages distinguish today's GPMs, stating,

It is this sense of the interconnection of different issues through the systemic logic of capitalism that defines the anti‐capitalist movement by contrast with the earlier campaigns that concerned themselves with more specific (though hugely important) issues such as nuclear weapons, apartheid, and even the environment.

Further, activists also attract new participants by linking country‐level or local issues with global targets. Globalized protest activists are encouraged to seek links with domestic issues (Heckscher 2002, 237). Similarly, Barlow and Clarke (2002, 217) argue that local issues should be connected with global targets, stating,

The purpose of these networks would be to organize local campaigns of resistance and alternatives. Emphasis would be put on highlighting the links between local community issues and NAFTA, the FTAA, and the operations of corporate governance institutions like the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank.

Thus, activists strategically frame issues so as to mobilize greater numbers of organizations, affinity groups, and individuals.

Further, academics argue that organizers reframe selective incentives strategically, to create global public goods out of local public goods. Various theories suggest which strategic frames will be used during mobilization. Political behavior issue intensity and SPOT cultural frames theories suggest that strategic frames will target issues that certain segments of the public strongly oppose. Economic and world systems theories suggest that strategic frames will target neo‐liberal globalization, institutions, and policies. Pre‐modern values and US hegemony theories suggest that strategic frames will target threats to traditional values and US hegemonic action. Postmodern values suggest that strategic frames will target threats to progressive ideals and emphasize the connections amongst various ideals. The Neo‐liberal Institutional Trilemma suggests that strategic frames will target broader ideals in globalized democracies and more narrow, material interests in globalizing democracies.

3.2 CARP Mechanisms

The rationalist approach to contentious politics asks: Were the protesters in Seattle and activists involved in other GPMs rational? Or even better, how were they rational? Rationalists suggest that the members of the protest coalition, just like the people who are constructing the neo‐liberal institutions that the protesters oppose, were quite rational actors. After discussing the rationality of the rebels, we discuss their global rebel's dilemma.

(p. 483)

3.2.1 Rational Rebels

First, many of the protesters against globalization knew what they were saying. Evidence gleaned from interviews with elite activists indicate that many protesters were knowledgeable about the substantive issues and that they wanted to communicate their ideas through various forms of grassroots education. Activist websites, moreover, often reflected recent academic criticisms of MEIs (Anderson 2000; Haggard 2000). Thus, the leading activists were certainly not ignorant, irrational, or opportunist looters or vandals.

Second, the evidence shows that the protests at the Battle of Seattle were not spontaneous but well planned. Major protest‐supporting organizations, such as the Direct Action Network (DAN) and the Ruckus Society, developed detailed maps indicating where the WTO delegates would reside and where and when the major events would take place. The actual distribution of contentious activity, moreover, showed carefully built interconnections among action phases of the events. Moreover, the protesters were strategically mobile, moving to specific locations to block particular paths of delegate traffic, aided by cellphones and pagers.

Dissidents put together their diverse protest coalition by organizing immediately before the episode, and in fact an ongoing campaign against neo‐liberal globalization had been in existence years before the episode. In the middle of November the DAN and the Ruckus Society were holding training sessions for a variety of social movement activists. Students, churches, labor unions, and environmentalists were similarly organized. Further, before the Battle of Seattle a number of important social movement organizations labeled themselves as “global.” Examples include the San Francisco‐based human rights and economic justice group Global Exchange and the Nader‐influenced Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Other groups in Seattle such as the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) had many years of experience working on international solidarity/human rights issues that focus on a particular country or region.

3.2.2 A Global Rebel's Dilemma

While the diverse nature of the Seattle coalition is understandable, its contradictions— the collective action problems of combining people with different material interests, social identities, and global ideals so that they can act on a global scale—are immense. How did anti‐WTO activists mobilize and sustain their diverse rainbow coalition?

This is a puzzle because the rationalist or Olsonian approach tells us that collective action among dissidents in several different nations is much more difficult to organize than collective action among dissidents in a single nation. Size works against collective action, and the largest possible dissident community is a global one. This perspective thus would predict that a worldwide movement, or one that attempts to secure the cooperation of movements in many different countries, runs up against incredibly difficult mobilization problems. International mobilizing efforts, the theory says, inevitably fade away.

