At this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association from 16 – 22 August in Denver/Colorado, the Section on Global and Transnational Sociology featured a number of highly interesting panels and pre-conference activities. Panel topics included Global Governance (co-sponsored with Sociology of Law), Transnational Processes and Institutions, Gender, Globalization and Transnationalism, and Transnational Networks. In addition, a pre-conference meeting, organized by Peggy Levitt and Liz Boyle, discussed new ways of seeing and knowing in transnational and global research. At the Denver meeting the outgoing chair Sarah Babb concluded her highly successful term of office and welcomed the new chair Julia Adams (see interview).A cluster of intriguing papers dealt with issues of transnational governance in the field of certification of fair trade. The aim of fair trade certification, which emerged in the early 1970s, was to address inequalities between the global North and South by redistributing profits along the commodity chain, fostering more cooperative forms of production and redistribution and empowering democratic forms of community development. While fair trade has grown very fast over the last decades and can be found in a multiplicity of handicraft and commodity markets, the contribution by Kristen E. Shorette showed that its expansion has been geographically highly uneven. This variance cannot be simply explained by economic and demographic features, but is the result of institutional diffusion processes. Laura T. Reynolds’ paper dealt with the challenges of improving labour standards and labour rights in fair trade certification in the global flower industry. Her study, which focused on the organization of waged workers in family-owned certified flower companies in Ecuador, highlighted that while fair trade certification brings more rights for worker representation, the resulting empowerment can be fragile because representational bodies can be lost again when certification is not renewed.
Further problems prevalent in the fair trade sector, as well as in the global environmental governance field, are the cleavages between different fractions of social and civic movements. Beth Schaefer Caniglia analysed how and why such cleavages complicate the achievement of global environmental justice and which pathways could help to overcome some of these difficulties. These results spoke very much to the findings of Jennifer Anne Keahey, presented in another panel organized by the newly founded section on development sociology, on commodity networking for sustainable development in the South African Rooibos Tea Sector. Her action-oriented research showed that producers and traders on the ground are in search of pragmatic solutions. The upshot is that participation could be increased if movements and development groups could resolve ideological conflicts and disagreements. If this was achieved, the existing diversity of fair trade certification organizations might be seen more as an opportunity rather than a limitation.
Another cluster of interesting papers dealt with implementation issues of global governance. In many fields there are serious concerns about what the actual impact of transnational rules and standards is on the ground, whether they really lead to improvements for local populations and a reduction of social inequalities between the global North and South. Sandra A. Moog and colleagues presented a paper on the limits of multi-stakeholder governance in forest certification. According to their analysis, the competition between an increasing number of profit-oriented auditing companies and the lack of capacity of transnational activists to critically review what they are actually doing on the ground constitutes a serious problem to the effectiveness of forest certification. On a more optimistic note, Andrew Schrank’s rich paper on the national bureaucratic underpinnings of the transnational regulatory networks of Latin American labour inspectors highlighted how regional networks between public labour inspectors in Latin America (modelled on Franco-Iberian rather than Anglo-Saxon templates) functioned to disseminate a special model of labour regulation. It may be seen as a functional substitutive to collective bargaining. Interestingly, within this network those states which have already achieved more are supporting others to organize more effective systems of labour regulation
Of course, there were many more thought-provoking papers and presentations on a wide range of topics such as transnational women’s activism, women’s rights, gender inequalities, transnational transmittance networks, the spread of the world-wide financial crisis, etc. For a full overview see the GTS Section Newsletter Global Review.
For those who would like to learn more about activities and membership of the Section of Global and Transnational Sociology please visit the website. We are looking ahead to the GTS panels at the next Annual Meeting of ASA in New York, August 10-13, 2013.