Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Keck and Sikkink. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders.

* Keck, M. E., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.

Keck and Sikkink focus their work on TANs - transnational advocacy networks, defined as including "those relevant actors working internationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services" (p. 2). They write:

"Such networks are most prevalent in issue areas characterized by high value content and informational uncertainty. At the core of the relationship is information exchange. What is novel in these networks is the ability of nontraditional international actors to mobilize information strategically to help create new issues and categories and to persuade, pressure, and gain leverage over much more powerful organizations and governments. Activist networks try not only to influence policy outcomes, but to transform the terms and nature of the debate... their goal is to change the behavior of states and of international organizations" (p. 2).

Then they write that TANs frame issues "to make the comprehensible to target audiences, to attract attention and encourage action, and to "fit" with favorable institutional venues" (p. 2-3). Interestingly, they refer to these networks as embodying "elements of agent and structure simultaneously" (p. 5). They are structures insofar as they are "patterns of interactions among organizations and individuals" but as actors the networks have agency (p. 5). Keck and Sikkink choose the term networks "to evoke the structured and structuring dimension in the actions of these complex agents, who not only participate in new areas of politics but also shape them" (p. 4).

Networks are "forms of organizations characterized by voluntary, reciprocal, and horizontal patterns of communication and exchange" (p. 8). The found that "Transnational advocacy networks appear most likely to emerge around those issues where (1) channels between domestic groups and their governments are blocked or hampered or where such channels are ineffective for resolving a conflict, setting into motion the "boomerang" pattern of influence characteristic of these networks... (2) activists or "political entrepreneurs" believe that networking will further their missions and campaigns, and actively promote networks; and (3) conferences and other forms of international contact create arenas for forming and strengthening networks" (p. 12).

The boomerang strategy (p. 12-13) is one in which an NGO in state A that cannot achieve its goals through domestic advocacy alone works with an NGO in state B. The foreign NGO then applies pressure to state B, which directly or through an intergovernmental organization applies pressure to state A. For example, this could occur in the case of human rights, when local activists cannot get their own government to end its repression, so they work with foreign activists. The foreign activists pressure their own government, which in turn puts pressure on the repressive government to improve its human rights record. In fact, Keck and Sikkink say this pattern is often used in human rights advocacy.

When using the boomerang strategy: "For the less powerful third world actors, networks provide access, leverage, and information (and often money) they could not expect to have on their own; for northern groups, they make credible the assertion that they are struggling with, and not only for, their southern partners. Not surprisingly, such relationships can produce considerable tensions" (p. 12-13).

Transnational advocacy networks work by using "the power of their information, ideas, and strategies to alter the information and value contexts within which states make policies" (p. 16). Keck and Sikkink divide their tactics into four categories: "(1) information politics, or the ability to quickly and credibly generate politically usable information and move it to where it will have the most impact; (2) symbolic politics, or the ability to call upon symbols, actions, or stories that make sense of a situation for an audience that is frequently far away; (3) leverage politics, or the ability to call upon powerful actors to affect a situation where weaker members of a network are unlikely to have influence; and (4) accountability politics, or the effort to hold powerful actors to their previously stated policies or principles" (p. 16).

The information in the first category, information politics, must be reliable, well-documented, timely, and dramatic (p. 19). They often rely on testimony "stories told by people whose lives have been affected" and then they often "interpret facts and testimony, usually framing issues simply, in terms of right and wrong" (p. 19). An example given of how activists dramatize the information is that they reframed what was called female circumcision as female genital mutilation, which "resituated the practice as a human rights violation" (p. 20). Activists find it important to link both testimony and technical and statistical information, because the testimony puts a human face on the statistics that motivates people to seek changed policies (p. 21).

Leverage politics find a way to link cooperation with them to money, trade, or prestige. Often they use shame, because "governments value the good opinion of others" (p. 23). In accountability politics, they try to get a government to publicly change their position on an issue and they pressure them to live up to their promises (p. 24).

Keck and Sikkink outline stages of network influence: "(1) issue creation and agenda setting; (2) influence on discursive positions of states and international organizations; (3) influence on institutional procedures; (4) influence on policy change in "target actors" which may be states, international organizations like the World Bank, or private actors like the Nestle Corporation; and (5) influence on state behavior" (p. 25).

They found that TANs are most effective when two characteristics are present: "(1) issues involving bodily harm to vulnerable individuals, especially when there is a short and clear causal chain (or story) assigning responsibility; and (2) issues involving legal equality of opportunity" (p. 27).

This is just a synopsis of the book's introduction. What follows are three case studies of human rights, environmental, and anti violence against women networks.

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