(p. 484)

Rational dissidents involved in the GPMs must solve the biggest Rebel's Dilemma (Lichbach 1995) of them all: Citizens of the world unite! The activists are trying to solve the problems of collaborating with others around the globe who do not share their national culture or even language, in the face of resource costs and political risks. And what is particularly amazing about this GPM is not that it operates across countries (many INGOs do that), nor that it is a network of policy wonks who work on an issue area across countries (many transnational advocacy networks do that). What is amazing is that this GPM mobilizes citizens across different countries for protesting—a demanding form of INGO collective activism that is exceedingly rare. Yet, compared to protest against a state, the benefits are more diffuse, the chances of success more remote, and the role of the individual less significant. And compared to other global actors—states who can mobilize coercive power, firms who can mobilize economic power, and even INGOs who can regularly interact with intergovernmental organizations (IGOs)—an activist GPM is resource poor. GPMs are in fact less politically efficacious than national ones that are part of national deliberation over the government's policy in which the movement can influence citizens to join interest groups and political parties. Indeed, the growth of international institutions might actually work against the growth of local resistance because of weakened political opportunity structures.

Hence the puzzle of globalized local resistances—in spite of formidable collective action problems, resistance occurs at the same time and in the same ways in many different states. What accounts for simultaneous (albeit sometimes small in number and often uncoordinated) resistances? What enables so many similar challenges to the global order from “below” to turn up in so many countries at the same time?

Work on the Rebel's Dilemma, or the problem of free riding and non‐participation in protest and rebellion (Lichbach 1992; Moore 1995), was sparked by economists (Tullock 1971) and sociologists (Gamson 1990) who drew upon Olson's (1965) idea that the norms of instrumental rationality, especially in the market‐oriented structures of the modern world, promote self‐interest and therefore could work against the collective good. Hence, the fundamental assumption of the collective action research program (CARP) is that collective endeavors often involve public good and Prisoner's Dilemma elements. The famous deduction and prediction of collective action (CA) thinking is therefore the Five Percent Rule: less than 5 percent of the supporters of a cause become actively involved in the cause and non‐activists outnumber activists nineteen to one. CA, in other words, is the rare exception and not the general norm.

However, can we explain the 5 percent who do participate in CA? Solutions to the CA problem vary on a deliberative and an ontological dimension, as displayed in Table 20.2 (Lichbach 1995, 21). Prior discussions may or may not occur between the actors involved in a CA problem, and solutions to the CA problem may thus result in either unplanned or planned order. The entities involved in a CA problem may be individuals only or institutions; structures, and/or relationships may pre‐exist individuals and therefore help impose order; and thus solutions to the CA problem may thus result in either spontaneous or contingent order. Combining dimensions (p. 485) produces the classic distinctions of social thought: the market, community, contract, and hierarchy mechanisms.

Of these four sets of solutions, market mechanisms of social order and CA may be thought of as the baseline. The other three sets of solutions vary the context in which the baseline model is placed. Community mechanisms explore how common belief systems solve Olson's problem, contractual mechanisms study the ways in which mutual agreements produce CA, and hierarchy mechanisms examine how hierarchies structure CA. Mobilization by market implies that individuals are driven by a variety of individual‐level forces. Mobilization by hierarchy, in contrast, involves preexisting dissident organizations that explicitly mobilize their followers. Mobilization by contract and community involves more self‐organization by dissidents. Pure contract implies a self‐governing arrangement that produces protest. Pure community implies a multifunction self‐governing arrangement that has been mobilized into protest. These ideal types may be used to investigate how actual cases of protest are structured. Lichbach (1995) fits approximately two dozen sets of solutions to the CA problem into this typology of the organizational forms behind CA. CA theorists thus wager on a few driving causal mechanisms or CA models and investigate how instrumental rationality and self‐interest are embodied in these spheres of group action.

CARP theories suggest that protesters take advantage of perceived focal points, pre‐existing associational networks, selective incentives for particular groups, and strategic frames to mobilize masses. Increases in annual MEI meetings are expected to be accompanied by corresponding increases in MEI protest campaigns and mobilizations. Protests are expected in locations where MEI meetings are more common and MEIs are more accessible. Globalized protest participants are expected to take advantage of many focal points for action, engaging in several social movements and more actively engaging in various forms of active political participation than the general population. When networks are used in mobilization, protest coalitions are expected to consist of groups representing different interests, including material interests, social identities, global ideals, and students. Globalized protest participants are expected to be part of such networks and network associations. When selective incentives and a federal group structure are offered to mobilize preexisting organizations in their diverse communities, protest coalitions are more likely to become globalized and to tie together disparate social movements. Common frames are required to tie together a federal group structure of groups mobilized (p. 486) using selective incentives. Reframing particularized grievances in universal terms is also expected to yield rainbow protest coalitions successful in mobilizing globally.

