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Bendell, J.; Ellersiek, A.; Vermeulen, P.A.M.1
Introduction In the late Noughties2, as online social networks like Myspace and Facebook grew from nothing to billion dollar enterprises in just a few years, enthusiasm for the potential of the internet in transforming culture, economics, and politics grew once again. Aside from these celebrated examples, networks could be found in many other areas of life (Goessling, 2007). In examining how British-based Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) advocate for changes in corporate and governmental policies affecting global inequality, it was apparent that they were teaming up in groupings variously called coalitions, alliances, movements and, sometimes, networks. The concept of a 'network' appears broad enough to encompass these diverse collections of NGOs. More importantly, it is a concept that has an established literature analysing how 'networks' function and what the benefits for participants are. Therefore if NGOs are increasingly engaged in networks to influence public policy it may be useful to understand how this is occurs and what are the potential benefits.
The four networks of NGOs chosen for this study are the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition, the Trade Justice Movement (TJM), Publish What you Pay (PWYP) and the informal network of NGOs campaigning on Sakhalin Island oil operations. Each of these networks had a strong, sometimes exclusive, British NGO participation, and focused on
We thank the invaluable and detailed research assistance from Lifeworth Associate Claire Veuthey, who helped with the survey, interviews and transcripts. 2 In the absence of an agreed name for the decade, this is one option. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1999/02/99/e-cyclopedia/585224.stm
different aspects of inequality between 'North' and 'South' (the general terms we use to describe the high income and low income countries, respectively). CORE focuses on corporate accountability, TJM focuses on a mixture of trade and corporate accountability, PWYP on corporate complicity in corruption and poor governance, and the Sakhalin Island campaign on the rights of local communities as well as wider environmental concerns (an aspect of inequality given the greater impact of environmental degradation on the poor).
As these NGOs are ostensibly engaged in social change, one way of developing insight into their activities is to draw upon analysis of social movements throughout history. In addition, the turn of the millennium witnessed the emergence of a discourse of activism that challenges global inequalities as resulting from economic globalisation, and networks have been identified as essential to the functioning of this activism (Diani, 2001). As the NGOs we examine are working on global inequalities, the social movements literature and its analysis of new global movements is a relevant conceptual context.
The term 'social network' describes a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more types of interdependency or interest, such as values or visions, or finance and friendship (Carrington, Scott & Wasserman, 2005). Diani (1999) defines networks in the study of social movements and activism as “relationships which connect informally - i.e., without procedural norms or formal organisational bindings – a multiplicity of individuals and organisations, who share a distinctive collective identity, and interact around conflictual issues” (Diani, 1999:2). For this chapter, a 'civic network' is understood as a social structure of organisations or individuals apparently working toward the common good, and connected by interdependencies or interests such as campaign aims, finance, visions and values, whether recognised and formalised by participants or not. 'Working towards the common good' is understood as
efforts supporting the universal pursuit of individual preferences, and typically involves people and organisations that seek public goals over private profits or governmental power. This is derived from a normative construction of “civil society” as describing a space of progressive action, and an assumption that many not-for-profit organisations working on public issues such as the environment, poverty and human rights are constituent nodes within this space (Bendell, 2006).
For this chapter we synthesised insights on the promise of networks from organisational theory and from social movement theory, before reflecting on which of these resonated with the experience of the participants in the four networks we studied, in order to identify key promises for civic networks in particular. The quotes from practitioners are selected from the 23 interviews undertaken with participants in the civic networks during June and July 2007. A full presentation of the cases and findings on the role of networks in social movements and influencing policy processes follows in subsequent chapters in this volume, with our aim here to map out and reflect upon the main promises of networks in social movements that can be identified from current literature.
Non-Governmental Organisations as Nodes in CounterGlobalisation Networks.
The emergence of voluntary associations, especially not-for-profit and transnational NonGovernmental Organisations (NGOs), and their apparent increasing influence in policy processes is a phenomenon that has been discussed for at least two decades now in political theory (Edwards, 2003; Wapner, 1996). Besides their numeric proliferation, these actors have gained access to national and international decision making processes and have established their own fora at global conferences. Operating at the local, the national and the international
level, these groups frequently establish coalitions in order to increase and facilitate cooperation and coordination among them (Willetts, 1981). It is often argued they have been most effective when working together to influence policy processes (Smith, 1997, 2005). In coalitions, such as the Third World Network, the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA), the Philippine Economic Policy Reform Advocacy (EPRA) project, or Jubilee South, they address a very broad range of policy issues, in a transnational or in a national policy contexts, such as in the cases of the International NGO Forum on Indonesia Development (INFID) and the Philippine-based Freedom from Debt Coalition. Most prominent, such coalitions showed their impact on transnational economic and environmental policy making (Nelson, 1997), observable was this, i.e. in the negotiations towards the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, the Uruguay round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, and the processes towards the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which are put on hold (Bendell, 2004). Beyond the prominent role of (transnational) NGOs in these coalitions, their impact has also been ascribed to the numerous other sources of activism that they were able to mobilize through parallel grass-root campaigns. Numerous activists shared their concerns or put forward their own claims to be channelled through these coalitions and herewith strengthened their negotiation power. Interpreted were these collective actions by many, as a response to neo-liberal globalization (see for instance Ashman, 2004, Rupert, 2000). As an explanation it is often argued that the neo-liberal paradigm dominates policy processes (Ashman, 2004, Starr, 2000). Activists’ claims for labour and human rights, economic and environmental justice, hence, are seen as only insufficiently or not at all considered (see for instance Della Porta & Mosca, (2007) on the Italian global justice movement or Rosenblatt, (2004) on the global environmental movement). Various groups of activists thus seem to recognize their own concerns in the critiques put forward by large coalitions and join them or build their own coalitions. Hence, coalitions often overlap and are composed of all kinds of activist groups,
among them are nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), human rights groups, community organisations, churches, environmentalists, pro-democracy campaigners, communists, peace groups, anarchists, farmers, indigenous people’s groups, etc.3 (see for instance Scholte, 2007). This activism is variously grouped as the 'global justice movement' (Della Porta, 2005), ‘the alter-globalization-movement’ (Munck, 2002), or the counter-globalisation movement (Bendell, 2004), not opposed to globalisation per-se, but unified in their goal to represent a counterweight to economic or ‘corporate globalisation’ (Desai & Said, 2001:51). Researchers from various disciplines pay attention to these expressions of collective civic engagement and analyse activism in social movements and global activist networks (Della Porta & Diani, 1999; Della Porta, Kriesi, & Rucht, 1999; Cohen & Rai, 2000; Scholte, 2001; Diani & McAdam, 2003). Scholars herewith alter ‘earlier agendas for social change and political engagement’ (Cohen & Rai, 2000:1), building upon and often combining grievancebased explanations for activism, such as the Marxist’s concept of class-struggle with cultural conflict or issue-based concepts of activism (Buechler, 1999; Kendall, 2005). Analytically however, research in this field focuses more on the structural determinants for activism (Della Porta & Diani, 2006) than on the underlying identity-related grievances and motives of activism4. Contemporary activism in this respect is frequently labelled as constituting a ‘movement of many movements’ (Klein, 2001). The complex reality of the manifold forms of activism summarised under this umbrella term are often described as networks, trying to capture the phenomenon of a ‘new universalism embedded in the notion of a global social movement’ (Munck, 2002). Networks, in this respect, are not merely seen as a vague metaphorical concept. In fact, networks are discussed as actual entities that are made up of
Notably, although these groups and their claims are mostly described in red-colours, one should not forget that their campaigns often result in mass-mobilization. Anti global capitalism critique can then also be used for the claims of nationalistic right-wing activists, as it recently became obvious during the campaigns around the G8 summit in Germany. 4 Identity-related approaches, however, re-gained attention (see for instance Della Porta’s recent study (2006) on social centrality, collective identity, social cleavages and class conflict of activists who took part in the European Social Forum (ESF) in Florence, Italy, in November 2002.
