Several contributions in this blog have been dealing with different examples of the transnational mobilization of labor rights by social movement organizations and trade unions, targeting transnational companies, international organizations or states to introduce and enforce core labor rights and accept freedom of associations (e.g. the Asian FLoor Wage Campaign, People’s Tribunals or the Asia-Europe People’s Forum). There are other interesting blogs which discuss the development of chances and limits of transnational labor solidarity and transnational labor rights activism under conditions of global restructuring ( transnational labor) or country specific cases (e.g. China).

Different blog entries give interesting examples of single incidents and their immediate consequences. However, sometimes they tell little about how the different strategies relate to each other and what kind of changes they produce when looking at them over longer period of time. In my recent paper (“pathways of transnational activism”), I try to develop an analytical framework which allows for analyzing the dynamic interplay between activism, transnational institutions, and domestic contexts. It integrates insights from social movement research on transnational collective action and insights from institutional theorists on institutional interactions. I introduced three concepts which intend to connect the ideas that transnational activists – social movements, trade unions and worker alike when they engage in transnational contention – mobilize in multiple arenas at once, addressing multiple targets (state and private) therewith changing the environment (both national and domestic) in which they operate:

Thus, the concept of intra-pathway dynamics captures the relationship of mobilization and institutional change within one path; the concept of inter-pathway dynamics encompasses institutional interactions and interdependencies between activism across paths; and the concept of the global–local link characterizes the relationship of activism within each path to local actors, the domestic context, and the political regime. The paper outlines this framework and exemplifies it by taking the case of transnational labor-rights activism targeting labor-rights violations in a strong and nondemocratic state: the People’s Republic of China.

I believe that such a framework has several advantages compared to studying single incidents of transnational activism at particular points in time:

First, approaches that do not take into account all transnational forces remain incomplete in their analysis and might draw a distorted picture or isolate and overemphasize one specific element. Only if we place each path in the context of the whole governance field will we understand its weight in relation to the other paths.

Second, prominent theories on transnational advocacy networks, such as the boomerang model, the spiral model, or concepts of transnational diffusion and scale shift, tend to focus either on the transnational contribution to domestic change or on how transnational activism triggers global change (for a good overview on the history, development and limits of transnational advocacy networks look at Hans Peter Schmitz’ entry on Transnational Human Rights Networks: Significance and Challenges at the international studies compendium project). This does not do justice to the empirical reality, where both aspects interrelate. Concept of transnational pathways enables a dynamic and interactive perspective on transnational opportunities. It takes into account that the field of transnational labor governance is constantly changing, interacting, and co-evolving with domestic structural changes and global economic regulatory changes.

Third, the targeted (state or private actor) can impact transnational activism in various ways, the facettes of which have not yet been spelled out completely. For example the target can channel and redirect activists’ influence, exhibiting selective responsiveness, undermining the establishment of transnational linkages, or engaging in diagnostic struggles trying to reframe the situation.

Last, studying recurrent cycles of contention makes it possible to understand combined effects and synergies of transnational activism, unintended consequences and how successes in one area might be outweigh by failures in another one.

This paper is based on my PhD project (In the shadow of the Dragon: Transnational labor activism between state and private politics. A multi-level analysis of labor activism targeting China. [Link]). As I plan to continue to work on transnational labor rights activism, I’m very interested in feedback and thoughts about it.