Table 20.2 Solutions to the collective action problem


Unplanned order

Planned order


Spontaneous order



Contingent order



3.2.3 Planning and Contract

Activists seeking to mobilize large‐scale GPMs tend to organize conferences. The use of such conferences already occurred in “dozens of packed meetings” during the Battle of Seattle (Wolfwood 2001, 147). Later, the World Social Forum was organized so that civil society organizations from all around the world could meet and plan (Barlow and Clarke 2002, 203). As Brecher (2003, 204) states,

The World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, has emerged as a global assembly for globalization from below's discussion and networking. In 2002, the second WSF brought together 51,300 participants, including 15,230 delegates representing 4,909 organizations from 131 countries.

Activists thus use planning conferences as mobilizational mechanisms.

Further, academics suggest that international conferences of dissident organizations help coordinate organizers' activities. Several theories suggest which groups are likely to play instrumental roles in planning. World society, political behavior civil society, and SPOT mobilizing structures theories suggest that representatives of civil society are likely to constitute the key participants of international planning conferences. Economic and world systems theories suggest that representatives of material interests such as unions are likely important conference attendees. Pre‐modern values and US hegemony are likely to suggest that organizations working to preserve traditional values and organizations opposed to US hegemony are likely to supply key conference attendees. Postmodern values theories suggest that groups with progressive ideals that engage in multi‐issue organizing are likely to constitute instrumental conference attendees. The Neo‐liberal Institutional Trilemma suggests that globalized democracies are more likely to have large‐scale conferences of varied dissident organizations, whereas globalizing democracies are likely to involve smallscale meetings of narrowly defined and materially oriented dissident organizations.

3.2.4 Networks and Community

Activists rely on virtual networks to build transnational linkages (Brecher, Childs, and Cutler 1993, pp. xv–xvi). Even the labor movement has started engaging in “transnational electronic networking” (Brecher, Childs, and Cutler 1993, p. xvi). By interacting online, movements are transformed and become stronger. Independent Media Centers (IMC) are part of one such global network that has “sprung up in at least forty different countries worldwide, connected by the internet” (Brecher, Childs, and Cutler 1993, pp. xvi–xvii; Graeber 2003, 328). IMC have become very powerful mobilizers. As Graeber (2003, 328) states, “However, despite some remarkable triumphs (during Genoa, the IMC home page,, was getting more hits than CNN's), this is still but a faint challenge to those who control what gets put on television.” Activists thus recognize the mobilizational power of virtual networks. Academics also suggest that the organizers use the internet to lower the (p. 487) transaction costs of bringing together a diverse set of groups in global civil society. Various theories predict which groups are likely to be instrumental in mobilizational networks, as mentioned in our earlier discussion of planning conferences.

3.2.5 Selective Incentives and Hierarchy

Selective incentives are frequently offered by activists, as they try to mobilize local groups into transnational action by connecting local problems to global problems in protest grievances and targets. As Barlow and Clarke state, “Emphasis would be put on highlighting the links between local community issues and NAFTA, the FTAA, … the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank” (2002, 217). Activists use strategies like “framing issues in such a way that their salience to a potential ally is clear” (Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000, 93). One activist recommends,

Likewise, it's important to be aware of how the structural adjustment programs of the World Bank have parallels in our own country from cuts in education to lack of affordable health care and housing…. Seek allies among local education, labor, and environmental groups … (Heckscher 2002, 237)

Thus, activists use selective incentives as a mobilizational mechanism. Some activists are paid, some paid positions are opened to movement members, and patrons and sponsors of the movement subsidize some transportation costs and donate housing for the demonstrators. To create global public goods out of local public goods, activists need to reframe selective incentives. Protesters thus rely on long‐standing opposition to state‐led development coalitions. Similarly, protesters use a federal group structure that creates an umbrella for the groups. Finally, the dissidents pull together pre‐existing organizations in their diverse communities to mobilize followers via linkages among trade issues and thus offer selective incentives and local public goods to keep the various groups happy.