very real interconnections between people and organizations that cannot be reduced to the sum of their individual parts (Fuchs, 2005; Rosenblatt, 2004). Current studies illustrate how networks affect single actors and their contributions to collective action, how network patterns affect the circulation of resources both within groups and organizations and the political system; how networks impact on the relations between movements and elites, how they reflect upon the general configuration of collaborative versus conflictive relations between actors in the political system, and episodes of contention in policy processes and protest cycles (Diani & McAdam, 2003). The promises associated with the network concept are numerous (Guigni, 1998): Networks are seen to strengthen the linkages between diverse activists thus providing the necessary information and resource flows for powerful concerted action; when groups form a network they may expect new attention for their claims and enlarge their support base increasing the “power in numbers” (DeNardo, 1985); networks also allow for a variety of new tactics and influence strategies that are hardly possible to apply for one group alone, for instance when movements apply orthodox and un-orthodox or radical tactics at the same time; networks are expected to effectively combine these diverse resources, information, interests, tactics and different ‘activist traditions’ and creates new opportunities for activism. Therfore, as a 'network of networks', the counter-globalisation movement was argued to have “managed to transform completely the sense of historical possibilities for millions across the planet” in a matter of only a few years (Ashman, 2004: 128). However, in addition to providing new opportunities and potential solutions to activists, the use of networks also raises various issues. The most important of these for activists is how effective networks will be at increasing their impact on policy processes. Participants often considerably differ in their world-views and the claims they make, the people they represent, their ways of operating, and their relations to opponents. Effective collaboration may require more than a broadly shared critique on neo-liberal politics. In this chapter we examine the
potentials and possible pitfalls of network-based activism. We do this by drawing on current research on networks, social movements, and activism in networks, in order to develop insights that can be helpful for activist groups. We focus on three aspects of activism in networks that are traditionally applied in research on social movements: the organisational aspect of activism in networks from a resource-mobilization perspective, the role of networks in identity formation, and the relationship of networks to political opportunities. We draw upon a more inter-organisational ‘elite’ perspective on activism and re-structuring processes in movements through networks (Rosenblatt, 2004) than the emergence of activism from the grassroots. Suh (2005) argues that many scholars' disregard of established activist networks is a result of their definition of movements and activism,rather than the lesser importance of such established groups. Often scholars require an outsider status of the ‘movement actors’, defined by their exclusion from the political institutions and institutionalized political representation system (McAdam, 1982; McCarthy and Zald, 1977; Tarrow, 1989; Tilly, 1984), such as McAdam and Snow (1997), in their definition of movements “as a collectivity acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional channels for the purpose of promoting or resisting change in the group, society, or world order of which it is a part” (McAdam & Snow, 1997:Xviii). The subject of, say, elite networks that act mainly ‘inside’ of those structures or combine outside and inside structural positions of actors, by contrast, has rarely been dealt with by the scholars of social movements (Suh, 2005). Suh (2005) argues that with respect to current activism, such as the counterglobalization movement, we have many studies on the mobilization of political protest, but only few on the role ‘elite’ and inter-organizational networks play. Our focus on NGOs working through networks on issues directly related to the counter-globalisation movement will hopefully respond to this gap in analysis on social change.
II Contextualising Current Activism on Global Inequality
Activism, in a general sense, can be described as intentional action to bring about social or political change. Sidney Tarrow (1994) distinguishes collective activism in so-called movements, from political parties and interest groups, as “collective challenges [to elites, authorities, other groups or cultural codes] by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities” (Tarrow, 1994:2-3). Historically, scholars distinguish between three main moments of collective activism. After the workingclass movements in industrial societies, one observed the rise of the so-called new social movements, and as some argue, nowadays these movements are followed by a third generation of collective activism, the anti- or counter-globalization movement. Scholars compare and analyse these generations of movements from different theoretical angles, finding similarities and differences in the identity of the actors, the culture of the movement, the relations to its opponents, the subjectivity or objectivity of activists claims, motives and grievances, the ways of organising activism, the political environments, the scope of their operations and the framework for their actions (regional, national, global or otherwise).
The first set of movements analysed by scholars occured at the beginning of the 19th century (Tilly, 1984), These usually centred around materialistic claims, such as improving wages and the standard of living for the working class. The conceptualisation of ‘old’ in comparison to ‘new’ social movements, in theory, almost always refers to polarizing differences between the activists’ disadvantaged (socio-economic) position via ‘the others’, defined as either concrete opponents in or as the system itself. (Crossley, 2003). Since World War II a new generation of movements kept scholars busy in explaining activism. These new movements, although not separate from class-struggle, are characterised as taking a more abstract level of grievance with social conditions (Goodwin, 2001:14). European intellectuals5 focused on symbolic
in particular proponents of the Frankfurt School (see for instance Friedman, 1981)
productions and cultural conflicts as the medium of these movements. They suggested that social stress fosters anxieties over meaning and belonging that become decisive for political mobilization. Habermas (1987:392) argued these movements emerge from “domains of cultural reproduction, social integration, and socialization” rather than from an “institutionalised conflict over distribution“. New social movements in this sense, are often described as expressive, contrary to instrumental movements which are not clearly impelled by pragmatic (economic) rationality and centred around issues of minorities rather than specified by the dichotomy of classes, classic examples are often given by the environmental or the women’s rights movement (Kitschelt, 1993:14) others are younger cultural movements, such as the Vegan movement (Cherry, 2006). Key characteristics of this form of activism are seen as a strong post-industrial orientation, middle-class activist core, loose organizational form, use of symbolic direct actions, and the creation of new identities (Goodwin, Jasper & Polletta, 2001). The underlying theory is often called ‘European new social movement (NSM) theory’ and its claims are criticized by many scholars as ethnocentric, exaggerated and ahistorical, derived from concepts of the welfare state and deeply rooted in core democracies (Crossley, 2003). Together with the theory’s “self-limiting radicalism” (Papadakis, 1988), these critiques give this generation of activism a strong reactionary notion. Nevertheless, the (ongoing) debate about this generation of movements, led to a change in the perception of collective activism.
So-called anti- or counter-globalisation movements6 are now described as a third generation of collective activism. These movements are theoretically described as integrating concepts of old and new social movements against a background of increased (economic) globalisation and the parallel rise of new technologies, increasingly interconnecting diverse actors.
In the following discussion we will use the plural form “movements” in order to capture the multiple forms that constitute the phenomenon of contemporary activism, although together they are frequently referred to as one movement.
Some scholars argue that it shows a progressive resistance seeking ‘a rational reconstruction of society’ and proclaim that it does not defend traditional relations of economic-political fine-tuning but address fundamental change (Crossley, 2003). As Ashman (2004:151) declares, “activism re-gained vitality” through these new movements as it “rejects the inevitability of neo-liberalism, it rejects passivity and it affirms the necessity of resistance”, fundamentally questioning rationality and requiring ‘system accountability’ (Crossley, 2003:287). It is therefore described as bringing back old ‘rationales’ for activism in terms of redistributive justice, but now to a global level. Addressing global inequalities is a key issue for this generation of activism. Changes in and the establishment of rules and policies on a transnational and national level are thus a major target for counter-globalisation networks (Marchetti & Pianta, 2007; Giugni, Bandler & Eggert, 2006). The promise of these networks in addressing the North-South gap between activists themselves has been formulated in the sense that they offer space to actors who are usually voiceless and excluded (Woodins,2005). Networks in this respect are seen as ‘bridges’ or ‘boomerangs’, which multiply the channels of access to political national and transnational systems by Southern actors (Marchetti & Pianta, 2007). The ‘boomerang version’ of this promise argues that activism in networks results in an empowered political situation in which powerless actors ‘return’ to their original local places strengthened (Tarrow, 2001; Thomas, 2002). However, others suggest there is a significant global inequality within the latest wave of social movement itself. Bendana (2006) argues that although they may belong to the same ‘umbrella movement’, some Northern activists “contest policy”, while many Southern activists “contest power”, and the Northern groups' agendas dominate (Bendana, 2007:8). .Although one can ask whether single campaigns in which radical and reformist, Southern and Northern7, groups speak for themselves might be more effective given the different
Notably, a dichotomy between Southern activism as motivated by socio-economic and Northern by sociocultural grievances is over-simplifying. Several scholars adopted NSMT to explain Southern activism (especially for Latin America, Peet & Watts, 1996) and the other way round several studies used socio-economic rationales as explaining Northern activism.
perspectives on certain issues, it is widely argued that much of what is new about contemporary activism derives from its potential to align these interests (Crossley, 2003). The effectiveness of civic networks in aligning rather than marginalising interests, and thus reducing inequalities rather than replicating them, is therefore a key concern.
Existing Insights on Networks in Social Movements
’Globalisation’ (global market integration) as well as ‘internationalisation’ (global integration of political institutions) (Daly, 2002) are “shifting the loci of power” (Gorgura, 2003:3) and influencing the way activists organise to pursue their interests (Smith, 2005). Contrary to the strict notion of grass-root activism as “spontaneous, unorganized, and unstructured phenomena” (Morris, 2000:445), scholars of the resource mobilization school (see for instance McCarthy & Zald, 1973, 1977), classify the organisational infrastructure of collective activism along a continuum according to its level of organisation, from movements, defined as being merely ‘preference structures’ anchored in populations, to social movement organisations (such as large non-governmental organisations with their place in policy processes; Smith, 2005) and even industries or sectors (McCarthy & Zald, 1977). Contemporary activism, as summarised under the umbrella term ‘counter-globalization movement’ (Bendell, 2004), assumes many forms of more or less organised collective action and scholars eagerly suggest criteria to identify its newness especially in its transnational dimension (see for instance Marchetti & Pianta, 2007). The main organisational characteristic is seen as its organisation in networks (or as a ‘network of networks’, Della Porta & Diani, 2006) and its use of new media and technologies, such as mobile phones, the internet and others8 (see for instance Le Grignou & Patou, 2004; Bennett, 2003).
Kavada (2003) argues the current notion of networks often serves as the ‘theoretical glue’ to tie activism in counter-globalization movements and the internet into the same theoretical argument, so that some scholars call contemporary activism in networks ‘internet-based movements’ or ‘electronic networks’ (Castells, 2001).