4 Micro‐level Mechanisms

GPMs may in the end be explained by micro‐level mechanisms which catalog the mobilization of individual protesters. While CARP offers a thin rationalist explanation of the protesters' actions, political behavior theories examine deeper motivations, perceptions, and expectations. Four sets of factors are typically involved.

4.1 Resource Accumulation and Access

Academics suggest that the resource accumulation mechanism helps explain protest participation in GPMs. Resources are often used to predict participation, replacing earlier explanations that focused on socioeconomic group memberships as (p. 488) participatory predictors (Verba et al. 1993, 453). Participation is often well predicted by individually based socioeconomic resources like education, income, time, and political interest (Leighley and Nagler 1992, 734; Verba et al. 1993, 493). Other predictors that have been used to operationalize resources include money, command of English, and civic skills (Verba et al. 1993, 492). Various types of participation differ in terms of time and monetary commitments, and thus the impact of resources differs depending on participation type (Brady, Verba, and Schlozman 1995, 285). According to the resource accumulation mechanism, socioeconomic resources are expected to predict protest participation, with protest more likely to occur in locations that have higher resources and protesters more likely to have high levels of resources.

Activists suggest a similar resource access mobilizational mechanism. Money, time, and internet access are recognized as resources that facilitate dissent. In fact, Martinez (2000, 76) suggests that minorities' lesser access to resources dampens their participation in much global justice mobilizing. Accordingly, she reports that activists attribute the absence of people of color to minorities' lesser internet access and “the likelihood of brutal police repression,” “lack of funds for the trip, inability to be absent from work during the week, and problems in finding child care” (Martinez 2000, 76).

4.2 Associational Recruitment and Involvement

The associational recruitment mechanism is offered by other scholars to explain protest participation in GPMs. Such scholars focus on a broadened definition of resources, emphasizing institutionally based resources obtained through associational activity or mobilization (Leighley 1995, 197; Verba et al. 1993, 492). Putnam, for instance, argues that a decline in civil society involvement may be related to participatory declines in politics (2000, 342). These involvements are alleged to have participatory benefits, teaching civic skills and the value of participation in public life as well as helping to forge relationships (Putnam 2000, 19, 339; Verba et al. 1993, 492). The participatory benefit of these skills, values, and relationships seem to vary across participation types (Brady, Verba, and Schlozman 1995, 285). In some studies, the participatory impact of civic engagement rivals that of economic predictors (Ayala 2000, 99). According to this associational recruitment mechanism, protest is likely to occur in locations with high associational activity and protesters are likely to be active associational members.

An associational involvement mobilizational mechanism is also posited by activists. As we have argued when discussing world society, virtual networks, and conference planning, local organizations are very important mobilizers. Knoche states, “Local organizations in communities, workplaces, and schools are the building blocks of any radical transformation of our society” (2004, 289). Carlsson points out that groups must strategically institutionalize themselves if they wish to engage in sustained action (2004, 236). There are many ways in which associational involvement (p. 489) can mobilize participants, as they interact with other group members, change their values, learn about new issues, and gain access to better information and resources that facilitate dissent (Milstein 2004, 280–1).

4.3 Psychological Involvement and Social Transformation

Third, some political behavior scholars emphasize the participatory impact of prior political activity, and its potential for psychological transformation and attitudinal change. In some research, politically relevant attitudes better predict participation than economic factors (Katosh and Traugott 1982, 374–5; Oliver 1999, 204). Political participation predicts certain types of protest and may thus help to explain participation in GPMs (Bean 1991, 272).

A social transformation mobilizational mechanism is also suggested by activists. Crass exemplifies this mechanism with a description of Baker's model of organizing in the early twentieth century, stating,

She believed that a movement fighting for social transformation must also be transforming the individuals involved. She believed that people grew and developed through collective work to challenge oppression. She wasn't just talking about the ways that people see the world, but also the place they see themselves in the world; from being acted upon by forces of oppression to acting in the world for social justice. This shift involves learning politics and skills, but also a sense of self and being prepared to act. (2004, 443)

Thus, political knowledge and skills develop with movement interaction, and likely predict later participation in the movement. Similarly, Crass explains that one objective of protest is psychological growth and empowerment: “For Baker, direct action was about achieving immediate goals, but it was also deeply connected to developing a sense of power in the people involved” (2004, 432). Milstein also suggests that as activists are exposed to each other, a movement will grow, new alliances will develop, and identities will morph (2004, 281). She suggests that affinity groups “come together as friends or because of a common identity, or a combination of the two,” in which “our unity needs to take precedence over our diversity” (2004, 280). Hence, activists come together because of a shared identity and bonds, and these identities and bonds grow with greater exposure.