However, the use of new technologies is only one aspect of activism in networks. Terms like ‘network thinking’, ‘the network metaphor’ or ‘network perspective’ (Emirbayer & Goodwin 1994: 1414) describe a possible paradigm shift in academia, ranging from organizational theorists, over discussions about ‘network governance’ in political studies and public administration to foreign affairs and international relations. Influenced in particular by the analysis of social networks, current studies use network concepts and tools to define, map, and understand contemporary activism (Breiger, 2004). However, one has to consider that “[N]etwork analysis is not a formal or unitary ‘theory’ that specifies distinctive laws, propositions or correlations, but rather a broad strategy for investigating social structure” (Emirbayer & Goodwin 1994: 1414). Nevertheless, the different approaches share some basic theoretical assumptions. Core to a network perspective on social phenomena is the ‘anticategorical imperative’ that “[…] rejects all attempts to explain human behaviour or social processes solely in terms of the categorical attributes of actors, whether individual or collective” (ibid). All attributes of an organisation or an individual actor are relational, nothing is static or taken-for-granted. For instance power in networks is not measured through the direct attributes of its nodes, such as being an authority or the resource-richest actor. Network analysis measures the actual position in the structure through interaction and resource ‘flows’ that characterise a network. Borgatti and Foster (2003) distinguish between four approaches of current network analysis along two dimensions. While the first dimension focuses on the efficiency or homogeneity of networks, the second dimension analytically focuses on explanatory mechanisms, in either a structural or relational manner. The structural approach focuses on the structure and configuration of linkages between actors and organisations, so-called ‘ties’ and ‘nodes’, that are differently defined by scholars, e.g. ‘ties’ as the affiliation to certain groups, or participation in events, and ‘nodes’ as individuals, organisations, groups, regions, states, etc. or as in some recent applications of network analytical approaches toward activism, as
elements of speech (Diani, 2000:7). The relational approach focuses on the quality or content of ties, their ‘strength’, as single or multiple, indirect or direct linkages between actors, and what is transported by ties, e.g. whether they indicate conflictive or collaborative linkages, what kind of resources flow through a network and recently also how this flow changes the meaning of these resources and the network itself (ibid:8). For research on movements, a network perspective offers the development of “a distinctive theoretical argument” for activism contrary to other forms of collective action (Diani, 2000:5), especially as a social network can be seen as a “network of meaning” (White, 1992). In its application to current research on activism, however, the network perspective shows a ‘structural bias’, meaning that the focus is on structural issues of network configurations rather than on, for instance, the relationship between changes in the meaning of resources when they pass different ‘nodes’ (Borgatti & Foster, 2003). These aspects of a structural bias prevail in even in 'softer versions' of the structural perspective on networks in social movement research, for instance, when using political process models (Diani & McAdam, 2003). Although scholars pay more attention to the issue of consensus formation than ‘hardcore’ structuralism (Suh, 2005) they still sustain the dominance of structural accounts over cultural and social dynamics in networks. Hence, they lack a deeper understanding of concepts that explain the relational aspect of networks and the quality of ties (Oerlemans, Gössling, Jansen, 2007). One aspect that increasingly gains attention due to the transnational nature of contemporary activist networks are different traditions of activism. Different activist traditions developed “historically and in parallel to emergent public spheres located in specific physical and cultural spaces” (Diani, 2003:481). Often they are defined as societies but also occur in terms like ‘Western’, ‘the North’ and ‘the South’, and can be defined by national boundaries, specific political structures, common cultural traits and values, etc. (Tilly, 1978; Calhoun, 1992; Emirbayer & Sheller, 1999). The boundaries of networks are thus often defined based
on nominalist criteria variously determined by scholars with different research interests in networks and different analytical foci. This leads often to critique, formulated similar to Bourdieu and Waquant’s (1992) remark that social dynamics, such as power, reach as far as their effects and are not restricted to state, industries, or funding structures. Some scholars thus see the network perspective on activism undergoing its own scale shift (Diani & McAdam, 2003) forcing scholars to put more and more emphasises on ‘virtual ties’, and global activism. This is challenging researchers to question their own boundaries in recognising how networks themselves shape “schematas, logics, and frames” that influence processes of connection and boundary definition. Clearly, therefore, the ‘flow’ of resources, meaning, and culture through, and modification with, networks are key to understanding activism. Although this plethora of research on activism and networks and the strong link between social movement and network research (Diani, 2001) provides us with valuable insights, still a lot of those inquiries mainly focus on the phenomenon of the emergence of collective activism (McAdam & Zald, 2005) and less on questions of movement change and maintenance. Deriving practical implications for activists in networks, beyond the issue of mobilization, is less often the concern of this research. Hence, it is not surprising that so far “little of the work done made its way out of universities” (Dobson, 2001:2). However, a lot of social movement scholars from different schools (see McCarthy & Zald, 1973, 1977; Jenkins & Perrow, 1977; Gamson & Fireman, 1979; Morris, 1984, Kilian, 1984) argue that the success of activism depends on activists' strategic choices. On the one hand in best mobilizing their limited resources but also in strategically interpreting structural conditions, such as specific policy contexts, in order to put forward their claims (McCarthy & Zald, 1977) and strengthening “the cultural underpinning of their actions” (White, 1992:128). Networks are seen as improving the conditions under which activists make these decisions, conduct their operations and develop common understandings and identities. Only a few
authors, however, took upon the activist’s perspective on networks and translated these findings into concrete guidelines (see for instance ‘Social Movements: A summary of what works’, by Dobson, 2001; or “Doing democracy”, by Moyer, McAllister, Finley & Soifer, 2001). Some of the promises of networks frequently mentioned in this literature are: increased access to information, expertise, and financial resources; higher efficiency through multiplier effects, which increase the reach and impact available to member organizations, solidarity and support; increased visibility of issues and underrepresented groups; risk mitigation; reduced isolation, and increased credibility. There are, however, also significant risks to network membership as well which we will discuss at the end of this chapter. Groups that are contemplating participation in a network should therefore assess whether or not network participation will meet their particular needs. To help with that challenge, a synthesis of the promises and pitfalls of networks that are mentioned in literature on inter-organisation relations (IORs) and social movements is needed.
The Promise of Networks in Relation to Different Dimensions of Social Movements
In the following sections we analyse what literature on organisations and social movements suggest or imply are the benefits of networks for their participants. Three classic concepts of social movement research inform our discussion: Mobilizing structures (‘internal’ capabilities of movements through which activists seek to organise), identity and framing, and political opportunities (‘external’ factors which determine the structure of and build the target for activism)... However, unlike the mainstream of these research traditions, we do not focus on the emergence of activism but on networks that have emerged from established groupings in civil society, the civic networks, in the context of the wider influences of counterglobalization.
Mobilization Structures and Networks
One area of focus for social movement scholars is how activists organise, with the term . 'mobilization structures' used to describe all “those collective vehicles, informal as well as formal, through which people mobilize and engage in collective action” (McAdam, MCarthy & Zald, 2005:3). Two general arguments for networks from this perspective are mentioned in the literature (see Arquilla & Ronfeldt 2001): Firstly, networks facilitate exchange, what makes them advantageous compared to hierarchical, competitive, and conflictive forms of organising (Gray, 1989). Whether accurate or not, implicit in many peoples' understandings of a network is that they provide everyone with an equal opportunity to share and receive information, and where such sharing is regarded as a positive practice. Therefore the very concept of a network is argued to enable exchange (Borgatti & Foster, 2005). Secondly, through, this increase in flow and linkages between actors, networks are seen as changing the resource dimension relevant for political change (Fuchs, 2005). Drawing on Arquilla and Ronfeldt’s (2001) observation that in political processes today, “[m]ore than ever before, conflicts revolve around ‘knowledge’ and the use of ‘soft power’” (ibid), Gorgura (2003) proposes that networks channel these resources but also generate new forms and variations. Together these arguments give reason to assume that networks build ‘new grounds’ for resource mobilization (Diani, 2000). This impact of networks concerns not only relations with external actors, such as governmental bodies, but also internally, between network members. We will first elaborate on the internal aspect.
Network Coordination and Governance Civic groups have unique resources and missions that let them participate and also define their potential ‘role to play’ in a network. Rosenblatt (2004) identifies three types of
participant in activist network. People-, resources- and solution oriented groups, each with its own set of optimal strategies and organizational structures. Although groups internally often focus on more than one orientation, Rosenblatt (2004) argues, in line with network research on social movements (Diani, 2005), that networks are much more effective when, at the level of the single participants or network units, expertise is further developed and specified. These units then represent for the organisation of a network significant ‘modules’ which can be rearranged and restructured in order to come up to the specific requisitions of the respective goal or network campaign (Rosenblatt, 2004). This form of organising in networks then comes close to what is in network research often discussed as ‘bounded autonomy’ (Kickert, 1994:266). Bounded autonomy in this sense refers to the capabilities of networks to mobilize participants in a way that although the network benefits from the combination of different strengths, single identities are kept and the identity of the network does not confound the goals and principles of individual participants (Diani, 2000). So argues one participant in the networks we studied that the network-benefit for her organisation simply derives
“from the fact that you have got different organisations with different strengths, [… our strengths] compared with other organisations which may have more of a ‘think tank’ or journalistic style [...] by working together I think we have been much more effective”.
Bounded autonomy in networks thus addresses issues of coordination and strategic formation without compromising the single group’s needs and identities. While social movement research in this respect explains why and how particular movements and activism emerge, the questions we faced in our work with NGO networks pointed towards the mutual strategic alignment and integration of existing groups into larger movement structures. Rosenblatt (2004) describes this process in the environmental movement and emphasises that, through
organising in networks, groups enter a next phase of movement evolution and have to think ‘the movement’ as a whole so it can be more powerful and more effective. This process in networks, compared to ‘traditional’ organisations, faces actors with the question of how to guide and influence the behaviour of other actors in networks in the absence of hierarchy. Issues of steering and control in networks are discussed among management scholars rather than in the literature on movements9. In this literature an array of steering and control mechanisms are proposed, formal and informal in nature, that enable network governance ranging from outcome control (e.g. goal setting and evaluation, performance monitoring, rewarding, etc.), to behavioural control (e.g., planning, procedures, rules, norms and regulation, etc.), and social control (e.g., boundary setting processes through member selection, and trust building, or peer evaluation) and institutions. The application of those mechanisms, however, first of all requires a common objective or goal of a network. Compared to networks in the business world where common goals are defined through profit-orientation and network effectiveness that can be measured through concrete output variables, such as patents for innovation networks (Provan & Milward, 2001) this definition appears to be much more difficult for activist networks. Goals and objectives of activist networks and their outcomes are multi-layered and complex (McCright & Dunlap, 2003). However, some research on this issue puts forward indicators for success and evaluation of activist networks, in terms of leadership, professionalization and formalization (positively linked to success by Staggenborg, 1988, Gamson, 1999, negatively by Piven & Cloward, 1979), network strategies (and here especially distinguishing disruptive and reformist strategies, as discussed by Gamson, 1999; Fowler & Shaiko, 1987; Milbrath, 1970; Metz, 1986), the scope of goals and objectives (Mirowsky & Ross (1981), or the level of identification of activists with the movement’s goals and identity (Dunlap & McCright, 2003).
for a recent review on network literature see for instance: Oerlemans et al., (2007)
However, the recognition of being part of something bigger, either defined as the network itself or as a movement in terms of coordination and network governance is less explicit in our discussions with activists. While we found evidence for coordinated diversification within participant organisations, sending their experts to the network, we found less evidence for such joint coordination at the network level. One factor facilitating strategic formation in a movement is its density or the linkages it shows between networks (Diani, 2000). Although geographically proximal, only a few respondents actually perceived their organisation as part of a movement that goes beyond their direct partners. While some of the networks possess an internationally oriented ‘action plan’ and are members of global policy issue oriented networks, coordination mechanisms among national groups were merely described as ‘advisory boards’, compromised of national and regional representatives that ‘keep an eye’ on national policy developments and the interventions of single groups and networks. Coordination efforts in the sense of a transnational movement thus remain on a more advisory level with informal exchange but no formalised coordinating structures or mutual strategic adjustments between networks. Strategic commonalities emerge rather than being proactively identified and addressed by national or issue networks. One respondent frames this process as follows:
[…] then it became clear that this was going to be a big issue, it wasn’t just isolated to the UK. It was an important one in many different countries. And there was a whole wave of corporate responsibility movements, NGO coalitions and campaigns on these developmental and CSR projects.
The recognition of being a part of a larger movement in this respect is not a starting point for establishing civic networks but rather an outcome of network activity. Due to them mainly consisting of established actors one respondent summarised their specific challenge as
“building the idea of a social movement” among organisations that are established in their field of expertise and contrasts with the initial challenges faced by grass-root mobilization that often builds the focus of social movement research (Rosenblatt, 2004). On the network level itself two different organising and coordinating paradigms were identified: More punctual collaboration and campaigning and ongoing research and policy development. The former dominates the way the networks operate. Mainly consisting of ‘campaigning NGOs’, network participants were described as strongly ‘action’ and ‘outward’ oriented, hence, less resources were allocated by the networks to ongoing in-depth research and investigation. This led some respondents to put forward their concern about a lack of investment of resources into continuous “background policy work” that gives the network’s claims credibility:
“I’m worried that they [future campaigns] won’t have the bite they had in the past because they won’t have that solid research background.”
One reason was mentioned to be the general attitude of participants to first serve their own organisational needs. Engagement thus was described as more or less cyclically depending on the organisations priorities and the fit of the overall agenda of the network to these. Hence, coordination efforts and resources contributed to the network were limited and often remained at the stage of punctual commitment and establishment of organisational structures only in terms of steering committees for single campaigns. Some future steps in the direction of more permanent structures for network coordination, however, were proposed, often along with an expected growth of a network. Important issues for this process of organisational integration were the establishment of the network as a ‘separate entity’, mainly in terms of membership of the board and decision-making structures but also through a membership fees, administrative reporting functions, and annual reports.
Besides this necessity of building mechanisms that help steer a network, several respondents frequently put emphasises on the importance to “keep the ground free of administrative pressures”, and continue to build “specific alliances around certain areas”. Further the question of how far permanent structures in terms of steering committees also allow for continuous policy work is questionable as resource scarcity was mentioned to be the major obstacle to the development of a working core in the networks. The need for this kind of work and organising structure was mentioned, however, in order to build a strong basis which develops substantial knowledge and resources upon which single groups and the steering committees can draw.