4.4 Issue Intensity, Discontent, and Issue Consensus

The issue intensity and discontent mechanism consists of a fourth grouping of factors some academics use to predict participation in GPMs. Much controversy surrounds the impact of these issues. In predictions of conventional participation, issue standpoints seem to play a small role (Bean 1991, 253; Carmines and Layman 1997, 304–5, 308; Goren 1997, 406). In contrast, unconventional participation and political violence seem to be predicted by issue intensity and discontent (Bean 1991, 270, 271; Conover, Gray, and Coombs 1982, 328; Gurr 1968, 250). In particular, (p. 490) Conover, Gray, and Coombs found that oppositional issue standpoints seemed to predict participation more than supportive issue standpoints (1982, 328). Thus, the issue intensity and discontent mechanism would suggest that protest would be expected in places where people are discontented with government policies, and protesters are expected to be opposed to governmental policies.

Activists suggest an issue consensus framing mechanism. Groups come together because they care about or share discontent over some overlapping issues (Milstein 2004, 280). They share some common values, favoring collective responsibility over corporatization; local economics over the global economy; diversity over monoculture; real democracy over proxy decision making; global justice over corporate rule; community over empire; and systemic change over the System (Reinsborough 2004, 179). Besides sharing these values, there are specific issues on which groups of protesters share standpoints: opposition to neo‐liberal globalization as proposed by various MEIs and opposition to US military intervention in Afghanistan and/or Iraq (Solnit 2004, pp. xxii–xxiii; Bello 2004, 22; Klein 2004, 249).

Political behavior theories thus suggest that GPMs are mobilized via the resource accumulation, associational recruitment, psychological involvement, and issue intensity and discontent mechanisms. Protesters are expected to be active members of civil society. Participatory benefits are expected for active associational participants. Accordingly, protesters also are expected to be ardent in their engagement in various forms of active political participation. Globalized protest participants are expected to be more actively engaged in several forms of active participation than the general population. Protesters are also expected to share certain values and to be more discontented with the state and its policies than the general population.

5 Conclusion

Our macro perspective drew on international relations theories and studied GPMs as transnational actors with transnational causes—global culture, society, market, and politics. Our meso perspective drew on contentious politics theories and explored meso‐level processes of mobilization into protest. According to Synthetic Political Opportunity Theory or SPOT (McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001) these mechanisms and processes involve the structuring power of institutions (called political opportunities), the organizing power of society (called mobilizing structures), and the actor formation power of the environment (called cultural framing). More concretely, transnational contention involves mechanisms in which actors frame issues globally, externalize claims, internalize contention from abroad in their societies, shift the scale of conflict from domestic to international, form transnational coalitions, adopt insider—outsider coalitions, send boomerangs abroad for help, and adopt defensive transnationalism. We also drew on the meso‐level processes of (p. 491) market, community, contract, and hierarchy of the Collective Action Research Program or CARP (Lichbach). Our micro perspective drew on theories of political behavior and examined the components of protesters' decision calculi—individual resources, recruitment or institutional resources, psychological engagement, and issue intensity. We argued, in sum, that macro global institutions drive meso mobilizing processes that micro recruit individuals into GPMs.

Academic theories and activist thought allowed us to compare and contrast the mechanisms behind GPMs. We suggest that future research center on exploring the relationships between movements' differential mobilizational success and differences in their strategic use of mobilizational mechanisms. We argue that forms of contention are differentiated by their reliance on these multi‐level mechanisms. In the remainder of the conclusion, we show how future research might proceed. We compare the anti‐globalization and anti‐war GPMs, speculating on how inter‐movement differences in mobilization may be attributed to moderate versus radicalized usage of mobilizational mechanisms. Macro‐level targets, meso‐level organizing, and micro‐level political behavior are all important and interrelated pieces of the puzzle in accounting for contentious politics, we argue, and the judicious application of selected parts of our framework can be useful in explaining different concrete phenomena.

The less mobilized anti‐globalization movement seems to be characterized by more radical variants of mobilizational mechanisms which are less appealing to masses cross‐nationally. For global justice activists, economic justice is at the crux of their concerns, as the global market and the entire structure of the world system are targeted. Some segments in the anti‐globalization movement focus on protecting traditional values and communities against Westernization. The anti‐globalization movement is opposed to authority; has a more cosmopolitan world‐view (with international concerns, targets, and grievances); is characterized by heterogeneous coalitions with multiple and fluid individual identities; and seems to take a more relativist approach, permitting their identity a lot of leeway to evolve in response to contextual change. Ideals are framed in a postmodern fashion, focusing on the interconnectedness of many disparate ideals. Non‐state actors who are radical and decentralized and recruitment styles that are anarchic seem to characterize the anti‐globalization movement. Further, anti‐globalization activists seem to use many targets at both the international and domestic level; focus their US‐centered opposition on US empire seeking; are opposed to the capitalist system that the US economy plays such an important role in supporting; and focus on the democratic threat posed by international institutions and the global market. As to meso‐level mechanism usage by the anti‐globalization movement, focal points are abstract and less domestically grounded; fringe organizations are more active; frames appeal to more radicalized ideals, involve extremist tactics, and are not so domestically grounded; smaller, issue‐specific or regionalized conferences and smaller, more fragmented networks are involved; and abstract selective incentives that are not domestically grounded are offered to potential recruits. Finally, in terms of micro‐level mechanisms, the anti‐globalization movement seems to have more participants who are (p. 492) younger, not working full time, still in school, and with a lot of free time; unstructured recruiting seems to be used to target fringe associations; the movement comes from a long‐standing protest participation tradition and many consider lobbying or institutional participation as “selling out;” and absolutist hard‐core positions on issues of war and globalization are taken by many.

In contrast, the more mobilized anti‐war movement seems to be characterized by more mainstream variants of mobilizational mechanisms which are more appealing to large numbers of people in different contexts. Economic concerns are less central for the bulk of the anti‐war movement, as they take a measured approach, acknowledging the benefits of the current global market structures, but try to connect disparate policies they oppose to economic policies. Protecting traditional values seems less of a concern for the anti‐war movement, and they rather seem to embrace progressivism. The anti‐war movement is more respectful of authority and seems more likely to conditionally oppose it; has strong national roots; is characterized by homogeneous coalitions with fewer and more stable individual identities; and seems to take a less relativist approach, pretty unresponsive to contextual changes. The antiwar movement uses more modern framing, focusing on single issues, and does not try to tie together so many disparate issues. Civil society groups that are reformist and more centralized seem more likely to get involved, and block recruitment seem to characterize the anti‐war movement. Additionally, anti‐war activists focus on largely domestic targets; focus their US‐centered opposition on particular US policies and not so much on US hegemony; and focus more on the democratic threat posed by domestic policies than on the global democratic deficit. As to meso‐level mechanism usage by the anti‐war movement, focal points are more concrete and domestically oriented; mainstream organizations are the focus; frames are domestically grounded, oriented toward liberalism, and involve conventional tactics; larger, more globalized conferences and larger, more centralized networks are involved; and selective incentives that are more concrete and domestically anchored are offered to potential recruits. To conclude, as to the anti‐war movement's usage of micro‐level mechanisms, more participants who work full‐time, are wealthier, are educated, and have less free time seem to be involved; structured recruiting of conventional associations seems to be used; the movement seems to originate in a more conventional participation tradition, levying institutional tactics as well as protest tactics; and more nuanced positions on issues of war and globalization, taking different conditions into account, seem to be taken.

We thus suggest that macro, meso, and micro mechanisms are used in a more radical fashion by the less mobilized GPM against globalization, and in a more moderate fashion by the more mobilized GPM against war. Multi‐level mechanisms can also be useful in understanding other forms of contention, and other successes and failures in mobilizing collective action. Hence, we suggest a research agenda that involves applying these different mechanisms to compare and contrast the successes and failures of other movements in contentious politics. In this endeavor, academic and activist thought should be consulted.


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