Identity building in networks
While some networks form with the intention of being sustainable in the long run, the majority of the networks we experienced were very loose arrangements that form again and again in response to a very specific policy issue or stimulus and are designed to be timebound. In order to ensure that they are being responsive to their members’ needs, however, networks must assess all elements of their functioning, internally as well as externally. If a network no longer meets the needs of its members, it jeopardises their commitment, participation will drop off, and the network will cease to exist (Diani & McAdam, 2003). As we discussed before, evaluation and success of activist networks are difficult to identify (Giugni, 1998) and feelings of mutual identification and solidarity to a shared goal and a longterm perspective on change is in particular needed for the time-consuming campaigning and lobbying in policy processes. Identity building and trust, however, help to bond actors together, strengthen a networks’ coherence, secure its persistence and build “the basis of a shared collective identity” (Diani, 2000:13), even though specific campaigns are not taking place or do not show the expected impact on policy outcome (Rupp & Taylor, 1987; Melucci,
1996). The identity-related argument of networks, as some argue (Diani & McAdam, 2003), is thus as important an aspect for activism as the sustainability of its organising and governance structure. Sociologists have turned to collective identity to fill gaps between resource mobilization and political process accounts of the emergence, trajectories, and impacts of activism (Poletta & Jasper, 2001). Collective identity, however, has been merely treated as an alternative to structural explanations, alternative to ‘given’ interests in the claims of people to mobilize and participate in networks, and as an additional explanation, to instrumental and rational accounts for the tactical choices activists make (ibid). Beyond the continuous creation of incentives to join and engage in a network, effective activism in networks is only possible through the development of cultural commonalities. Castells elaborates on the issue of identity in his book ‘The Power of Identity’ (1997) and concludes that a common spirit and collective identity are needed internally as well as externally in networks but that each network has it own identity, logic of social control through inclusion and exclusion and architectures of space and flow. Three important elements of identity building in networks are, on the one hand, the selection of members as often pre-conditioning some degree of commonalities, and on the other hand, process-related mechanisms, such as learning and trust-building through interaction and feedback (Diani, & McAdam, 2003), and finally, the development of shared guidelines and memoranda of mutual understanding (Rosenblatt, 2004). Member selection was loosely organised in our cases. This loose handling of ‘entry barriers’ to a network typically describes the practices of civic networks as the primary goal is to generate support and resources from all kinds of organisational and societal backgrounds (Diani & McAdam, 2003). However, some limitations were mentioned. Firstly, while some networks also integrate loosely committed groups as peripheral sources of support for specific campaigns and actions most of the networks required a certain level of commitment. If this was not given this was mentioned to lead to an exclusion of the respective group, in particular
for refusing to take over responsibilities within campaign steering committees but also more general commitment to the network. Mainly however, decisions of inclusion and exclusion were based on budget requirements and less in terms of identity-related criteria, difficulties, and conflicts. Related to the actual process, working in networks was generally seen as encouraging and motivating, especially for ‘experts’ who normally work in relative isolation on specific issues in their own organisation.
“If there are others – counterpoints or colleagues in other organisations that you can come together and meet with regularly, it does form a sort of basis for encouragement, shared enthusiasm for what you are doing, as well as a reaffirmation of purpose, in a sense.”
Learning is often mentioned to contribute to a shared identity in networks (Bonner, Kim, Cavusgil, 2005). In our cases, however, learning was seen as a result of general interaction, without formalising learning, feedback, or evaluation processes. Through the joint effort in a network different ‘branches’ of traditionally rather separate groups exchange information, perception and inform each other about opportunities for intervention. Learning in networks, hence, was described as forcing members to “think outside of your institutional box” and representing a challenge especially to more established - so called 'inside groups' (Scott, 2003) - with their links to powerful institutions. Networks bring together conventional practices of policy influence as well as emergent and often more radical practices of intervention and as some of our respondents argued working together in network and “getting people out of their comfort zone in the NGO community was really, really important.” Learning then results from exchange in networks, e.g. through the tensions that arise by combining the needs of different groups in a network.
Learning through networks happens horizontally, developing cohesion out of fragmentation and divided groups; and vertically, connecting less powerful (often local) groups to powerful groups, authorities, agencies, and funders (Purdue, 2007). On the one hand 'inside groups' are often established and well-known among the relevant parties in the policy process and the broader public and give a level of credibility to the network. On the other hand so-called 'people organisations' (Rosenblatt, 2004) often put forward more radical approaches in order to satisfy their broad activist base, e.g. through media and publicity. Working together in networks requires from both sides to compromise and mutually adopt new practices and approaches to policy change. In networks interviewees reported inside-oriented groups joining campaigns that werenot in line with the traditional message they would give to, policy makers and corporations. 'Grassroot' oriented groups in turn are urged by established groups to adopt their approaches to the joint message the network wants to communicate in the policy process. On the one hand such interaction can be viewed as leading to compromise or creating of intellectual and strategic incoherence (Bennett, 2003),, which discuss further below. On the other hand, this interaction can enable realisation of cultural commonalities and develop a shared identity within the networks. As one network participant said,
“[Working through the network] provides numerous learning opportunities, especially when you work with traditionally rather disparate actors. Then you have people with different experiences and bringing different perspectives, and that makes for lots of learning and a better outcome, generally.”
Besides the learning opportunities between inside and outside groups, contestation between Northern and Southern groups are frequently mentioned in the literature on contemporary activism to lead to special tensions but also offer new identity-building potential (Crossey, 2003). While our networks were mainly busy with targeting national policies, we expected
however, that the transnational impact of those policies (in the sense of ‘actions in particular countries with a global significance’ as described by Marchetti & Pianta, 2007:11) would lead to a stronger direct involvement of also Southern groups in the network. This was, with the exception of one network, however, not the case. Although almost all networks show links to Southern groups and some report the issues they work on in the North as interesting for Southern groups as well, Northern-Southern correspondence mainly remains on the level of Northern NGOs “bringing [Southern] case-studies forward” in order to get “convincing material to back up” their claims. Except this role of Southern NGOs as sources of “credibility and advocacy” for Northern NGOs, only one network emphasised the importance of mutual exchange, active membership of Southern NGOs, and learning between these groups and thus ownership and control of its outcomes also for Southern groups. Learning requires managing psychological dynamics, trust, defensiveness, and conflict (Purdue, 2007), and an openness and flexibility to reframe issues (Gray, 2003). Reflection through network processes can offer a way to step-by-step tackle differences no matter how deeply engrained they are in the cognitive frames of activists. Mindell (1995) argues that while anger is an energizing source for inter-group learning and identity building, fear and despair are not. A trustful network culture is thus required if network members do not want to settle for half-hearted commitment to their cause. Learning in networks, related to identity building, thus consists not mainly of processes acquiring information and technical skills from other network members, but undergoing an internal change, create new knowledge and develop greater reflexivity in a network. Essential for learning is an understanding of various dynamics specific to each network through thorough evaluation. Evaluation mechanisms, however, were barely found among the four networks we examined. Often our inquiry was mentioned to be the first ‘external evaluation’ of the networks. Because learning emerges along the process rather than being systematically initiated and evaluated this often leads to limitations to learning effects in
networks. A lot of network members complained about a lack of reflection and analysis on how the network works, saying that “[…] there haven't been a great deal of creative learning” and “it [the network] is been very much operationally focused and not reflective into what has worked and what hasn't”. These statements are in line with Bennett’s (2003:17) more sober observation that “[w]hile networks can reduce the costs and conflicts often associated with bringing diverse players into issue and protest campaigns, they also may harbor intellectual contradictions that ultimately limit the growth of ideological or even intellectually focused movements. Rather than pushing toward ideological commonalities, activist networks then more often function as pragmatic information exchanges and mobilization systems”. Further research is required on issues of identity-building and learning in activist networks. Given discussions about the representativeness of civic networks (Marshall, Hardwicke, Gharib, Fisher & McKee (1999) and their accountability (Bendell, 2006), this research should go beyond the emergence of activism and focus on the processes of re-organisating movements as they evolve and network with established groups in civil society.
Framing – discursive network politics
Networks often create and share knowledge items, such as reports, data, tools and ideas. Such expertise, loosely gathered in the numerous subunits of a network can lead to an impressive pool of resources potentially available to activist networks (Diani, 2000). However, networks do not only gather but also analyse, bundle, and direct these resources and present them in a way that is not determined by the filters of other groups such as political parties and corporations. Framing is as essential part of this process. For example, ATTAC France, presented “together, on one singular page, different issues like Commander Marcos, the ‘Mad
Cow disease’, human rights in Tunisia, and the Danone employees” (Le Grignou and Patou (2004:58). While this array of concerns and events might create an impression of no direction, several studies show how activist networks have been able to strategically arrange such elements to jointly establish a ‘mobilization frame’ of global exploitation and resistance, “for proselytizing to generate broad support for normative change within, across, and outside government channels’’ (Price, 1998:617). Sell and Prakash (2004) for instance, identified a range of different strategies through which networks grafted new normative frames onto existing ones and succeeded in producing normative and substantive changes in policy outcomes. Frames are ‘‘specific metaphors, symbolic representations and cognitive clues used to render or cast behaviour and events in an evaluative mode and to suggest alternative modes of actions’’ (Zald, 1996:262). Because agenda setting involves both the provision of information and of normative frames, it is argued to crucially influence policy debates and ultimately, policy outcomes (see for instance Snow, Rochford, Worden, & Benford, 1986). Given that most policy debates feature competing agendas, it is important to cleverly apply frames to translate information into knowledge (Comor, 2001). Rochefort and Cobb (1994:15) thus argue that for a activist network’s agenda to resonate, it should not only identify a problem and offer a solution, but also consider the broader context of policy processes in which it can be placed. In this sense, it has been argued for some time that groups are embedded in networks of larger social processes, which they influence, and which also influence them (Granovetter, 1985, 1992). Recognising this can help activists to bridge links between different levels of analyses, relating to different types of organisational entities within the policy process and beyond: to projects, regional and country programmes, government policies and actors outside of those processes but potentially valuable for putting forward their claims. In order to approach these diverse actors, however, different frames are needed that take social dynamics into account. Creating external enemies through framing an issue, for
instance, can create a unity of purpose (Purdue, 2007). Strategic framing, that assigns blame to one group while enabling other, is numerously mentioned as constituting the basic repertoire of activist strategies. As Keck and Sikkink (1998:27) note: “[P]roblems whose causes can be assigned to the deliberate (intentional) actions of identifiable individuals are amenable to advocacy network strategies […]”. Change in the behaviour of a targeted actor is most likely when activists present a situation in a way where the targets compliance with activists’ claims will bring about positive change (Perrow, 1998), while also benefiting the target themselves (e.g. through ‘first-mover’ advantages Sirsly & Lamertz, 2007; Rosenau, 2005), whereas negative consequences are expected by the target from a non-response, due to the likely actions of the activists, the media, the wider public, or other constituencies to which the targeted group shows dependencies (McAdam, 2001)10. The creativity of framing thus lies in finding ‘intentionalist frames’ within which to address some elements of structural problems and, depending on the issue, link them together. However, even when linkages between these frames give a complementary image of ‘the enemy’ and thus often help to develop internal bounding through frames, those frames can also deflect from internal problems rather than solving them. While internally multi-faceted frames can constitute discrepancies or commonalities between groups, externally however, frames should be focused and strategically applied to the targeted recipients relevant to influence the outcome of the policy process and those relevant to the solution proposed by the activist group. For activist groups this often implies different frames for internal and external communication in a network. Sell and Prakash (2004) give an example of how activist networks can apply different frames for different target groups and on different levels of the policy making and implementation process, in their case around the issues of HIV, drugs, and patenting. Their approach included several strategies and frames: Firstly, networks aimed at
Important is here that the difference between the party that analyses the political environment and offers these frames to a targeted party (opportunity) should be different to the party that is considered to coerce the change attempts (threat) (McAdam, 2001) thus offering again more strategic space for networks than for single groups.
discouraging powerful targets from penalizing governments that supported the network’s claim. Secondly, groups reiterated in policy-relevant international forums ‘empowering frames’ in terms of governments’ ultimate rights to issue compulsory licenses thus strengthen institutions that can control the targeted groups. Thirdly, they built alliances with the generic pharmaceutical industry, actors relevant to their solution, and connected those producers to local recipients and the respective local governmental officials. Fourthly, they sought to mobilize international donors to purchase generic drugs in large numbers and make them available to the respective countries. This example shows the complexity of framing towards a broad variety of externally relevant groups and potential supporters of the network’s cause but also highlights the network benefit in political discourses as being credibly much more flexible than single organisations (Suh, 2006). This is key because solution to complex problems such as global inequalities require actions from different organisational sectors such as business and government, and each employs different rationales for action. Networks allow their participants to support the creation and communication of the various rationales to various target groups, when doing so themselves, they could appear too inconsistent and even incomensurate. This network promise was recognised by partcipants in the networks we studied. One network participant described the network benefit in the sense that frames applied by the network offered her organisation a degree of freedom they cannot anticipate when working alone:
“[…] the way the issue was framed by the network allowed us to be able to publicly state that we are maintaining an independent position. [Even though we as an organisation follow the strategy to collaborate with the targeted groups,] in the network we are also addressing a more fundamental and possibly quite challenging approach to [the targets] in terms of policy change.”
Political Opportunities and Networks Traditionally, political opportunity structures are seen as the opportunities and constraints that confront activism by the structures of institutional politics, on the one hand the level of responsiveness to activists’ claims and on the other hand the level of repression of activism in a political system (Tilly, 1978). Drawing on the works of political process theorists (Tilly, 1978; McAdam, 1982; Tarrow, 1983), mainly European scholars have compared numerous national political settings and their influence on activism (see for instance Kriesi, 1988, Kitschelt, 1986; Kriesi, Koopmans, Duyvendak & Giugni, 1995, Tilly, 1986). Since then scholars have been re-defining the concept due to the transnational activities of networks and the increasingly dynamic relations to other actors than national governments (see for instance Marchetti & Pianta, 2007). Although scholars found national policy settings to influence transnational activism in contemporary networks (Giugni, Bandler & Eggerts, 2006), activism is no longer argued to be simply a matter of repressed groups fighting the state (Goodwin,, Jasper & Polletta, 2001). Instead, scholars situate activism in a dynamic relational field in which beyond the state (ibid), interests of allies, opponents, together with the openness of the public to change, the existence of supporting groups and elites (Joppke, 1993) all influence the emergence, activity and outcomes of activism (Goldstone, 2004). Networks, in this respect, are not simply exposed to a political environment of opportunities and constraints offered by those groups. Instead, activists themselves can create opportunities by expanding the political sphere that is applicable to them, by creating ties to other national political systems, the international political system, and international civil society and market systems (McAdam, McCarthy & Zald, 2005). By influencing frames of political community and responsibility, activists actually shape these structural changes (Suh, 2001). In addition, although ‘objective’ changes in the political environment build the basis for dynamics of
contestation, those have to be interpreted by the network as opportunities or threats before they become reason enough for action. Hence, not only the objective effect these changes have on power relations enables activism but on the networks' interpretation of them (McAdam, McCarthy & Zald, 2005). . In a network the same event or intervention can be interpreted by some as an opportunity and by others as a threat, and an exchange of views may change them. This exchange of perceptions in networks can create new opportunities and open up potential for intervention beyond those of single efforts, or as one respondent put it:
“When NGOs work on their own they work within a fixed political framework of what matters to them, what falls into their responsibility and – first, what they think is possible to change. Take for instance [organisation XY] - they have the lens of international human rights law. There is no responsibility in international human rights law on companies, no legal responsibility. That’s why they see all issues through the lens of the nation-state and that’s why exchange is so important. It’s all interwoven.”
McAdam and colleagues (2005), drawing on Ross (1977), argue that errors in the attribution of cause, and therefore fault, are more likely when actors or organisations work isolated than in groups. Explanations for ones own situation in terms of grievances, concerns, or dissatisfaction with how a policy process develops or with its outcomes, are in single groups more frequently seen as a function of one's own deficiencies rather than a feature of the surrounding system. Only ‘system attributions’ and thus critiques, they argue further, afford the necessary rationale for a network’s activity (ibid), or as one of our respondents put it:
“[…] collecting different opinions and experiences around an issue we want to give the overall picture and clarify once and for all that company law and
accountability is not a concern of a few niche-NGOs but a widely shared system critique.”
Through networks, activists are able to proactively scan the political landscape (Rucht, 1999) in order to develop system rather than individual critique and thus establish a background of rationality for their claims, e.g. pointing toward differences in policy settings and transfer solutions from one policy setting to another through analogous interpretation and framing. Such perspectives then have to pay close attention to the cultural traditions, ideological principles, institutional memories, and political taboos that create and limit the single organisation’s perception of political opportunities in order to successfully link individual perceptions to the ‘master frame’ of the network that animates challenging the dominant political structures and processes. Situations in which activism is actively repressed through elite intervention, intended to demobilize activists can then in fact produce opposing effects of increased contestation by other activists tied together through a network (see for instance Koopmans, 1999). In this sense, scholars extended the cost-benefit oriented approach of mobilization theorists and argued that relational opportunities enable activists to take advantage of a situation through action even when intervention was intended by opponents to repress this action (Goldstone, 2004).
Making use of networks: Conclusions and implications for practice
An analysis of literature on networks and social movements, complemented by our interviews with participants in UK based networks, highlights a number of promises from networking for social action. First, groups can draw on a variety of resources and expertise. Second, groups in networks can more easily develop and share consensus on political opportunities and thus
increase the efficacy of their strategic actions, compared to single organisations-. Third, the repeated engagement of groups in networks can facilitate the development of collective identities and thus facilitates a strategic and more powerful mobilization of collective action.. Fourth, networks facilitate membership recruitment for strategic action, thus uniquely combine the strength of established as well as grass-root radical groups. . By taking the clash of different activism traditions of different groups in networks seriously, a network perspective steps closer to explaining the dynamics and mechanisms that facilitate and hinder consensus formation and action between groups than other theories that often remain on macro structural explanations of activism (Suh, 2005). However, research taking a network perspective on activism does not sufficiently explain how consensus and mobilization among disparate actors in networks occur. Although useful for analysing activist networks, findings that indicate that individuals who are integrated in dense networks and linked by close ties are more likely to develop an idea of solidarity and are prone to mobilize in collective action (see for instance Snow et al., 1986), are not sufficient in order to inform activists on strategy and identity building in networks. As we illustrated by quotes taken from our cases of civic networks, activist networks often consist of established actors with strong organisational identities that seem to dominate ‘shared’ network agendas and are often only loosely connected to each other through intermittent campaigns. How those networks form consensus and develop a common identity in the political system, still needs to be explained. Thus we argue for more research on civic networks and, in line with McAdam and Snow (1997), recognise that all promises of networks put forward by scholars from various theoretical fields should be cautioned by a realisation that “[…] networks are only information conduits and bridges that channel the diffusion of movement activity” (McAdam & Snow, 1997:172). As such, a network perspective can facilitate rather than determine the processes in and outcomes of civic networks. In future, not only do the promises of networks described here require testing, more study on the pitfalls of networks in social action is
needed to ensure that a fashion for networking, and apparent set of benefits from networks, do not blind us from potential problems from a variety of perspectives, both organisational and political.
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